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Banner World has a wealth of knowledge in the banner, signs, and graphics industry.
Managing Director John Leatherbarrow has worked in the sign industry since leaving college over 20 years ago. His experience and knowledge in the industry have enabled him to build the business you see here today.
From humble beginnings, John started the business in 2008. With the start of the recession, just kicking in, setting up a business wasn’t an easy task.  Fast forward a decade later, and Banner World Ltd has worked with thousands of customers. We deal with companies from the Highlands of Scotland right down to the Isle of Wight. Banner World also sends items to Europe and beyond.
Banner World works with predominantly businesses.  Some of the most recognisable brands we have directly produced work for include Amazon, various UK football clubs, BBC, ITV, Strava, Natwest, and Budweiser, to name a few.  We’ve even had orders from Universal Group which is the umbrella of Universal Music and Universal Pictures.

Our MD – John Leatherbarrow

Some more information about John in his own words…

I’m originally from a town called Denton, 5 miles outside Manchester city centre.  Denton is an old, hatting town. When I was a boy, we still had a working hat factory operating in the area. For a small industrial town there are quite a few notable people who’ve lived there.  

Thomas and William Bowler – Responsible for designing the Bowler hat.
Jimmy Armfield – Ex Blackpool and England football player
Mick Hucknall – Simply Red, lived up the road from me as a kid.
Sir Geoff Hurst – Football player for West Ham & England, scored a hatrick in the 66 world cup.
Paul Lake – Football player for Man city lived about ten doors up from me.
Alan Wren – Reni from the Stone Roses
Col Needham – Founder of Movie website IMDB

School Life

As a young lad, I started school at Denton West End Primary School.  I don’t like to admit it, but I was a very average pupil.  If I’m not interested in a subject, then I struggle to learn it.  Most lessons, I found dull. I wasn’t the best at reading and writing, not because I found it hard, I just it found downright tedious.  How many eight years old actually like reading a book?   It’s strange looking back how much I disliked reading.  Reading is now part of my everyday routine, and I am always on with reading a biography or something educational.  I learn so much from books these days, and I have at least one on the go all the time!!

What I did excel in was art.  I would spend all my spare time drawing or painting.  At the schools, I attended, I was always top in the class for Art.  Drawing was a natural thing that I found very easy to do.  Homework on this subject too was easy, and I had to put the least amount of effort in to get top marks every time. I would, however, even though I didn’t need to spend a full evening creating my weekly masterpiece.  I would go into class the next morning and draw some quick sketches for my classmates who had forgotten their homework. I’d knock something up in 5 minutes or less, and they’d always get a C or higher.  I think I got paid a few times for doing this, so the entrepreneurial spirit was there at a young age.
In the last two years of secondary school, you could choose which subjects you wanted to study for GSCE’s You had to take either Geography or History as one option, French or German as another option. I’m not sure how but I managed to skip all these subjects. I’m pretty sure I was the only pupil that got away with not doing all these subjects. Instead, they let me do all the arty classes of which were Drama, Art, and Graphic Design. The Graphic Design course was brilliant, and I excelled in this subject. In my mock GSCE, I was outstanding. I achieved a 100% mark in my course work and 100% in my mock exam. My teacher told me that in all his years nobody had ever got 100% in both.
From a young age, I was always intrigued by successful people. People with experience are so much more interesting to speak to and have so much more life experience. From reading biographies of successful people, I’ve discovered that Entrepreneurial Individuals have the same learning traits that I have. These learning traits affected the early stages of my life, and I found it very difficult to get along. It took me up to being 20 years old to realise that I am good at things that I like doing.  If I put my mind to a task that I’m interested in, I put 110% effort in every time.

 

Moving to the Fylde Coast 1995

In 1995 the family moved to Poulton-le-Fylde when I’d just left secondary school.  Poulton is a few miles outside Blackpool on the Fylde coast.  Being 16 and leaving my old life behind at a pivotal point was quite hard.  The move did feel alien to me for quite a few years, but eventually, you settle into things.  Coming from a rough city to a small tight little village was a bit of a shock, to be honest, and all in all, it felt a bit ‘soft.’  I was this Mancunian lad with no mates wandering around a town of people I didn’t know.

1995-1996

I enrolled at Blackpool sixth form to resit my GSCE’s as I only passed 4 of them the first time around.  I wasn’t a typical scholar, and much didn’t take school life too serious.  My school reports usually consisted of ‘Bit of a class joker,’ or ‘Could try harder.’ Anyway, I passed the re-sits but felt it was a waste of time.  I’ve not been asked for my GSCE results since!

1996-1998

Always top of the class for art, I found out that there was a Graphic Design course at a Palatine Road College in Blackpool.  It was a National diploma course.  I finished the course and gained my diploma. Even though this was a Graphic Design course, we covered very little if anything on the Apple Mac computers.  All our coursework was with Pen and Ink.  Even though I had passed the course, I just needed to find out how to operate the Apple Mac.

Most of my classmates carried on and did the degree course but being now 19 I wanted to get a job and start earning some money.  I got offered a job at Granthams in Blackpool which was, and still is, the most established sign & graphics business in the area.

Starting Work

Grantham Signs 1998-2002

Founded in 1890 Granthams began life as a signmaker.  It manufactured traditional signs and is the oldest sign makers in Blackpool. It was a fantastic company to work for, and I enjoyed my time there. For somebody like me, who’s a natural ‘Hands-on’ learner this was the best company to develop new skills.  It was like a chocoholic getting a job at ‘Willy Wonkas.’

Granthams was a cutting edge company. They are always investing in the latest equipment.  Its owner Mark Hudders is a guy with his finger on the pulse. Still looking for the next trend, Mark was a great guy to work for an also a sharp businessperson.

At the time Granthams employed around 60-70 people.  The main offices were in Blackpool, and there were another office and showroom in Preston.  Granthams had different departments.

  • Granthams Graphic Technology.  At the time, Granthams were Apple Mac suppliers and also had the UK rights to Flexisign which is American Sign Making Software. They also sell large format printers and equipment to the sign trade.
  • Copy & Print.  This department had the lastest digital print technology.
  • Printing.com

I started work at the copy and print department doing photocopying, serving customers, and being a general tea brewer.  As I have a passion for learning only when something interests me, I persuaded a lad who worked there to teach me the Apple Mac and the Adobe programs. I picked this up quickly and enjoyed creating designs and artwork on the computer.
It was at this time that Granthams became part of the Printing.com franchise. As I’ve said before, I’ve always been fascinated by successful people, and there’s an occasion that I’ll never forget. This guy pulls up outside Granthams in a brand new BMW 8 series, V8 top-spec model. This sharp looking bloke steps out of the car. He was older than me I’d guess around the late ’20s. It turns out that this guy is the Managing Director of the printing.com franchise. The company was his idea and brainchild. So I did some research on him. He’d started out designing flyers in his bedroom for clubs in Manchester!! 10 years later he now operates and owns the largest print hub in the UK at the time….. and has franchises sending all the print to him. The franchises then resell the print on at a tidy margin!! From memory, I’m sure it was a 10 million pound investment. I’m 20 years old at the time thinking, How did this guy raise 10 million!!!! I remember peering outside and looking at his beautiful car and thinking. Wow!! How cool is this, a young bloke with all this success at such a young age? That day as was etched in memory, and this inspired me later on when I set up my own business.
After 18 months, the sign shop designer left, and I took his job. I enjoyed the role, creating eye-catching artworks for signage. Seeing your artwork in all its glory and pride of place above shops and hotels was a good feeling.  The job also entailed designing large signage schemes and the creation of files for manufacturing etc.  At this point, I also got into sign manufacture and even installation.  So when we were quiet in the office, I would be on the shop floor manufacturing and installing vinyl graphics on vehicles. Granthams manufactured quality signs that stood the test of time and had an excellent reputation in the industry.

Let’s rewind time 80 years. Blackpool in the Early to Mid 1900s would’ve been busting the seams. Tourists from all around the UK eager to get some sunshine and clean, fresh air, blowing over the from Atlantic on the Gulf Stream.  Even though Blackpool tourism has decreased significantly over the past 25 years, there are still some very wealthy areas on the Fylde coast.  Business owners have moved off into different industries and may be seen other opportunities.

Blackpool’s a very business savvy area.  Many people from the days of tourism had or still own small businesses. Business is in the blood of the people of Blackpool. And this gets handed down to the next generation, and so on.   Everyone in the town knows someone who owns or parents who own businesses.  Blackpool is an eco-system.  It’s not like the cities with big industries employing 1000’s. So Blackpool business owners are savvy, sharp and are not willing to overpay for anything.  I know because I’ve dealt with them.

Around the turn of the millennium, the industry was starting to change.  I was fully aware of the changes, and the sign game was turning more competitive.  The quality signs Granthams were making were lasting 20 years or more. Once upon a time, the customer would spend thousands having a sign manufactured by a professional in acrylic and moulded letters. Unfortunately, the new era moved into a throwaway society.  Around the turn of the millennium, small sign shops were popping up where you could get a cheap piece of plastic with some letters stuck on it for a few hundred quid.  A few grand and a bit of know-how could buy a simple vinyl cutter and software. The overnight bedroom sign maker was in business, and eventually, this devalued the market. These guys had no experience and were winging it like the Seagulls.

The times were changing, and the new niche of technicolour signs was beginning. Large full-colour printers were evolving, which could print photographic quality images. never seen before. These types of signs starting to replace the traditional standard vinyl cutting. 3m wide print machines that could print direct to plastic substrate It was in 2002 that an opportunity arose to start at a company in nearby Preston.

JKN Digital 2002-2008

I started at JKN Digital in September 2002.   I knew about these guys and got an introduction by someone when we were out on a night out.  I asked if he’d get me a job, and a few weeks later he did just that.  JKN at the time was a trade supplier.

These guys sold full colour printed vinyl, rigid panels, and banners to the sign trade.
Back in 2002 full-colour signage was in its infancy and the owner had invested approx 1 million back then into x3 flatbed printers which printed directly to substrate.  Basically, you put a foam PVC sheet on the print bed, and it would print direct onto the material.  It was a game-changer.  The company also had x2 large-format vinyl printers and a large Zund flatbed cutting machine. The Zund cutter was the first of its kind in the UK.

These times were in the days before the average signwriter owned his vinyl print machine. The equipment was specialist and very expensive to run.  Running these machines and maintaining them was was a full-time job in itself. Prices of self-adhesive vinyls back then printed and laminated were £75+vat per sq metre.   Moving into this industry was, in my eyes, was the future!!!  After mastering all aspects of the company, I’d learned everything there was to know in the business.  I was probably one of a few people in the company that could do every aspect of the job.  I could design artwork, set print and cut files, and use all the print equipment.

In 2005 I got my first internet connection at home. I was a bit behind the times. It was another moment of my life that I could see so much potential by being connected to the world wide web. It was around this time that started doing bits of jobbing for myself working evenings and weekends. I thought again about the Printing.com guy; if I could sell large format printing online, I’d create a great business. No others were doing it at the time if they were, they were doing a bad job. However, an online business took a few years longer than I’d expected to become a reality.

Setting up in business

2008-2012 – Signs & Designs

Seeing the potential of my previous employment, I started as a sole trader. I started with a £5k loan, which was all the banks would lend me. I’d just bought my first house two months before the December 2007 crash and my net worth was about minus £50k. Not having access to funds was an obstacle. Why would the banks trust someone with no track record, no business experience, and no business? But I started anyway, money was tight, and I didn’t take a day off or go on holiday for four years. It wasn’t unusual for me to work 16+ hours a day. My record was a 4 am start and a midnight finish.

I kicked off doing basic signage and standard vinyl graphics on vans.  My full arsenal of kit consisted of a rented unit, a large workbench, an iMac and an £800 vinyl cutter!!!  The goal was to earn enough money to fund a large format printer. However, it would take 18 months and x10 maxed out credit cards to buy it; no banks would touch me still. My girlfriend, now wife thought I was mad to keep pursuing the purchase of the printer.  However, we managed to buy the printer, which was a Mimaki JV33 which I purchased from my friends, ex-boss & colleagues at Granthams.

With the extra work I was doing, I was able to pay the printer off in 12 months and was now making some decent headway.  It was at this point I employed a web design company to produce me a website which cost me the best part of £10k.  The site was a disaster and netted me the princely sum of £35, a single online order in 12 months! At this point, most would give up, but I cracked on and went again!
Twelve months later I had another website designed, this time I went with cheap and cheerful. The new site was more of a brochure site. It had simple price tables on each product.  The customers would need to call or email for a quote.  This site probably brought in £1k a month which was not bad for the small £500 investment of the website build. From the site, we got a decent contract for some significant work and vans to do in Liverpool which netted us another £5k, so it wasn’t a bad little earner.   From this ever so small victory, I decided to up the ante, and go about things properly.

2012 – Blackpool Signs & Graphics Ltd.

I took on my first employee, who was one of my close mates and decided to set up a limited company.  I choose the name solely for local work as I thought it would give us more authority in the area which it did.  However, the client base around Blackpool as you can guess was pretty low quality. As I mentioned before the guys in Blackpool are real savvy and want stuff for nothing.  You can’t build a business if no one wants to pay.  We started doing vehicle wraps. The wraps were good at the start as nobody else was doing them. After three years others began to follow the bedroom wrap cowboys moved in. The new guys with zero experience started to devalue the market again!

It’s time for a change.

One thing I value more than anything is my time. Time is finite; we can’t change it and can’t create any more of it. I dislike nothing more than people wasting my time. I utterly detest it!!! We spent a couple of years going backward and wasting loads of time and energy. Quoting and measuring jobs we were never going to get. With no one willing to spend in the area, it was difficult to get the right type of clients.  One thing we don’t sell is low-quality products!  But our customers wanted low quality and didn’t want to pay for a quality job. We are competing against quotes for the other new sign guys that were undercutting us by 50% or more. It just wasn’t worth our time. Once you start dealing in rubbish, you become the ‘go-to’ rubbish merchants. And once that happens, then the end is near. We needed another avenue, and we needed it fast.

2015 – Banner World Website

With slightly more cash in the bank, we decided to invest some money in a new website which had a home page calculator and around ten products, of Mesh Banner, PVC Banner, Vinyl Printing and Window Stickers, etc.  Launched in January 2015 after six months Banner World started relatively slow.   But with constant work, it began to pay off.  We began to get orders from out of town and requests for banners and graphics down south and in London.  The website started basic, and we changed it over the years. The significant change we implemented was to give each product its on-page calculator. The calculator made the site perform much better.  Over the last four years, the site has overtaken the local Blackpool work. At the end of 2018, it was responsible for just over 95% of our total sales.
We researched new products and looked at existing products out there in the market which we were not currently offering. Could we produce these products better, to higher quality, and at less cost? You bet we could!

2016

The original Banner World site launched as a sideline.  A new stand-alone business which we added to our arsenal.  It morphed into something bigger than it was initially designed to be.  The website was tweaked from the original and distorted into something else, which it wasn’t intended to be and it started to look dated and was hard to use.  Banner World sales overtook Blackpool Signs sales in 2016, and this was increasing year on year, so we needed a fresh outlook.
The increase in turnover allowed us to invest in bigger and better equipment and introduce more products into the range.

 

2019 – Banner World Ltd.

At the beginning of 2019, we decided to rebrand and re-design the website entirely.  At the same time, we also changed the company name to Banner World Ltd. The Blackpool Signs name was confusing the customers.
We undertook a full redesign using the existing website database and content. The new site is now much more slick and professional. We are continuing to attract more of the clients we want, the larger Blue Chip companies. We know that Banner World isn’t a fit for everyone. But, for the large B2B clients who are ordering decent-sized orders, we can give significant savings over the competition.

 

The Future

Our ultimate goal is to keep improving on our success.  We are implementing a new interface at the moment which will enable us to process orders more quickly and give you our clients, more information on the status of your order. We are also continually improving our products, operations, and services. We are working towards being the UK’s largest online banner company. From the humble beginning, the dream is becoming more of a reality every single day.
Even though this is the end of the story, so far…..it’s only really the beginning. Watch this space 🙂

 

Thanks for reading

John

8-9-2019

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