I was recently a silent third party to this two-way conversation.

I am a neon glass bender with over thirty years’ experience in making neon signs, A very good start!

Recently I have toyed with the idea of setting up a small neon shop in my garden. This raises some practical issues, and some careful planning needed here. Understanding your costs will be crucial. I would suggest you need to consider at least, but not limited to, the following: –

1) Power requirements. Bombarders use a lot of power and your supply may need upgrading. 2) Insurance and mortgage issues. You must check whether you can run a business from home without paying commercial rates, (I personally do not as I am a consultant sole trader and have no deliveries etc. A neon shop would be different) and, if you have a mortgage, check it is allowed by the mortgagee. 3) There are serious health and safety issues to be addressed also.

What I am unsure about is this, is there a market still for neon signs any more? A good question. The answer is “yes and no”.

I realise that L.E.D.s have taken a vast amount of work away from neon, You are absolutely right. I would estimate 95 % of the market went to LEDs some years ago.

So I am debating with myself as whether it is a good idea to start up a neon shop, when in my eyes, neon is on its last legs. Another very good point. However, there is a resurgence in interest in neon at the moment, and, I understand, a bit of a shortage of good quality artisans. However, do not get too excited. The resurgence could disappear just as quick as it appeared. And there is more! This is where it gets a bit hairy! The neon lamps made with mercury are only allowed to be made in Europe under strict limits on the amount of mercury used in them. This is regulated by the RoHS Regulations. At the moment there is an exemption for neon signs and cold cathode lighting and artwork. but this is to be reviewed in November 2018 – and may not be extended. Furthermore, in 2020 and international ban on mercury is planned. Again, an exemption may or may not apply. Not a good basis for future work plan.

What appeals to me is making artistic signs, and no doubt I would have to do commercial signs also if I were to make any living from it. A logical assumption in the current climate.

Do you have any advice on this matter or could you point me in the right direction as to whether this is a good idea to begin?  Ah, now. There’s the rub. We cannot provide advice on this in any way. Whether you proceed is entirely up to you and should be based on having a good business plan and preferably a known market. It’s your train-set to run how you wish with the knowledge you hold. I hope that the above is of some help. Please note that the above is supplied on a best endeavours basis and no liability accepted for the results from either actions or inaction taken by you based on the above comments.

And that ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, is the crux of the matter. Any advice given is just that – advice.

In the example illustrated, the advice was given with a large dollop of experience and qualifications and not from the pub bore you met up with on a Friday night on the way home from a hard week of graft. What you do with this advice is entirely down to you.

If however what you are after is a more formal coaching on the best way to proceed and there isn’t an instruction manual to hand, then seek professional advice and expect to pay for it. The paid for variety does then come with the applied caveat that the advice is expected to be 100% correct (hence the rise in Professional Indemnity insurances in the sign industry of late).

Formal instruction should come from a reputable organisation or a person with the correct set of letters after their name. And on the subject of letters after the name, I once had an ‘expert’ trying to convince me that as he had qualified with a certain award, his word is gospel. Not being too sure of the proposition he was putting forward, I asked him bluntly about three or four times exactly what his qualification is and where did he get it as it sounded like his qualification was the only reason I should follow his lead. Turns out it was an on-line course but he did pass the exam at the end of the modules. So that’s alright then. Suddenly it all made sense to me, the penny dropped, and I imagine he understood the subsequent ‘click’ and dial-tone a few seconds later.

Alright, so you’re most probably thinking “Who the hell is he to tell me what letters I should be putting after my name?” Excellent point! It’s none of my business what you put on your business card. My challenge to you is to let your work, product and customer service be your credentials. If people ask about your qualifications and degrees, definitely tell them. But please don’t allow your name to extend into an impossible anagram or too many three letter acronyms (‘TLAs’ to you and me). It’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance.

In keeping with the theme of this soapbox – make of all this what you want, or not – that’s my advice, or not. I just always thought air was free until I bought a bag of crisps at the motorway service station the other day.

This post was first published in Sign Link magazine in April 2017.

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