Structure-Flex is looking to grow in the commercial vehicle curtain and digital print business this year by creating closer relationships directly with fleets. The company turned over £7 million last year and managing director Paul Reeve says it is on track to add more than £5m of new business by the end of the financial year.
However, Structure-Flex only tends to deal with fleets directly when it’s time for a replacement curtain. Reeve wants to work with brand agencies to find ways to engage at the outset of a fleet’s livery needs. Not only would this boost its own revenues, working more closely with fleets would also help them to maximise promotional opportunities offered by high quality curtain design and livery.
The company’s traditional client base is trailer builders, bodybuilders, refurbishment organisations, hauliers and used vehicle and trailer dealers. It also has a healthy export business, servicing customers in North America, the Middle East and Europe.
“I don’t think the Structure-Flex brand is out there enough for the haulage companies to come and purchase direct,” says Reeve. “In some ways we’re always one step removed from the end user. It’s why we thought working with the brand agencies could be a way of engaging at the outset when a fleet’s livery is being designed for them to recommend for the curtain or digital printing process.”
Founded in 1970, the privately-owned business has been run by Reeve for the past three years, although he has been at the company for 20. He joined as a gap-year computer aided design (CAD) student at college and was tasked with looking at how Structure-Flex could incorporate CAD into its processes.
The business relocated last year after acquiring a site in Cromer, Norfolk, from Young’s Seafood, which moved to Grimsby. Reeve has pumped in more than £700,000 to transform the site with new equipment to give the company a competitive edge to handle more volume and keep quality high. The investment included two super-wide format digital printers and a climate controlled print room.
Reeve oversees a team of 70, and is looking to expand further. He wants the flexibility to cater for large deals and one-offs from fleets. There are discount deals available to customers that deal in volume.
Structure-Flex has a network of fitters that can travel to depots across the UK to help measure up or fit curtains professionally.
“We’re happy to supply one pair or hundreds of pairs of curtains,” says Reeve. “We have no minimum order requirements from fleets.”
The business typically produces between 50 and 75 curtains a week and Reeve wants to increase production to 100 a week this year. The EN-XL load-bearing curtain designs are the most popular choice, but also take the most time to produce.
Reeve says the company has more than 300 active customers, including Greene King, BT, Global Brands Group, Bevan Group and Tiger Trailers. However, he says the number of customers is deceptive, as a single company like Tiger will produce thousands of trailers a year for many different companies.
“Our unique selling point is the breadth of capability that we have, particularly on the printing and manufacturing,” says Reeve. “Like all industries, you’ve got to price yourself on the quality you can deliver. We look to provide a higher level of quality and attention to detail than perhaps what others may be able to offer.”
The big trend is for side curtains, both in new build and the refurbishment sector.
“Gone are the days of applying paint mask to curtains and hand-painting, waiting hours for them to dry,” Reeve says.
“Designs are also becoming more complex, as graphic designers and branding companies are given the challenge of getting the best from their client’s fleet.”
Speed of supply is also becoming very important, more so if side curtains are being used as part of a time-sensitive marketing campaign.
“Once the artwork comes to us, we can turn in a draft within a few days,” Reeve explains.
“We’ll make sure the customer sees a mock-up of what it’s going to look like on the trailer with all the buckles to make sure their message is coming across and they’re happy. Normally a curtain is completed within two weeks.”
Reeve says much of the challenge with the speed of production comes down to getting artwork signed off, so it’s essential companies are given as much help as they need with the process and Structure-Flex is happy to be as hands-on as needed. He says being on call for the design process can shave hours off each project.
“The biggest challenge we’ve faced is how the complexity of the digital printing side has been improving all the time,” says Reeve.
“So we’ve had to invest in new technology and training in order to keep ahead of that.”
If treated and maintained well, lorry curtains can last up to five years. Replacement curtains, depending on size and specification, typically range from £800 for a plain set, rising to £1,100 for a set incorporating a fairly complex livery, and then around £2,100 for a set fully covered with digital print.
All fleet customers want a product that is going to last, but Reeve believes Structure-Flex has the advantage over competitors by using “quality fabrics produced in the EU that don’t suffer material colour fade as can be seen with materials produced further afield”.
He also believes a better level of customer service is why fleets are willing to invest in quality.
“We may not be, nor aspire to be, the cheapest on paper, but our service has been proven to add enough value to make us a preferred choice,” says Reeve.
Quality curtains are not just about the look; fleets can also see potential fuel savings with a well-engineered and correctly fitted side curtain, although Reeve was unable to give a specific example of how much fuel could be saved.
He says a poorly designed set of curtains, which cannot be tensioned correctly either horizontally or vertically can flap constantly creating unnecessary drag, therefore negatively impacting on fuel economy.
Structure-Flex also offers its own Smoothride system, which operates using patented clips on the inside of the curtain face.
“While this may offer a further fuel saving benefit, it predominantly offers the entire curtain side for digital print, and has proven a popular choice for multi-drop beverage distribution, because of the rapid access functionality combined with increased size for conveying brand messages,” says Reeve.
“The main aerodynamic fuel saving features will continue to rest with the bodywork and cab designs, but curved front and sloping curtains certainly remain a popular choice.”
Reeve says a simple design often works best for companies looking to convey a clear message.
“Companies often spend a significant amount of money on brand design, and with the current capabilities digital print can offer, side curtains because of their sheer size can without doubt add value in terms of representing a professional company image or getting across a core message,” he says.
Managing director: Paul Reeve
Time in role: Three years
Headquarters: Cromer, Norfolk
Key clients: Greene King, BT, Global Brands Group and Tiger Trailers