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Meet the expert - Ian Spence from the William Smith Group

Ian Spence from The William Smith Group
Ian Spence from The William Smith Group 1832

In Smith’s latest Meet the Expert piece they sit down with Ian Spence to get his thoughts on his new role, his time at the company, and the future of the signs and graphics industry.

When and how did you join William Smith Group 1832?

I joined the business in June 2005.

I had just arrived back from travelling in Australia and had some friends working at William Smith who made me aware of a job opportunity. Everything happened so quickly, I flew back in on a Monday, did my interview on Friday, and started the following Monday. My first role was in the Fabrication department. I was responsible for fabricating KFC flex face boxes, which was a project that lasted approximately 6 months.I was also manufacturing a lot of CE-marked traffic signage, ‘bollhoffing’ the channel to the back of the plate.

As Sales Manager what does your new role entail?

Currently, the most important element of my role is strategic development within the Estimating department. I’m introducing processes that can help develop the department and staff members further.

I also work closely with the team to help with enquiries, opportunities, and any challenges that may present themselves. Although mainly office based, I do spend time on the road visiting customers, this is crucial to developing existing and new relationships. When required, I still support team members and customers with distribution queries.

You’ve had several different roles throughout your time with the business, how have they helped you develop as a professional?

Believe it or not I’m a qualified Stone Mason by trade, so when joining Smiths I started in Fabrication, and completed a Level 2 NVQ in Signmaking. I sometimes joke about this with people as they didn’t know such a thing existed.

After 2 years in the business, I was given the opportunity to join the Estimating Team in the sales office. I had no sales background at the time, but this opportunity set me on my journey and gave me the grounding for where I am at today.

I also have 8 years of experience on the distribution side of the business, first working as an Internal Account Manager and then as an External Account Manager. I was responsible for looking after the North East of England, Yorkshire, and parts of Lincolnshire.

I’ve now come full circle and returned to the manufacturing side of the business.

What is the most challenging aspect about your role within the company?

I would have to say the current economic climate and navigating the challenges that come with it. People don’t need me to tell them about this, I think we’re all conscious of it.

What impact do you hope to have on the business and the industry?

Working with the wider team I want to help project the Smith brand as the leading sign manufacturer in the UK.

Whilst growing the business it’s important to ensure we keep our identity and upkeep the values that have got us to where we are today. Our heritage is deeply rooted in being genuine people that take pride in demonstrating a wealth of knowledge and providing excellent service for our customers.

Is there a specific time period within your career that you reflect on as being the most valuable?

I’ve had a lot of valuable moments, but I think moving from the shopfloor to the Estimating Team is the best career decision I ever made. It opened doors and allowed me to build my knowledge. I now understand the industry from a completely different perspective.

What do you believe differentiates Smith Trade Signage from other trade sign manufacturers?

As noted in a previous question our brand values mean a lot. We’ve managed to forge a good reputation within the sign and graphics industry over many years because of our values. Putting the customer first goes a long way in any business sector.

What’s your vision for the business?

I want the industry to view us as a one stop shop for all fabricated signage products. The leading trade only sign manufacturer in the UK.

Are you able to provide insight into any exciting developments that may occur in the next 12 months?

We’re currently working behind the scenes on a new website, this is due to launch later in the year. I can’t say too much about it right now, but it will enhance our service offering and have significant benefits for customers. Continuous development in personnel and processes is always ongoing and it will be the same in 2023.

How do you see the future of the sign industry?

I think the future is bright (no pun intended). People are always wanting to push the boundaries of what is possible. Although I think the product mix within the industry will largely remain the same, signs will become bigger, brighter, and bolder.

If you could provide one piece of advice to your peers in the sign industry, what would it be?

Take every opportunity given to you. If you are being offered an opportunity, then take it with both hands. It’s a good indication that your potential has been realised.

For those that don’t know you outside of the workplace, what do you like to do in your spare time?

Spending time with family is important to me. My wife, Rachel, also works within the business. We have two sons who love playing football. They play for the local youth setup, Barnard Castle FC, so most weekends we are supporting them.

When I’m not spending time with the family I’m usually out on my bike. I’m the Chairman of Teesdale Cycling Club. We’re a non-profit organisation, and it’s my responsibility to increase memberships, organise events, and help make decisions that are in the best interests of the members. I do also like to spend the odd day fishing over in the Lake District.

Want to speak with Ian about an industry related topic? You can contact Ian via email at ian@williamsmith.co.uk.


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