People in Print

Simon Wheeler at Stylographics: Hollywood calling

by FESPA Staff | 19/12/2023
 Simon Wheeler at Stylographics: Hollywood calling

We spoke to Stylographics Managing Director Simon Wheeler about his appointment to the FESPA UK board, and about his impressive collection of customers including (from the world of movies) Barbie, Batman, Willy Wonka and Napoleon.

Life is about seizing the opportunities that come your way, or – even better – creating your own opportunities. 

After working in various photographic, digital photographic and associated production and management roles, 23 years ago Simon found himself without a job. But as he lived near local print firm Stylographics, he decided to apply for a job.

“I wrote to Stylographics’ owner, Simon Olley, and said these are my skills. I came in for an interview. We had a really good conversation, and I’ve been here ever since,” Simon says. 

“I started working in production and I’ve tried to help grow the company. When I first joined, there were 13 people, but now we have just under 80 employees, and we have gone from quite a modest 5,000 square foot facility to 30,000 square feet. After running the operations for some time, in early 2023 Simon Olley asked me to take over as Managing Director.”

Movie magic

Simon’s story and his personal success is just one example of his determination; by using the same type of dynamism, he has taken Stylo into the world of blockbuster movies and television.

“I live opposite Leavesden Studios and, when they were building the Warner Bros Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter, I just didn’t want the feeling that I wouldn’t be doing the work in there – it would annoy me for forever and a day,” Simon said.

“I worked really hard with the support of the team at Stylo to establish links with Warner Bros in Burbank, California, to ensure that we had the opportunity to work with them. We are located only 10 minutes from their UK studios. We had some late-night conversations with them, proving that we were a substantial, healthy company, we put in our tender, and we received the job to put in the initial graphics for the tour. From that we did studio graphics and, from that, 10 years ago we did our first film production job.”

A decade later, Stylo has done background graphics for 73 productions in the last year alone, with a list that includes some box office and streaming big hitters, such as The Batman, The Barbie Movie, Wonka and Napoleon

“The big moment for me was working on The Batman. It was a big launch and at the time we were getting into textured printing with our Canon printer,” Simon said.

“One of the big sells in the film and TV industry is the number plates that we print, but then we got involved in making 1970s-style relief cards. I was in the cinema expecting to see a lot of what we had done for the film, but actually, what was seen was one of these cards that we had printed, which was effectively the Riddler’s calling card that he had left for Batman to read. That was what is called a hero prop, which really substantiates our work.”

People, skills and kit

Now Stylo has a team dedicated to film and TV. However Stylo’s work in more traditional areas (retail for example) continues to create fantastic concepts and displays. Earlier this year, Stylo won a FESPA Gold Award for its signage campaign with UK fashion brand Hobbs, as well as a Silver in the non-printed graphics category and a Bronze for a digital piece in the serigraphies and fine art category – something of a coup for such a traditional, non-digital winner’s circle.

Simon at the FESPA GPE in Munich earlier this year

“We have a very talented group of staff here. Our drawing department is incredibly skilled and they all have great knowledge of graphic production and fabrication because they have the experience of having done the job,” Simon says.

“Our staff have the skills, the knowledge, and the ability to search for the knowledge to fabricate pieces of work. It is important that the design process challenges the people in the fabrication and print department. It allows them to create innovative solutions to any challenges.   

“During my career, the most important lesson I have learned is that business is about staff. People come from different backgrounds, they’re different ages, and they have different needs. It is important to be fairly patient with some, while others will just get on with the job. It’s about recognising how a team works together and ensuring that everyone, from the bottom to the top, are well served and looked after, and that’s particularly the case when hiring  young staff. 

Custom-made number plates for use in movies

“The next important factor after staff is about having the right equipment. That’s why we are quick to invest in new kit. When I joined the business, Simon already had two 72in inkjet printers, which I had never seen before. From there, we were one of the first businesses to get into direct to media printing and large format 3D printing. Again, we are one of the first businesses to be involved in neon printing, with the purchase of the new SwissQ Kudu. In fact, we have received the Queen’s Award for Innovation in the past because we want to innovate and push the boundaries all the time.”

Giving back

For Simon himself, he has pushed his own boundaries in the last few months and, in June, he joined the board of FESPA UK.

“FESPA UK is a trade association that perhaps a few years ago I wouldn’t have been so interested in. That all changed when Suzi Ward took over FESPA UK. It is now a great trade association with a modern approach that is looking at everything in a way that, as a business, we want,” Simon said. 

From the Netflix series The Witcher

“If we want to get involved in sustainability, which is an important factor for businesses like ours, FESPA UK has the support and structure in place to help us to achieve that. With FESPA UK’s young leaders initiative, we have staff here who are progressing and developing as individuals by taking part in that. 

“By joining the FESPA UK board I wanted to give something back to our community. I believe I achieved a lot in the industry and as you progress, it is crucial to give back. But it also has to have a benefit for the business. FESPA UK exceeds any other trade organisation I have seen so far in what it can deliver for a business, whether you’re a business of only one person or all the way up to even much bigger businesses than us.”

by FESPA Staff Back to News

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