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Routing for Dollars

Volume means profit

By Staff

Volume means profit. The more signs your shop sells the more money you make. But how can your shop increase volume without taking on a platoon of new employees or buying expensive equipment?

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  • If yours is a small shop, one way to increase volume is to make inexpensive routed signs. They have a large market. Routed signs can be profitable if you spend minimal time making and selling them.

    Just look around the town at the houses with the family name and the house number on it. How many don't have such signs? How much money could be made if they each had a fast, inexpensive sign sold by you?

    Family names on the house are just the tip of the market. People are eager to label or identify nearly anything they own with a sign. If the signs are relatively inexpensive to the customer and take you almost no time and resources, you can easily be routing for dollars.

    All you need is a small, serviceable router. Look for one between 7/8 and 1-1/2 horsepower that can take inch, 3/8 inch, and inch bits. Most routers use a inch chuck and generate around 20,000 RPM. Of course, whatever model you select, be sure that parts and service are readily available. You don't want to have to send it to the Orient if it needs repair or parts.

    While carbide bits are the best, they are expensive. They last a long time, but require special equipment to sharpen. They tend to rust. So, for high-volume profit with routed signs-especially wooden signs-high speed steel bits do the trick. They are less expensive and can be sharpened easily.

    Then you need wood. You have a range of choices. From a professional craftsman's perspective, the choice for quality is in redwood. Usually the quality of wood ranking starts with redwood at the top, drops to cedar and luan, and then pine. Fir and larch shouldn't be ranked. Neither routs well nor lasts long.

    Of course, the higher you go up in the rankings of your wood as raw materials the more you have invested in each sign and the lower your profit. As an economic strategy, you can make your choice of wood based on a number of considerations.
    Who is the sign or signs for? Are they a new or a repeat customer? Is it likely a long-term business relationship will develop between your shop and the customer?
    What is the job? Where will the sign or signs be? Inside? Outside? In the woods? Downtown?
    What are the customer's expectations for the signs? You might ask about the customer's budget. It is not unreasonable to ask if the customer is seeking a relatively inexpensive, a moderate-priced, or a custom sign.
    How many signs are you making for each customer? What is the size of the sign or signs?
    What wood is available? Obviously if you would need a redwood forest, there might not be one sitting at the lumberyard. On the other hand, you might be able to scrounge some very good wood at a very low cost that will do the job. This might be remnants in your shop or mill-ends from building materials supply place.

    When routing, always wear eye goggles and a dust mask. Pieces of wood fly in the strangest directions, and dust hangs in the air to be inhaled. Plus some workers have reported allergic reactions when working with certain wood.

    So, let the work begin.

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    Select a piece of wood and cut it to the desired sign size.
    Lay out the lettering on the sign with a white Stabilo pencil. Make your measurements. Sketch in the letters. Keep in mind that volume means more profit. Each sign should be done as efficiently as possible. Time is money. An ornate lettering style takes more time. If you make an incorrect or accident mark with the white pencil, "erase" it with light sandpaper.
    Rout the lettering. This can be done freehand because you are using a small, serviceable router. Use a V-groove bit. Go slowly and carefully. While speed means volume, mistakes can mean starting over and more raw materials. That costs time and money.
    You will be amazed at how soon you will develop confidence in your freehand routing. Go slowly at first, and once you have gotten some practice and gained some skill, your patience will be paying off with more and more signs and greater profits.
    Spray the lettering with quick-dry paint from an aerosol can. You can even use a heat gun (hair drier?) to speed up the drying process. Usually the letters of volume routed wooden signs are painted in black. You may offer customers a choice of colors, but remember that "volume" is the key to profit. Do you want your shop filled with rows and rows of aerosol paints cans with all the colors of the rainbow? Each separate color costs space as well as money.
    Sand the sign's surface with a belt sander. Use a finer grain of sandpaper when given a choice to ensure that the sign's surface is not ripped or gouged. Sand until the only paint remaining is the paint in the lettering.
    Modify, shape, or tailor the whole sign to the customer's specifications. Keep it simple. Is it an arrow, a rustic trail marker, a circle, or whatever? This is usually done after routing the letters so, if there is a mistake in the routing, you have not wasted the time shaping the sign before lettering it.
    Again, keep it simple. If you start getting into shapes, designs, and so forth, you have moved from volume to custom work. Custom work costs time and cannot be sold like a volume routed sign.
    Coat the sign with a clear sealer. An acrylic sealer drying faster than an oil-based sealer. Seal the entire sign, front and back. While applying the sealer, be sure to keep it from building up in the routed letters.
    Once it is dry, the sign is done. Do not provide hardware or installation. Let the customer do that. This is a volume product. The money comes from your dashing the signs out, selling them in an inexpensive price range, and selling many of them.

    That's why it's called "routing for dollars."

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