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  • David Hammond

    September 30, 2021 at 8:27 am

    Recently I’ve seen two separate people seeking advice about signs that have failed, and now are dealing with customers demanding refunds, or replacements. There’s quite a simple solution that’s far easier than arguing with someone who thinks their sign should last 15 years.

    When the BSGA first announced the BS559:2009 I didn’t entirely approve, as as result I ended up having a chat with David Catanach, when he came to visit me.

    My issue was over the default 10year service life they implemented, and the secrecy over what BS559 contained, unless you were a member.

    David looked at me and pointed something out, and I’ll admit he was entirely correct. –

    You walk into Argos, and buy the cheapest £7.99 kettle, you take it home, open the box what’s inside?

    You’ve the kettle, the wire/base, and small instruction book.

    The instruction book tells you to plug the base in, clean the kettle out, fill the kettle between the min/max mark, sit it on the base, and flick the switch, and as if by magic the water boils.

    It also warns you that the boiling water is hot, and it or the steam from it may burn you.

    It will most likely include how long the manufacturers guarantee is, and how to contact them if required.

    All that for a £7.99 kettle, that pretty much every household owns, yet they’ve got to spell out the obvious!

    Now look at the supply of signage in comparison.

    Some companies are installing signage worth £100, through to projects into the £1000’s.
    The design looks the part, the signs manufactured, it’s installed, the customer is happy, and that’s the end of the job.

    At no time has the customer been advised on how to look after their sign. After all they’re relatively maintenance free. I mean who’d jet wash the vinyl off their vehicle, or clean a wrap with an abrasive compound?

    Most customers don’t know how long the sign ‘should’ last, we in the industry know about varying grades of vinyl, and substrates, but the customer doesn’t – A sign, is a sign.

    I’m guilty myself of this, but reading the plights of two fellow sign makers bought it the forefront of my mind.

    For the sake of a couple of lines of text on each quotation, specifying the service life, and guarantee you prevent such occurrences. Similarly, handing over a generic “how to” leaflet for the sign, for the pence it would cost, can save headaches further down the line, and removes the “I didn’t know” excuse.

    If you’ve a spare 30minutes, it wouldn’t be wasted updating your templates 👍

  • Robert Lambie

    September 30, 2021 at 11:30 pm

    We have some in-place like this, David. Admittedly, I only got around to it when I first went for our BSi ISO9001 which was about 6-7 years ago now. However, your post has just reminded me I wanted to add a few to the list and haven’t! Ironically, my next ISO audit is in two weeks time. 🙂

    The reason small companies like ours do not do these types of things is normally that they either do not care, or the ones that do just don’t have enough hours in the day to run their business and dream up tedious customer guarantees and cover…

    As we all clock up the years of experience in the trade, we start to see patterns forming and where risks are taken without any sort of cover should something go wrong.
    As you have rightly pointed out, a simple instruction leaflet printed hard copy or PDF attached to an invoice sent, covers you to a point. Which normally deters 9/10 unscrupulous customers from trying to get money back or point the blame finger, right at us!

    Here is the William Hill sign that came down in London, I think, In 2005. Which instantly killed an innocent pedestrian walking by. I am not sure if this case has been finalised but a quick google tells you it was last in court 2018. That’s a long time for all involved to be dragged through court proceedings and more. Long story short, you have shop fitters denying blame, William Hill denying blame and the sign company denying blame. Bottom line is, the sign came down with zero defects or weathering, but it was attached to a new timber frame fitted by the shopfitters, “when it was installed”. However, a dripping pipe on the roof drops water onto the frame which then became rotten over time. a storm hits and the sign is ripped away attached to the rotten framework and kills a man.

    Why isn’t the sign company in the clear? when clearly it was the wood that was rotted!
    Well, “Us lot” the Sign company, should legally be offering a maintenance warranty. let’s say it’s £20 per month for talking sake. Out you go once a year, clean the sign down, check illumination and make sure it is structurally sound. Get a signature from the customer and repeat each year, easy £140.
    Should work need to be done, then there is an additional cost on things that are not covered. i.e. “the wood” that the shopfitters installed. the lead flashing that the roofer didn’t install correctly and allowed water to get down the back of the sign and rot the wood… the list goes on.
    Many reading this will think “yeah right, the customer won’t want a warranty cover!”
    Then that is fine too… “OK customer, sign here that you are happy with the sign and all is fitted well, and sign there stating you do not want a maintenance contract for an annual inspection and clean up”.
    Had the sign company that installed the William Hill sign had this in writing from William Hill, do you think the blame would be getting pointed at them? I very much doubt it, because the sign that came down was an unweathered, powder-coated aluminium folded pan and aluminium frame, which was screwed to a newly constructed frame by the shopfitters. but it was the wooden frame that came down, the sign was still attached. But the last time I heard, the Sign Company was still in the firing line.

    There are a great many examples of this that can apply to what we all do daily. from stickers on a van failing, windows cracking due to thermal shock to signs falling over etc.

    in the first few seconds here you see the sign falling outside, from inside the shop.

  • David Hammond

    October 1, 2021 at 5:39 am

    I agree with you Rob, I think the simplest way is have a generic leaflet, something is better than nothing being my point.

    I don’t do much external signage work. I can see the maintenance service being a good thing, however if companies don’t have time, or simply don’t care about guarantees they’re not going to have time, or care about servicing contracts.

    Suppose the sign company had inspected the William Hill sign, and the rot had gone unnoticed, would liability immediately be on them?

    That’s worse case scenario, the examples I’ve read of this week, are customers who appear to be trying to wrangle a free replacement sign. One after a few weeks, the other after 3 1/2 years.

  • Kevin Mahoney

    October 1, 2021 at 8:45 am

    A very valid point David, I don’t remember the word ‘guarantee’ ever coming up in a client consultation over the years in the driving seat, its always been just kind of assumed. I tell them we use a 7-10 year or better vinyl so they probably assume it’s guaranteed for that long. Well to assume is to make an ass out of u & me as the old saying goes. I’ve always just followed best practice to be honest, I’ll never cover up an old sign, but always remove everything & start again just so I know what I’m working with. I recently, against the wishes of a client, removed a rotten old facia sign on one of the oldest buildings in the city, at least 700 years old. Incredible that it was there as long as it was to be honest. I was expecting to find a lintel or a beam of some kind under the 7 or 8 layers of 5mm foam & delaminating plywood but instead found a tree. Not planed or sawn, a proper tree with the branches cut off. Harder to drill & fix to than any brick or block I’ve ever encountered & the sign isn’t going anywhere soon but who knows in 700 years time. I think the disclaimer & offer of monthly maintenance inspection is a pretty good idea.

    • Robert Lambie

      October 2, 2021 at 8:04 pm

      🤣 Kev, your post reminded me of an old post I made on here a while back mate, so I have just found it and pasted it below.
      Cannot believe I posted this 17 years ago!

      Posted: October 2004

      Basically, the spec I had on this job was simple.
      Arrive with 3 di-bond panels, measuring about 75 inches high by about 52 inches wide, & fit them to a wooden “existing” shop fascia.

      I was advised by the customer to take some tools to remove some old Foamex but to then simply silicon and screw the panels to the face of the wood. Easy! Or so I thought.

      It’s always the same…
      a customer will play down the work to save some cash! understandable but this one pushed their luck a bit too far.

      Anyway… I arrived on site… looked at the job and thought fur-fu**s sake!

      I removed a large V-shaped For Sale Sign.
      I then removed a Foamex sign.

      Below that was another thin plastic sign. So I removed that also.
      When I did, the whole thing started to wobble and was clearly unsafe…

      Outcomes the owner and I explained… “unless I rip this down it’s gonna kill someone sooner or later.”
      He gives me the nod and I carried on. Down comes the sheets of ply to expose. Yet another sign!?
      I take down that sign and you guessed it another sign!

      This time when I removed that one I actually found the signs backing board was in pretty good condition and it was fitted very well. so I thought I am far back enough, so I will have to work on this!
      As I pulled some bits away to the side I spotted behind that backing board was another sign!!!!
      As I laughed I said to the guy with me, “that’s number 6!”
      He said, “no chance!”
      So I put my hand in and pulled it forward to show him what was behind it. as I did he said, “you’re right, but look underneath that bit you’ve pulled up” Another sign!!!
      This time painted on the marble building and must have been at least 100 years old if not much more!
      7 bloody signs all on top of each other. this was my first time ever seeing something like this.
      Anyway… after getting the lot back to something more secure to fix to I went about
      Making a new frame to build onto the old one.
      I cut up the large di-bond panels to create a sign but not as deep.
      I used the off-cuts to box in the old shutter box, which was now exposed by me ripping the frame down.
      I edged the lot in a 1×1 inch aluminium angle and applied the flat cut letters.
      You will see some, but not all the stages…

      This was a bit of a nightmare, to say the least, but in the end, the customer was thrilled.
      My hands were cut to bits but I was happy enough with the result.

      Below are just a few pictures taken during the install from 2004.

  • Robert Lambie

    October 2, 2021 at 8:31 pm

    David, I completely agree that something is better than nothing, mate.

    These days, companies are set up completely off the back of catching companies that may not conform to certain practices.

    For instance,
    did you know that all companies that run CNC routers and similar cutting tables must have some form of barrier completely around their machine? it can be fenced or laser protected, but regardless, companies are dropping in unannounced on any company, small or large, and can slap a £40,000 fine on the spot for failing to do so.

    My point is, we, the signmakers need to know of such fines being imposed. we need to know about the William Hill story and how these types of accidents can hit us between the eyes, IF, we do not put some sort of paperwork between us and the buyer!, that we are happy to maintain the sign for a fee”. but if this is waived by the customer, then they are now responsible for their sign and maintenance after a certain period of time, such as 12 months.

    Suppose the sign company had inspected the William Hill sign, and the rot had gone unnoticed, would liability immediately be on them?

    I think that is down to the company to inspect it properly. However, missed it or not, it looks like they are getting the blame regardless.
    At least if we can offer a simple maintenance contract for anything we install due to new regulations. We get to earn continual money from the job and cover our own backs in the process.

  • Kevin Mahoney

    October 3, 2021 at 6:08 am

    I doubt we’ll ever see any conformity in our industry mate. There are plenty more unscrupulous signmakers out there willing to take the money & run compared to the honest ones that want to provide a premium service. I’ve just had confirmation of a quote for a fairly new shopping precinct for full sign replacement. 3D built up letters, under 3 years old, not unsafe but powder coat or paint peeling & looks truly dreadful. I suggested contacting the company who installed it, yes, probably only came with a 12 month guarantee but if I saw a job I’d done failing like that in such a short time, I’d be up a ladder in the morning putting it right. I was told they can’t remember who did it, they just want new. It’s their money

  • David Hammond

    October 4, 2021 at 8:46 am

    I agree we’ll never get some sort of conformity in the industry, it will forever be unregulated.

    I think many smaller sign companies look at the William Hill example, and think “it’ll never happen to me” or are using sub contractors and therefore the responsibility on them.

    These are the same people who can’t be bothered spending 2minutes getting a signature, for a delivery, or inspecting a vehicle, and then find themselves in a predicament that could have very easily been avoided.

    • Hugh Potter

      October 4, 2021 at 4:14 pm

      It would be interesting to see, if we as a collective, could fund a Legally binding, Generic care sheet, along the lines of the stuff discussed above.

      The most I’ve done before now, was 6 signs on top of each other, in my home town, this was around 2008, my mother remember the last sign I got to as a Travel agent that moved further up the High St… in the late 60’s! Needless to say I removed the lot and built a new frame, I also had to buy a new SDS drill as my hammer drill burned out after using 8 bits to drill three holes in the rendered façade!!

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