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 with 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, a position to which 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 when compared to many other markets in the region, Sri Lanka has a huge potential where most companies are able to fabricate signage which are 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 vinyls, LED lights etc. which makes a vast difference in the end product. Also when compared to the market size in Sri Lanka, their markets are 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 and I would say that there are a few companies in Sri Lanka including Sign Tech which are able to fabricate signage which are of the international standards. Although we do face many obstacles in obtaining raw materials of the required quality, as we have been forced to pay larger sums to import required materials from our neighbouring countries since there are very few authorized dealers in these 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 manufacturer’s 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.”
Furthermore, Mahendra mentioned that the other major challenges faced by the industry is the lack of access to quality raw materials. “Also we do not have easy access to international quality raw materials and face difficulties in importing these materials due to taxes and raw material import restrictions. There are also many low quality alternative materials available in the market and many small scale advertising companies propose signage with these materials which reduces 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.
“To give an example we developed a system where all internal documentation regarding an order is conducted online from the point of sending the quotation up to order confirmation. With this method, we were able to continue most of our operations throughout the second lockdown imposed by the government. 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 more 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.”
Quote: “Great Brands built on honesty lasts forever.”