ONE MAN-THREE MAIN FUNCTIONS
Different professions use different tools to get the job done. Since I am involved in all the day-to-day operations of a one-man sign shop, I need to be familiar with a variety of tools to do my job well. I guess, if I wanted to break it down into three important facets, my job is first marketing, sales and administration; then comes design; and last is production and installation.
The tools I use in marketing and sales would not be much different than the tools my son uses as a software engineer, and that is utilizing computer apps and software to “hang my sign” on the virtual street of Googleland; which basically means I use a website with a regular blog as a tool to drive online searches to my website where my contact information is available. The same thing goes for design work: most of it is also done on the computer. But in this blog, I’ll be highlighting the tools I use out in the shop for producing my signage products and services.
OUTSOURCING IS MY FRIEND
Since I am a one man shop, I depend on one or two key suppliers for my sign panels, and ones that can provide custom cutting of the panels if needed when things get busy. Most panels nowdays are pre-finished, meaning there is not much shop painting needed unless I am working on a cedar sign project, where I would order raw cedar boards. About 90% of the panels will be finished with digitally printed films that are outsourced; the other 10% will get cut vinyl graphics that I prepare in the shop using a 30″ plotter. I can cut my own vinyl films and make paper patterns and stencils using this important tool.
Since a third of my time is spent in sales and marketing, and another third in design, that only leaves a day or two out in the shop each week. That means I have to be efficient out there to get things done. The process most performed in my shop is installing graphics on ready-to-letter panels. For this process I use a variety of squeegies. I use felt squeegies to apply printed vinyl and hard plastic squeegies to apply cut vinyl letters and logos. I also use application fluids, precision blades, and various tapes during the graphic application process. Many times I will have to cut a decorative shape in the panel and sometimes attach removeable panels and things like that, so I have all the basic woodworking and metalworking tools that you’d expect to find out in the shop for those kinds of things. On occasion, I get the chance to handpaint a sign, and I have a slew of brushes and other tools for handpainting signs, which I learned to do in the early 1980’s.
As a one-man shop perhaps the most difficult task I have is installation of signs. I will not take on a job if it involves a difficult installation unless the customer takes care of that part. I do have a nice set of scaffolding, a very nice set of ladders and a crosswalk, digging tools, and other tools for signage installation, but as I get older, I limit myself to what I can actually do these days. I like to recommend other sign shops I am familiar with for the things I cannot tackle or at least feel uncomfortable trying to even consider.
Mark Hackley owns and operates his small business, Augusta Sign Company, near Staunton, VA.