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Is the LEVC VN5 the electric van for us?

We recently had the pleasure of testing out the new VN5 electric van from LEVC (the makers of those swanky electric black cabs). Here’s what we thought after a few days of driving, delivering and charging our potential new delivery vehicle.

Day 1

Early mornings aren’t often exciting but when a new van to trial is being delivered, it’s cause for ignoring the snooze button and making our way in to meet the driver. Our first impressions were the size of the VN5, it strikes somewhere between our existing Caddy Maxis and perhaps the Mercedes Vito? It really does have a presence which I’ll come onto in a bit more detail shortly.

The keyless start was a great change and immediately feels useful when it comes to multi drop delivery days where time is often of the essence and fumbling around for keys whilst trying to move from double yellows is less than ideal. Once you’ve unlocked the van, the interior is pretty unique in the van market – you sit high, atop of the battery bank and have a seating position akin to that of a cabbie. It takes a little bit of getting used to but after a while, around town, you realise how well it works and the comfort that comes with it certainly surprises.

It was definitely clear that this van is a gamechanger and has a great amount of appeal, from those who know and those who don’t. With what’s normally a 30 second run in to our suppliers turning into a 20 minute conversation with a neighbouring business who had seen the VN5 advertised and wanted to find out more. He likewise agreed the size is impressive but we did also find some middle ground on the question of cost.

Day 2

With a few installations and deliveries, the VN5 was really put to the test – using Smart drive mode, the van recharged using kinetic energy and utilised battery power before switching over to its petrol range extender (more on this later before you bash it!) – the smooth drive and silence are strangely pleasing after a while, feeling almost stress free as you glance left and right at those diesel van drivers sick of changing into first only to inch forward and sit idling.

In Summer of 2020, we utilised the lockdowns to trial a Renault Kangoo ZE which we purchased and sold just under a week later. Why? The dreaded range. EV range is probably best compared to that of politicians – there’s a huge load of promise and you believe it but quickly realise you’re in for a long ride of disappointment. Real world range becomes the phrase you have to hunt for in reviews to actually grasp some concept of how far you can really go. The VN5 though… you guessed it, is different.

Using a petrol range extender, which does mean Congestion Charge and road tax is payable, is a great feature for a business like ours and likely so many others. Delivering around London all day then get a job 100 miles away? Not a problem. Driving to site visits or trade events and back? Not a problem. Whilst our test drive was conveniently a week before the ‘fuel crisis’ meaning we couldn’t pull a smug face as we pulled up at the pumps only to run in and buy a Mars bar, the petrol running cost on the VN5 was still considerably less than our current diesel bill.

With a total of 230 miles covered on day 2, the range certainly help up and delivered, with a lot of gawks and comments from fellow van drivers and EV geeks. So it’s definitely easy to see the marketing power of owning a VN5 given the road presence and intrigue.

Day 3

With an overnight charge at home taking 7 hours, it was time to see how the UK’s charging infrastructure truly held up. With stories of broken chargers, queues, pulling up to find a Range Rover dumped in the charging bay and every other horror story, it had a lot to live up to. The first charger we tried was at South Mimms services on the M25, with a huge array of Tesla spaces but only 4 EV chargers. The faff at first of signing up to the charger specific app, topping up the account and waiting for the charger to accept was frustrating and felt like a waste of all the time saved by not queueing for fuel. But, a services KFC provided the less than desirable opportunity to discuss with our fleet mechanic the pros and cons of this vehicle.

I’ll come back to the size, because even at a services, it felt like it needed two spaces and a wide load warning to ensure no one parked too close as they ran in for a desperate wee. But, it bloody stands out doesn’t it – the VN5 can be seen from across a car park and the beautiful LED halo headlights just add to the pizzazz. (Would have preferred a hawaiian over the lacklustre Colonel’s offering but hey ho). By time my paper straw had gone soggy, it was time to head back to the van and see how much juice we’d gained. And the fun begins… an hour’s charge had added 10 or so miles, you see there are three types of chargers and so many speeds that you’d be forgiven for wondering why switch to electric.

But, with some Instagram advice, we gained some clarity and upon some further research, the VN5 can be charged in 30 mins, with our likely charge speed being 1 hour to full at our London unit.

Verdict

So, what did we think? Am I writing this with a VN5 key on the desk? Well, no, not yet anyway. You see, purchasing an electric van is much bigger than just the van – you have the site surveys and lead time of having a 22kw charger installed, which takes up our last 3-phase point, then the logistics of day to day. Do our drivers take the VN5 home to charge or return to base and take their own vehicles home? Do we market it as fully electric knowing some are aware of the petrol element? Or do we find the ever ridiculous Congestion Charge cost prohibiting as opposed to a Euro 6 van? At the time of writing, the VN5 is a £50k+ vehicle which does become justifiable when you get to grips with what’s on offer and the versatility but with the daily improvements in EV technology, how well will that hold up in even say 12 months? Tesco were the first to take on Modec trucks in the early 2000s who pioneered quite a smart EV commercial vehicle design, only to go bust and perform badly practically.

Whilst we have no doubt the proud UK manufacturer of the VN5 is here to stay, how do we continue to capture that appeal and intrigue to further our brand awareness?

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Warehouse Signage for Zapp

Zapp deliver groceries in minutes, we print and deliver signage in hours… so you could say the two of us have something in common.

We were approached by Zapp to provide internal branding to their new West London hub, specifically to the outer walls of a newly constructed cold room. Knowing warehouse environments are typically cold and high traffic areas, we opted for Metamark MD5-H High Tack Vinyl, to provide a strong and high quality result.

Zapp Signs installed in West London by Citiprint - Same Day Printing and Signs 24/7

The overall sign, measuring it at 2.5 x 7m is hugely visually striking and visible from outside the unit with the shutters open, providing additional impact to those on site. The comments from our client on site in relation to the vibrancy and depth of colours just highlight the power of our Epson SureColour range of wide format printers.

Material choice here was the most important factor with the wall also being recently painted – with MD5-H eliminating the need for primer, speeding up installation to just under an hour. Matt lamination to the graphics adds a large degree of durability to what should be in place for years to come.

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What we’ve learnt in the past year

It was five years in January since we officially committed to the premise of producing and delivering Same Day Printing across London, with a further 6 months of planning prior. Since those early days with a few rented desks in an office, we’ve continued to grow massively year on year, expanding our operations, bringing in new machinery and talent and continuing to push further ahead at the forefront of this ever growing industry.

The Print market in the UK is now worth an estimated £14bn, with that figure expected to fluxuate hugely in the coming twelve months as COVID affected firms unfortunately come and go. It remains unclear how many firms are now solely reliant on furlough whilst the market is quieter. Those who have seen a huge increase in turnover from social distancing signage and graphics may have invested heavily in new kit on the up and now face a harsh sales slump as the demand drops off. It has been imperative to us to survive the last year’s lockdown measures and market downturn, with the wait for the event and exhibitions industry to reopen almost tantalising.

But… (and I know we shouldn’t start a sentence with But but this isn’t all doom and gloom) – in the words of Sir Elton John, we’re still standing – writing this from our unit just outside of London, something we’ve been repeatedly reminded of during COVID as scam and outsourcing firms continue to crop up with no tangible bricks and mortar element. The first thing we’ve learnt is how key having premises has been to us. Whilst we’ve explored several options for moving to larger units recently, our focus has been shifted to doing the best with what we have and extracting the full potential first. We originally moved to Tilbury to provide quick and easy links to the Excel, O2 and City of London with deliveries now covering any address in London and further afield more recently. The key learning curve here has been maximising our workflow’s efficiency to enable delivery times to remain consistent with typical journey time 45 minutes.

It wouldn’t be 2021 without the huge push for sustainability and the rise of the EV, something we’ve been looking into since day one, keen on introducing zero emissions into our delivery infrastructure. Downtime last Summer enabled us to research and trial the all electric Renault Kangoo, capable of carrying around 70% of the jobs we produce. However, we found the range of these vehicles is still limiting for multi drop deliveries where vehicles can often go from East to West and back again in order to fulfill deliveries in order of urgency. The charging infrastructure within London is still somewhat limited – so does the cost of a vehicle being parked for several hours charging outweigh the savings? We’re continuing to trial new additions to the EV market this year including those from Arrival and Volta to hopefully find the perfect match for our first of many zero emissions vehicles.

Whilst the world’s manufacturing has faced huge staff shortages and issues during the pandemic, the print and sign industry has been relatively unscathed on the whole, however material shortages are starting to occur in some key areas, with many suppliers closing branches and locations and even the bulk hoarding of materials by those in the trade, namely floor graphics. This has inevitably led to inferior and unsafe floor graphics being slapped onto shop floors across the nation, with the sellotape now holding them down reminding us in the professional game how there will always be a cheaper way out for a quick buck. We’ve proudly stuck to using R10 rated floor vinyls at a minimum for all relevant jobs including those for Car Giant, care homes and those in the retail sector.

The strong position we hold as London’s only 24/7 Print and Sign company has continued to garner trust from our influx of new clients recently – with the key issue being the arrival and increase of middle men. Whilst there’s no issues in reselling or marking up in this industry, the problem comes when jobs are taken on without a supplier to turn to, hoping to find someone to squeeze on cost to maximise margins whilst never seeing or touching the final product. We are often called to fulfill orders for these jobs, and often called a short while later by the end user themselves who has paid for a product to one of these printers who has since gone silent. It falls to us to actually print and deliver, something we’re proud to have done in house now for over 1500 days. You can read more about the equipment we’re currently using here and how it enables us to deliver so quickly on Same Day Vinyl, Foamex, Signs and Banners.

And lastly, as an industry, we’ve proved we are tightknit after all. What is typically a cutthroat industry for many has been all but transformed by the new trade partnerships many have forged as they look to downsize, sell up or refocus their energy. We have seen a massive increase in trade customers with many utilising our flatbed UV printing service, powered by swissQprint.

We know it’s inevitable some names won’t reopen, a lot have made the difficult decision to close already. But come rain or shine, we’re still open all the time. In the past week alone, we’ve been through a pallet of roller banners, delivered to several film sets where others failed to deliver, and worked on Team GB’s fitting out at the NEC.

So let me tell you this printers and signmakers – it’s not long now until we’re fighting for parking spaces at exhibitions, borrowing each other’s tools and selling material to one another again. The end is in sight, and the new beginning for many is on the horizon. But for us, we’ve always been here, always will be.

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Branded Underwear for Naked Breakfast at London in the Sky

Viewing London from 100ft can easily be both daunting and impressive at the same time but what about doing it totally naked?

Well, that’s what fundraisers for Coppafeel and Movember did recently at the all new London In The Sky at the O2.

We’ve had a large part to play in the launch of the 72 day opportunity to wine and dine up in the sky with the ticket office full wrap, table branding and more so to add 100 pairs of underwear into the mix was an absolute pleasure.

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Sign Installation at UCI Cycling World Cup – Olympic Velodrome for British Cycling

British Cycling came to us requiring a solution for correx sponsor signs. We came up with a solution overnight with morning delivery and were then tasked with replacing and installing new graphics on the Velodrome track finish line. This was done on a tight turnaround with limited access the night before the UCI World Cup.

Once again, we demonstrated our agility in turning around specialist sign installations on site nationwide with the correct insurance in place for client peace of mind.

Track Finish line before removal of existing graphics
Post installation of foamex panels onto glass
Final result completed in under an hour on client’s deadline.
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Same Day Foamex Signs Printing London – Royal British Legion

Fast Turnaround on 3mm Printed Foamex boards (A0 Size) for Paddington Central in support of the Royal British Legion. We specialise in Same Day turnaround Print and Signs including Foamex Printing London.

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Same Day Digital Printing – Wide Format Wrap Installed in London

Our client needed a long term yet easily removable solution for their treatment rooms. Lasers being used in hair removal would reflect off the mirrors fitted to the walls in these rooms. The recommended solution by Citiprint was to wrap all the mirror elements in matt laminated digitally printed wide format graphics.

The large graphic is 2 x 2m.

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Overnight Foamex Panels for Motorama Vending Machine London

Our agency client got in touch at midnight seeking four large foamex panels printing ready for use as a vending machine for a pop up display in London’s Waterloo Station for Motorama.

Our Epson SureColour printers churned out the job in under an hour with the graphics then being laminated and applied to foamex before delivery direct by us to site and what a result, take a look below.

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Same Day Graphics for Adidas and Sports Direct Private Jet #thewarmup2

It’s not every day you see a private jet liveried with the iconic three stripes Adidas logo, but then again, it’s not everyday you can come across a reliable sign company to turn your graphics around quick, unless you’re us.

Our agency client got in touch asking us to produce these temporary graphics for the #thewarmup2 event from Stansted to Lisbon, providing visual branding for Global Reach Aviation’s Bombardier Private Jet.

The result is a stunningly easy and effective product which we’re extremely proud of. See it all below.

 

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Foamex Board Printing – Huawei Coffee Van Promotional Graphics

Printed graphics fitted to foamex board then mounted onto an experiential coffee van for a short term event. Artwork received at 6pm on Friday night and fitted on site Monday 7am in London.

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