A diverse, multi-faceted company offering Staging & Structures, Technical Production and Trade Hire, IPS has grown to become a major success in the UK events industry. But success doesn’t occur in isolation: the company is also an advocate for skills training and an enthusiastic supporter of the next generation of production professionals. Ambersphere takes a closer look…
Based in Milton Keynes, IPS has existed since 2006 and has become something of a softly spoken big deal in the event production world.
As with many diverse operations, it has been known in different areas for different reasons. Managing Director Karl Saunders explains, “We were always Impact Production Services, but we realised a while back that some people call us ‘IPS’, some called us ‘Impact’, some ‘IPS Impact’ – so in 2018 we rebranded as IPS.”
However you think of it, the fact remains that IPS is a major player in staging rental, stocking mobile stages and roofs from top brands – and boasting the UK’s largest stock of LiteDeck.
It also offers technical services to venues, and is the preferred supplier to its local Marshall Arena.
And it’s a big supplier of audio, video and lighting equipment, supplied to clients either with its own multi-skilled production team, or as dry hire. Sub-hire of equipment and services is a significant part of IPS’s overall business, a fact which leads to its self-described “stealth marketing” approach. “We don’t get to shout about ourselves much!” says Marketing and H&S Manager, Tom Warden.
The team has enjoyed steady growth – save for the upheaval of the pandemic, following which it has seen a welcome return to business – and is beginning 2023 with a senior management restructure to scale operations in line with that growth. Company founder Jason Mason (not the actor) has become Key Account Director, while Saunders steps into the role of Managing Director. Andy Marshall looks after Logistics & Facilities, Gilles Quentel heads Warehouse Operations, supported by Ryan Bellamy. Ian Brown is Head of Technical, Steven Moseley is Head of Lighting and Asset Manager, while Warden takes on the dual role of H&S and Marketing. Despite this ‘structure’ a rather open and friendly, ‘non-corporate’ atmosphere prevails.
Nobody reading this will be surprised to hear that recruitment is currently a headache.
The shortage of skilled staff in the backstage world has long been predicted, but the pandemic has exacerbated the problem. However, far from sitting back and waiting, IPS is actively trying to help. “It’s always something we’ve been deeply involved with,” says Saunders. “We do our best. We’ve worked with Rose Bruford, South Glamorgan, Backstage Academy and more. We’ve supported Production Futures since day one. We work with local schools to offer placements for work experience, and for the past eight or nine years we’ve offered summer placements. We’ve had about 30 pupils through that – one of them went on to win a Breakthough Award from Production Futures.”
Recruitment issues aside, the company benefits from the multi-skilled nature of its existing team and freelance crew. “Somebody will go out and build a roof system, but they’ll also be BS7909 qualified, or NRC, or they’ll be sound technicians. Our team is mostly skilled across various disciplines. That’s a big winner for us, to supply that multi-skill support.”
IPS’s commitment to training is huge. “But,” says Saunders, “we’re not just investing in our own staff to try and build up our business. We’re investing in staff that, if they ever choose to leave here, can go out and say ‘IPS was a great company to work for’.”
In the warehouse, everything is ‘prepped to shelf’, meaning it’s all checked and charged when it comes in, ready to go out again at a moment’s notice (last-minute orders being a commonplace for today’s rental business). It also runs its own maintenance and service department: with over 6,400 lighting fixtures in its stock, this is a potentially large overhead. Consequently, IPS has a clear approach to stock investments. The main consideration is customer demand, closely followed by a long, low-maintenance product lifetime: the first drives the business, the second provides the return on investment.
Recently IPS has invested in weatherproof moving lights from the Ayrton range: around two-thirds of its 344 Ayrton fixtures are IP-rated.
“Ayrton were really one of the first to get IP right,” says Saunders. “Now, with all our profiles we’re moving to LED, but IP-rated, and we’ll use IP-rated outdoor lights for the majority of our indoor shows or hires.”
Not only are the Perseo fixtures reliabily engineered and in demand for work indoors and out, but they also appeal from a maintenance viewpoint. “The Ayrton brand in general just seems to have that,” says Saunders. “We’ve had minimal issues on the service side.” The same can be said of the bigger, brighter Ayrton Domino LT fixtures, which IPS also stocks and finds suitable for larger scale events.
Of Ayrton’s Cobra, with its phosphor laser source, Saunders says, “We supply for a lot of film première work, and we hear from LDs on-site that the Cobras can project gobos onto the red carpert during daylight. That’s a big game-changer for the summer premières, having that power to be seen.”
Of the product training and technical support on offer from Ambersphere, Moseley says, “With a new fixture, Ambersphere’s service guys will come and show us the basics – what to look out for, and how best to service and maintain them to get the life expectancy we need. And the return on them is good, because they’re likely to last for a long time – and still have a good resale value at the end.”
That also applies to the MA Lighting consoles that IPS has long bought from Ambersphere, as MA’s exclusive UK distributor. “That’s certainly a big value part of our relationship with Ambersphere,” says Warden. “We bought into MA2 a long time ago, and it was a big step. It helped open us up to a different scale of job – we started getting on the radar. And when MA3 was on the horizon, Ambersphere were very good at helping us to make the jump at the right point. Then, when COVID hit, they were understanding and flexible and worked with us.
Another investment through Ambersphere as exclusive UK distributor has been the Astera AX1 LED tubes.
“LED tubes have been around for a long time, but when Ambersphere took on the distribution of the AX1, we started to get asked for it,” Saunders recalls. “Now we have over 100, out weekly. They’re everything the customer wants – battery-powered, straight out of a box, easy to control, and great eye candy on anything from the back of a stage to a TV shoot.”
Warden concludes: “That’s one of the nice things about working with Ambersphere. We get premium products, plus we can keep things working. A cheaper purchase price might not result in a better return on investment over the life of the product. We’re very aware of that.”