From Nothing to Everything – Chairman/Managing Director of Sign-Tech Advertising Services (Pvt) Ltd, Kassapa Mahendra De Silva

From two employees to 150 employees, Kassapa Mahendra De Silva, the Chairman/Managing Director of Sign-Tech Advertising Services (Pvt) Ltd, began the company from his home yard in 1986. Today, Sign-Tech is one of the biggest players in the signage industry in Sri Lanka. It has a dedicated production facility of over 25,000 sq. ft. and is one of the largest signage manufacturing facilities in the country.

Sign-Tech positions itself as a manufacturer of branding and advertising signs with an expansive product portfolio that features products that are fabricated through innovation, impeccable design and cutting-edge technology. The company has a fully equipped infrastructure and has its own laser and CNC machines, state of the art UV printing facilities and capability for 3D printing as well.

Mahendra is an active social worker with the Lions movement and has served as the District Governor for the International Association of Lions Clubs District 306 C for the year 2004/2005. He was elected within a very short period after joining as a Lions Member. During that year, he was selected as the 1st runner-up of the ‘Best District Governor of the World’ award at the International Lions Convention 2004-2005.

“There were many obstacles to endure as I batted on in unknown territory, but both hard work and good friends I met on the way, as well as a bit of luck along the way, has brought me where I’m today.”

According to the industry expert, although the local advertising industry is smaller compared to many other markets in the region, Sri Lanka has a huge potential considering most companies can manufacture signage that is of international standards.

“When we look at the signage industry in our neighbouring countries, they are many leagues ahead by having easy access to the latest production technologies, availability of Grade A materials such as vinyl, LED lights, etc. This makes a vast difference in the end product. Also, when compared to the market size in Sri Lanka, their markets are a hundred times bigger, hence providing them with more opportunities.

“However, that does not mean that we do not have the production capability in Sri Lanka. Certainly, there is a huge potential in the local market. I would say that there are a few companies in Sri Lanka, including Sign-Tech, which can fabricate signage of international standards. Although we face many obstacles in obtaining raw materials of the required quality, we have been forced to pay larger sums to import required materials from our neighbouring countries since there are very few authorized dealers in for materials in Sri Lanka. But I believe the customer’s requirement for quality signage is increasing, especially in the banking and finance sector, FMCG and multinational companies. And with this increased demand, more renowned material manufacturers will find their way into our country, thereby providing us easier access to such raw materials which will give us a competitive advantage.”

On the topic of the talent available in the industry, Mahendra affirmed that there is a lack of skilled talent as the industry requires work from many genres such as Electricians, metal and acrylic workers, Welders, Fitters and Artists. He added that this is a major challenge the industry has to face.

“But we do have a set of staff members who have been with us for many years and with such long experience have become experts in their fields and have become invaluable to our company. Some of our staff have joined our company as trainees, and by providing them on-the-job training, they have become proficient at their jobs.”

“There are also many low-quality alternative materials available in the market, and many small-scale advertising companies propose signage with these materials, which reduce the market rates of signage. This impacts us because we do not manufacture any signage using such Grade C materials, and sometimes our competitive advantage is lost in terms of price.”

Speaking of how the shift to digital is shaping the Advertising industry, Mahendra stated, “Slowly but surely we find our industry moving to the digital platform, especially in lieu of COVID-19. I have been integrating new technologies into my business for the past 10-15 years in trying to update our products, improve productivity, quality and trying to be on par with the advertising industry in the international market.

“However, until now, we have not really had the need to incorporate a digital transformation within the rest of the company. The same observation can be made about the rest of the advertising industry in Sri Lanka. But with the pandemic situation, we found ourselves struggling to operate remotely, and with this, we had to go through a digital transformation in all areas of the business in order to operate the business. It could either adapt to the new ‘normal’ by going digital or end up making losses.

“As an example, we developed a system to computerize all international processes and provided an online platform for order processing. With this method, we were able to continue most of our operations throughout the second lockdown imposed by the government. In addition, we strived to ensure that our customers are not inconvenienced and that the customer experience with our company has not changed from pre-Covid times.”

On a final note, the Chairman divulged that Sign-Tech will venture into the international market in the future and begin exporting signage and other branding material.

“Also, I would like to see my company venture further into projects such as hotels, mixed-use development projects, architectural signage, which would enable us to fabricate more intricate signage using a wide variety of materials.”

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