With a turnover of around 15 mil. British Pounds and around 200 employees, SPS is one of the largest promotional products suppliers in theUK. The production site inBlackpoolis an impressive flagship for promotional products that are “made inBritain”.
The coastal city Blackpool, one of the oldest seaside resorts inGreat Britain, is well-known for its BlackpoolTower, a huge amusement park and as a popular destination for stag parties. On the other hand, it is not a well-known fact that promotional products, which proudly carry the “made inBritain” seal, are manufactured in big style in the city on theIrish Sea. “Many of our trade partners who visit us are impressed,“ reported Philip J Morgan, CEO of SPS. Indeed: The headquarters of the company that is located on the outskirts of the city are extensive. The offices, production plant, branding shop and warehouse with its 3,500 pallet storage places are accommodated here on a surface area measuring 82,000 sq ft (approx. 7,600 m²). According to SPS, 66 mil. plastic products left the huge building last year, 200 employees currently work for the company in Blackpool, which by own accounts supplies over 4,000 customers in Great Britain.
The roots of SPS date back to 1970. The present structure of the firm is the result of a merger between the plastic manufacturer Supreme Plastics and the import company Product Source Select in the year 2007. At the time Supreme Plastics had already manufactured and customised plastic products inBlackpoolfor around 20 years, including for instance key pendants for tourists. The initiator of the merger in 2007 was the British 4imprint Group plc, owner of Product Source Select, which had acquired Supreme Plastics shortly beforehand. The group, who also owned the distributor Brand Addition up until a few months ago, invested huge sums in expanding the newly created company, SPS, into an efficient supplier and today it is one of the largest inGreat Britain. Money was not only invested in new machines and employees, but specifically in a strong sales and marketing department as well as into product innovation. “The expansion of our customer service as well as constantly pushing the development of new products has given us the decisive boost,“ explained Morgan, who was General Manager of Brand Addition until 2008 and has taken over the reins of SPS.
According to the official figures, SPS made a turnover of around 15 mil. British Pounds in 2011 (approx. 19.2 mil. Euros), and the company has achieved 10% more turnover in the first six months of this year than it did for the same period in 2011.
“Made in Britain“ products, an increasing number of which are brought onto the market by the company and which currently make up around half of the product range, are responsible for a large share of SPS’s growth. “Up until five years ago products made in the UK were few and far between on the British promotional products market. One example: For years our product range included only two different plastic cups – now the numbers keep on increasing,“ explained Morgan. “The demand has drastically increased.”
“Our USPs include in-house product development and production at even better conditions than in theFar East,” commented Sales & Marketing Director, Diane Anderton. “We constantly strive to increase our unique selling points, including the development of new products that are more interesting than keyrings and fridge magnets.“ Three examples that have become bestsellers within a short period of time are the Brite-Dock® (a high-quality holder for mobile phones and tablet PCs), the Americano mug (a coffee-to-go mug) as well as the stadium cup (a transparent plastic cup with a lid and straw for cool drinks).
With regards to pricing, SPS takes an aggressive approach – the British bulldog, one of the key visuals of the company’s current corporate image, definitely has symbolic character. That the “British-made“ items fromBlackpoolsurvive in spite of
the competition from theFar Eastis also due to the company’s highly-developed production logistics. The concept includes the greatest possible exploitation of synergies – Operations Director Richard Wildsmith cited an example: “Three or four different products can be produced with one mould.“
Furthermore, an impressive amount of SPS‘s machinery is automated: One hardly sees an employee in between the 24 Krauss-Maffei injection moulding machines – robots are used to fill the machines with granules, insert the inmould films and for the deburring and packaging of the finished parts. The robots even reintroduce the waste materials produced back into the injection moulding process – directly into the respective machine.
Nearly all of the plastic products in the SPS collection are manufactured inBlackpool, as well as a high number of different paper items: Two web offset and diverse gluing, punching and cutting machines are located right next to the injection moulding department. This is where the note cubes and all sorts of inserts, catalogues and brochures are made. A second factory in Derbyshire produces the PVC straps for the “loop keyring“. Certain products require manual assembly, in these cases SPS is supported by homeworkers from the region.
Imported goods make up the other half of the product assortment. Approx. 24 mil. items are imported fromChinaandIndiaevery year. Here the priority is placed on quality, product safety and corporate social responsibility – Philip J Morgan: “We demand that all of our suppliers comply with our ethical code of practice. Furthermore, we joined the international non-profit organisation, Sedex, two years ago and have successfully completed the Sedex members ethical trading audit (Smeta). This also applies for our production site inBlackpool. We have also acquired the quality management certification, ISO 9001.“
Everything that’s possible
Whether imports or own production – everything comes together in the branding department in Blackpool, which is just as impressive as the production unit: SPS unites nearly all of the popular processes under one roof: Screen, pad, digital, offset and transfer printing, laser engraving, inmould label, embroidery, doming and embossing.
Digital printing delivers the “raw material“ for domings, inmoulds or for the individualisation of Rubik’s cubes – incidentally according to company sources SPS is the only provider outside ofChinawho can imprint the Rubik’s cube for promotional purposes thanks to its network of homeworkers, because the individual labels have to be adhered by hand. An increasing amount of products are printed directly in the digital printing machine. In addition to flat items such as rulers these also include products with a higher plasticity, such as anti-stress or golf balls.
Finally, the premises accommodate the warehouse. A stable goods management system and large stocks guarantee a regular delivery period of five days, whereby SPS’s minimum order volume is just 25 pieces.
There’s no doubt about it – anyone who wants to find out more about production and branding techniques, can learn a great deal in one fell swoop here. It is thus not surprising that SPS regularly holds seminars and workshops for interested trading partners. Of course there is a certain degree of self-interest involved here: “Our trading partners are more or less our sales people. The more they know about the products they sell the better!“ commented Morgan.
On the subject of selling: SPS tries to support the distributors – as their only sales channel – as much as possible by offering them training measures, samples and brochures for their own advertising purposes and the company additionally attends the relevant British shows such as the Trade Only National Show or the APG Expo. However, the most important information channel is a variety of catalogues: “Our main catalogue has a circulation of 100,000 and is of course also available as a neutral version,“ explained Morgan. “We also maintain strategic partnerships with several British and European suppliers who are included in our catalogue for a fee. We are a founder member of the supplier group, the Advertising Gift Federation (AGF), which organises a roadshow at the beginning of January.“
“Catalogues are still an indispensable tool,“ added Anderton, “also for Europe, which is why we print an extra catalogue for our European partners, which appears in several languages.“
SPS has sales partners in 37 countries and regions, the most important of which areScandinavia,Germany,Belgium, theNetherlands,France,Spain,Portugal,Poland, theCzechRepublicandRussia. The company also maintains partnerships with a number of European suppliers: “We try to sell products in other markets via supplier partners and in return offer to sell their products on our domestic market via our sales channels,“ explained Morgan. “Of course this doesn’t work for all items: For example fly swats don’t sell inGreat Britain. On the other hand coasters are a mainstay in theUK, but they are not at all well-known on the Continent.“
Across the Channel
SPS intends to further push its export business: “Our export share currently makes up around 10% of the overall turnover, we want to double or even treble this,“ announced Morgan. “Europeis an important market for us.“ This is the reason why SPS is going to be represented with its own exhibition stand at the PSI Show in Düsseldorf in 2013 for the first time in years.
Morgan appraises the status quo on the domestic market in a similar way to many of his British industry colleagues: “The economy is still slack, but the industry has adapted to the situation. The average order volumes have declined, but the number of orders has increased by around 50% – this means: More work for the same money. So the economic situation is not as bad as the media implies in some cases. The promotional products industry is not as badly off as the retail branch. The market will definitely not grow in the foreseeable future, but we are trying to increase our market share nevertheless.“ And the company from Blackpooloffers the perfect prerequisites to achieve this aim.