Supplier focus: Perton Signs

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Perton Signs is celebrating 150 years of continuous trading this year, and while the daily business of delivering show graphics to event organisers continues, the firm is using the anniversary to look back at its illustrious history. William Perton, Mark Perton’s son and the great-great-great grandson of the firm’s original founder, also called William, has taken it upon himself to catalogue and sort the company archive in this anniversary year. “It’s a labour of love,” says William as he produces another gem from the archive, a formidable collection of memorabilia and documentation. This time it’s a photograph taken from the gallery overlooking the 1935 Radiolympia exhibition, the year before the BBC started the world’s first regular broadcast television service. In 1864, William Perton set up shop in Shepherds Bush as a builder, painter and decorator. “The archives are a little thin this far back,” admits the youngest William, “but the business must have flourished, and begun to specialise in events quite quickly, as we have records that show my great-great-great grandfather definitely worked on the Irish Exhibition of 1888 and the first Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition in 1908.” As the fad for national ‘universal expositions’ faded, the exhibition halls of the early 20th century began to fill with trade shows. They showcased the ever expanding range of mass-produced consumer and industrial equipment that was rapidly becoming available. In their wake an event industry was born. The British Exhibition Contractors Association (BECA) was formed in 1913, and Perton was its first member. This honour was granted to Perton Signs a second time in 2007 when it became the first member of the Event Supplier and Services Association (ESSA). Today, Andrew Kennedy, Perton Signs’ director, serves as ESSA vice chair. Mark Perton served on the BECA Council for nine years, and the firm has always tried to help guide and benefit the industry. “Building and running a business back then, in a world without telephones, let alone email, seems like a very tall order today”, says Andrew Kennedy, “but I believe the essentials remain exactly the same. You have to make sure you build on your existing knowledge, all the time. You need to be able to adapt to change, embrace new technology and respond to evolving customer needs and expectations.” From beginnings as a building and decorating firm, to painters and signwriters for circuses, music halls and other entertainment, the firm went from strength to strength. By the 1920s, Perton Signs was official supplier for signage and other graphics to dozens of exhibitors, entertainments, and national governments at the 1924 Empire Exhibition – which attracted more than 25 million visitors.As music hall and variety gave way to cinema, the bulk of Perton Signs’ business was now coming from the events and exhibitions sector. In 1939, Augustus Perton, grandson of William, incorporated the company as A.Perton Signs Ltd, and firmly placed the company in the realm of exhibition and event graphics. During the Second World War, the company was involved in blacking out factories as well as numbering the Mulberry Harbours prior to the D-Day landings. “After the Second World War, the archive really begins to fill up,” observes William Perton. Among the sketches, invoices, floor plans and photographs, are reams of exhibition posters.Mark Perton is pragmatic about Perton Signs’ history. “We’ve seen entire eras come and go, but what really matters to organisers today is how we delivered their last exhibition or conference,” he says. This was first published in the April issue of EN. Any comments? Email exhibitionnews@mashmedia.net
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