Operational Efficiency

Everything is coming up Neon

Overview:

Neon Creations, has almost 30 years’ experience in the design and manufacture of custom made neon signs, neon lights and neon art.

The business was established in 2005 by husband and wife Catherine and Tony Spink. Tony trained as an apprentice with a sign company in London, before relocating to Greater Manchester with Catherine.

“Tony is hugely creative and is at his best when he’s able to use that skill developing concepts, but his work had become repetitive with little opportunity for creativity,” says Catherine. “Whereas I’m from a sales and marketing background and had always wanted to run my own business, but was never quite sure in what – and from those joint passions Neon Creations was born!”

The business designs, manufacturers and supplies a wide range of personal, commercial and industrial signs which are used for branding, events, entertainment, gifts, art and domestic use. Clients include restaurant chain Barburrito, as well as Sony, River Island and the BBC.

The challenge:

Catherine met with Bolton Council’s Business Growth Advisor, Jonathan Crabtree who suggested that there was specialist manufacturing support available for them.

Catherine explains: “At first we didn’t think there was anything to help with. The business was ticking along nicely, we were making money, had a full order book and were at production capacity - in fact we were turning work away.

“Clearly that was the opportunity − to find a way to take on this extra business.”

The solution:

Paul Holt, a specialist manufacturing advisor, met with Catherine, Tony and the team at their factory in Bolton. He spent time getting to know the business and performed a value stream map of manufacturing processes which found ways they could reduce production lead times and increase sales.

Paul explains: “The value stream map identified that the time Tony spent on bespoke artwork projects was more profitable to the business than time spent producing signs for bars and restaurants.

“In addition, demand is high for his artwork. By reorganising their workforce they were able to create additional capacity for Tony to focus on these higher-value products.”

Catherine added: “We had become so busy fulfilling our commercial orders that it left no time for innovation. By reorganising the team, we have been able to create capacity to develop new products and concepts.

“Paul also encouraged us to give our trainee additional responsibility. She’s been with the business for a while, but the work is very niche and it was a risk to handover the more technical work. It’s proved a huge success, and her work has developed so rapidly that she is now at a good enough standard to work on our bespoke commercial pieces.”

In addition, they moved resource from the office to the shop floor, upskilling an existing member of the team who was keen to progress. This enabled them to take on a new employee, which has created an adaptable, more knowledgeable workforce.

Since the reorganisation Tony has created seven bespoke pieces and worked in collaboration with a local artist to consider new uses for neon.

The team also attended the Northern Restaurant and Bar Show in March 2017 and were able to showcase these pieces to new customers.  

In addition the business is operating more efficiently – product lead time has reduced by a week so far, and is anticipated to reduce by two more weeks.

Since making these changes, Catherine and Tony have realised that they need to consider succession planning.

"This is a niche business, and it takes time to develop the skills needed to meet the demands of our customers,” explains Catherine. “Working with the Business Growth Hub means that we’ve been able to focus on what the needs of the business are. Paul listened to us, affirmed our decisions and gave us the confidence to grow.”  

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