A Worcestershire signage company, which started life in an attic bedroom 12 years ago, has stayed open during three national lockdowns, and says it is full of optimism for the future.
Like many small firms in the UK, Covid 19 hit Kempsey-based Ocean Blue Graphics hard, but as the country rolls out its roadmap to recovery, owners Blake and Gemma Hobbs say they are finally turning a corner, and are urging others to keep the faith.
As the main signage contractor to Malvern’s Three Counties Showground, Ocean Blue Graphics produces hundreds of banners, flags, marquee displays and roadside boards for events like the RHS Spring Gardening Festival each and every year.
It could only watch as one by one the 2020 events were cancelled and the pandemic tightened its grip.
In spite of the challenges facing them, the husband and wife team determined to survive and thrive – quickly re-thinking their business strategy, reaching out to potential new customers and adapting their services to meet a new kind of demand.
Their resolve paid off, they remained working and this month they returned to Three Counties, having won the signage contract for the NHS Vaccination Centre.
Said Managing Director Blake Hobbs: “Our business has been trading for 12 years now, and sometimes we forget how hard it has been to get to where we are.
We are reminded when we see our work displayed across the three counties and further afield and love the fact that we’ve helped other businesses to grow. We weren’t about to let a pandemic wipe out a decade of effort just like that!”
Without warning, and like many others, Blake and Gemma had to think on their feet, and whilst they continued to deliver signs, boards, vehicle wraps and clothing for clients who still required them, they took on new work producing Covid 19 safety signage, hand sanitiser stations and floor graphics for businesses and organisations around the three counties.
The medical pods at the Three Counties Vaccination Centre were designed by architects Highbury, who asked them to quote for both the external and internal signage.
“We are thrilled to have been involved in such an important project”, said Blake, “and it was great to be back at Three Counties. We really missed the shows last year, and it’s brilliant to see the team planning new events and looking forward to better times ahead.”
Ocean Blue Graphics is not alone in re-thinking its business strategy, and there is much to be positive about.
A survey of 10,000 small UK businesses by Goldman Sachs in September 2020, found that while nearly two thirds had seen a decrease in revenue, the vast majority have managed to navigate their way through the crisis so far.
45% of those surveyed had pivoted or changed their business model by adopting new technology, developing entirely new products and expanding existing product lines.
Whilst there is no doubt that Coronavirus has had a significant impact on small UK businesses, it seems that in the main, they have been agile and proactive in responding to it.
“The current crisis has definitely forced us to work in new ways”, said Gemma, “and like many others we’ve had to diversify.
Out of the chaos, however, has come time to reflect on what we offer our clients, and explore avenues we’ve long wanted to go down. The use of plastics in business is inevitable, but we have been creating flat-pack eco-friendly signage and branded packaging to do our bit to help the Planet.”
Ocean Blue Graphics recently invested in a Summa flatbed cutter, which enables Blake and Gemma to make short runs of branded cardboard packaging and deliver the same day!
“A lot of local food businesses and restaurants have been selling online during lockdown and offering a takeaway service for the first time”, continued Gemma. “Thanks to our new machine, we’ve been able to help them with branded takeaway boxes to meet demand.
We are currently seeing a lot of new business start-ups emerging, and have been using the cutter to produce environmentally-friendly, point of sale boards for shops and wooden cut or engraved signage options for all kinds of local businesses.
We’re excited to be helping them on their journey, and there is definitely hope on the business horizon.
The new normal may be quite different to what we know, but Ocean Blue Graphics is looking forward to embracing whatever that normal might be.”