Media Resources Featured in Sign Media Magazine for 50th Anniversary
As Media Resources Inc celebrates our 50th year in the business, we were given the opportunity to be featured in a special anniversary issue of Sign Media Magazine, who also happen to be celebrating a milestone anniversary this year.
You can read the original article at this link: Sign Media/Sign Shop Profile: Media Resources International
Or, you can read it right here!
Media Resources International (MRI), now celebrating its 50th anniversary, has evolved significantly throughout the years under the guidance of Keith Edwards who is currently its co-owner and chief operating officer (COO). His older brother Grant registered the company as Grant Sign Services back in 1966 and got it up and running in 1967, specializing in sign installation and maintenance. Edwards joined a few years later, in 1972, and eventually became general manager (GM) in 1990 after his brother got out of the business.
Now, MRI not only installs and maintains signs, but also designs, prints and fabricates items that are used in various aspects of the sign industry.
“We’ve come a long way,” says Edwards, “from a small installation company of three people in 1967 to a national company with more than 180 employees today.”
Investing in growth
When Grant exited the business, he sold it to Robert J. Deluce, now best-known as president and CEO of Porter Airlines.
“I worked for Bob as GM for 10 years and learned a lot,” says Edwards, “but he didn’t want to invest in the further growth of the company. In late 1999, I decided I wanted to buy it back. I worked with two silent partners to help finance the deal and then we really ramped up the business. In our first year, we went from having about 13 employees to 35, bought new equipment and more than doubled our sales. It was mainly a matter of getting additional work from our existing customers, as we had the capacity to do so.”
In addition to growing in scale, the company grew in the diversity of its products and services. By way of example, one of Edwards’ business partners, Steve Gallow, had a background in large-format printing and led an effort in 2003 and 2004 to expand MRI into that field. (The other silent partner was Cal Courneya, whose background was in out-of-home (OOH) advertising with MediaCom. He has since retired, selling his shares to Jeff Rushton.)
“Being an installation company, we used to receive graphics printed by other companies,” Edwards explains, “but if they were printed wrong or delivered late, we got blamed. So by printing them ourselves instead, we could fix any problems better and faster.”
Under the oversight of Will Thomson, the 4th partner of the current ownership team at MRI, the 15 person print team at MRI continues to print approximately 200,000 square feet of graphics per month. A large percentage of their work is for high-resolution outdoor billboards, but they also print at higher resolutions on acrylic, polycarbonates and glass up to 1,440 DPI using both solvent-based and ultraviolet-curing (UV-curing) inkjet printers.
In 2005, MRI bought a manufacturer whose tri-vision signs it had previously installed and serviced. Rebranded as Rite Sign International, it became a highly successful division of the company.
“We started making these signs here and got to approximately 95 per cent market share in Canada,” says Edwards. “It was a great business for us.”
A similar move into large-scale light-emitting diode (LED) displays involved a sales agreement and partnership with U.S.-based Young Electric Sign Company (YESCO) in 2009 and the eventual acquisition of Hamilton Digital Designs (HDD), based in Burlington, Ont., in 2011.
“We started developing new LED systems after buying HDD, as then we had the financing and personnel to make it happen,” says Edwards. “We modified colour positioning to optimize the screens’ horizontal and vertical viewing angles, sourced more efficient and powerful LEDs and angled them downward to reduce the waste of light spillage upward. We may not be as big as Daktronics or Watchfire, but we run head-to-head with them and about 60 per cent of our sales are in the U.S., where they’re based.”
Grant’s name stayed on the company during the first few years of its new co-ownership structure, but was soon no longer suitable for the growing mix of services and products.
“Our divisions all had different names,” Edwards explains, “so we held a contest within the company to come up with one brand for everything we did. That was how we rebranded as “Media Resources International…solutions for the sign industry”
MRI’s current mix of services includes large-format digital printing, custom LED Display fabrication as well as the production of large LED displays, such as scoreboards. The company’s clients include OOH firms, on-premise sign manufacturers, advertising agencies, real estate developers, arenas and highway billboards.
“Installation and maintenance is still a large portion of what we do, comprising about 50 per cent of our overall business,” Edwards says, “then five per cent is printing and the other 45 per cent is LED digital billboards and displays, but this is growing at a rapid rate.”
Over the past few years, MRI has also developed a reputation for the specialized fabrication and installation of large three-dimensional larger than life props for the OOH industry. In 2014, for example, Pattison Outdoor launched a Coca-Cola billboard in Vancouver and Toronto to coincide with the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. Both billboards were updated with a tally of Team Canada’s medals.
The project was a runner-up in the 2014 National Sign Competition’s OOH category, beaten only by a fellow MRI-made stunt—a giant Mike’s Hard Lemonade can that was installed along Toronto’s Yonge Street in the summer of 2013.
More recently, the company developed a giant roulette wheel for Clear Channel Outdoor, advertising Fallsview Casino of Niagara Falls, Ont., to people passing by Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square.
“Computer-aided design (CAD) technology has made this kind of work quicker and more affordable than it used to be,” says Edwards. “We’ve invested in more computer numerical control (CNC) cutters for working with foam, as we’ve been inundated with this type of work and still don’t have enough people to handle the demand. It’s a niche where we’ve done a great job at marketing.”
The LED display business is also growing for MRI.
“We’re good at creating custom digital billboards, but in the last 18 months, we’ve also seen more and more indoor LED display projects come along,” says Edwards. “They’ve quickly grown from a very small portion to about 10 per cent of our work. We can get down to a pixel pitch of 1.7 mm (67 mil), which looks clear from about 3 to 4 m (10 to 13 ft) away.”
A longer reach
In 2010, MRI’s headquarters (HQ) moved from Mississauga, Ont., to a fully owned 5,574-m2 (60,000-sf) building in neighbouring Oakville. This centre of operations is also complemented by smaller facilities in Richmond, B.C., Edmonton and Calgary, along with sales offices throughout North America. And to back up its claim as Canada’s only national sign installation company, MRI operates more than 100 installation and service vehicles.
“Back in the 1970s when I joined the industry, large sign companies had their own trucks,” Edwards explains. “Nowadays, most of them have gotten out of the installation business. And no OOH firms do their own maintenance. The costs of the vehicles have gone way up and you have to roll them over pretty quickly to keep your fleet viable. So we pride ourselves on taking on that work for the trade. We’re a partner to them, not a competitor.”
And in the LED display business, MRI’s reach extends not only throughout the U.S., but also into South America into markets like Peru and Argentina, where it has worked with local OOH firms.
Nevertheless, MRI remains committed to its roots in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). In 2015, the company won an Oakville Award for Business Excellence. It was named the town’s Large Business of the Year in recognition of its track record of growth, innovation and community activities.
“Having been with the company for 45 years and an owner with some great partners for 16 years,” Edwards says, “I’m truly proud of MRI and can say it is one of a kind in our industry, we’ve got a dedicated team of over 185 of the best damn staff in the sign industry. At MRI, safety always comes first and after that everything else just falls into place, we take care of each other, we take care of our staff and we take care of our customers.