MRI’s current mix of services includes large-format digital printing and the custom fabrication of large LED displays, such as scoreboards. The company’s clients include OOH firms, advertising agencies, real estate developers and arenas.
“Installation and maintenance are still a big part of what we do, comprising about 50 per cent of our overall business,” Edwards says, “then five per cent is printing and the other 45 per cent is digital LED billboards and displays, which are growing at a rapid rate.”
Over the past few years, MRI has also developed a reputation for the specialized fabrication and installation of large, three-dimensional (3-D) props for the OOH industry. In 2014, for example, Pattison Outdoor launched a Coca-Cola billboard in Vancouver and Toronto to coincide with the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. Both billboards were updated with a tally of Team Canada’s medals.
To accomplish this effect, MRI first printed the main 7.3 x 14.6-m (24 x 48-ft) billboard panel on flex material and attached a 6 x 6-m (20 x 20-ft) red maple leaf made of exterior-grade plywood with self-adhesive to the front, securing it with throughbolts. Then, the company’s crew added 0.9-m (3-ft) plywood Olympic medals—wrapped in gold, silver or bronze vinyl and decorated with blue flex ribbons—to the billboards to reflect Team Canada’s ongoing performance. Every morning, the installers would go to the site if any medals were won the day before and add them to the maple leaf. In total, Canada won 25 medals at those games.
The project was a runner-up in the 2014 National Sign Competition’s OOH category, beaten only by a fellow MRI-fabricated ‘stunt’—a giant Mike’s Hard Lemonade can that was installed along Toronto’s Yonge Street in the summer of 2013.
More recently, the company developed a giant roulette wheel for Clear Channel Outdoor, advertising Fallsview Casino of Niagara Falls, Ont., to people passing by Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square.
“Computer-aided design (CAD) technology has made this kind of work quicker and more affordable than it used to be,” says Edwards. “We’ve invested in more computer numerical control (CNC) cutters for working with foam, as we’ve been inundated with these types of projects and we still don’t have enough people to handle the demand. It’s a niche where we’ve done a great job at marketing.”
And as mentioned, the LED display business (see pages 28 and 29) is also growing for MRI.
“We’re good at creating custom digital billboards, but in the last 18 months, we’ve also seen more and more indoor LED display projects come along,” says Edwards. “They’ve quickly grown to represent about eight per cent of our work. We can get down to a pixel pitch of 1.7 mm (67 mil), which looks clear from about 3 to 4 m (10 to 13 ft) away.”
A longer reach
In 2010, MRI’s headquarters (HQ) moved from a leased property in Mississauga, Ont., to a fully owned 5,574-m2 (60,000-sf) building in neighbouring Oakville. This centre of operations is also complemented by smaller facilities in Richmond, B.C., Edmonton and Calgary, along with sales offices throughout North America. And to back up its claim as Canada’s only national sign installation company, MRI operates more than 100 installation and service vehicles.
“Back in the 1970s when I joined the industry, large sign companies had their own trucks,” Edwards explains. “Nowadays, most of them have gotten out of the installation business. And OOH firms do not do their own maintenance. The costs of the vehicles have gone way up and you have to roll them over pretty quickly to keep your fleet viable. So we pride ourselves on taking on that work for the trade. We’re a partner to them, not a competitor.”
And in the LED display business, MRI’s reach extends not only throughout Canada and the U.S., but also through South America into markets like Peru and Argentina, where it has worked with local OOH firms.
Nevertheless, MRI remains committed to its roots in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). In 2015, the company won an Oakville Award for Business Excellence. It was named the town’s Large Business of the Year in recognition of its track record of growth, innovation and community activities.
“Having been with the company for 45 years and an owner with some great partners for 16 years,” Edwards says, “I’m truly proud of MRI and can say it is one of a kind in our industry. We’ve got a dedicated team of the best staff in the industry. We take care of each other and of our customers. Everything else just falls into place.”