Artist's Surfaces fabricates wooden and aluminum panels for painters and other artists. The family-run company is based in Gravesend in Kent, but works with customers all over Europe. They’re one of the only companies in the world that offer the warp-free panels favoured by galleries and museums.

After facing some delivery difficulties during the Covid-19 lock-downs, Artist's Surfaces decided to approach their logistics from a different angle. To support their project the team applied for funding from TALE in 2021. We asked Director Matthew Atkinson to tell us more.

“Our business is internet based; we don't have many people visit our workshops. So, in many ways our business was prepared for Covid-19.

“We used to deliver through private and national couriers. However, our products are quite delicate and fragile. With the influx of stuff going through the national courier system, they were more likely to get damaged.

“One of our previous couriers didn’t have an insurance policy to cover deliveries to a home address. If goods were damaged, they took no responsibility. Which I found amazing because it meant they could deliver anything with undo care and attention, without any repercussions. So, we started working with our own courier. The benefits were that we needed less packaging, had far less chance of damage, and the goods went directly to the customer.

“Seeing a gap in the market we decided to start a fine art courier division of the company. People's paintings and artwork would be collected from their home address and delivered to where they want to with our private courier.

“But we needed a system to store data coming in from our customers. Software that would allow us to book in and confirm jobs. That's what we implemented with help from TALE.”

Matthew got in touch with TALE in May 2021. After a business diagnostic, TALE facilitator Patrick helped him complete a grant application. The application would help fund Artist’s Surfaces’ new logistics software. Matthew also wanted a Microsoft tablet for their private courier. The TALE board approved the £1,708.66 grant in June.

“We originally heard about TALE from Charlie Hutchinson at Locate in Kent. We looked at it and thought, ‘this is exactly what we need’. Our facilitator Patrick was an absolute gentleman throughout the whole experience. He always got back to us. He made the whole application experience pleasant and easy.”

“With the grant we purchased software designed specifically to capture our customer's data, so that they can book in a date and time for collection or delivery. It gives them a quotation price and then we just confirm that with the driver.

“The driver has a tablet that will receive automatic updates. If anything changes while they’re on the road, they will get the notification straight away. When the artwork is collected you can get that signed for on the tablet. Then it gets signed for on delivery too. It gives the driver the flexibility needed whilst on the road. They can also work from the tablet when they’re not on the move.”

Artist’s Surfaces’ new fine art division will offer a lot of potential growth to the business. Matthew’s aim is for their delivery service to digitally interrupt the fine arts delivery industry. This is where their new software will make them stand out from the competition.

“We’ve set ourselves up like Uber [digital interrupter whose services include ride-hailing and delivery]. With our new systems we can undercut everyone by offering the best service. Plus, it will be more economical and easier for the customer.

“They can move their artworks around without having to pay hefty fees for very expensive fine art couriers, simply because they’re called a ‘Fine Art Courier’. While they may be able get a private courier to do it cheaper, they don’t know how they’re going to handle the work.

“We’re going to be nestled somewhere in-between – as a company who’s going to handle the work very well but at a more affordable price than a normal fine art courier. Although we’re promoting this as a fine art delivery service. We could get anyone booking anything in. It could be furniture; it could be anything.”

It also allows them to deliver their own goods more efficiently. This will increase turnover and also save them money. Plus, it's much better for the environment, as Matthew explains.

“The fine art delivery will run in tandem with our product delivery service. So, if we have a fine art deliver to do in Manchester, we can deliver orders there too. Our costs will go down because you pay per mile. It's a win-win. It changes the scope of what we're able to do. Allowing us to offer other products that have been too difficult to deliver.”

“Having our own private courier will save us quite a significant amount of money. You’re probably looking thousand in terms of delivery, labour and packaging costs. You're not having to spend so much time wrapping everything, buying the materials or booking in which takes a reasonable amount of time.

“It's also better for the environment because you're not having to wrap things to post them. So, we’re not actually having to chuck away so much plastic. We're also trying to really find ways of using alternative packaging materials, but it's incredibly difficult to find something that works. The alternatives are very expensive. We looked at using new foam sheets but they're £80 each, compared to bubble-wrap which is £30 for 100m.

“It also helps with customer service. Yesterday, we had to post a reasonably sized panel (it was 192 x 132 x 13 cm) and sadly it got slightly damaged on the edge in transit. If the customer returned it for us to fix and then send return, we’d probably lose £120. So, we’re sending our courier to get it. We can bring the panel back safely and at a more affordable price because we have this system in place. Being able to take that approach will save us further money. We may even be able to fix things on site.”

TALE grants are funded by the ERDF (European Regional Development Fund).