Profile: Stuart Wright
Queanbeyan, New South Wales, Australia
Posted on Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016
1400 sq. ft. plus 200 sq. ft. upstairs for office and print room
Roland VS 640 print/cut
Mimaki CG 130SII cutter
I had been working from my home studio since 2013, and steadily got busier. Working from a small office and a three-car garage wouldn’t allow for large vehicles or jobs, and I could see myself getting to the point where I needed more space. So late last year, I decided to rent a shop at a commercial location.
The move has been a real milestone for Sign Related. The space is a big help—the other day I had a large truck in here as well as a small rally car. I could never have done that at home.
Working from home was slightly awkward for me, but moving here has given me a professional look and a place for customers to come. I can meet with clients and work through jobs, saving me the time I would otherwise spend going to them. The extra overhead is something I’m always planning for, of course, and it’s there every month.
I’ve also added a printer/cutter. Until now, I had been outsourcing my printing to a sign shop in Queensland. I really can’t believe I didn’t get one sooner. It’s not running all day every day, but it certainly makes off-thecuff jobs much easier and quicker. When I was outsourcing, I had to plan for the delivery delay, which could be a bit of an issue.
I’m still getting used to the art and science of laminating; it’s painful stuff. I’d love to get myself a flatbed application table. That might be the next addition to the operation.
I started my apprenticeship with Les Heckingbottom of Signswest in Karratha, Western Australia, in 2001. [Les was featured in the November/December 2005 issue of SignCraft. —Editors] I worked there for about six years before moving to Perth where I worked for a large shop. It was a big change going from a two- to three-person company to a 20-person company. In 2011, I moved here to Canberra and worked for another shop for a few years before opening Sign Related in 2013.
I do anything I can manage—anything sign related—and within reason. For me, it’s important to be able to do a variety of work, because you never know what other work a job might lead to. Fortunately, along the way I learned to do quite a few different types of sign work. With Les, we did a large volume of cut vinyl and sign writing. I loved it. Then in Perth it was wraps, store display work, big installations, billboards and all sorts of things. Because of that, I can generally handle most of what comes my way.
Right now I’m trying to learn more about LED signage. I’ve not had a lot of experience with them in terms of manufacturing, and many shops here still use tubes for illuminated signs. I think LED is the way to go, and I’d like to get into illuminated light boxes and backlit letters and graphics.
Most of my work comes from referrals, which is good. I haven’t really had to do any extra marketing since moving into the new shop, either. Along with work from my own customers, I do the odd installation for other sign companies and quite a bit of work for design agencies. They do branding and rebranding that usually involves an aspect of signage, so they bring me on board for that. For this work, I really just have to adapt the design and produce the sign. I like that—taking a design and making it work as a sign.
I enjoy the production side of the business a lot—especially the 3D work. I do two or three vehicles per month, sometimes more. I don’t do a lot of wraps, as most customers don’t think they have the budget for it.
It seems many customers here want conservative graphics, which can be quite boring. I’d like to do more work of the nature that I see in SignCraft. It’s vibrant, colorful and interesting to look at. And very legible, too, which is something many designers seem to overlook. That’s critical on signs, because they usually must be read quickly.
You have to plan on spending time educating people about the benefit of signs and the importance of their image. Their first concern is usually about price, which is okay, but today if you don’t have a really good eye-catching image, many of their prospective customers will just write them off.
There’s a certain amount of work that goes with running your own business that takes me away from what I need to be doing— selling and making the signs. My wife, Lucy, is an incredible help with the paperwork at tax time, but we’re thinking about talking to a bookkeeper just to keep us sane! I’d rather be doing the signs than the paperwork.
I really enjoy having my own business and plan to keep Sign Related small for now. I’ve talked to a number of people whose businesses had exploded, but they couldn’t manage the growth. They ended up cutting back, and I wouldn’t like to have that problem. Eventually I would like to add an apprentice, though— both for the help and to give someone else the opportunity that I’ve had.