Scotland - Sign Industries - From farming in rural Scotland to specialist etching

Marjory Norrie outside the Featherstone War Memorial. Stainless steel monolith from Sign Industries.
Gordon and Marjory Norrie set Sign Industries in 1989 as a business called One Off, but its continued success is very far from a one off.

The company came about after the couple retired from farming, where Gordon had been a large and successful raspberry and vegetable grower.

"I expected Mrs Thatcher to attack and destroy farming as she had the ship building and mining industries so moved out of farming," explains Gordon.

The Norries bought what had been a small farm with run down buildings in a rural location near Forfar, north east of Dundee, and rebuilt the whole place into a house and extensive workshops. Initially, One Off made sublimation badges, printed sweatshirts and laid vinyl, designing on an early Mac computer and cutting on a Cam 1.

"The business was One Off until 1994 when we changed the name to Sign Industries and started learning how to etch brass, bronze and stainless steel," explains Gordon Norrie. "I was greatly helped by Brian Ireland of Modern Engraving, who together with Nick Thompson of Accent Signs and Roger Hinchliffe of Sign Update, were great mentors to me."

Despite being wrong about Mrs Thatcher breaking farming, changing industries proved a good move for Gordon and today Sign Industries supplies engraved, lasered, and etched plaques, door entry plates, viewpoint signs, and interpretation panels. Specialising in etching and constructing very large signs and monoliths in stainless steel 316 and bronze; it supplies stainless steel sign panels up to of 1.5 metres x 3.5 metres.

"We are inclined to do work which others may find difficult or impossible because of its size or shape. Often we're working on free issue materials which are components of large clocks, sundials, floor interpretation panels, parkland artwork and street furniture," says Gordon.

"Recent innovations include research and development of new methods of etching and making things like casting moulds, together with putting together a system of artwork for making accurate viewpoint and interpretation panels in stainless steel and bronze."

Customers include the architectural and general sign industry, oil, major international construction companies, landscape designers and hotel architects. Most are in this country but, mainly through national traders and corporate intermediaries, Sign Industries' work can be found as far away as Africa and Asia. In only the last few months the company has engraved and etched a 1.7 metre diameter multi ring bronze clock faces for China, and two1.5 metre diameter polished stainless steel Defence Agency signs for Nigeria, and numerous large bronze plaques for Bosnia.

In order to ensure continuity to the business over the coming years as and when the Norries become less involved, Paul Cargill, previously Manager, became stakeholder and Director in 2008.

"The plan is for Paul to increasingly take more responsibility for the conduct and direction of the business. We see no need to try and grow into a massive business. Six to 10 employees works very well. Our quality is easily controlled by having skilled personnel, supporting each other and having a very strictly enforced returns/rejected related monthly bonus scheme," says Gordon.

The latest news from Sign Industries is that a specialist retail internet shop will soon be on-line, sitting alongside The site will provide sundials, viewpoint signs, interpretation plaques and memorial panels for fixing to oak tables, benches, houses, or for use as garden ornaments.

"These articles will replace granite headstones and suchlike which used to be the province of the Memorial Trade," puts in Gordon. "I believe we can bring much of this business into the sign trade, and we will be giving our trade customers large discounts on the prices published in our retail internet shop."

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