Go Digital

Sumo Visual Group

“Good signage isn’t important, it’s everything,” reads a bold headline on the website of Sumo Visual Group, an unusually progressive full service solution-based print manufacturer and digital signage company based in Port Melbourne. So we asked Chief Executive Matt Huber to detail why he thought a stand-out visual presence was such an overwhelming priority for any company.

Signs can be designed around a budget where necessary, but even in today’s sometimes distressed retailing market, there is no way you can get away without spending some money to make your brand or name stand out. “It’s absolutely vital. Good design that incorporates clear signage that represents the brand is exceptionally important. You can’t do without signage.” However, whether you really make your name stand out in lights or can only afford economy-value signage, “signs must be consistent for the intended application.”

A sign can be many different things as long as the image stays consistent – internally illuminated, three-dimensional or two-dimensional, prismatic, digital for example – and the actual implementation is best considered as a part of a consultation process and a project – from design of the image to construction of the sign and then to its installation.

Sumo does that consultation as part of its overall service and can offer a cost-effective alternative to some big-name branding agencies. The Masters home improvement brand is a case in point: “They have strong ideas, but we consult with them on ways and means of getting the best value for their money.” Sumo was encouraged to embrace Masters’ vision in providing quality signage and delivered a variety of high level in-store corporate wayfinding and in-bay signage.

Another interesting recent contract was the Blackman Hotel, the third of the Art Series hotels in Melbourne. Sumo Visual Group specified, supplied, installed and project managed the exterior cladding project that is the hotel’s main feature. This included managing all traffic and logistics required to make the project a success. The outdoor mural was individually tiled and coated with the company’s own Liquid Tough UV coating treatment to extend the lifespan of the product.

Clients of the stature of Masters (a division of Woolworths, which is itself another Sumo client) or Target will typically have a pretty clear idea of how their signage should look, but are still happy for Sumo to advise them on the kind of design that would best suit the look – not only in terms of the required durability (is it required to last the lifetime of the image or just for a monthly promotion, for example) but in terms of the optimum construction type. Many other or smaller clients may not have such a clear-cut idea of the image and Sumo can be of direct help there too.

Sumo is ten years old in April, having grown rapidly from “a shed in Richmond,” with Matt bashing the phones into a one-stop solutions business employing some 85 people. The company attracted private equity company Harbert Australia, a division of Harbert Management Corporation based in the US, which took a majority shareholding two years ago and brought additional management expertise and capital into the company to grow the business.

“We are very strong in large-format digital print, for environmental graphics, store ambience, outdoor signage, retail point-of-sale and so on,” Matt explains, “and diversified into hard signage manufacturing – illuminated signage.” The company long ago recognised that some of the bigger brands are looking for better value and with labour rates in Australia becoming so expensive it was decided to form a model for offshore production in Southeast Asia. “We support that with local manufacturing too.” Matt says manufacture is done to European and Australian standards and stringent quality control procedures are in place. “Our partner in Asia is European, an engineer, and he oversees the production of all signage there,” he explains. The issue of durability is addressed wherever it is necessary (especially for external signage), and no corners are cut.

Sumo has in recent times gotten involved with digital signage, “with our own software – content delivery, web based, for LCD and LED signs.” This has cost close to five million dollars to develop over more than four years, is developed entirely in-house (and Sumo also developed direct relationships with major screen manufacturers in Asia for the project), and its workings will remain a closely guarded trade secret.

Matt believes this system has a very strong product offer compared to anything else out there in the marketplace. It is used in places like McDonald’s (and McCafé). At the burger retailer’s concept store in Doveton, Victoria, a store that is a one-off (although Sumo is involved with more than 400 of the group’s shops in Australia and New Zealand), in addition to unique and effective signage there is a full digital menu solution consisting of digital internal menu boards, pre-sell display, McCafé display, digital wishing well and drive-through digital menus in thermally managed enclosures. These digital signs enable the shop to frequently update displays and present offers to customers in interesting ways. The content is dynamic but can be centrally and remotely controlled by head office for precision of pricing and promotions. The system has recently been expanded to the Android platform, supporting new experiences such as touch interactivity and mobile integration for truly engaging experiences that work in today’s world of omni-channel retailing.

The uptake on this new technology has been rather slow, according to Matt. This is partly due to cost but not least because many customers tend to be conservative when it comes to their image, “but it’s starting to track in the right direction.” There is also the matter of making sure this new design departure is properly integrated into the overall ambience – “you can’t just go along and stick a screen in. It has to be planned into a design,” he says.

Sumo’s head office is in Melbourne with its domestic manufacturing plant and it maintains a sales office in Sydney. For nationwide clients the company has a travelling installation team, a core group of staff augmented by recognised subcontractors. “But we always have a project manager as a leader on site,” says Matt.

The company was “delighted to get the recognition of a really prestigious national award” for a display for its client Target at last September’s POPAI (Point Of Purchase Advertising International – the global association for marketing at retail) in Sydney. The Target Denim Fit Stand won the Industry Shopper Marketing Award as well as the Silver Award in the Open Category.

Apart from awards, Sumo distinguishes itself through its blue-chip client list, its desire for service and its appetite for innovative technology. “We are very proud and passionate, from design right through to dispatch, and we continue to push the boundaries of print technology and investment into what are our main revenue engines.” Digital signage is the way forward. Matt declined an offer to reveal to all of us some new projects that will be making news – and turning heads – in the next few months, though they will be detailed in due course.

But he did disclose a desire to enter new market sectors. Sumo is strong in apparel, home hardware and supermarkets but less so in areas such as the automotive business and the finance industry, where he believes conservatism is breaking down amid a general push for innovation. It’s a crowded space, he acknowledges, “but we have a distinct advantage, not only on-demand and fast speed-to-market for point of sale, with well set-up logistics, all set up offshore so there is a real point of difference in terms of price, but also with the digital systems. We are very well set up in that sphere. We are planning for the future. Unless you have a strategy for growth, it won’t happen.”

So watch this space – it will be a sign of the times.

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July 20, 2018, 9:12 AM AEST