Rotherham and Sheffield-based Husband and Wife Business Celebrates 20 years!

In August, husband and wife team Carol and Steve Morris, celebrate 20 years as owners of the Rotherham and Sheffield branch of national sign maker Signs Express Limited.

The lure of returning to their native Yorkshire was a big driver, but it has been a tumultuous 20 years, with economic downturns, Covid, advances in technology, and the many changes to the business community in the South Yorkshire area to contend with.

Carol takes up the story: “Both of us are originally from Yorkshire but we had lived and worked in various parts of the UK and overseas. We chose Rotherham and Sheffield because we wanted to return to Yorkshire and received so much positive help and encouragement from RMBC, RIDO and the two Chambers of Commerce.

“Back in 2003, we were bored and fed up with working for large corporates and wanted to own a more simple, hands-on company, using the knowledge and experience we had gained in industry with our own interest in art and design. We thought that if you combined engineering with art you would get “Signs”.

“Our ambitions were to grow the business from a greenfield startup and to develop a culture where both we and our employees would like to work. We placed much more emphasis on establishing a pleasant, creative and empowered culture than on maximising profit – and we still do.”

Signs Express, was very much growing its national footprint in the early 2000s and the opportunity to join a supportive network, made great appeal to Carol and Steve.

“We chose to join the Signs Express network because the two founders, David and Frank had considerable business experience, personal credibility, and integrity and they had developed a very friendly, professional and competent network with a highly supportive win-win relationship between the franchisees and franchisor.”

Carol and Steve quickly grasped an understanding of sign production through their transferable skills: “We were able to use our extensive experience in a wide variety of manufacturing, engineering and design industries, combined with our interest in graphic art and design, to consider signage and related products as just another designed and manufactured component,” Carol explains.

Successfully growing the business over the intervening years has required an agile business approach, with the changing socio-economic dynamics of South Yorkshire creating new customer opportunities, but different demands.

“South Yorkshire has undergone significant social and economic transformation over the last 20 years, with the decline of traditional manufacturing and mining industries,” Carol acknowledges.

“However, it has continued to develop and refine its offering and has successfully attracted many hi-tec companies and industries to the area, the universities continue to grow, as do the arts and creative industries, environmental developments, and of course it still is a very green area with easy access to the Peak District.

“Customers demand much higher levels of service and quality; there have been many changes resulting from developments in technology, particularly in computing and communication techniques, there are more demands on compliance, health and safety and so on.

“Yet the key skills and competencies we strived for in the beginning, are still the most important – that is the personal skills, qualities, and the attitudes of our team, these are the things most valued by our customers and suppliers. People still want to work with people.”

Reflecting proudly on the last 20 years, Carol says that fostering long-standing relationships and making a difference in the community have helped to contribute positively to the changes Sheffield and Rotherham have witnessed.

“We have managed to work with a wide variety of customers and industries, from sole traders to large corporates, public bodies and charities, building very strong relationships with them and our long-term supplier network. Many of our existing customers and suppliers started their businesses at a similar time to ourselves and it has been very rewarding to watch them develop and grow too.

“We simply want to contribute and put something back into the society that has welcomed us and helped us and our team to grow. We support school career events, work with public bodies, councils and environmental bodies as business representatives. We have supported a number of local charities by direct sponsorship, providing benefits in kind, participating in charity events to raise funds for projects, and so on.”

Celebrations are imminent to mark this landmark anniversary and will involve the whole Signs Express Sheffield team.

“Your team, your customers and your suppliers are your most important assets. Treat them well and don’t take them for granted,” Carol concludes.

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