October 2013 Newsletter

October 2013 Newsletter

Welcome to Xmo Strata’s October newsletter.

As usual we are releasing an online newscast which summarises the main points of the newsletter – but this time the newscast will be released a little later. We’ll send you an advisory when it happens, along with a link.

Thanks to all readers and viewers for their attention, and for the constructive feedback we have received during the year.

To view a story, please click on the relevant headline below.

For further information on any of the stories featured, please contact us or visit http://www.xmostrata.com/




Xmo Strata has carried out a rebranding programme for Applegreen’s fast-expanding UK operation – and the contract set new UK standards on a number of levels.

Petrogas Global Ltd, which trades as Applegreen, had 24 sites in the UK – but after acquiring sites from the Co-op had increased this figure to 45 by the end of the June.

Xmo Strata was tasked with changing 12 of the new sites from Texaco branding to that of Applegreen – but the customer set some demanding targets.

“A normal site rebranding will take maybe a week to ten days, depending, clearly, on the size of the site, the scope of the work, and the resources which the customer is willing to pay for,” said Managing Director Steve Martin.

“Applegreen wanted things to move a little faster than that. At the same time they didn’t want any sacrifices in terms of safety or quality – and whilst they wanted good value, they were also prepared to resource the requirement.

The result? Sites were double-crewed, with electricians, painters and sprayers all working simultaneously. Existing signware was reconditioned, LED price units were fitted, and all ‘debranded’ signware was traceably recycled.

Safety procedures were adhered to with Xmo Strata’s usual diligence and there was no sacrifice in terms of quality. It was achieved thanks to extremely careful planning, tightly controlled management, and strong on-site leadership.

The sites – including locations in Warrington, South Wales, St Austell, Southampton, Hayling Island, across the Home Counties and within the M25 ring – were completed in three batches. A total of 16 crews were committed to the project.

But the real achievement was the timescale. A four-day slot was allocated for each site, but with the re-branding progressing so quickly, Applegreen operations were able to bring stock for the shop on Day Two, Fuel on Day Three and some sites even opened for business on the evening of Day Three. Others opened on Day Four.

The Xmo Strata crews maintained the demanding schedule, working around the deliveries, and overcoming unexpected problems such as access equipmentMachinery or equipment used to gain access to a place on a site. breakdowns and the prior removal of some sign panels which Applegreen had expected to remain.

Developments and Engineering Manager for Petrogas Global Ltd Conor Lucey said: “Xmo Strata were very professional to work with; they overcame challenges that arose from the nature of the takeover, all the while adhering to our strict timelines. This was achieved through very good communication between Xmo Strata and Applegreen along with a strong work ethic and focus on Health & Safety.”

Mr Martin said: “This was a pretty demanding project in every respect. Applegreen is a progressive and fast-moving company with high levels of professionalism and they have similar expectations of suppliers. Their progress is being closely watched by the entire industry, so it was also a high profile project.

“We were extremely pleased to win the business – and I am personally very proud of the teams that managed it, worked on it and delivered a great job for the customer, on time, safely and professionally, despite a few unexpected difficulties!”




Xmo Strata staff have started on a modular online training programme with a strong focus on increasing the value delivered to customers.

The programme – which currently includes eight models – was designed by IT Systems Controller Jack Martin with input from all levels of the company. Further modules will be added in time.

“It is common in the sign industry for companies to win business, perhaps without having properly costed a job, find they are losing money on it, and go back to the customer for additional money – or cut corners to deliver it on budget,” said Mr Martin.

“It is OK asking for additional money if – for example – there have been genuine changes to the contract which have cost implications for the sign company. But doing so because you didn’t do a very good job of costing it in the first place is inexcusable.

“What we are trying to do with Xmo Strata is develop a strong reputation for precisely the opposite – showing the customer that we can deliver more value than we were able to predict, because of the things that only become apparent once the contract is underway.

“When you are pitching for business that is a bit nebulous – ‘well we always find ways of adding value’. You can see people thinking ‘yeah, ‘course you do, mate’. So to make it credible actions have to speak louder than words, and you accept that in most cases the customer will only believe this on the second or third job – when they’ve seen it for themselves.

“We have always tried to provide additional value and that has been recognised by many customers over the years. This programme is designed to make ‘value creation’ a formal part of employee training, rather than something that we merely actively encourage employees to do.”

The system is based on the company’s XmoMan management information system and where employees have provided additional value, they are encouraged to report it on the system.

Examples of additional value delivered to customers:

  • Re-use of existing materials – and passing on the resulting savings – where the original job estimate had assumed new materials would be required.
  • Spotting and rectifying of small problems free of charge, so long as the site engineer is qualified to do the work – even if the problem is not directly related to the Xmo Strata project. This can save call-out costs for the customer.
  • Finishing work safely but ahead of schedule, to enable a site to open (and start generating revenue) early.
  • Suggesting the redesign of panels so they can be made more cost effectively.
  • Delivery savings, perhaps by combining deliveries.

“The guys do this sort of thing all the time, and are encouraged to do it – but the system draws on the experience of all the crews, shares that experience, and gives them a formal means of recording the added value, rather than just sending the office an email,” said Mr Martin.

Director Kate Parmentier said: “Jack did a great job on this and it enables us to quantify the added value we are delivering on projects much more accurately. It is also a means of emphasising to everyone that delivering additional value is regarded as part of the job.”


IS0 9001, 14001 AND 18001 ACCREDITATION


In August, the company passed its annual two-day ISO accreditations for Quality, Environmental Management and Health & Safety with no ‘non conformances




ABB Project Engineer Daniel Simpson was so impressed with site engineer Steve Knights that he wrote to Managing Director Steve Martin to say so!

Mr Simpson met Steve at the Beam Service Station in Essex in August. He conducted an Alert Observation (Esso’s term for a safety audit) on Steve – who scored 100%. He said Steve had a “fantastic attitude” towards health and safety and his Job Safety Analysis.

“I want to say how incredibly impressed I was from the moment I met him,” said Mr Simpson. “He came over as soon as he noticed me on site and introduced himself.

“He discussed what he was doing that day, and made reference to a site hazard (a needle found by the tank fills) which he had notified to the site the day before.

“He had arrived with a ‘sharps’ box to take the needle away, even thought this was not in his working area … so he was taking everyone’s safety into consideration.”

Mr Simpson’s letter went on (we won’t embarrass Steve further) … and concluded that he is a “credit to the company” and reflection of the time spent training engineers.

Steve Martin said: “To get an email from a senior customer figure which has no purpose other than to congratulate us on the calibre of a crew member is pretty gratifying.

“I am not surprised – Steve is consistently a top performer, as I am sure everyone knows, and he’s a highly valued member of the team – but it’s always nice when customers take the time to say ‘job well done’.

“It means that diligence, technical excellence and professionalism have been recognised. This email absolutely made my day.”




Site engineer Gary Green arrived to valet a fuel forecourt in Stoke-on-Trent and found high voltage overhead cables less than three feet from the top of the MID sign (Main Identity Sign – sometimes known as the price sign).

Gary spotted the potential electrocution hazard after conducting a Last Minute Risk Assessment – and he aborted the work.

“These things are never easy but that was obviously the right decision, and Gary is to be congratulated,” said Managing Director Steve Martin. “In his report, Gary said that it appeared to be a site design problem and suggested that a note be made on XmoMan to warn any crews visiting the same site in the future. That has now been done.”

Gary also took photographs of the hazard – reproduced here. Records showed that the sign was originally installed by Xmo Strata, which had requested that the cables be sheathed by Western Power, the electricity company. However, unbeknown to Xmo Strata, the sheathing was subsequently removed.

Mr Martin shared the report widely within the company and said that it underlined the excellent job done by office staff Jackie Blake and Kathy Misiak in keeping good records.

“Because there were detailed notes on XmoMan we were able to establish that we had installed it safety in the first place – with sheathing.

“I dread to think of the consequences if Gary had not done a proper LMRA and simply ploughed ahead with a jet wash, or if the work had been done by a less diligent contractor.

“If a jet wash stream hits high voltage cables it provides a neat track right back to the earth – just like lightning – and would have gone directly through the jet wash wand Gary was holding.”




A report by the road safety charity BRAKE says that fleet drivers are more likely to speed than non-fleet drivers.

Hardly a surprise? Probably not … but the report has prompted the company to remind its own drivers that greater levels of professionalism and safety are required.

The report follows a survey focused on managing the risks associated with speed.

Xmo Strata’s directors say that company drivers should never exceed the speed limit, however much pressure they are under.

BRAKE estimates that a 1km per hour reduction in average speed could save 2,200 lives per year across Europe.

In addition to simple speeding, British fleet drivers have admitted in previous surveys that they are more likely to engage in risky speed-associated driving such as undertaking.

“We all feel pressure at work on occasions,” said Director Kate Parmentier. “We all experience situations where we are late for a job, perhaps for reasons beyond our control, and we fear meeting an angry or frustrated customer on arrival. In a service company lateness is never a good thing. But whatever the situation, speeding is not acceptable if you are driving for Xmo Strata.”



Robin Sillars, one of those who wrote for the newsletter a few years ago, sent us an example of local sign installation in Hong Kong, where he now lives and works.


The scaffolding appears to be constructed of bamboo, which Chinese construction firms swear-by because it is cheap, renewable, light and quick to erect! The tunnel underneath the scaffolding appears to allow little margin for error, with vehicles alarmingly close.

“I thought the folks at Xmo Strata might enjoy the attached picture of sign installation work, Hong Kong-style,” said Robin.

Anyone fancy giving us a run-down on a Last Minute Risk Assessment for this project?(!)


APEAAssociation for Petroleum and Explosives Administration. SHORTLISTED


The company has been shortlisted in the awards programme run by The Association for Petroleum and Explosives Administration (APEAAssociation for Petroleum and Explosives Administration.).

The company’s entry in the Environmental Protection and Improvement Category is based on its waste recycling programme.

The winners will be announced at an awards dinner in the Ricoh Arena, Coventry on November 7.

The judges were impressed by a 2012 project to rebrand 242 filling stations, replacing 6,500 signs and 15km of fascia. Executives planned to achieve complete traceability of all waste including records of the material taken, the carrier, their license number, the destination and license number of the ultimate recycling destination, and to provide an accurate report on how much material was recycled and how much sent to landfill.

A total of 520 tons of waste were recycled with only 4% of that removed from sites going to landfill.

The judges were also impressed that this was achieved despite the fact that some sectors of the industry regard ‘cash-in-hand’ benefits from waste recycling as a traditional ‘perk’ of the job.

This level of waste recycling is now standard practice for Xmo Strata on all contracts.

“I’m proud of the way that our employees have embraced a responsible approach to recycling,” said Managing Director Steve Martin. “We have a track record of innovation in the industry and encouraging others to follow our lead, and we hope this initiative will do the same.”




The British Sign and Graphics Association – the BSGA – reckons the UK sign industry is now worth about £1.1 billion … but the organisation admits “it’s only a rough guide”.

Unlike many other industries there are no government statistics on the industry’s size or scale, so the BSGA has worked on the basis that there are 22,000 people employed in the industry (a figure which comes from the Sector Skills Council for Education).

The calculation assumes that a business must turnover £50,000 to survive – which means that the BSGA has included some extremely small ‘one man band’ firms. Officials say that because of this, the £1.1 billion figure is likely to be an under-estimate.

A few years ago, the BSGA estimated the size of the industry at around £300m – a significant difference, possibly hinting at the level of inaccuracy.

Other items in the BSGA’s latest newsletter:

  • 90% of planning applications for signs are passed first time.
  • Poor sign maintenance leading to sign failure endangering a person breaches Statutory Planning Regulations and any organisation which “profits from” the sign may be held legally to account – including the sign owner, the signmaker, installer, designer … and who ever has been contracted to carry out maintenance.
  • There’s a fairly alarming story about neon signs being sold for domestic use in the home (neon signs are made of glass and contain mercury). The BSGA spotted these on a website and raised the alarm – but the Trading Standard officers who investigated then sought advice from the Lighting Industry Association, instead of the BSGA, as to whether amendments made to the product were safe. The reason? The signs were described as ‘lights’ on the vendor’s website! BSGA officials have even been prevented from seeing a copy of the resulting report. BSGA technical chief Mike Hall said there is “no way” he would have one of these … ahem, ‘lights’ … in his home or anywhere where it could be accessed by children.

More from the BSGA newsletter at http://www.bsga.co.uk/




The Gateway Learning Community, a partnership of academies and free schools in Essex, wrote to the company expressing thanks for a donation to a fund-raising initiative on behalf of Breast Cancer Care.




Axa Assistance (UK) Limited asked for permission to use Xmo Strata’s powerful I have to live with it video for an internal Health and Safety initiative earlier this year.

The company made a donation to the Demelza childrens’ hospice (demelza.org.uk) for the rights to use the film, although this was entirely discretionary … it is a strong point of principle with Xmo Strata that it does not charge companies for the right to use learning materials for any genuine health and safety programmes.

“We spend a lot of money on video because it works for us,” said Managing Director Steve Martin. “We protect the intellectual rights of the films but that is purely to defend them against misuse and to discourage people from re-editing them and subverting them for cheap laughs on YouTube.

“If another company – even a competitor – wanted to use any of the material for its own health and safety programmes, we would be delighted to facilitate that.

“At the same time, we are not too proud to use material from other companies if it can be of help, and we have done so on many occasions. At the end of the day it is about preventing accident, injury and death and that transcends any other consideration.”

Mr Sean Mills from Axa Assistance wrote to say that employees who had seen the film found it powerful and emotional and that it had “hit home”, emphasising that health and safety is the responsibility of everyone.

The film is one of many produced by Xmo Strata. You can see this, and any of the other films made by the company, in the video vault on the website at http://www.xmostrata.com/videos/index.php.

Send to Kindle