Still Leading After all these Years
In the heady days after World War II, Horace Bell was looking for independence. Possessing a knowledge of printing, typography and layout he set up shop as the Bell Company in the basement of his house, engraving small metal plates, making name badges and printing flyers for local customers in Trussville, Alabama.
Government work stemming from the Arms and Space Races brought growth in the ‘50s and ‘60s while local customers came seeking signage, nameplates, badges, rubber stamps, and more. Needing help, Mr. Bell recruited his teenage son Neil, now company president emeritus, who recalls that the work probably kept him out of trouble.
Seeing opportunity, the father and son team began selling materials and supplies to others in the industry, while continuing to support and expand their regular customer base. The business grew throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s as products and services were added to perpetuate that growth. Additions included A.D.A. signage, vinyl lettering and computerized engraving, which continue as some of the centerpieces of Bell’s offerings today, along with custom signage and vehicle wraps.
Bell Company general manager Tina Kirk says a major difference between it and most competitors is an outgrowth of the company’s roots. “No order is too small,” she says. “We give the same attention to small jobs from a start-up as to large ones from a major company.”
Ms. Kirk and the company also take pride in the company’s lack of a voice mail phone tree. “During business hours, a human always answers the phone and will route a caller to the correct person. That way if you do have to leave a voice mail it goes to someone who can answer your question, address your concern, and respond promptly.”
The knowledge behind those answers come from a team of people who actively listen to customers and seek out new ideas, processes and materials. “We’re always looking for new information, new ways to do things, and using new materials that can make a product better,” affirms Ms. Kirk. “We believe in being a resource for our customers, so that even if we don’t know the answer to a question, we can find out and provide the information needed. And because we have done the research and testing we can sometimes offer an option a customer may not have considered.”
This focus on customer needs extends to how jobs are done. For example, a customer may want signage that is neatly framed, but not have the budget for the extra steps and materials required. “We can customize the details of a job and make subtle changes that will give an upscale look at a price point that meets a customer’s budget” explains Ms. Kirk. “We always deliver a high-end product, and apply what we call ‘value engineering’ to deliver more value for the dollar.”
Bell Company’s singular focus on customer need keeps the company looking forward and not paying much attention to what competitors may be doing. “We don’t mimic what other firms are doing,” says Ms. Kirk. “We are a leader and want to continue to be one. You do that by focusing on your customers.”
Not surprisingly, the company looks for the same focus from their suppliers. Bell was one of Nova Polymers’s first customers some 20 years ago and the two companies have evolved a synergistic relationship that has served both well.
Because Bell is innovative and always seeking a better approach it has become one of the “go-to” companies Nova Polymers uses when evaluating and testing new products. The two companies are always willing to try new processes and materials, even ones that may initially seem unlikely to succeed or even appear impossible.
“We test products and share the information with each other,” says Ms. Kirk. “This expands the knowledge that we and Nova draw on. There’s a lot of back and forth.”
“Ultimately, a lot of this comes down to passion,” notes Ms. Kirk. “It’s a passion Bell and Nova share to push the limits and find new ways of doing things. It ties back to our value engineering approach where we are always looking for ways to do something better and increase value for our customers.”
As attuned to the need of the market as Bell is, the company still relies on Nova Polymers for keeping up with the ever-changing codes and regulations that surround the sign industry. Whether it is ADA standards for fonts and braille, the information is all readily available on the Nova Polymers website. More recently the requirements surrounding LEED certification span a broad array of paints and materials, all of which must be adhered to and the knowledge must be part of the expertise Bell offers its customers. The Nova Polymers website keeps all the details in one place for Bell and any other company to see, read and understand.
“Nova Polymers has been a significant asset for the past 20 years of Bell’s 70 year history,” says Ms. Kirk. “And as long as we both keep coming up with new materials and ways of supporting our customers, we’ll both help move the industry forward.”
>> Go to Bell Company’s Preferred Fabricator profile to see sign samples.