The Neon News

Pandora's boxes: Tales of broken glass

By Val Crawford

#16, September 1994

It is a blessing in disguise that neon is difficult to ship - if not for this, small shops in far-flung places (like ours) would have long ago yielded to fewer, bigger companies. Maybe this is happening anyway: some friends who work for production shops say they're working 70- hour weeks doing those fast-food multiples. And others in big cities say neon orders are dropping off as other sign types (vinyl and fake stone, etc.) offer cheaper signs that can exactly duplicate typefaces, trademarks and logos without the trouble of translating designs to neon.

At any rate, more finished neon is being shipped long-distance to shops that are willing to install franchise signs made elsewhere. And for those of us in the boonies, our glass tubing (and everything else) is first shipped to us. We have neon-shipping disaster stories from both categories, and we're sharing them in the hopes that PEOPLE WILL LEARN HOW TO PACK GLASS SOMEDAY!

Classic smash: One customer needed one tube fixed on a sign that was sent to him from elsewhere. We kept ordering four sticks of the correct classic glass, and twice it arrived smashed. We even figured that if it went with a surface order on a pallet it would be safe - wrong! They wrapped the four 5' sticks in a single layer of cardboard and laid them diagonally across the top ofeverything else (and, apparently, something somewhere between L.A. and Hilo was set upon our pallet - surprise, eh?).

TecnoLux has the best idea, their box within a box. Unfortunately, the only way we can have one of those used is to order bulk, so it's sent directly fromNew York. Four sticks? Gotta get it pre-smashed. Express depress: A sign for a fast-food franchise had numerous problems, which we probably could have predicted given the carelessness with which the channel letters were stacked inside a wooden crate without padding, merely styrofoam peanuts, and the paint rubbed off all surfaces that came in contact. The crate, which weighed hundreds of pounds, certainly protected the exterior, but the letters would have been better off with a layer of foam padding around them.

UPS=Usually Pulverizes Silica: We use UPS all the time for other stuff but glass had better come (and go) Federal Express. Fed Ex doesn't always deliver tinkle-free, but they're great about settlements for broken glass, with breakage up to S100 per parcel paid for without anything but a phone call, more for paperwork filed. Shipping secrets: One colleague who carried glass tube repairs on interisland flights had a portfolio-sized wooden crate lined on both sides with foam rubber for cany-on. This worked for him, but we find that it isn't padding that helps neon survivejarring: it's being held rigidly to something stronger. We use chicken wire stapled all over 1/4" ply shelves, with each tube wired to the shelfin fourto eight places. They shouldn't wiggle or wobble: tighten each wire with several twists ofa pliers, and make sure your shelves are held firmly in the crate.

Silicone shafts: Another thing that helps finished letters, especially big ones, survive crating, shipping and uncrating is to silicone straight scraps of clear glass tubing across the letter, like a crossbar. And silicone a tiny glass segment over each tubulation, so that weak point won't be smacked open on anything.

Dunnage delight: We ship a lot of neon by air, so why did it take us four years to learn that our heavy crates can be returned nearly for free as :'dunnage,'. or reusable packaging? We had trained all our customers to pick up the crates at the auport but they had to take them back to the port to take the slow boat back to us, for full price each time. Ihe moral here: if you invest in good crating. you can reuse It for years, so don't cut corners unless you like remaking tubes. (And if you ship crates regularly to distant wholesale customers, check into dunnage. )

Internal affairs: Another company had a record of sending us hundreds ofdollars worth of broken glass, and to make a long story (and several nasty fares) very short - they never learned. No matter how many times we got the salesman to write our packing requirements on the order, the warehouse never read it or otherwise got the message. Such distributors need to learn that their customers, not the low-paid boys in the warehouse, know what the shipment looks like when it gets in, and that maybe orders going further need a little more protection than the one going a mere fifty miles on one truck.

Just when you thought you were safe: So what do we do, most of the time? Keep a huge stock, and try and order everything surface, on pallets. This works great until the day that the distributor is out of the one color you need and has it trucked in - and THOSE truckers smash it, and you get a smashed box of glass safely stacked on your secure little pellet.

Paper trail: No matter how carefully you work out packing and crating details, if the guy on the forklift is having a bad day you may be out of luck. In such cases: 1) try to insure the shipment in advance (some companies won't insure neon tubes); 2) be sure to check for and note damage immediately, before leaving the shipping dock. Have one of their workers sign your statement - rattling broken glass and wailing "How am I supposed to bend THIS?'' usually gets a quick settlement, but it can take months. Keep calling and checking on the progress of your complaint, and make sure the replacement shipment isn't sent in the same (inadequate) packaging. And don't apologize: you ordered usable glass, it was marked FRAGILE, and someone (not you) screwed up. So bitch loudly and with righteous indignation!

Full-dress paint: For best results, make your shipping crates look good, not beat-up, with fresh paint screaming GLASS!!! FRAGILE!!! and all shipping information easily seen on top so the thing doesn't get tipped around to see where it's going. A friend of ours who rents out expensive construction equipment taught us this rule: if it looks like it's been treated carefully, others will treat it with respect too.

Any other neon-shipping stories out there? p>Copyright 1989 THE NEON NEWS
Published by Ted Persig & Val Crawford Email:

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