How a Scottish man’s infatuation with a paint brush led to 35 years in the sign industry

Serving his time as a spray painter at McMurray & Archibald coach works Graham Ross became fascinated with the traditional signwriters who would often frequent the workshop.
But more than three decades ago, Graham couldn’t find any books on the craft and endeavoured to teach himself. After countless hours experimenting with brushes and paints, Graham became the in-house sign writer at coachworks McMurray & Archibald.

The birth of Write-on Signs

Following Graham’s motivation to learn he became an in-house sign writer before breaking away to form his own outfit.
In 1988 he established Write on Signs, offering traditional handwritten signage to clients in the Perthshire area. But after just four years in business, he realised the future of the business was in high-tech machines rather than painting by hand.

“From 1988 to 1992 I worked solely as a traditional sign writer, but I could see that things were changing,” he said.
“The computerised way of doing it was going to be the future – whether I liked it or not.”

Moving with the times has always been a signature of the business, constantly updating their machinery to provide the best service.

“I bought my first machine in 1992 and pushed customers to realise this was the future.
“It gained a bit of momentum and in 1994 I got my first industrial unit.”

A family affair

The business has continued to trade well over the subsequent decades and is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year.

The wide array of services now offered at Write on Signs vastly outweighs its modest beginnings, yet its slogan still rings true – a sign of good business is a good sign.

This focus on community meant Graham focused his direction towards small business owners and one-man-bands instead of chasing the lucrative business titans.

It has also become a multi-generational family business.

Nine years ago Graham’s daughter Abi joined the company full-time while his wife Alison is in charge of the books.

Working with family can have its challenges, but Graham wouldn’t change it for the world.

“They are batting for the team. They have a vested interest to make sure everything is done right.

“I think there is an expectation from me, it is wrong, but you expect more from your family than you do out of an employee when you should treat them the same.

“However the only real danger is, if I say the wrong thing, I might not get my tea when I go home.”

Sporadic struggles

Like many businesses of its vintage Write on Signs has had it difficulties.

With a bulk of their business reliant on a bustling hospitality industry, the imposed shut down of the trade during lockdown had severe ramifications for Graham.

“The restaurants and cafes weren’t getting any bookings so they were not in need of new signage.

“The thing that kept us going was screens, buying in Perspex and producing these and social distancing stickers, for companies who were working.”

But just as he had when he first began operations he persevered, determined to keep things afloat and prepare for when, once again, they would be overcome with work.

Loyal staff at Write on Signs

Evident most throughout the Perth unit is the respect that the close-nit team have for Graham.

“Michael has been here for 20 years, Graham for 17 and Stuart since 2009.

“The guys either like the work, or they like me.

“I think it’s the work but I can’t be that much of an ogre if they’ve been here all that time.”

Graham Ross’ top tip

What’s your advice to people looking to set up in business?

For me you have to go with your gut and give it a go. Don’t believe people who tell you that you can’t do it. If you have that desire to do something and are convinced otherwise, then when you are in the nursing home, sucking soup through a straw, you’ll regret not having done it. If it doesn’t work out at least you can say you’ve tried.


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