Crowned the 2006 Culture and Creative category winner, TH_NK is a business that has undergone substantial growth in the competitive world of new media. James Barton finds out what is driving its success.
TH_NK, the 2006 North-East Business Awards Culture and Creative champion, has more than doubled in size in 12 months.
The website design and new media strategy company is expecting to reach £4.5m sales by the end of the year, up from £2m last year, and has recruited 33 staff since the start of 2006, to reach a new high of 55.
This recent growth caps a remarkable period for the company, launched by Tarek Nseir and Gary Glozier in 2002, which has doubled sales every year since 2004. To accommodate expansion, the company moved from Leazes Park Road to premises on the first floor of 55 Degrees North in Newcastle city centre late last year.
The company is also planning to open a London office with 15 staff, although it is determined to keep Newcastle as its head office.
TH_NK account manager Keith Foggin said: "As a new media business we are unusual in that we span both technological innovation, developing our own products through research and development, as well as offering innovative and creative new media marketing strategies.
"Often in our sector it is left to two different companies to provide technical and creative strategies, but with TH_NK the client uses us for both.
"We have evolved in much the same way as some traditional printing businesses that branched out, launching their own creative and design agencies."
The company has run a number of campaigns for the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead - of which it is a major sponsor - and worked for companies including Northumbrian Water, helping them make full use of the internet and other new media tools such as SMS messaging. Mr Foggin said: "If you look at our digital marketing and website development, we have helped clients such as Northern Rock develop their online banking platform, as well as offering our search marketing consultancy services, which ensures they receive a high ranking from search services like Google and Yahoo."
TH_NK worked with the Baltic to bring a digital dimension to its campaign for the UK's first international urban art exhibition, Spank the Monkey.
The campaign, which ran from last October to January, was a series of site specific, one-off artworks and new commissions showcased via an SMS text messaging campaign.
These drew together a citywide trail of artworks across NewcastleGateshead, from underground Metro stations to the Quayside.
Each piece of art was accompanied by a mobile number signposting the next location. TH_NK also took the exhibition beyond the streets, using digital techniques which were featured on the websites of some of the region's leading organisations, including the NewcastleGateshead Initiative, Galaxy Radio, The Gate and Gateshead Council.
TH_NK managing director Tarek Nseir said: "Working with the Baltic as the gallery's first ever new media sponsor was a fantastic opportunity for our team to show how the latest innovations in brand technology can really help bring the Spank the Monkey campaign to life.
"This fusion of digital activity and the art world created a unique experience for art enthusiasts to really engage with, as TH_NK looks ahead to ongoing partnership with the Baltic that will see the gallery explore how emerging media channels can enhance future exhibitions."
It has an ambitious recruitment policy and managed to entice a number of industry big hitters, chief among them former Yahoo search marketing development director Stuart MacGregor, who joined TH_NK as client services director.
It has acquired an impressive roster of clients in the past 12 months, including the UK's biggest private landlord Newcastle-based Grainger Trust and TNS, the world's largest consumer marketing research company.
The company has also added to its public sector client base by welcoming Newcastle NHS Hospital Trust, Fame (a website to help public sector workers co-ordinate services) and the Learning and Skills Council.
Mr Foggin said: "Our skill is to provide good ideas that go hand-in-hand with new business processes and that is why our clients are so diverse."
The dozen winners celebrating at the grand final of the North-East Business Awards 2006 represent the best the region's business community has to offer.
Almost 800 guests were at the event - held at Sedgefield's Hardwick Hall and organised by The Journal and our Teesside sister paper the Evening Gazette - to witness the closely fought competition.
This year, more than 320 companies entered the running, 86% for the first time, ensuring the vibrancy, as well as the competitiveness, of the contest.
In the end, 12 companies celebrated as they triumphed over their shortlisted rivals and were presented with prizes on an exhilarating night attended by guest speaker Environment Secretary David Miliband.
The South Shields MP said: "The companies nominated for awards illustrate the innovation and dynamism in the North-East economy.
"I am particularly delighted to be able to see companies combining enterprise with environmental sustainability.
"Over the next decade, environmental industries can generate a huge number of jobs and wealth for the region."
Over the next 11 weeks, nebusiness will explore why each business has achieved success in its field. The list will culminate in a profile of Newcastle's Wellstream International, which was crowned Company of the Year.
This capped an exceptional year for the business, culminating in a Stock Exchange flotation last April. It now has a market capitalisation of £300m.
Winning award is just the beginning for RaytecAll our winners
Raytec, the North-East Business Awards 2006 Small Business winner, is a business that has focused on its big ambitions and realised them. James Barton finds how a company that was launched less than two years ago can have its CCTV lighting products used throughout the world.
Secrurity is an issue that has never been higher on the political agenda around the world, and it is this rise in demand for CCTV technology that has been the main driver for Raytec's remarkable growth.
The Ashington-based business was set up in September, 2005, by three founding directors Shaun Cutler, David Lambert and Tony Whiting - three men with a combined 25 years of experience designing and selling into the global CCTV industry.
Raytec marketing director Mr Lambert said: "We spent the first six months after setting up the business designing the products. As a business, we had invested £300,000 to enable us to do this.
"There was never a question of rushing products to market. We wanted them to be the best available so that the experts installing the CCTV would specify our products as the best available on the market. We did all our own development work, including tooling and prototyping."
The products that Raytec make are white light and infrared illuminators for CCTV cameras, a range of flashable light products to work with illumination deterrent systems (IDS) used to deter intruders, and LED illuminators that work with automatic number plate recognition systems (ANPRS) of the type used by the police.
The company did not sell its first products until March, 2006, and did not visit its first worldwide security exhibition until May, 2006. And yet it now sells into 35 countries and has a £2m turnover, employing 18 staff.
Mr Lambert said: "If we were to make a good start, we had to have products that the experts would recommend and specify when on site."
The company has also forged close links with big name camera makers, including Bosch, Siemens and Sony.
Mr Lambert said: "We work closely with all the major camera companies, to the extent that they send us their cameras to establish how our products best work with them.
"These are relationships we are very proud of and have helped us market our own products worldwide.
"Our lighting products are specifically designed to be highly energy efficient and last for a very long time. We have also developed lights that can be easily directionally adjusted. It is very important for a lighting source on a CCTV camera to pick out exactly where the lens is looking, otherwise the picture at night will be useless.
"Our CCTV light products also come with the longest warranties, the industry standard was two years, our products are covered for five."
It is this attention to detail and exacting standard that has led to contract wins across the globe. After Raytec began exporting in February, 2006, they very quickly established sales in the first six months with 16 countries and have since notched up a further 19 countries.
"We now export our products to three continents and have opened a sales and service office in the United States which will be a huge growth area for us," he said.
The company is moving to a much larger factory site in Ashington at Ashwood Business Park in August this year to accommodate the growth.
"We are a true manufacturer in the sense that we design all our own products. None of our products are bought in or badged up.
"I like to use the analogy of Nissan, where we subcontract out - to local contractors where we can - and then assemble the parts on site," said Mr Lambert.
It is a formula that has worked brilliantly in a niche market where there is only one other competitor. Raytec products have been used on some of the most high profile projects of their kind in the world.
"We are very proud of our achievements and are looking forward to building on them. Our products are used in maximum security prisons, nuclear power stations, border crossings, royal palaces and military installations in 32 countries across the world," he said.
But he says there is no room for complacency.
"Our products maybe good now but if we do not continually test them and develop them, we will lose the ground we have gained over the last two years," he added.
With the current demand for security equipment at an all-time high, winning the North-East Business Award 2006 for Small Business is just the beginning for Raytec.
Small Business Award Hall of Fame
2000 - BRULINES, STOCKTON
This hi-tech beer measurement business has gone from small business to big hitter. The Stockton company, recently floated on AIM (the Alternative Investment Market), said it was generating £9m-worth of sales in December. Employs almost 200 staff.
2001 - UNIKA COLOR PRODUCTS, NORTH TYNESIDE
A manufacturer of laminate installation products, Unika has grown steadily since winning the award - both in sales and size of premises. It has developed a strong portfolio of laminate flooring accessories and built its reputation for its unique range of coloured products which ensure a perfect match for every floor and kitchen installation.
2002 - ONYX SCIENTIFIC, SUNDERLAND
Onyx Scientific now employs 50 staff at Sunderland Enterprise Park, developing processes during the manufacture of drugs for a wide range of ailments, from cancer to respiratory diseases and complications of the central respiratory system. It has expanded into the US and generates sales of £3.7m a year.
2003 - THE SPECIALS LABORATORY, NORTHUMBERLAND
Success has bred success for this Northumberland drug maker. In December, it was the only North-East Company named in the Sunday Times Fast Track 100 - an index for fast growing companies. The Specials Laboratory - which makes unlicensed medical products for doctors, known as "specials" - is targeting nearly 40% sales growth this financial year, from £8m to £11m.
2004 - LOMAX TRAINING SERVICES, SUNDERLAND
This winner is aiming to establish the firm as a "centre for excellence" for energy training in the region. After just five years in business, Sunderland-based Lomax Training Services runs four training centres and already offers hundreds of courses across the utility industries - which see 97% of trainees pass. Turnover has grown to around £1.5m this year and Lomax employs more than 30 staff.
2005 - CRAFTER'S COMPANION
The previous winner of this popular award, Crafter's Companion has trebled the size of its premises, doubled its workforce and explored overseas markets. The online company, which is a designer, manufacturer and supplier of products to the arts and craft sector, has tripled its space at the former Co-op building in Coundon, County Durham.
2006 - RAYTEC
The new holder of this award is surveillance company Raytec which doubled the size of its Northumberland premises, exported its products to 16 countries and opened a US office within 11 months of being in business. The Ashington company is a technical leader and innovator in illumination, making a range of CCTV lighting, ANPR hardware and IDS (illumination deterrent systems) products designed to highest standards.