Chris Benson established Benson Signs in Liverpool in 1969 and, as its half century approaches, the business remains as dynamic and innovative as the day it began. Tony McDonough reports
It isn’t just the younger, newer businesses that position themselves at the forefront of technology and innovation.
Chris Benson established Benson Signs in Liverpool in 1969 and, as its half century approaches, the business is as dynamic as the day it began.
From its headquarters in Great Howard Street, just outside the city centre, the company provides signage for some of the best-known names in the high street including Costa Coffee, Subway and Pizza Hut.
And not only has it established itself as one of the UK’s top sign-makers, it is also probably the greenest, self-generating 25% of its annual electricity needs.
It was back in 2001 that Chris, who is still at the helm of Benson Signs, was made aware that experts at Liverpool John Moores University were offering local companies an environmental analysis.
“They did a forensic analysis of what we were doing and what we could be doing and should be doing,” said Chris.
“So we first looked at waste products and recycling and then we stepped up in looking to reduce our carbon footprint in terms of our energy usage.”
The process put Benson Signs on a path towards recreating a business that was environmentally sustainable – as well as profitable.
Chris added: “That is a long process. People get the idea that reducing the environmental impact of your business is something you can do quickly but you can’t.
“Because at the same time you still have to make money and so the main focus is always to make sure the business is profitable.”
In the last few years Chris has overseen the installation of solar panels on the roof, installed water harvesting equipment as well as a biomass boiler to heat the factory.
“I know there is a little bit of controversy over biomass but overall it is better than using gas,” he said.
“We also buy our energy from a supplier that only sells renewable energy then it means that all our electricity that we use here is from renewable sources.
“And these aren’t just a collection of random, crazy ideas. As well as reducing your carbon footprint you are also reducing your costs.
“Cutting down on our running costs really helped us get through the recession.”
Benson Signs employs 48 people directly and, when regular sub-contractors are taken into account, that number rises to around 60.
Chris said: “For the past 30 years most of our business – around 70% – has come from outside Merseyside. We are exporters of our products to other parts of the UK and, in some instances, into Europe.
“We will still do business in Merseyside as much as we can but because of the type of work that we do we need customers that have an ongoing demand for signs.
“We need to be making signs all the time. We welcome enquiries from anywhere but lots of independent businesses might only need a sign once every 10 years.
“While that type of business is great to have, it doesn’t provide the level of income we need to survive and prosper. Ideally we need to deal with companies that are ordering sign products every week.”
Despite running the business for almost 50 years Chris has no intention of stepping down, or even slowing down, any time soon.
He added: “I just love getting involved in the business. To see the people who work here doing so well and develop all the time is a huge incentive for me.
“This is a very competitive sector – it always has been. “We are trying to make sure we stay ahead in a technological sense and that we can stay competitive.
“They are the two issues that drive us forward all the time.”