John Shelly speaks to Patrick Plant, whose company grew on the back of some of the legendary car marques.
Coventry’s motoring heritage is no secret. In fact it is well known that the city was at the forefront of the booming industry for well over half a century.
But perhaps lesser known is the success of one small, local design agency which found itself riding on the crest of the city’s industrial wave.
The fact that its roots were well established within the motoring industry made up the core foundations of the Warwicks’ success story.
The company was set up in the spare bedroom of a house in Coventry some 40 years ago under the name Warwickshire Illustrations by two technical illustrators John Lowe and Bob Jennings whose automotive expertise led to the company’s main service offering being largely technical illustrations and designs for car manuals and handbooks.
As time progressed the company evolved and soon the service offering grew to include company brochures and other marketing and promotional products for not only some of the leading names in the city but also within the industry.
And as the company’s reputation within this niche market sector continued to grow so did Warwicks’ success. Indeed the motor industry represented 90 per cent of Warwicks’ business base and its expertise and professionalism earned the agency a client base of top marques such as Jaguar Cars, Aston Martin, LTI Vehicles and Land Rover, to name but a few.
But since the turn of the millennium the Midlands car industry has suffered a gradual decline. The Rover plant at Longbridge closed in 2005, after more than 100 years of production. In the same year Jaguar moved its production out of Coventry and the final nail in the coffin came when Peugeot phased out production at its Ryton factory before closing it for good in 2006.
Unlike years ago when Coventry boasted names such as Carbodies, Chrysler and Maudslay, today the only manufacturer of any note is LTI, Vehicles, manufacturers of the iconic London black cab.
This sad turn of events which has led to a demise in the regional industry has forced Warwicks, led by Managing Director Patrick Plant, to broaden its horizons and re-invent itself in order to survive. And survive it has.
Although the company retains links with the automotive industry – LTI Vehicles is on its client list along with Peugeot, Triumph and Jaguar – it also boasts clients from a wide range of sectors. From a health and wellbeing firm, to a UK construction company, to a national housing charity.
Patrick said: “Warwickshire Illustrations was established at the right time really. Coventry had strong links with the cycling and motoring heritage since before the turn of the 20th century. And for the latter half of that century we were in the midst of a boom.
“But with Jaguar and Peugeot coming out of Coventry, Longbridge closing and even Massey Ferguson ending production of its famous tractor, the regional manufacturing was fast dwindling. And we very quickly realised we needed to focus on other market sectors. Fortunately because of the nature of our business, we can adapt our high quality skills and abilities to suit any of our accounts, whatever field our clients work in.
“We have enjoyed a professional relationship with Jaguar for more than 25 years, Massey Ferguson for more than 15, LTI Vehicles for more than 12. We also work for Land Rover, Aston Martin, Rolls Royce and Triumph Motorcycles. As we have had such long, thriving relationships with these clients thankfully it has helped stand us in good stead in winning new contracts with clients in more diverse fields. They see the longevity of our professional relationships as testament to the work we do.”
But what is the key to Warwicks’ success? Patrick puts it down in part to the size of the company – not too large that it can’t offer clients flexibility and a personal approach but not too small that it can’t meet the client’s needs and requirements.
“We are a lot smaller than some of our main competitors,” Patrick said. “But the one thing we pride ourselves on is we always offer clients a personal approach. And that is important because our staff here are given time to nurture their relationships with their clients and with that comes the understanding of their needs and requirements.
It also gives our clients confidence that, unlike some of the larger agencies where new projects might be placed into a ‘bank’ they will be dealing with someone they know and trust. And just as an extra safeguard I personally ensure I oversee all the clients’ accounts and check everything is running smoothly and they are happy.
“Keeping up to date with latest developments is also key and we have a continuous programme of investment .
“It’s a system that seems to work well. The proof is in the pudding as they say and we take the fact that more than 90 per cent of our clients offer us repeat business as a measure of our success.”
Born near Salzburg to a British father and Austrian mother, Patrick’s early life offered no hint of what was to come.
He was brought to the UK by his parents as a three-year-old. After school he went to a design school in Stafford before enrolling at the London College of Printing.
He gained a string of marketing qualifications and landed his first job as a designer with London-based Dewitts. He returned to the Midlands after being appointed senior designer with Ansell Jones in Walsall.
Other previous employers have included Glynwed and Blue Circle, where he held senior marketing positions.
Today he has 30 years’ experience in marketing communication both on the client and service sides of business.
He arrived at Warwicks in 1999 as project manager. Two years later the agency became part of the worldwide media company WPP, enabling it to broaden its product and service offerings even further. At the same time as the acquisition Patrick was appointed Managing Director.
Since that day he has never looked back, steering Warwicks through a number of major accounts.
He said: “Warwicks really has come a long way since those early days. When it was first established by Bob Jennings and John Lowe 40 years ago little could anyone see the scale at which the firm would grow. The days of 2D sketches for car manuals are definitely long gone but the basics are still there.
“Today we offer everything from artwork and creative design to strategic planning and asset management. We also provide copywriting, translation services, photography, re-touching, visualization, digital media, print management and illustrative animation. Times move on and you have to roll with it.”
Looking to the future Patrick said Warwicks will hold on to its automotive roots, but will continue to broaden its spectrum. He said: “A few years ago we started to see the early signs of the downturn in the motor industry and so we purposely set out to attract new business from a wider range of clients.
“Today the headlines daily seem to be about the property market. And yes we do have clients who are in the property sector.
“But life is all about experience and one of the things we learned very quickly with the downfall of the Midlands motoring heritage was not to put all your eggs in one basket.
“We have clients in such a broad range of fields today that if there are problems in one sector we should be able to ride them out with contracts in other fields.
“Warwicks has enjoyed 40 years of success to date.
“We are very proud of the fact we have been able to adjust and adapt and roll with the punches and we look forward to continuing to build on our pedigree in the years to come.”