The prestigious Peterborough Telegraph Business Excellence Awards recognise and reward a cross section of Peterborough based businesses and the vital role they play in the economic success of the region. After completing an interview with the judging panel, GH Display Ltd were selected as a finalist for the Small Business of the Year category.
Celebrating the company's remarkable pandemic pivot and post-pandemic move to manufacturing sustainable exhibition stands
Some 300 local business people attended the glamourous ceremony for the 27th annual Peterborough Telegraph Business Excellence Awards, held on the 23rd November at the Holiday Inn West. The GH Display team were excited to be included as one of the three finalists and ecstatic to go home with the award. BBC DJ Melvyn Prior, who was hosting the awards, told the guests “This year saw an unprecedented number of entries. Whittling down the shortlist and choosing the winners meant some tough decisions for our judges”.
Photo credit: David Lowndes. Guest speaker James Ketchell, sponsor Ashley Killingsworth. Small Business of the Year winners GH Display and finalists Vero HR and Flagship Partners.
Why GH Display for Small Business of the Year
GH Display was on a positive growth trajectory with an ambition to offer environmentally sensitive exhibition stands with sustainable manufacturing, from its rural Cambridgeshire workshop. Business was steady, strong and profitable and the GH Display team was growing in numbers and expertise. After 40 years in Werrington, the operation moved to a new 2-acre site following the acquisition of local competitor, Hytner Exhibitions, with the move providing the much needed space to grow.
The vision was clear, to offer a UK manufactured sustainable exhibition stand solution to exhibitors whilst growing the customer base and increasing turnover by 25%.
The strategy to meet this vision was for GH Display to:
- Upscale its manufacturing plant in Peterborough by 2023 to enable more production throughput whilst providing more storage space for storing reusable (and therefore more sustainable) stand components.
- Generate its own renewable energy to power its manufacturing and printing operations and reducing its own carbon output as a business.
- Develop exhibition and display products that offer real sustainable solutions to customers with no green washing in sight.
Surviving the pandemic
To set the scene, we must briefly look back to April 2020 where large-scale gatherings were banned globally to manage the spread of Coronavirus, resulting in 100% loss of revenue for GH Display, almost overnight. The two business owners furloughed the GH Display team initially but knowing that the business would simply not survive without finding new revenue streams, they began the hunt for new products that the exhibition stand design and build company could manufacturer. By the end of April 2020 GH Display had secured a contract with a coffin manufacturer to produce circa 100 coffins per week at its workshop in Peterborough. The GH Display stand builders returned to the workshop on the 30th April 2020, had training on how to build and lacquer coffins and within a week the business was running a coffin production operation.
Rumours of a vaccine on the horizon brought hope and new business opportunities to GH Display
Coffin manufacturing brought GH Display that much needed income, but it was only ever going to be a temporary fix. John Hodson, Managing Director of GH Display said “many of the larger exhibition venues in the UK had been turned into Nightingale Hospitals, which made it clear that exhibition and events would not be returning to business as usual anytime soon. The coffin work gave us some income, but we knew we would have to find other revenue streams to keep us going until exhibition stands would be needed again”. With Government efforts to mobilise mass COVID testing and rumours of a vaccine on the horizon, GH Display began designing, manufacturing and installing COVID testing booths and COVID vaccination centres within hospitals, Mosques and community centres up and down the UK. In addition to the roll out of testing and vaccine projects, GH Display also secured a large contract to manufacturer production line worker screens within the Amazon distribution centres throughout the UK.
At long last, events reopen in the UK
With the reopening of events, GH Display wanted to return to the exhibition halls with a full fleet of skilled stand builders, exhibition stand designers and event project managers. By virtue of their resourcefulness the GH Display team had continued to manufacturer and provide full turnkey services throughout the pandemic, giving them the ability to hit the ground running as soon as events reopened. Many of their event industry competitors had not been so fortunate and had either closed completely or closed their operations until exhibitions were permitted again. This provided GH Display with an opportunity to capitalise on the inevitable supply and demand deficit that faced the events industry, once the 18-month lock down on large gatherings had been lifted.
Capitalising on the lack of supply was not enough, GH Display were keen to return to the exhibition halls with a more sustainable and eco-friendly offering. Director, Jenny Hodson said “the positive environmental impact of the global lockdowns meant there was a shift in how businesses were adopting sustainability best practice and this included their approach to events. We had always tried to push the benefits of building high quality exhibition stands that would enable years of reuse, but it was sometimes a difficult sell when our exhibition stands were being compared to cheap build and burn displays”. The GH Display sustainable approach was two-fold; to offer customers an affordable and genuinely sustainable exhibition stand solution and to also manufacturer and deliver these eco-friendly displays from a workshop and print operation that had sustainability at its core.
Photo credit: Gus Campbell Photography
The sustainable transformation of exhibition stand design and build
The turbulent trading environment provided GH Display with an experience like know other. The business became adept at watching the trends and predicting what product and service would be required next. It was an everchanging landscape but keeping up with the national changes in mood and government policy was critical to success. This approach of effective and efficient design, testing and marketing through the GH Display website has been critical for GH Display in launching their new sustainable exhibition solutions and the subsequent growth of the client base and turnover.
The collaboration with their clients has meant that GH Display are constantly developing, testing and bringing new sustainable products and services to market. 75% of the graphics they produce are now printed on either biodegradable, recyclable or recycled media. 80% of the custom exhibition stand components that GH Display install are recycled, refurbished and reused. They design and manufacturer all of the exhibition stand elements with durability, reconfiguration and ease of refurbishment in mind. This approach to exhibitions has dramatically reduced the amount of waste they and their customers send to landfill.
Photo credit: Martin Bou Mansour photography
Apprenticeships, solar panels and doubling the space
Last year GH Display completed the building or a new 333m² workshop and storage unit on their site in Peterborough and created ten new permanent full-time jobs. GH Display also used this period of growth to establish its first apprenticeship training programme, initially with an exhibition stand builder apprenticeship and then with a print technician apprenticeship.
In 2023 the business has built a further 666m² storage, workshop and print facility on its Peterborough site and created a further six permanent full-time jobs. In addition to more workshop, storage and print production space, GH Display has also had 166 solar panels installed on its workshop roof space, ensuring it has achieved its vision of powering its operations with its own generated renewable energy. Today, every exhibition stand manufactured at GH Display is done so using renewable energy only.
Throughout this challenging and fast changing time GH Display has continued to grow its customer base. Testament to its high levels of customer service is the fact that it has also retained its existing clients alongside the 70% growth in turnover.