The Right Signs is run by husband and wife team Phill and Alison Fenton. The business operates from a small 1000 sq ft industrial unit based in Livingston West Lothian. The work done is mainly computer cut vinyl with a small amount of digital printing. Typical examples of the work produced include vehicle liveries, shop and factory signs, banners, “A” boards, window graphics and printed labels. The equipment used include a summagraphics summasign d610 and Roland PC600 printer/cutter. Sign design and cutting/printing is done using Casmate pro and Signlab 5 software.
Q/ How long have you been in our trade?
A/ 8 years – we began trading as “The Right Signs” in May 1996
Q/ What made you want to get involved in sign making?
A/ I was offered a redundancy package by my then employer. I wanted to invest this in my own business and looked around for something I could do. Sign making seemed to be the ideal choice as it required a combination of computer literacy with practical skills which I felt comfortable with. My wife Alison and I signed up at our local college and did an evening course in sign making to learn basic design skills before we started trading. Later Alison went on to do a day release course in sign making.
Q/ If you were able to start over, is there anything you would do differently?
A/ I would research my pricing more. In the early days I was under pricing much of my work which meant I was very busy all of the time but not actually making much money. When I was later forced to raise prices to remain in business there was a resistance to pay more from my existing customer base who were used to the lower prices I had been charging
Q/ If you had a choice just now, what piece of equipment would you most like to own, & why?
A/ A versacamm or Cadet printer for it’s ability to produce full colour printed signs at low running cost. We currently use a Roland PC600 for printing but find it’s high running costs mean it is no longer cost effective for producing larger full colour prints, it’s still used however for producing spot colour labels and “one of” smaller sized colour prints, and as such is still a useful machine that earns us money.
However, digital work is a whole new field to learn and we are currently busy enough doing mainly computer cut vinyl work. Even if we had one of these machines I’m not convinced it would be fully utilised unless we put in place some form of plan that involved expanding our business and actively marketing the new products and services we would be able to offer. This all uses up valuable time which is currently taken up servicing our existing market, so part of the plan would have to include taking on a new employee.
Q/How do you feel your business has developed, since starting?
A/ In the early days we would take on almost any job that was remotely sign related. This often involved spending a lot of time researching answers to enquiries in order to be able to quote these jobs (and even then, we might still not get the work). Over time we have concentrated more on work we can produce “in house” such as computer cut vinyl and turn away many of the types of work that is less profitable for us.
In effect we are much more efficient with our time than we used to be. This has resulted in a more profitable business even though the hours worked these days are fewer than they were when we first started out. For example, we are now closed at the weekends whereas I used to work seven days a week and evenings too. Back then I didn’t mind this at all as I really enjoyed the work I was doing, but in recent years I have begun to value having more spare time which includes taking weekends off and taking time off for holidays.
Q/Do you have a chosen speciality?
A/ Vehicle signs are what we enjoy most. This allows us to work indoors where we are not dependant on the weather and I can remain on site at our premises to answer any enquires. I particularly enjoy seeing the pleased reaction from a new customer who sees his van transformed in less than a day from a plain unadorned vehicle to a mobile advertising hoarding which proudly tells the world all about his business. I firmly believe we are offering great value for money particularly when you compare the cost of advertising against the cost of having a van signed
Q/ Is there a goal you aspire to?
A/ To be regarded by the local business community as a well run business with integrity. We always strive to do work that is the best we can achieve within the clients budget and our abilities.
Q/ Who is your favourite supplier & why? (Regardless of size)
A/ Europoint display in Glasgow. They have been our main supplier for about 6 years now (we used them even before we became members of the UKSG). They have a really good friendly sales team at the Glasgow office that has rarely let us down. Delivery is always next day. I regard them as an extension to our business and rely on them for technical advice when required
Q/ What is your pet HATE about the sign business?
A/ Customers who “hawk” a design around all of the sign companies in the area looking for the lowest price. If a potential customer comes in and shows me a design which has clearly been drawn up for him by a rival company I will refuse to copy it but will offer to do something similar. I have seen our designs copied in the past and deeply resent this.
Also some customers shop on price alone and expect us to match any other price they have been offered. I particularly dislike receiving phone calls from people asking for prices to do work when they have no idea what it is they want us to actually do for them. A typical example would be when someone call up and asks for a price to do a van. I will talk them through prices to do a typical job on a van only to be told “so and so” is much cheaper so they go elsewhere without having discovered what “so and so” or ourselves are actually offering within a particular budget.
Q/ Do you find the internet helps your business?
A/ Very much so. We receive many enquires via email. We also use email to send out many of our quotations and designs. This speeds things up and makes us more efficient
Our website is our “on-line brochure” which is used to describe our products and services. Many new customers come to us having first seen our website. Most are still local enquiries since the nature of our business does not lend itself well to mail order. Having said that, we have supplied signs on a mail order basis because of the site. These are enquiries we would never have received had it not been for having our own website. The downside is that you end up spending more time dealing with enquiries from people who have emailed the same message to loads of other companies. This means you might not necessarily get the work anyway, but you still have to spend time answering that enquiry.
Q/ Has registering at uksignboards.com been of benefit to your business, & if so. Why?
A/ Being a member has benefited us in many ways. First there is the social aspect of being able to interact with other sign makers who are in a similar position to ourselves. Also, If there is a technical question I do not have the answer to, I can always get an answer from someone on the boards. They are a very helpful group who are not at all afraid to share information tips, tricks and ideas with other members. If I’ve had a bad day I can write about it on the boards and usually get some sympathy from others who have experienced similar problems and often offer sensible advice.
We have also benefited from being members of the buying group which has resulted in lower prices from our suppliers, prices we would not have been in a position to negotiate ourselves as an independent sign maker.
Finally it’s great fun being a member. Someone is usually writing something funny on the boards and much of the attraction is the social interaction with other members
Q/ What would be your advice to someone just starting out in the sign business?
A/ Join the UK signboards for sound technical advice and insight into the best way to run your own sign business. This may sound like an advert for the uksignboards but I honestly wish it had existed when I first started out.