An Interview with Rod Larson, Spandex CEO
What is special about what Spandex does?
We’re the leading specialist merchant in Europe and Australia serving the signage and graphics industries, with a vast portfolio of products from the industry’s leading brands.
We supply close to 30,000 sign-makers and graphics producers worldwide. Each year we ship more than a million line items to our customers – and more than 98% of the time, these are drawn directly from stock for next-day delivery.
Our reach, breadth and depth of branded product range, logistical capability and the consistent quality of our customer service are what set us apart.
What do your customers value most about Spandex?
Primarily, the fact that they can select products from a broad range of brands from a single supplier, backed by knowledgeable application advice, and rely on Spandex to consistently deliver the materials the following day. Our customers fulfil a huge variety of jobs for their clients, and they need to be able to respond to orders quickly and flexibly, without relying on their own stocks of materials.
The majority of our customers are small businesses whose owner/managers’ day-to-day focus is on meeting their clients’ needs. They have little time for long-range planning, and may lack the capital to carry inventory of materials, so they depend on Spandex for expert product advice and to respond quickly and efficiently with the materials they need to fulfil their orders.
Why do you place such an emphasis on high-quality branded products?
Our customers run time-sensitive businesses, and quality matters. A poorly executed signage or graphics job can have a serious impact for this type of business, from a customer reclamation on a specific job, to long-term loss of business and reputation. So our customers like to buy branded products with consistent quality, backed by robust warranties and after-sales support.
Working with undisputed leading brands we can also provide thorough product training to members of the Spandex team, so they can provide front-line customer advice and support with absolute confidence in the products’ performance.
Working with such prominent brands with their strong commitment to continuous R&D also ensures that the Spandex portfolio offers the latest technology and materials innovations. This enables customers to devise new ideas and solutions for their customers and develop profitable new revenue streams.
Why do so many major brands choose to work with Spandex?
Customer service is a significant part of the brand promise for these companies, so they need to work with a capable and professionally managed distributor that can meet their expectations and those of the customer who specify their products.
Spandex has the geographical reach and logistical and back-office capability to ensure that a broad range of products are constantly available for next-day delivery, coupled with a strong customer service and support ethic. We train and educate our customer service representatives so that they can be effective ambassadors for these brands, and ensure that our customers get the most from these products.
We’re renowned for our speed to market with new products, putting stock in place, training our sales teams and marketing to our customers. For the signmakers and graphics producers who buy from Spandex, this means they get to hear about innovative products the minute they’re available, and can quickly reap the commercial benefits.
Where does your own ImagePerfect offering fit in?
ImagePerfect is our range of Spandex own-brand materials, including the Digital range of printable materials and the Signage range of signmaking materials. We’re the only merchant in the signage and graphics sector with such an extensive own-brand range, and the IP Signage offering is unique.
With ImagePerfect we can offer customers a reliable and extensively tested range of popular materials, as a complement to our selection of premium, branded products. With a choice of excellent premium brands and our own ImagePerfect range, whatever their client’s brief, we can give Spandex customers a solution that delivers the best ratio of price to performance for the job in hand.
How else do you support customers?
The pace of innovation in the signage and graphics marketplace is rapid, both from a technology perspective and in terms of the emerging applications for digital print and self-adhesive signage materials.
It’s a challenge for our customers to keep on top of what’s changing, and to identify the relevant new opportunities for their business, so we communicate proactively to keep them informed of product innovations the minute they’re available. If that piques their interest, they know they can rely on our account managers’ knowledge and expertise, using them as sounding boards, consulting them on new products and application ideas, and seeking advice on how to fulfil or extend a customer brief.
It’s exciting for us when we can encourage customers to develop their business by expanding into new application areas, and we’re always looking at ways of helping them to extend their offering and do more.
How is Spandex evolving its service to customers?
We want to help our customers succeed. Over 40 years in business, Spandex has always tried to anticipate customer needs and be one step ahead. Two decades ago, we saw the trend towards shorter job turnaround and realised that next-day delivery would become business critical; we helped the market make this shift.
The thousands of daily interactions we have with customers give us superb insights into their daily challenges and opportunities, and help us to shape our product and service offering to reflect how their businesses are evolving.
Recently we’ve introduced the option to buy digital materials by the running metre in some geographies. This enables customers to reduce their consumables inventory still further, strengthening their cash position, and – more importantly – giving them a chance to experiment with materials or accept very short-run jobs, without losing margin on wasted premium materials.
Going forward, we’re focused on other ways to make it easier and more convenient for our customers to do business with us, with digital customer portals and e-commerce tools for example.
We’re also tailoring our service offering so that it matches the needs of our different customer types, providing telephone and online support for the customers who prefer those options, while maintaining a strong team in the field for those customers who prefer to maintain a face-to-face relationship with an assigned account manager.
You’ve made several acquisitions recently. What difference do they make to customers?
Yes, we’ve acquired distribution businesses in Australia, Switzerland, Italy, Turkey, Spain and the Netherlands over the last few years. Their greatest impact, inevitably, is on customers in that particular country, because they increase our scale, product range, expertise and ability to service customers’ needs.
But the businesses we acquire may also bring specialist expertise – for example in rigid media – or new supplier relationships. This directly adds value for customers in that country, as well as filtering through the wider Spandex organisation.
These investments have been very positive for customers so far, and we will continue to expand Spandex by acquiring good businesses that will make our customer offering stronger.