I recently interviewed Lies Lauwers of XL Reklame in Mechelen. She and her husband have an interesting story to tell about the growth of their business.
Frazer : Tell me a bit about XL Reklame and how your business has developed over the last few years?
Lies: Dirk started XL in 1993 as a second job in our living room.
He was the designer, he cut the vinyl and I put the stickers on the cars and vans.
After 5 years he stopped his other job and became a fulltime independent, we also moved to our first shop/showroom in a small village at that moment.
It was easier for customers to find us.
After a few years, that building was again too small and we moved to a new building of 300m2 in the city Mechelen in 2002. And our business was growing year after year and we really need to engage employees to help/serve our customers.
At this moment we have a hall of 1000m2.
We can’t expand more on this location and we made the decision 2 years ago to stop some activities (promotional textiles, flyers, posters,…)
We focus now on our 3 favorit activities: indoor advertising, outdoor advertising and car wrappings.
Frazer: What Print technology do you use?
Lies : - 2 HP Latex 370 printers
- 1 Durst P10 plus other smaller machines
Frazer : And how has that impacted on the way you can support customers and help them develop?
Lies : Latex inks are better then solvent and customers want more ecological solutions.
Latex inks are dry immediately, so we can print in a very fast way.
Customers want everything very fast you know…..
Frazer : You still produce a lot of traditional signage , but do you sense that there has been a shift in demand and the type of services/products that your customers buy from you perhap
Lies: We started with a vinyl cutter 25 years ago and we still do a lot of vinyl cutting.
Fluo vinyls, gold, silver, are all special fashion colours that we cannot print in digital so therefore we still use our Summa vinyl cutter.
A trend is also, less is more…
A complete black van with only white vinyl on.
We did a lot of car wrappings also the last 10 years.
It really depends on which business the customer is in.
Some people want a stylish small stickering, some customers want it big and giant so everyone in the street remarks their vehicle.
Frazer : Your show room has lots of ideas for new ways of using materials in decorating office, shops, hotels etc… How do you discover new applications?
Lies: We visit Fespa every year and other fairs to look for new products.
We have frequent meetings with distributors to see what’s new.
I often look on Pinterest also to follow trends from interior designers.
Frazer : I know you work closely with Probo for example, do you believe it is good for business to work with lots of different partners?
Lies: We produced banners here in house before but it costed us more than the price we order them at Probo.
We do a lot of Airtex for customers, it’s very popular (wallpaper by 5 meter) , we don’t have a printer for that size, so it’s much cheaper to order this at Probo and otherwise we can’t offer it to our customers.
If a customer wants a small plexi in a special thickness, we need to buy a big plate, at Probo we can order that plexi printed for a very low price…
Frazer : What is your view of the interior décor market? is it a good market opportunity for you?
Lies : The interior market is a big grow market for us the last 3-4 years. Companies have again big budgets to spend and they want to pimp their showroom, their meeting room, the kitchen…
The work atmosphere and the workfloor is much more important, it must be good/nice for their employees.
Before 5 years we never worked together with interior designers.
Frazer : Do you work closely with designers on new ideas and new ways to showcase print ?
Lies : We often work together with them.
Sometimes we need to stop them or give them technical advices or stop their ideas because it’s not always realisable what they design.
I also visit them with samples of new solutions to show them new products in the market.
Frazer : you are unique in such a ‘Male dominated’ industry, you are women in Print?
Lies : At this moment we are with 20 people at XL.
25 years ago Dirk and I started XL, so we were with 2.
In this long period we only had once a girl who did the stickering job also, but after a time she had some problems with her back and she became a police officer. So, it’s a hard job during all the seasons of the year, very hot, very cold and you must be in good condition.
Also, for our printing department it’s al real male job.
We sometimes had a few girls last years who where with us for a traineeship while they followed a print operator course but once they are on the factory floor they think it’s not a job to do forever.
People very often did not believe that a woman can do a job like that when I arrived with my box with the vinyl.
Signmaker is not a typical job for a girl to start with.
Graphic designers are often girls but they choose more the computer part of the job and they don’t want to do the physical production of realisation of what they design.
Instead of a lot of guys who like cars and like pimping and tuning and then they also like to work on the cars.
I’m since a long time in this industry because I really like our products, I like our business.
We make the “visibility” of a company.
Every customer is always so happy and proud after our job is finished, because everybody is crazy about his own logo on his vehicle or on his window or building.
So we still make people happy! Isn’t that fantastic ?
Frazer : What do you say to your daughters about the industry and about the future? Would you encourage them to join the business?
Lies : Our 2 daughters always say that they never want to work as in independent because they find we always had to work too hard the previous years.
If they want to join us in our company they feel free.
But we also respect if they choose for something else.
We started XL with a lot of passion, as it was our baby.
And it growth and growth, we never thought several years ago that it would become so big.
We always need to invest in better and faster material, it never stops and nobody knows what it will bring in 5 years.
So we don’t know what our business will be like in a couple of years.
After the financial crisis of 2008 we had several difficult years, so it’s not always easy and every day is a new day of looking for new customers.
We like this industry but is not always logical that our daughters will like it also.
Lotte, our oldest daughter finishes this year her bachelor marketing.
One day in the week she works for XL as a student and she takes care of our social media. It’s her everyday environment, but it’s not a fulltime job in our company.
Maya is completely not interested in our industry.
So our second generation is not ready yet !
Thanks to Lies for a great interview !