Stadium Signs Celebrates 25 Years
Paint, Print and Partnerships
Stadium Signs Celebrates 25 Years
It’s a long time since Leigh Onions took a paintbrush with him to a signage job…in fact, 25 years after this qualified sign writer took over a small ‘shed-based’ signage business, he’s more likely to be talking pixels than paint, and working with cutting edge technology rather than paint and vinyl cutters.
The transformation is not just a reflection of the changes in the industry over that quarter century, but also a testament to the way in which Stadium Signs has grown with those changes, capitalising on its strengths in sports event and stadium signage and pushing into exciting new areas like experiential and bespoke branding solutions.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves; back in 1988, an enthusiastic Leigh had completed his indentures and had spent time working all over the country on a wide range of signage projects, most of them hand lettered or painstakingly assembled from multiple layers of hand-cut vinyl.
He enjoyed his work but, like many young men, Leigh had ambitions to do more and, when a small signage business called Bradley Signs came up for sale nearby, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.
“Like a lot of tradies, I wanted to have a go at running my own business and buying an established business with a couple of good clients and a bit of equipment I could move into the shed at the back of my place seemed like the perfect way to do it,” Leigh recalls.
As luck would have it one of Bradley Signs’ clients at the time was contracted to produce a couple of signs for advertising at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Leigh was soon hard at work on the regular, hand painted boundary signs which, in those days, were mainly for tobacco companies, even changing the company’s name to ‘Stadium Signs’ to reflect this speciality.
Quality work and good service, as it so often does, saw the business grow. As well as putting on a couple of staff Leigh also kept pace with new technology, installing Computer Cut Vinyl (CCV) technology in the late 80s and, a couple of years later, the company’s first computer.
“It sounds incredible now, but it was relatively rare for businesses to own a computer in those days,” Leigh explains, “and of course they were nowhere near as affordable as they are now – it was a huge investment, but it saved us an enormous amount of time by allowing us to save the physical details of jobs for repeat work or to modify for similar jobs.”
The computer installation was one of many pivotal moments, some of which Leigh admits came about as much by chance as by good management.
“For instance, one day I was walking across the MCG with all my gear when I met a bloke coming the other way. We got chatting and when he found out I was working on the signage, he casually said, ‘Would you like to do a few more?’. Naturally I said yes and that conversation saw our original contract for six signs grow to the point where today we manage about 95% of the above ground signage at the ‘G’ – that’s parapets, trivisions, sight screens, behind wicket, players benches and more – it was just a case of being in the right place and right time!”
All through the 90s, Stadium Signs and the industry raced onwards and in the early 2000s Leigh made his first investment in the digital technology which took over from CCV and, for the first time, in digital print systems.
“Digital print really revolutionised our trade, not only because of the range and quality of images we could print economically for signage, like photographs, but also because for the first time it meant we could produce images on a much wider range of materials, enabling us to expand our product range,” he explains.
Alongside the MCG work, Stadium Signs took on the creation of the advertising signage infrastructure at the then newly-built Colonial (now Etihad) Stadium and worked with the organisers of events from the Soccer World Cup and Commonwealth Games, to the 1996 Ashes series, the Police & Fire Games and cricket’s ‘Big Bash’ Series, as well as a wide range of other work for smaller corporate clients.
Busy and, for a time, stable at a level of three or four staff with contractors to produce specialised work or fill seasonal demand, Stadium Signs could have sailed along comfortably for another 20 years, but certain things about the business were starting to play on Leigh’s mind.
“In many ways it was pretty typical stuff,” he says now. “Our client base was narrow, our workflow seasonal and the profitability of some of our work was doubtful. I guess you could say that, like many tradies who run their own businesses, I had hit the limitations of my business expertise and didn’t really know which way to move next.”
In 2009, however, the answer presented itself in the form of experienced film and television producer, Pamela Hammond. At the top of her game working on high-budget international productions, Pamela was also facing the ‘Where to next?’ question when, in another of those ‘pivotal moments’ their paths crossed.
It was to prove a happy partnership in more ways than one, bringing together Leigh’s creativity and production expertise with Pamela’s strong management and business skills in a way which Leigh says really ‘balanced out’ the business so that Stadium Signs today can offer even more to its clients.
As well as moving to a much larger and more modern production facility, the company now employs seven full time staff and continues to press ahead with innovations in print and manufacturing technologies which have extended its product range from the more standard signage contracts, to everything from experiential branding, fleet vehicle wrapping, fabric wall treatments, and unique bespoke products.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about meeting the needs of our clients,” says Pamela. “Whether it’s producing great advertising, creating an experience for guests at an event, creating visibility through vehicle signage or putting together a fantastic interior, our aim is to enjoy terrific partnerships with our clients as we come up with creative and practical solutions that meet their objectives.”
As for the next 25 years, says Leigh, who can say? “Back in 1988, we couldn’t possibly have envisaged the advances that have led us to where we are today and no doubt the pace of change will continue,” he says. “Whatever happens, though, we’ll keep our focus on maintaining and building great relationships with our clients and delivering the very latest and best solutions to them. If we do that, the future will take care of itself.”