24 - 26 April 2018
Halls 17 - 18
NEC, Birmingham

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04 Oct 2017

Signage is more than just a job for 2innovate’s Steve Sandford; it’s a way of life


Steve Sandford is operations director at 2innovate, a trade only design and branding solutions company that provides bespoke internal and external signage for high quality branding and visual impact. Utilising a network of specialist providers, the company achieves eye-catching, thought provoking, innovative signage solutions that are managed for success from design to installation.  Sandford says signage is more than just a job; it’s a way of life. We caught-up with him at the company’s Aylesbury headquarters to find out why.


How did you get started in the sign trade?

I started out in recruitment, so nothing to do with the sign trade at all. I went through various jobs after I left school and tried different things before I was made redundant. Soon after I took a call from a friend who had a sign company that wasn’t performing quite as well as it should have been and he asked if I would be prepared to take on the challenge of re-establishing the company’s brand. I looked at it as a fresh challenge and figured why not give it a go? I fell in love with the industry from day one and I still feel that way today.  That was 11 years ago now, but it still feels like yesterday.


When and how did you become involved with 2innovate?

About three years ago, I began to notice that nobody was really looking out for the needs of the end customer. I think any kind of customer service is about giving a good experience for the customer. So, I took the decision to set up 2innovate with the ultimate goal of innovating trade supply. I wanted people to stop thinking of trade supply as just being about the cheapest price, or about cutting corners. I hate seeing companies that cut corners. Signage is more than a job to me; it's a passion.


Since starting the business, have things moved on in trade supply?

It's definitely moved on. I've worked in signage for 11 years and it's never been the same day twice; never in the whole time I've been doing this. How fantastic is that? There's no chance to get bored.

Everything for me is based around customer service, good products and giving good advice. We also back everything up with a five year parts and labour warranty. No one else is doing that. Every component we put into our products is first class, and we insist that our supply chain support us with only the best components. So, sometimes we're not always competitive but if you want your corporate signage to have longevity and be manufactured to the highest possible standard, can you put a price on that?


How do you work with a typical customer?

We work in partnership with sign companies throughout the UK and what we is do bridge the gap between us the manufacturer and what it is the sign companies are trying to sell into the end user. We also represent the end client, because at the end of the day it’s our product that is carrying their corporate brand and will be fitted to the outside of their company headquarters. So, we try to get as involved as possible, even at the initial planning stages. It's about working in partnership with the sign company and focusing on the ultimate goal which is promoting their end customers’ strong brand.


What types of sign are you usually asked to produce?

No two signs are ever alike, but we do produce all sorts of totem monoliths of the type you would expect to see outside petrol stations, industrial parks or retail parks etc. We recently did a pure light sheet projection sign which I don't know if anyone else in the UK has ever done before. We certainly couldn't find anything out about it, so it was just a case of what we might come up with and how we could implement it. We're very fortunate here as we've got a lot of signage experience within the team, and not just from within the industry but from construction, engineering, and various other related industries. It's good to bring those skills together because there are many ways of manufacturing things that you might not think of.

I notice that a lot of people in this industry will stick to going down the same route because it's what they know. In fact, what we've actually got to do as an industry is to look at the technology that is all around us; look at our supply chain, our adhesives, LED suppliers etc. and work together to come up with the next solution. Ten years ago, no one had done a rimless letter, and now when you look around in the sign trade there are rimless letters everywhere.

For us it's about daring to push those boundaries - sometimes we don't always get it right but almost everything we produce is bespoke. So in answer to your question, it can be anything you want it to be really.


You exhibited at Sign & Digital UK in 2017. What was your experience with exhibiting at the show?

I've been a massive fan of the Sign & Digital shows since about 2009 and I think it's such a positive show for our industry. As I have said, we want to innovate trade supply, but we also want to innovate the industry. For us, exhibiting at the show puts us right in the heart of the industry, and as a result we had new clients come to talk to us. Being a fairly new business, not everybody knew our brand or our values, so the show provided the perfect platform to get our brand out there and say this is what we can do to support you guys within the industry.

The sign industry itself needs to adapt to the changing needs of the market. Every single day we need to be looking at ways that we can become better, so we need Sign & Digital UK to help lead the way. It provides such an amazing opportunity for companies like us to showcase what we do. On top of that the show provides us with an opportunity to see what industry innovations there are, as well as investigate what’s going on in all the different application areas and to meet with potential new suppliers. Last year we found about half a dozen new suppliers just off the back of exhibiting at the show, and we have since worked with them all.


Are you planning to approach the exhibition differently next time?

I am planning to have an even more eye-catching interactive stand. Last year we had an interactive stand with some embedded LEDs where you could control the colour temperature of them, or you could put it on a flash in sequence. It became a real focal point that made people come over and take a look, which meant we could then engage with them and talk about all our other services. So, for me our stand has to be even more interactive because we want to have conversations with people, see what opportunities arise and meet new people that could become partners in the future. That's why they're at the show and that's why we do it.


What do you hope to achieve from being an exhibitor at Sign & Digital UK in 2018?

I think one of the key things for us with the show as an exhibitor is to walk out of the NEC with more than you walked in. So, for 2018 I would like to meet a thousand new people that I've never worked with before. I'd also like to talk to 1000 people who we have worked with before. I'd like to see how things are changing for them and what their perceptions of the marketplace and industry are.

To put my experience of exhibiting at Sign & Digital into perspective, I sometimes wonder how many visits it would take for us to get to see all of the clients that came to see us during the show? We must have saved a small fortune in time and man hours and days out on the road etc.  We got our brand awareness out there, and we were able to look about and witness everything that’s new in the industry - for us it was a very positive experience.


Do you have any advice for anybody thinking of exhibiting at Sign & Digital UK next year?

Have a plan. We had some guys next to our stand who said it was all a bit of a last-minute thing and they hadn't prepared for it. They had a basic stand layout with hardly anything on it and nothing to help engage with visitors, and as such people kept walking past without paying them any attention. They were very frustrated with it all but the next morning they had a big shuffle around and brought in some extra bits and pieces to make their stand more enticing and they were packed out. They were more interactive and not just all sitting down and waiting around for people to come to them.

That's what it's about. If you don't put anything in, you won't get anything out of it. I think that's the same for everything in life, and it is certainly applicable with Sign & Digital UK. If you put into it you will get something out of it because of the people that are there. They might want to try a different supplier, they might give you an opportunity and that's all you can ask for. If you get an opportunity, it's down to you to showcase your abilities.


What direction do you see 2innovate taking in five years from now?

I'd like to continue to innovate in the industry. I'd like to continue working to encourage the signage industry to raise the bar where manufacturing standards are concerned.  Here I am talking about raising the quality of the signs, the delivery of the signs, thinking about how the sign will go onto the building and understanding more about the end customers brand and what that represents - not just trying to sell a sign that's easy for you to make. It's about selling a sign that's the right sign for their business, that's the key thing. Hopefully, with that philosophy, we will be able to increase growth and continue to trade profitably.

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  • “We’ve seen a lot of new customers at the show this year, but it’s also been great for networking with existing customers – which is probably just as valuable. We are an LED model manufacturer, and we’ve had a new module that we’ve launched at the show and that’s been well received.”
    Eden Heath
    Product Manager, Oshino LED Lighting
  • “It’s been a really great show – really, really good! We’ve launched a new product and everyone is really interested in it and we’ve had a lot of enquiries. It’s the first time we’ve had a stand this size and everything has gone really well. We launched this product at Sign & Digital UK as it’s generally recognised as the key show in the year for signage makers and everyone involved in the sign and digital business – so it was really a no-brainer. We’ve had a really good quality of customers – people who are decision makers in the business and are looking to buy. We are coming back next year!”
    John Thomas
    Business Development Manager, Your Print Partner Ltd
  • “We had a very successful Sign & Digital UK in 2017 with a few surprises and lots of leads to take back to Lancashire. It’s always an interesting show with lots going on, which is why we’ve been a fixture on the exhibitor list for so many news.”
    Chris Bailey
    Managing Director, QPS
  • “Sign & Digital is a great forum for us to meet distributors, customers and to broaden our brand and is the right partner to work with - professional, experienced, service-minded with the right customer base. We are very pleased with the whole event and our sales in the UK increase every year we participate. See you in Birmingham in 2018!”
    Per Wendel
    Area Sales Manager, Rollsroller
  • “It’s been a really interesting experience exhibiting at Sign & Digital UK this year due to the wide range of new products that we have been exhibiting. We’ve exhibited at Sign & Digital UK for the past few years and I’ve always felt it’s a really good environment to get our products across. We’ve gone into this year with a lot more space and a much bigger stand, and are really pleased with the leads we have obtained and the quality of the customers. Sometimes it only takes 3 or 4 new accounts to feel like the event is justified, but in this case there has been a lot more than that.”
    Kerrie Anne Moore
    Sales and Marketing Manager, Soyang Europe Ltd
  • “Sign and Digital UK is a key part of InkTec’s calendar as it gives us the opportunity to showcase our very latest products, such as the JETRIX LXi8 which had its worldwide debut at this year’s event. As always 2017 saw us networking with existing clients and meeting lots of new contacts for both our printers and consumables. We were especially proud to be here this year, as it also formed part of our celebrations of 25 years since InkTec first started.”
    Joey Kim
    Managing Director of InkTec Europe, InkTec
  • “We had a brilliant Sign and Digital UK 2017. The show provided a great platform to discuss innovative ways for our customers and prospects to evolve and grow their businesses. The feedback we received on stand was fantastic. Along with our industry leading technology, we demonstrated a wide range of applications illustrating what’s possible and helping to inspire customers with potential new growth areas. As part of this, we were very excited to showcase applications of the revolutionary new UVgel technology for the first time in the UK.”
    Dominic Fahy
    Canon’s UK Business Group Manager Display Graphics Systems and Imaging Supplies, Canon UK Ltd
  • “It has been really productive, we’ve been really busy and people have been really interested. For us as a company it has been well worth it to attend.”
    Lesley Rodgers
    Office Manager, Signtrade Letters Ltd
  • “Sign & Digital UK gives us a chance to wave the Mimaki and Hybrid flag, to meet customers old and new, and of course it gives us the best opportunity to launch new products. This year is no exception – we have the new large jfx printer, which has been the star of the show. This show gives us a chance to enhance our share in the printing market. We wanted to come here and launch products as it’s the main UK show for anyone working with graphics and the beauty of the show is that it attracts small signmakers right through to the big graphic producers.”
    John de la Roche
    National Sales Manager, Hybrid Services
  • “There has been a lot of interest in the different machines we have on offer and quite a varied audience. There has been a high quality of customer and it seems that everyone is looking for a wide variety of products. We will definitely come back. Because the show is so central in the country it brings everybody from all four corners.”
    Stafford Cox
    Service Director, Atlantic Tech Services Limited
  • “Our experience at Sign & Digital UK has been excellent and we’ve taken a lot of orders. We’ve got two new bits of kit on the stand and have sold every single model on the stand. The thing is – everybody comes to Sign & Digital UK. If you ever hear negative comments about the show saying it’s just for the sign guys – that’s rubbish. We have had Hollywood Monster, Macro Art, Delta Display, Media Co. DIS – everybody comes here!”
    Robin East
    Group Director, CMYUK Digital Ltd
  • “It’s been very busy so far, two and a half days in and we’ve had quite a lot of enquiries. The machine has drawn a lot of attention.  It was a last minute decision to come here, but we are here every year whether it’s with our dealers or independently, but it seemed like the right decision to make. We will obviously need to follow up, but on first impression it has seemed like really good, high quality visitors and leads. We will be coming back to the show, we always seem to get something out of it so it makes sense, it’s one of those ones that is always on the calendar.
    Ian Guest
    Sales and Marketing, ZUND Plotting Systems (UK) Ltd
  • “The exhibition provided a perfect opportunity to meet existing and potential new customers face-to-face, which always opens the door to great discussions about their needs and requirements, products and the industry in general. We were able to demonstrate Swanline’s capabilities in constructional design, graphics and materials on stand which attracted a considerable amount of attention from visitors. Overall, we were really pleased with how the exhibition went. There was significant interest from some big players in the market towards our new products that were unveiled at the show, generating good leads which we aim to turn into sales.”
    Ross Griffin
    Managing Director, Swanline Paper & Board
  • “The experience so far has been very good for the amount of enquires for the first time ever we’ve shown as Rightons at Sign & Digital UK. We have had a good footfall of enquires, some from existing customers and a lot of new faces. This is the first show that we’ve done as Rightons – so we have got a lot to talk about. We wanted to promote the one stop distribution opportunity for the sign and digital market. We are already in discussion about coming back – possibly with a bigger stand.”
    Colin Double
    National Sales Manager, Righton
  • “It’s been a great three days, with lots of leads every day. Yesterday was pretty crazy with people queuing up to get on the stand. There were lots of orders taken, and it was probably one of the best Sign & Digitals we have ever had. There has been a very good quality of customers – both new and existing – lots of familiar faces including people we’ve already got relationships with looking to upgrade their current kit or buy our new range of materials. We have got lots of new things at the show this year and they have proved really popular. We have already booked a stand that’s about 30% bigger for next year.”
    Lewis Evans
    Product Manager, Vivid Laminating Technologies Ltd
  • “We’ve found the show to be quite busy all three days, and we are pleased with what we’ve got back from it so far. Over the course of the three days we have had around about 60 enquires, which has been a really good result. People who have come on the stand are definitely our target market. We do supply a lot to the trade and a lot of customers have been trade customers, like shop fitters, signage companies which is the right type of customer we are looking for.”
    Vicki Cox
    Product Sales and Marketing Manager, arken POP
  • “Sign & Digital UK has been a great opportunity for us to show how our MIS can deal with the complexities of a large format workflow, including the new functionality we’ve developed for this sector. This year, MIS was definitely on their shopping lists and we secured some top-quality leads from visitors who were at the show to make informed decisions going forward and were clearly decision-makers within their companies.”
    Lee Ward
    Global Sales Director, Tharstern

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