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View Full Version : Thinking About Giving Up......



Steve Clarkson
06-09-2009, 12:59 PM
Well, I've had my laser for about eight months now, I can't believe how much I have learned and how many things that I have made. It has been a huge learning curve, but I feel that at this point I could take on almost any job.

I have shown finished products to literally hundreds of different people and every single one mentioned how cool it was, regardless of what it was.

Before I bought my laser, I did ALOT of research into what it could make....I have a list of dozens of substrates and hundreds of products that can be made. I have a list of a hundred different industries that would be potential customers......and in each category there are probably a 100 or more companies or organizations in each.....meaning that there are thousands of potential business customers alone.

I knew that I didn't have a pre-existing market of customers, and I heeded everyone's advice on here that you can't start a laser business from scratch (so please don't reiterate it). But with the thousands of products and thousands of potential customers, I thought that I would be able to take my time and find and develop a niche market......which was one of the reasons why I have tried to make soooo many different things.

The problem is......no one is buying......ANYTHING. And it's not PRICE.....they don't even ASK how much something costs! In the first eight months, I have sold less than a DOZEN items. I can't even sell these things to my FRIENDS and FAMILY! My niece is getting married in a few months and I sent her pictures of a dozen different ideas (wine bottles, wine glasses, groomsman gifts, cake toppers, invitations,etc. etc. etc.) and told her to get in touch with me and I would MAKE THEM FOR FREE! She has yet to call four months later.

I have donated ten items to charity auctions. Two brain cancer patients and a Boyscout fundraiser. These were the best I had to offer......and they looked really good....it was DEFINITELY not a quality issue.....no one could say this stuff looked cheap or tacky. For example, I made a black marble tile of the little girl with cancer....the original was given to the family and a gift certificate was auctioned off. Not only did the family not send me a thank you note (yea, the woman organizing it gave me a verbal thank you) but the winner has yet to contact me to redeem the gift certificate! NONE OF THEM HAVE!!! The woman organizing the fundraiser stuffed the ballot box so she would win a Corian piece I made.....and even SHE hasn't called to redeem it. I mean....this stuff is FREE!! And they don't want it!

The Scout fundraiser was held at a GUN CLUB and I gave them a gift certificate for a free gunstock engraving. Nope, the winner hasn't called yet.

I've personally gone to over 20 sign shops and offered my services.....three have agreed to try me.....and one did......$100 of cut acrylic letters at $1/inch. Never heard from them again......and they were cut perfectly.....I even offered to re-do them if he was unsatisfied.....nope, he said they were perfect.

I hooked up with a company that makes and sells their own wine glasses.....got a job engraving about 100. Customer loved them, company loved the price, quality and service.....they couldn't be happier. Never heard from them again.

I've brought gunstock samples (really good ones too!) to gun stores and gun clubs. I've been to 20 monument companies......they love the samples I showed them memorials in black granite. I've been to 20 funeral homes and showed them 4-5 different memorials. Everyone wants me to leave a sample. Even when I do....no one calls.

I left a black marble photo on the counter at one of the biggest stone & tile stores in the area......left it there for two months.....not one call.

I hooked up with a promotional products company that does mostly uniforms for hundreds of different sports teams in the area. Gave them tons of samples....LED lights with an engraved photo of the team and the logo of the team sponsor, bagtags, mini baseball bats with a coach's name engraved......owner loved the stuff and put it prominently in her showroom......not one call.

Brought in engraved cellphones and ipods to locally owned cellphone stores.....engraved the company's name on a broken phone.....they loved it. Not one call.

The list goes on and on and on........I haven't been able to sell ANYTHING to ANYONE.

My KIDS don't even ask me to make them things! I offered to do their cellphones and ipods.....no thanks. I made LED photos of my kids and gave them to my ex-wife for Mother's Day and her birthday......engraved a desk name plate with her company logo...made her a couple of other things too......she actually called and told me not to make any more of this stuff for her! (OK, maybe that's a different story.....but the bottom line is, she didn't want unique photos of her own kids....for FREE!).

So anyway, I'm just not sure where I'm going with this......and thought I would vent.

What's frustrating is that people say they love the stuff.....but no one even asks the price, let alone asks me to make something.

I was only looking to make a little pocket change with this business.....but I can't even seem to do that!

Scott Shepherd
06-09-2009, 1:18 PM
Steve, I'll offer this up and the risk of it not coming out right, but I'll try it anyway.

My opinion (OPINION), is that you are trying to sell the wrong things. Photographs and personalized items are a bear in my opinion. Promotional products, the market already exists and lives on pennies.

You have to get into the industrial side and leave the idea of photographs on marble, granite, anything else you can buy from lowes or home depot off the table.

Your trip to the sign shop was a good one. How often have you been in touch with all of them? The problem is that you have to stay in the front of their minds. Stop by once a month and take someone to lunch. Keep yourself in front of them.

It's all about visibility. If people forget your do things, then they won't call. You have to constantly stay in front of them.

Get into the business to business side of things and leave the personalized items for "Things Remembered". Call up every electrical supply house within 100 miles and offer to make panel tags. Send them samples with pricing. Make a display and send it to them so they can set it on their counter. Contact Architects and offer to make a free model for them. Tell them you'd like to make their models for them. A laser is a great way to make those things. Get to a nursing school and sell them nametags. Nursing homes, daycares, etc. They all need (and some require) nametags.

Just move into that B2B level and forget the business to consumer.

That's my opinion.

David Fairfield
06-09-2009, 1:22 PM
Hey Steve

I'd say keep at it. Don't forget we're in an economic slump. Stuff that would have moved 5 years ago, isn't moving today. Plus 8 months is not a whole lot of time in the scheme of things. The flip side is, if you keep trying and find a niche in the current economy, then you're bound to do well when things pick up again.

Looks like you're casting a wide net and thats good in the sense that you're gaining a lot of insight into the market, and bad in that its tough to be a go-to-guy for everything. Not everyone can be a Rodne Gold.

My experience has been it pays to specialize. Do one or two things and do them so well that people automatically think of you for something special.

Good luck, I'd really miss your posts if you left this gig.

Dave

PS I'll also add that you've got a nice upbeat personality. Thats a salesman's best tool. Use it to get your name and products out there.

Tom Delaney
06-09-2009, 1:22 PM
Steve - I hear you! Key problem right now is that everyone is holding tight... to every penny they can and as a result our products are 'consumer optional' so now that means 'consumer negative'.

If you have enough outside income to survive - as I'm saying around here - 'don't give up your day job'. Gas is going up (again) and 10% of the populace have no income coming in. Sucks to try to start a new business that is 'technology oriented' right now. I've thought about organic farming because everyone needs to eat but people will eat chemically produced food if t is cheaper. Keep marketing and when the economy rebounds - people will remember!

Prashun Patel
06-09-2009, 1:32 PM
Steve-
I'll offer an alternate view. Never fall in love with yr business (assuming you're depending on it as yr only income). Listen to your GUT - not your HEART about whether this will eventually work. Sunk costs and sunk pride count for nothing.

David Fairfield
06-09-2009, 1:45 PM
Really good ideas, Scott!

Steve, I'm also thinking, if you did wine glasses, and the customers were thrilled, you ought to work that contact and call them up, stop by, ask how's business etc.

Business promotion is like trying to pick up girls, you gotta hang out where they are, approach them, put on the charm, and expect to strike out 90% of the time and not take it personally or want to quit. If you can, keep your strike outs as friends, maybe they'll set you up with one of their friends. :)

Dave




Steve, I'll offer this up and the risk of it not coming out right, but I'll try it anyway.

My opinion (OPINION), is that you are trying to sell the wrong things. Photographs and personalized items are a bear in my opinion. Promotional products, the market already exists and lives on pennies.

You have to get into the industrial side and leave the idea of photographs on marble, granite, anything else you can buy from lowes or home depot off the table.

Your trip to the sign shop was a good one. How often have you been in touch with all of them? The problem is that you have to stay in the front of their minds. Stop by once a month and take someone to lunch. Keep yourself in front of them.

It's all about visibility. If people forget your do things, then they won't call. You have to constantly stay in front of them.

Get into the business to business side of things and leave the personalized items for "Things Remembered". Call up every electrical supply house within 100 miles and offer to make panel tags. Send them samples with pricing. Make a display and send it to them so they can set it on their counter. Contact Architects and offer to make a free model for them. Tell them you'd like to make their models for them. A laser is a great way to make those things. Get to a nursing school and sell them nametags. Nursing homes, daycares, etc. They all need (and some require) nametags.

Just move into that B2B level and forget the business to consumer.

That's my opinion.

Doug Griffith
06-09-2009, 1:46 PM
I feel your pain Steve. I agree with Scott about B2B. It is the only way I have made real money with my laser. In fact, almost all my work is cutting and not engraving for industrial, POP, and promotional product companies.

Don't give up yet because buying is slim in this economy. If you can hold on for another year, it MAY be better.

Also, if you try to sell your equipment now, you'll get pennies on the dollar.

Cheers,
Doug

Frank Corker
06-09-2009, 1:58 PM
Steve, this is something I have said in the past, it seems to happen to all of us. Where we want to go and where we end up going are not the same destination. Steve (Scott) is absolutely right in what he is saying. Signage is still big, even for the small engravers, all the trophies etc are already pretty much covered by rotary users. Lasering is an excellent, albeit expensive, addition to the trophy people but there are many of those in existence.

Finding a niche market is hard going, frustrating and disappointing. Quite often your customer will come back to you years after having seen something, for me that has been the case on at least 10 different jobs that I have done. Electrical tags and small signage could be a really good direction, you will be able to hit the right price and do the best job, you just need to be on that hard to find special list.

I know that it's not much consolation Steve, but I've been there, done well and gone straight back to where you are....... but one day! :rolleyes:

Tim Bateson
06-09-2009, 2:52 PM
Steve, That "Corian piece" was won by me, could you please ship it ASAP! thanks.:p:p:p:p

Seriously Steve, my business plan has me doing this as a hobby/part-time biz for 10 years before I even consider jumping in full-time. Unless you have dumb luck, you have to build your name, and your business over time.

A good example may be Mike Null. I'd be willing to bet he had a lot of lean years before he became the juggernaut of engraving.

Work hard and you will one day prosper grasshopper. :rolleyes:

David Fairfield
06-09-2009, 3:03 PM
Steve-- another thought. I noticed you used your family and friends as examples of the market. In my experience, that's a really really baaaaad sampling. Most of my friends are enthusiastic advice givers but in truth most of them are complete dingbats when it comes to my business, or any business other than their own. That's only natural, since they're not involved in it. Still can be a hoot listening to their insane ideas... :D

Dave

Belinda Williamson
06-09-2009, 3:11 PM
Steve, hang in there if you can buddy! Part of what you are experiencing is just the economy, the other part . . .

Laser engraving (or any new business for that matter) is much like a marriage. When you first enter into it everything is fresh, and new, and exciting, and you believe you can conquer the world and will continue to do so for eternity. You're just having that wakeup call that comes when the honeymoon is over. Sometimes you get the divorce too, but you at least have to give it your best shot.

I will echo what others have said, you're trying to be everything to everyone. I will be the first to admit that I'm not making a fortune with my laser. I rarely do anything involving a photo, I only do one offs for friends. Go industrial - boring - but more profit. I am "on call" for a local company. Almost every job I do for them is a rush, as in drop it off at 10 and have it back by 3. If I expedite a job it's 25 bucks on top the regular charge. If I expedite a job after hours or on the weekend it's 50 to 100 bucks upcharge depending on when I get called.

If you want to get into the world of weddings, contact wedding planners. They like to make money too and if they can sell a whole package to a bride, all the better.

Getting into the industrial world or yachting/aviation industries can be difficult. Sometimes it's a nightmare even finding out which purchasing agent buys what you want to sell, particularly if the person on the other end of the phone has no idea what the heck you are talking about. If you don't click with the purchasing agent pretty quickly, or if they have no reason to outsource to another vendor, you're beating your head against the wall. Be persistent, keep in touch as much as you feel you can without alienating the purchaser. If you get in, make the purchaser's job as easy as possible and do what you say you are going to do. Make sure whatever you are giving to a business prospect is related to that business, personalized if possible. That photo tile at the tile shop is generating no business for them, so they aren't going to promote you. As far as their customers, they look, go Wow, I probably can't afford anything like that, and that's the end of it.

Sorry, if I've been a little too honest. This is all just MHO, and I'm sure many will disagree with me. Shoot me an e-mail sometime if you want to discuss any of the above in more detail.

Good luck whatever you decide to do!

Brian Robison
06-09-2009, 3:45 PM
Steve, do you still have your day job?

Mark Winlund
06-09-2009, 4:51 PM
The problem is......no one is buying......ANYTHING. And it's not PRICE.....they don't even ASK how much something costs! In the first eight months, I have sold less than a DOZEN items. I can't even sell these things to my FRIENDS and FAMILY! My niece is getting married in a few months and I sent her pictures of a dozen different ideas (wine bottles, wine glasses, groomsman gifts, cake toppers, invitations,etc. etc. etc.) and told her to get in touch with me and I would MAKE THEM FOR FREE! She has yet to call four months later.What's frustrating is that people say they love the stuff.....but no one even asks the price, let alone asks me to make something.

I was only looking to make a little pocket change with this business.....but I can't even seem to do that!



Welcome to the club. I have been doing this for 35 years, and I have never seen it this bad. I know I am a good engraver. It isn't me, it's the economy. It is not a recession, we are in a depression. And it is getting worse, month by month. Oregon (where I live) probably has an actual (as opposed to the official goverment lies) unemployment rate of 25%. Homeless camps are sprouting up everywhere. Robbery and burglary are growth industries. All of the local stores are out of handgun ammunition.... and when they get some in, it is gone within a few hours.

Old chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times."

Mark

Jim Good
06-09-2009, 5:12 PM
Steve,

When you went to the funeral homes, were you talking to the people IN the caskets? I can understand if they didn't have much to say. :p

Hang in there. This business has a lot to do with relationships. Build the relationships and the business will come. You'll do fine. You've gone out and made contacts. Keep in touch. We are a service industry and when they NEED the service, make sure they think of you. Hang in there!

Tim, didn't Grasshopper just kill himself!?!:eek: Bad reference!!!! Steve, put down the knife! (Unless you are going to engrave on it!)

Jim

Dee Gallo
06-09-2009, 5:19 PM
But with the thousands of products and thousands of potential customers, I thought that I would be able to take my time and find and develop a niche market......which was one of the reasons why I have tried to make soooo many different things.

Steve,

I think the operative words here are: able to take my time and develop a niche market. 8 months may seem like a long time to you, but R&D is not a fast process especially when you are going in 1000 directions at once.

As you know, I have a niche market, but I worked for 2 years on developing it before getting my laser. And I knew what target I was aiming for. It's very small in the scheme of things, but it serves me well.

Since you have a lot of experience with different things now, I suggest you think about what you like to do best, not what you think should sell best. Then, take that love and think about who else loves it. Then, think about how you can combine that with your laser skills to produce something people with extra money must have the minute they know it exists.

I know this sounds vague, but I don't have enough info to be more specific. I'm sending you a PM about this.

It's too early to give up, you're just getting started.

cheers, dee

James Stokes
06-09-2009, 5:21 PM
I agree with Mark, Right now no one is buying much of anything. My phone used to ring all the time, now the only ringing it does is salesmen trying to sell me something. Since November I have done very little but by the same token my competition is not either. They are calling me trying to sell me their lasers.

Phil Salvati
06-09-2009, 5:41 PM
All good advice....

Remember the test of a small business is lasting three years..... You have a way to go!

Hit your sign shops again...those without a CNC router.... Make them check out Gemini and see what they get for flat acrylic letters.... 15 to 30.00 a letter.

We just produced several building signs for 1/3 the cost!

Hang in there..... keep up the foot work and face time with future clients.... it will pick up

Steve Clarkson
06-09-2009, 5:45 PM
Well thanks everyone for your input.....obviously, my decision isn't going to be made overnight.

To be honest, I have been almost exclusively pursuing the B2B market.....I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in doing retail. 100% of my sales calls have been to businesses. For example, I'll make a sample pet memorial on black granite (and make sure it's as close to perfect as possible) and I'll visit 20 stone memorial shops, show it to them, and ask if they'd be interested in selling them. I figured if I could sell 2-3 per year per shop (60 x $40 profit = $2,400) that it would be one of many streams of revenue. Well,I have a sample in three shops....been there probably 3 months.....not one call.

Yes, the economy is bad......but the reality is that there is ALWAYS someone willing to spend money somewhere. And when people don't want the FREE stuff.......THAT'S what gets me.

The reason I have cast my net so far and wide, is because I AM searching for that niche. Once I find it, I do plan to focus on it and be the best in town, so everyone comes to me. But I can't find it......

Tim, with all due respect.....I know you have a solid business and you're following it. But I can't and won't wait even TWO years to be profitable. If the laser can't make me money soon, then it's not for me.....I'll move on to something that IS profitable. I really enjoy it, and it's bringing out an artistic side of me that I didn't know I had, but if I can't make money with it......I'll move on. I bought it because I thought it could make me money.

Granted, I haven't approached the architects yet......but I'm not really comfortable saying that I can build a model, until I have done one. Now, if someone would be so kind as to post a file for a model that they have made for an architect, I'd be happy to give it a go to try to build one.

Also, without knowing specific things that are made for specific industries (ie. industrial, POP, and promo products cos), it makes it much more difficult to target market those industries. If you can't show someone what you can make FOR THEM, they'll just toss your card after you leave. Saying "Tell me what I can make for you." doesn't work.

Part of the problem is that there really aren't a whole lot of manufacturers near me. Drive down the street and all you see are restaurants, big box stores and apartment buildings. Even when you go into the industrial parks, most are shuttered.

One of the reasons that I did wine bottles, is because I'm not very far from NY wine country (identify the strengths of your market) where there are HUNDREDS of wineries......but the response I have received from the few wineries I have visited is very disinterested.

Here's another one.....I donated a free gunstock engraving to a local black powder shoot.....made a nice plaque with 20 different samples (3D patterns, clip art, logos, etc.).....well the guy who organized it won (surprise, surprise!) and he just e-mailed me and asked if I would be able to engrave a copper pot instead of his gun. He didn't want it......

I'll keep searching for that elusive niche, but based upon my very short tenure, I'm not too confident that I'll ever find it.

Thanks for listening.

Belinda Williamson
06-09-2009, 6:11 PM
Also, without knowing specific things that are made for specific industries (ie. industrial, POP, and promo products cos), it makes it much more difficult to target market those industries. If you can't show someone what you can make FOR THEM, they'll just toss your card after you leave. Saying "Tell me what I can make for you." doesn't work.


You are absolutely right Steve, and this is where a little homework has to be done. Go to websites for any industries that might be in your area and try to think of applications, if you come up with one, make a part and send it to the head of the purchasing department, along with something personalized just for him/her. Remember, the company doesn't have to be in your back yard. As long as they can send you engineering drawings and you can ship the parts back, you're good to go.

Mike Null
06-09-2009, 6:20 PM
Steve

First, Tim is right and wrong. He's right that it took me a few years to get it going. He's way wrong that I am a juggernaut. I am a one man shop working from my home.

I have been at it 11 years this year. I have made a number of discoveries.

1. What I thought I was going to be able to do didn't happen. Woodworkers, where I had expected to concentrate my efforts have zero appreciation for the cost of your equipment or the learning curve to operate the equipment. In other words they don't want to pay a fair price. Goodbye woodworkers.

2. I came to dislike retail from my home as I didn't like the hours, indecision and margins. I also didn't like customers coming to my home.

3. Do not believe your friends and family. They are not and never will be your market nor will they be representative. They will not tell you the truth for fear of hurting your feelings.

4. Don't think that you can make and sell something. It is very rare when people are able to produce a product and sell it successfully. Yes, there are a few exceptions but the are rare. Pictures on marble, wood, etc. have a very small market. They will not sustain your business. I marvel at the artistic talent of our members but I know that in most cases they are not selling their examples in sufficient volume to make money.

5. Business to business sounds good but in most cases I really question the idea. Selling your product through funeral homes, photographers, frame shops, consignment shops etc. does one thing. It always puts your product in second place in the sellers mind. He will always sell his product first--just like all the rest of us would do.

6. Engraving is an occasion based business. In other words people aren't going to buy until they need it. That goes for all customers. (That means it is not an impulse business.)

7. If you decide to stay in the business then you must do one very important thing. You must learn to market your services. This is the single biggest reason that engravers fail. They don't know how to get customers.

8. In my case I first tried to identify who I wanted to be my customer. Schools, churches, manufacturers, contractors, government (not bid), wholesale accounts. Notice that these people have one thing in common--they have continuing need for my service. And what I wanted to do--name tags, labels, signs, awards, etc.

9. Today's number one marketing tool is the Internet. You must have a presence and it should be a good one.

David Fairfield
06-09-2009, 6:24 PM
Good idea Belinda. And remember finding a gig is a numbers game. Most of the time you'll strike out, but one good hit might be all it takes.

One advantage the laser has is it makes cheap stuff like acrylic look classy and expensive. When so many businesses are forced to economize its an angle you can play.

Dave

Joe Baker
06-09-2009, 6:32 PM
Steve, have to agree with Steve. I am a businessman who has done sales for all my adult life. Staying in their mind is a must. One thing that i have done that helps is put a magnetic backing on your business card. Hand it to them and tell them to stick it on their filling cabinet and give you a shot next time they have something come up. Make sure you tell them to put it on their filling cabinet. if not they will throw it on their desk and it will get lost. People are like sheep. They have to be lead at what to do.

Anyways, i would be more than happy to help in anyway i can. Shoot me a pm if you ever want to talk. I am new to the lasers but not new to business. Only thing i have going for me in the laser market is that i already have an existing customer base and the laser is just an added service.

Dee Gallo
06-09-2009, 6:37 PM
Thanks for keeping it real, Mike! Very good list, I especially appreciate #8. Trying to sell at random is never a good idea.

:) dee

Hilton Lister
06-09-2009, 7:22 PM
I think that you may find more of a market for these at Veterinary Service Outlets or at Kennels & Catteries. Our area has a dedicated pet Crematorium and we get through many little plastic plaques which are attached to the timber boxes they supply for the ashes. I have tried to get them interested in directly lasering the timber boxes, but no go. They are working to price and are happy with what they've been getting for about 15 years

Paul Brinkmeyer
06-09-2009, 7:30 PM
Sometimes you just have to find a new use....cat bed comes to mind. (See photo)

But really now, do you have any embroidery shops near you? I cut applique out for embroidery on my laser from time to time. The biggest thing is I can layer it and cut it all out at once, just use different powers, or colors. So I end up with the yellow of a ducky in the middle of a blue pond. Then the embroidery machine does not have to fill in all the space and just does the details.

I even know of a shop that just burns holes in pants, jackets, and stuff like that so it looks old, and I can not believe the "premium" price they get for that.

Just a few different ideas, never know which one will work. (I still have not found my niche either, but I am listening and always trying.)

Michael Simpson Virgina
06-09-2009, 7:58 PM
There is a reason for the phrase "Starving Artist" If at all possible I would stay away from the Artistic side. For me the Artistic side is just for fun. If I occasionally sell a piece then thats good, but I don't count on it.

I think having a good web site is important. Even if you sell locally it give you some thing to put on a business card when are out looking for business.

The web site needs to look professional. It should not look like a home business. In other words not pictures of your family or pets. Every image you place on your web site should be the highest quality. If its marginal then don't put it on the site.

You have to think totally outside the box. I made a couple custom PC cases from scratch for myself using my laser and now I have two orders. I have spent the last two weeks doing nothing but PC case design's. I have come up with one full sized case that does not use a single screw. All the connectors are also cut with the laser.

Dee Gallo
06-09-2009, 8:25 PM
Sometimes you just have to find a new use....cat bed comes to mind. (See photo)

I even know of a shop that just burns holes in pants, jackets, and stuff like that so it looks old, and I can not believe the "premium" price they get for that.

Cat bed - Good one, Paul! Looks very comfy.

There's also the market for gunshot jeans/jackets. Very easy to make, hot item in places like LA where posers have too much money.

Bill Cunningham
06-09-2009, 10:38 PM
My Canadian sales are pretty steady, and about 99% of my business comes from Canadians..'now'.. Thats was not always the case. I sold a LOT of stuff into the U.S. but that has all but dried up. I've done less than half a dozen small sales to American customers this year, even with the low Canadian dollar. It used to be 60% of my business. The economic problems are far worse in the U.S. than Canada. Steve it takes a while to get any business off the ground, I was almost 5 years before I felt comfortable taking a steady wage. My wife had a successful cleaning business at the time, and that kept us afloat. My wife has since closed her business, due to her partners poor health, and we are getting by.. Other than the loss of my American customers, I have not really noticed the recession on this side of the border. There is a lot to be said for a regulated banking system.

Rodne Gold
06-10-2009, 3:18 AM
Being realisitic and pragmatic , I think you should get out the business and cut your losses. It's obvious that either the economy in your area or the demand for any laser processing is very very bad. You have adequatly demonstrated that you have the drive and enthusiam required and seem to have made the most of your marketing opportunities and yet still there is no response?
The most important question you have to initially ask is "Why should anyone use me or my company" and in your case right now "Why is no one using me or my co?"
You can continue to throw good money after bad and hope to hit that mother lode ..but I really think that your talents and energy can be used elsewhere to good effect. You can doddle along for another yr or so , but remember if it doesn't pan out , its a year wasted in terms of something else that could be generating income.
If you are determined to pursue this further , the only direction I think would perhaps be fruitful is to produce a sample range and appoint a rep/reps on a commision basis..
I would approach reps working on a semi freelance basis in the signage , award , giftware and industrial arenas and let em carry your product if it doesnt interfere with their prime product.
IE approach a plastic supply / signage warehouse rep or a giftware rep etc.
Make the commisions very attractive , 15-20% and see what happens , it won't cost you anything barring the sample range.

The real problem is that today , everyone has a laser unlike 10 yrs ago when they were scarce and it was easier to break into new markets.
What irks me is the sales model that some laser mnfgrs use to tout their wares.
No , you *wont* make a million bucks in your spare time and YES , there ARE other tools that can do as good a job and do it cheaper than a laser and NO , having a laser alone will not enable you to offer a complete service to your market.
Fore example , I make wonderful custom awards , however I need a laser , a cnc overhead router , a digital printer , laminator and a whole wodge of other stuff beside to do em.
(like importing containers of components , many staff , bending and glueing stations , paint booths , doming setups, packaging and despatch depts etc)

Due to economys of scale , the ability to make anything anyone designs, anal attention to quality and delivery , a creative design team and a can do attitude , it is extremely difficult for anyone to compete in this segment with a single machine.

Keith Outten
06-10-2009, 6:39 AM
After a couple of years with my laser engraver I finally decided that in my area it is nothing more than "Wants versus Needs". I had been concentrating on what people wanted and it didn't work out for me. I turned my attention to what people need, in my case what commercial businesses need, and I have never looked back. In fact I turn away every "Want" type engraving job even now because they don't pay the bills where I live.

Thousands of people have contacted me here and asked me to engrave for them, I used to send them to the engravers list, basicaly telling them that I don't engrave for people anymore. I make signs. My laser engraver is only used to make signs and I don't even use it for personal stuff anymore other than something for my immediate family and they don't seem to care for it anyway.

A commercial business doesn't want signs, they need them. Even in these very tough ecconomic times there are large commercial buildings being built and they can't get a permit to occupy the building without ADA door signs.

I learned my lesson several years ago and even in the sign business I stay away from areas of the business that I know aren't profitable for me. I can route 3D signs but I know that in my area they are very low profit margin types of jobs. I play with 3D stuff but I don't market it because rarely do people need them.

I don't have any advice for anyone, particularly in these terribly uncertain times. I can only tell you what did and what didn't work for me in my local area.
.

onur cakir
06-10-2009, 7:51 AM
Hi Steve, i'm gonna keep this post long !

Well...i build my business almost at the same time with you. As my strategy is totally different from most of creekers and depending on my previous job experience, i have few words&comments if you excuse me.

I worked for the biggest concrete company in Turkey as business developer for 10 years. Also at the same time i was a freelance small-medium size business company coach. I still remember some companies paid me to have dinner ! So a long period has passed with giving advices to companies and seeing results.

And now i'm living on the "real world" with engraving business. Now i dont have million dollar budgets to run and i have to do everything by myself including carrying heavy marble&granite etc.

Here is a very important case for you all !

"A Turkish company doing business in USA selling decorative stuff contacted me to supply custom decoration components for their shop."

I thought....this is absurd ! Laser engraving is born in USA and how come a USA based company asks for decorative stuff from me !

That company found me on decoration fair that i was on.
This means that you guys are not so around on the market !

So first i can advice you (and all) to check decoration business. At first i made a mistake for ignoring small decorative elements like wood engraved figures, single lasertiles etc. I build my business plan on large mural projects with lasertile, glass and granite. Projects like that comes in every 2 months....I used to chase big projects but as my days passed without firing my laser i built another promotion strategy on small decorative elements.

Soon i'll finish my web page ab. that.

For passive promotion web based strategy and Google is very very important. Make sure that your web page is google friendly ! Besides use Google adwords. With a small daily budget i raised my web page hits x10 times than normal days !If you are having problem with adjusting adwords or google web page opt. i can help for that.

For active promotions.....trade fairs and decoration magazines are great if you have a budget for them. Whole world is in economic depression, its a reason for low sales and also its a reason for low costs. Recession times in economy is always a great time for new investments.

For designs....go for oriental arts like calligraphy ! Also if you will need oriental designs just drop me a note !

To be honest i sometimes think about selling my company too as i receive some offers i'm still sticking to business.

George Beck
06-10-2009, 8:28 AM
Steve

Let me say I sincerely hope you hang in there and make it. I am no position to offer advise on the laser business as I have just started myself. Actually my business isn't even up and running yet. However, I have recently retired from a Fortune 500 company after 30 years in sales and sales management. Therefore, I would offer this about the sales game; there is no such thing as a wasted sales call. A true statistic in sales is that most sales happen after at least 6 contacts. Marketing is not part of your business it IS YOUR BUSINESS. I remember one of my best sales (a $500,000 contract) came after 26 sales calls and 2 years. This is the reason new business take time. It is a numbers game. I have opened operations all across the country and almost always took a least 2 years to establish a "market presence" and this was with the advantages of corporate advertising and household brand name recognition. Persistence is the name of the game.
As to this economy; yes things are bad and apt to get worse and most companies are completely focused on their own balance sheet and lay offs right now. However, this will change and offer new opportunities in the future and a great opportunity IMHO for new vendors and suppliers. Who knows, we may all be making parts tags for wind turbines and solar panel companies. There is always a horizon.
Anyway, Best of luck to you. Surely someone with your enthusiasm, passion and energy will find his place.
George

Scott Shepherd
06-10-2009, 8:35 AM
To be honest, I have been almost exclusively pursuing the B2B market.....I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in doing retail. 100% of my sales calls have been to businesses.

Steve, my comments about B2B and saying you are doing the wrong types of things coming from the examples you have posted and the questions you have asked. If what I see posted is different then what you are doing to sell your work, then I have no way of knowing that. I'm only going by what I read here. Steve, I think I didn't explain it well. When I say B2B, I don't mean unique, one of a kind, items to people. No photographs, no marble, no granite, etc. I mean exactly like Keith said, deal with things people have to have. One recent job I got was from a contractor who built out a new restaurant. Code says that they have to have Occupancy Plates in the lobby, and about a dozen other things. There were rowmark made signs that were stuck to all the back doors about deliveries, etc. Don't forget the Fire Department requires all sorts of signs now. All in all, it was probably a $500 job. They HAD to have them or their couldn't open the doors.

Electricians HAVE to have panel tags. Fire Protection companies HAVE to have tags. HVAC guys HAVE to have stuff. That's what I mean by B2B. I don't mean taking your work and letting someone sell custom etched granite for you.

99.9% of what I do is for B2B and I've never done a photograph for any of it.

I've said it before, this forum is full of people that make a living from doing it, but for some reason, people want to follow their dream instead of follow the market. If this market isn't buying your products, then it's not the market's fault, it's your fault. You've identified the wrong market. No need to worry, just find the market. It's there. You just need to find it. There are many threads about making money with a laser and I can assure you one thing, those who do make money with a laser, for the most part, aren't doing "sexy" jobs. They are doing mundane jobs and driving to the bank each day.

Do you have a website? Does it have a shopping cart on it? Do you do this full time? Have much time have you spent on search engine optimization? Point being if the market isn't in your backyard, then use the power of the internet and get yourself into the place where the market does exist. If you don't have a storefront, then how do people even know you exist? There could be a person down the street looking for your services, but how do they even know you exist?

You can do it Steve, just need to focus in a different aspect of the business and approach it in a different way.

Dan Hintz
06-10-2009, 3:25 PM
I'm in agreement with Onur... now is the best time to stick with it. You started your business just as the recession was hitting us hard, and when it comes to a business that requires a lot of practice, test marketing, and way-finding, it's best to get all of that out of the way before the market bounces back. Yes, it means little to no profit for a while (another year, maybe two, before things start to really pick back up), but when things do pick back up you'll be ready to go (and hopefully will have a more recognizable name by then).

The economy sucks, in no uncertain terms. The national unemployment rate is at 10%, but that's nowhere near the whole story. That rate only specifies people who are actively filing for unemployment benefits... benefits usually only last about 9 months, and we all know people were getting laid off long before then. That means after 9 months an unemployed person is no longer considered in those numbers because they no longer receive a check, it's irrelevant that they're still out of work! That 10% is WAY on the low side...

A lot of the items you mentioned are purchased with discretionary money... 10% of the workforce may be unemployed, but since many households are two-income and that extra income is what leads to discretionary spending for the entire family, it means you're probably losing out on closer to 20% of the population's purchasing power.

I'm among that 10%, and the jobs simply aren't there right now, so I take a pass on the major deals: $200 24" computer LCD monitors, $10 personalized cellphone holders, etc. I have no credit card debt and a wad of cash in the bank to tide me through, but discretionary spending goes to a minimum. But you better believe I'm working on ways to have my business ready to rock when the economy picks back up, even if it means not selling a major piece of capital equipment for quick cash in hand.

Scott M Smith
06-10-2009, 4:55 PM
Seeing how I work in an industrial site, I have sent Steve some ideas. Some of them I have actually done with a rotary engraver at work. I hope they can pan out for him. If anyone else would like them, just send me a PM.

Larry Bratton
06-10-2009, 7:29 PM
Steve:
Mark and James speak the truth. I am 64 yrs old and have been in some kind of business many many years now. I have never seen anything like we are experiencing now. I am close to Charlotte NC and the metro area has been hard hit by Wachovia going down and all of the things that have happened to BOA. The eight months you have had your machine have been the worst in my life and I am sure lots of others. I think every other day of selling the laser BUT the problem is finding someone that will buy it, let alone pay fair value for it. So, it belongs to me, is paid for, so unless I have to liquidate it in order to eat it, it stays. Hang in there, your young, and hopefully this won't last forever!

Scott Shepherd
06-10-2009, 7:36 PM
has been hard hit by Wachovia going down and all of the things that have happened to BOA. If you mean Bank of America, they may be in some sort of real mess on paper, but I was in a Gemini Letter factory a couple of weeks ago and there were more "Bank of America" signs cut out of aluminum than I've ever seen before. They had a slew of people working on them. So they are either buying up banks, opening new ones, or changing their logo.

Either way, it's a ton of sign work in all the name changes and people consolidating.

Larry Bratton
06-10-2009, 7:42 PM
If you mean Bank of America, they may be in some sort of real mess on paper, but I was in a Gemini Letter factory a couple of weeks ago and there were more "Bank of America" signs cut out of aluminum than I've ever seen before. They had a slew of people working on them. So they are either buying up banks, opening new ones, or changing their logo.

Either way, it's a ton of sign work in all the name changes and people consolidating.
That's interesting. They have laid off a slew of people though.

Joe Pelonio
06-10-2009, 11:19 PM
Sign and Engraving shops are laying off staff and closing their doors all over.

If you can get through this, when the economy recovers those that are left will have far less competition.

I recently took a good full time job and gave up most of my vinyl sign customers, though I made deal for a percentage back with another shop, and since then my laser work has actually gone up some. It's hard to work all day plus commute time and then a few more hours in the evening and most of the weekend in the shop, but I really enjoy the job as I do the laser work, and consider myself lucky to have some steady income and benefits now
after a pretty bad year.

Some of you with installation skills might consider hiring yourself out to other shops to do freelance work. As they have less staff bigger shops would rather pay someone like us than add back employees for 1-2 big jobs. I have one coming up, 2 days in a city 3 hours away where they will pay the hotel and travel, and I used one of my mandatory "furlough" days from the job for a Friday and will finish on that Saturday. I know a couple of other one-man shops that are getting this same kind of work.

David Fairfield
06-11-2009, 7:57 AM
I'm working on ways to have my business ready to rock when the economy picks back up


Amen to that, Dan. Same here. Any down time I can spare goes to R&D. Because I know there will be people with cash in hand to buy my goodies, if they are more attractive than the other guy's. And these days, the other guy might be spending the same down time on the floor in a fetal position crying to himself. :)

This country's economy has been getting kneed in the groin every couple of decades, but always comes back. When we're in an up cycle, people forget the downs and vice versa.

When all else fails, I listen to Chumbawumba "I Get Knocked Down" really loud. Its my anthem. ;)

Dave

Brian Robison
06-11-2009, 8:04 AM
GREAT, now I gotta have THAT song going through my head all day. At least you didn't say "Don't worry be happy"..........OH NOOOOO, what have I done!!!!!:eek:

David Fairfield
06-11-2009, 8:23 AM
Hey its a good day when you've got Tubthumping on an endless loop :D

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fm4iU0yx9GY


Dave

Dan Hintz
06-11-2009, 12:01 PM
AAARRGGHHHHH! Brian, you bastich!!!

Time-appropriate lyrics, I'd say:

Ain't got no place to lay your head
Somebody came and took your bed
Don't worry, be happy
The land lord say your rent is late
He may have to litigate
Don't worry, be happy

Brian Robison
06-11-2009, 3:45 PM
Ah, Johnny Dangerously!

Tim Bateson
06-11-2009, 6:57 PM
Hey its a good day when you've got Tubthumping on an endless loop :D
Dave

Must be showing my age, but I couldn't understand a single word they were singing.

David Fairfield
06-11-2009, 7:00 PM
Must be showing my age, but I couldn't understand a single word they were singing.

You're showing your nationality, not age. Its all Britpop fluff except the chorus which rocks:

I get knocked down
but I get up again
you're never gonna keep me down!

Dave Johnson29
06-11-2009, 7:06 PM
Steve,

I have started, run and sold many businesses before retiring. I always gave them 18 months to bear fruit and fortunately none ever took that long t turn a steady profit.

At 8 months into it you are pretty close to the typical quit point for a lot of people that start businesses.

It is the people that can power through that period without getting despondent and then make it to the 11th and 12th month where they see that light at the end of a the tunnel was not an oncoming train.

As I recall you said something along these same lines not long after your laser arrived but you powered through that set of obstacles.

My suggestion is that if you can afford to live frugally for a few more months and keep pounding the sidewalk and knocking on doors things will slowly change.

There has also been a lot of great suggestions and advice given here so hang in there if you can, financially.

Keith's need versus want is also a good thing to keep at the forefront of your thinking. As I see it, far too early to quit yet. :)

Scott Shepherd
06-11-2009, 7:32 PM
Just to highlight Keith's point, Dave mentioning it again reminded me of an experience I had not too long ago. I was in a networking group with a guy that was a carpet cleaner. Everyone loved his work, said he was the best. They couldn't recommend him enough.

We met every week and I'd ask him how business was and he'd say "Slow, real slow". He's proceed to say he had one job the entire week and how he was burning through his life savings to keep it going. We were sitting there one day and we were all brainstorming on how to get this guy more business. He said that the economy was slowing, so getting your carpet cleaned wasn't necessary. We suggested that he changed that and start partnering and marketing with vet's. People that have pets, especially one's that might be bringing their pet to see the doctor, might be prime candidates to have their carpet cleaned. In this case, it went from a "want" to a "need". Everyone talked it out, several people mentioned that they had personal relationships with vets and they would gladly introduce him to them. He agreed it was a good idea and he looked forward to doing it.

Never called the first vet, never followed up with the people that said they would help him, never did the first thing with it.

He went out of business 3 months later. It was all right there. He had a gold mine there, and he wasn't willing to change his target customers. It was very frustrating to watch happen.

Bruce Leonard
06-12-2009, 12:03 PM
Steve
Use your new eyes!
I have been playing with my Epilog for about 2 years now and I've been deliberately trying to not do anything that anyone else is doing.
People are into discovery and when you develop a product of your own out of your head people notice. With the capabilities of the equipment and the creative people here anything is possible . Just create , market then manufacture .
People see something new and have to have it first.Also .. There is still the same amount of money out there . It's just grouped in different places.
The only requirement of succeeding at something is to put forth the effort long enough to make it happen. Only you can limit your creativity .
I have a list of things I want to try to make that I will never live long enough to do but I'm having so much fun exploring it all it doesn't bother me.
Bruce Leonard

Mike Null
06-12-2009, 12:14 PM
Bruce

Welcome to SMC.

Are you saying that you make your living with your engraving?

Allen Jeter
06-12-2009, 5:04 PM
I have to agree with Bruce on this. I bought my laser with a product in mind to make. The laser is just a tool after all. I make only two products with the laser and they are very niche.

I have made more than enough money from day one to pay for the laser this year and provide a decent all though not great income.

This is an artisan business and you have two options. You can make other peoples products on a time and materials basis or you can make your own unique products that people want or need enough to part with their hard earned cash. Granted coming up with your own product idea is the hard part

The problem with being an artisan and making other peoples products on a time and materials basis is that you have to compete directly with everyone else doing the same. The only barrier to entry is buying the machine and learning how to use it which frankly is not that great a barrier. So you have to be the cheapest and fastest and it's a race to the bottom. You spend more and more each year for a faster machine and charge less and less to be competitive. This is a dead end.

As hard as it is to do you should come up with a product that people want and as everyone else has said people may appreciate art but they don't pay for it. I am an ex photographer so I can tell you first hand this is too true. So arts and crafts are not what I mean by product. I mean a product someone actually needs or wants so bad they will part with money in a bad economy. The way I came up with my idea had nothing to do with wanting to get in to laser engraving. I came up with the idea and decided the laser was the best tool to make it with. So it may be that the laser is not the right tool for your idea. But to come up with an idea that will sell you need to do two things. One look at your own interests and other hobbies and identify the challenges and find a scratch to itch that no else is scratching and figure out how to scratch it. And two test market the idea well before going in to production to find out if anyone really wants it BEFORE you make anything. Often times we decide if we want it everyone else will which is a bad business move.

You can test market it with a web page that describes what the product or service is going to be and have an order now button. The order now button goes to a coming soon page. Your track how many clicks on the order now button you get and do the math. You drive people to the site with google adwords ads and don't bid more than .20 per click and set your total budget at 500 for the test. After a week you should know with a high degree of certainty whether it's a winner or loser. Keep doing this till you find a winner. The more niche the idea the more likely you will find a winner and the less likely someone bigger will take it from you. This goes for any business idea and has nothing to do with lasers. OK I will shutup now good luck man we really are rooting for you.

Doug Griffith
06-12-2009, 11:19 PM
The order now button goes to a coming soon page.

That's a way to do it but if the wrong person felt deceived you may end up with negative feedback floating around the web. It would be better to build a "please notify me when it's available" mailing list. Put it behind a "purchasing information" button if you have to and track hit counts on that.

Mike Null
06-13-2009, 12:15 PM
Steve

If you decide to do cold calls, one area you should look at are the new industrial parks that have sprung up in most cities. Drive through these industrial parks and look for places that have a lot of cars (people). Here you will find opportunities for office nameplates, name tags, recognition awards and signs.

These might well be repeat accounts--accounts that have needs quarterly or seasonally.

Even though we may think that call centers have all been outsourced to other countries there are still a large number of them here. They have large staffs and frequently work three shifts so check the yellow pages and the internet for these offices.

Allen Jeter
06-13-2009, 4:10 PM
Your right Doug I usually do both. I put a coming soon product is currently in development and please sign up for our newsletter to be notified of the release. If they sign up for your newsletter that's a strong indicator of a sale. Thanks for mentioning this.

Rose Hamacher
06-14-2009, 1:43 PM
Steve,

Contributing my 2 cents worth - one of the best things I did was to join the local chamber of commerce. The director knows my work and orders all chamber related awards from me as well as recommending me to anyone asking for plaques and so on. The annual chamber of commerce awards banquet in January alone nets over $1000. You also have an inside avenue to other chamber members and you can promote what you can do for them via chamber functions, newsletters and so on.

On another note, the downturn in the economy has led several of my steady customers who used to order quarterly awards for their employees to change to annual awards. . .

Regards,
Rose Hamacher
Morgan City, LA

Ed Maloney
06-15-2009, 8:10 PM
At Steve's expense I would like to thank everyone for the great thread this generated. I was at the turning point as well as far as figuring out the niche thing. It got me started to think about the "need" statements and I am going to concentrate on signs since I really like to do them.

Scott Shepherd
06-15-2009, 8:20 PM
Ed, for some reason, many people with lasers don't get the whole "sign thing". You can see it by looking at the sign section of this forum. There seems to be a mental block where people think "I don't know anything about making signs". Well, neither did I when I started. You don't have to. You just have to know how to run your laser. If you know that, you can work with people to offer services and products to other supplies as well as the end users. Do you really think you need to know anything about signs to laser engrave 50 name plates for someone's doors in an office building? Everything you need to make a sign is in the Johnson catalog. It ain't rocket science!

Here's a thread where I talked about it not too long ago. I have about 100 of those letters on my table right now, waiting to be installed. I've now done several hundred of them.

http://www.sawmillcreek.org/showthread.php?t=107008&highlight=sign+maker

Andrea Weissenseel
06-16-2009, 3:40 AM
Steve, thank you very much for starting this thread and all of you who provided real valuable information.

Have you taken rubberstamps in consideration ? Every business needs them. I hope you find your niche

As for my part before I bought my Laser I went to fairs to get information about them, and all companies where showing me what kind of creative stuff I can do with them - wisely not mentioning that nobody wants/needs it - so I know its hard to get off that creative rail ;)

Andrea

Belinda Williamson
06-16-2009, 8:14 AM
As for my part before I bought my Laser I went to fairs to get information about them, and all companies where showing me what kind of creative stuff I can do with them - wisely not mentioning that nobody wants/needs it - so I know its hard to get off that creative rail ;)

Andrea

Andrea,

I see this as a big issue with the way lasers are marketed. If a person just wants a hobby, and can afford a laser, then great. Make a backsplash for a laundry room sink featuring a series of photos of the customer's cats. (Yes, I have been asked to do this). Just don't expect to make a living doing it. Some do, most don't. Don't lose the creativity, that's the fun stuff. The boring stuff is what generates the income. Just my very humble opinion.

Tim Bateson
06-16-2009, 10:05 AM
It's not always one or the other. For the past few months I've been moving towards a B2B business (still a long way to go). However my wife & I decided we liked the creative side too. So we decided to do 1 or 2 craft shows a year. Just a couple very large judged shows. So we can still have a little fun and attempt to be creative. "Attempt" being a key word there. :p

Walt Nicholson
06-16-2009, 10:15 AM
Steve, there's some great advise in these posts. Having been in sales for 40+ years the one thing (mentioned by several) that pays off is persistence. Continue to call on the "need" customers. Our economy has shut down most of the "crafty/pretty" buyers but the need buyers will always be there. Our company was in "need" of someone to shred a large number of documents. A salesperson from a shredding company happened to make a cold call on us so we asked for a quote. We got the quote but got busy and put it aside. He NEVER called back to follow up. Another salesperson with unrelated services (who stops by regularly just to check in) dropped by one day and mentioned that they were now doing shredding. He got the business (at a higher price than the other guy) because he was persistent and by now, a familiar face. People love to see their own name in print. See if some fellow Creekers have any surplus pens they will sell at a fair price. Engrave your potential customer's name on them (without your name on them) and present them on your next sales call. They will remember where they got it and people they hand the pen to for signatures, etc. will usually ask where they got it and they will keep it for a long time. The point is not to sell pens but to have your customers remember you. Good luck, we are all pulling for you. ;)

Bill Cunningham
06-16-2009, 10:20 PM
Boy!! I can remember writing on the wall beside my desk, "Quit in May if Not making money".. that was in 1990, at the start of the last recession. May came and went, I was still not making much, but I was just too damn stubborn to quit.. This was before the internet and I took every little job that showed up, treated people right, and fair, and word of mouth was the best advertising ever.. I Joined the local business club, and that helped put me out there. Ironically I got a call earlier this week to join a local networking/business club, and I had to apologize and beg off.. I just did not have the time.. I'm busy now, but it took a lot of perseverance (and the internet) to get here..
I think this is a decision all of us (or at least most of us) have had to make at one time or another Steve..

Bob Savage
08-25-2009, 10:48 AM
At the risk of being publically flogged, drawn and quartered for bumping an older thread...

This thread is both depressing, and encouraging to me. I'm in IT/IS management, looking towards a layoff due to outsourcing, and have been looking at the various opportunities in laser engraving and cutting.

Like Steve, I perceive that there are a lot of potential opportunities in this field, however, I have no niche or specialty in mind other than learning the ropes of engraving and cutting, and walking business parks looking for opportunities. It's not that I don't have specific ideas, but quite frankly, I've not really dived in and tried to find out if there really is opportunity there, which means I too would end up with equipment, but possibly no work.

I figure my family could survive on no income (single income family) for around 9 months, but after that, I'd be in between a rock and a hard place... perhaps begging at the freeway offramp.

In any event, I don't want anybody beating a dead horse, or even a wounded one, and I've contacted a couple of individuals on this forum (Steve being one of them) for input, but I'm still really torn here.

I've got a manufacturing and assembly background (machine shop, aircraft, aerospace, etc...), and really want to get out of IT and back to some type of manufacturing. I've also tired of big business (publically traded) and wish to follow the path of my father (machine shop), grandfather (electrician), and others and be self employed. I'll be 44 years old this year, and am ready to spend the time that it takes to be successful, however, this of course requires direction and a plan. This is where I'm struggling.

Steve helped with some good advice, but I'm a fan of brainstorming, which means I'd like to hear more thoughts on the matter. Of course, much has already been said in this thread, but perhaps something I've said will strike up fresh thoughts. By the way, if geography makes a difference, I'm in Orange County, CA. There's a lot of commerce and industry in this area... just not sure about the opportunity, particularly in this economy.

Alrightee then... flog away! :eek:

Ed Maloney
08-25-2009, 7:44 PM
Bob - Like you I am in the IT industry as well. I have found some niches and I feel there is a real possibility of making a go of it. Interestingly enough my biggest customers are in Europe, Asia, and I have some customers in South Africa.

The problem I have is holding down the 2 jobs. By the time I get home from the day job I would like to relax a little, but I know orders are waiting to be done. Pretty stressful that I don't have any real downtime.

Right now I only really service my repeat customers. So my big problem is finding the time to grow the business and stay sane and married.

Scott Shepherd
08-25-2009, 7:53 PM
One thing I found out that I didn't expect to find out, was that when I started, I had no idea who my customer was. Yes, I already had several customers, but in the plan of staying busy and growing, I knew what I could do, but some how, the phone just never rings when your not in the phone book and no one knows you exist. I went to a networking group to visit and quickly realized that I had no idea who my customers were. Yes, by name, not by professional. It's easy to sit back and say "I'd like to meet electrical contractors". Well, what does that mean? Not much.

They made me realize I needed an actual name. Next time I visited, I knew I wanted to meet "Bob Jones, the owner of XYZ Electrical Company", and I know I wanted to meet "John Smith, the purchasing manager for ABC Architects".

It really made me stop and think about exactly who my potential customer is and ask people for introductions to those people. I asked for a big guy one time, and one guy said it was his neighbor. He had no idea the guy worked for the company I had been asking for.

So figure out the company you want to get into and then figure out the exact people there and it'll make networking a lot more productive. The rule is that if you ask for anyone or everyone, you'll meet no one, so be specific.

Hope that helps someone as much as it helped me.

Phil Garcia
08-25-2009, 8:05 PM
There isn't much more that I can add other than hang in there and I try not to want for them to call me but I make weekly follow calls. I get a lot of return business on my follow calls. Remember, your sales, your design, your production, your shipping/receiving, your accounting, your management, and the owner but most of all....YOUR AN ENGRAVER....Ye Ha:D

Bob Savage
08-25-2009, 9:26 PM
Bob - Like you I am in the IT industry as well. I have found some niches and I feel there is a real possibility of making a go of it. Interestingly enough my biggest customers are in Europe, Asia, and I have some customers in South Africa.

The problem I have is holding down the 2 jobs. By the time I get home from the day job I would like to relax a little, but I know orders are waiting to be done. Pretty stressful that I don't have any real downtime.

Right now I only really service my repeat customers. So my big problem is finding the time to grow the business and stay sane and married.

Great info, thanks Ed! I can see how the transition could be a problem, plus the whole relaxing and staying married thing. Were sanity and family a little less important, things would be SO much easier! ;)


One thing I found out that I didn't expect to find out, was that when I started, I had no idea who my customer was...

Hope that helps someone as much as it helped me.

Keep 'em coming Scott, that's definitely helpful.

Tim Bateson
08-25-2009, 9:44 PM
Also in IT and downsized twice in the past year and half. At first I too sent out dozens of resumes with no response. Weeks went by with a silent telephone. Then one day it wouldn’t stop ringing. Months after I was re-employed, the phone is still ringing. You are not likely to be unemployed long if you have solid IT skills. That market is still hot.
Personally I was very unproductive during my time of unemployment. This has always been true for me. The busier I am, the more efficient I am. When I'm not burning the candle at both ends I become extremely inefficient. My time while laid off was a waste. I did try harder then before to push my business, but the well dried up and I had nearly zero orders. Now that I'm back to work orders seem to fall into my lap. I'm not overwhelmed with massive orders, but I do keep busy. Life plays these nasty tricks on us.
Back to your career: I too wanted to change directions, but at 50 I had to acknowledge that I have a career and it has provided well for my family. My goal now is to build my laser business and skills over the next 10 years and retire into it full-time.

Joe Pelonio
08-25-2009, 11:04 PM
The problem I have is holding down the 2 jobs. By the time I get home from the day job I would like to relax a little, but I know orders are waiting to be done. Pretty stressful that I don't have any real downtime.

Right now I only really service my repeat customers. So my big problem is finding the time to grow the business and stay sane and married.
I can relate to this now that I have a daytime job and commute. I still get residuals from the customers that I sent off to other shops, and concentrate on my better production laser customers and just a few vinyl customers that pay well and promptly. I do find my new job challenging and enjoy it a lot, so I look at the laser/signwork more as additional income now. Around here established shops are going under, with bigger ones surviving but with lots of layoffs. I spoke to a colleague that I do laser work for yesterday that has written off over $50,000 in lost income these past few months from contractor/developers that have gone bankrupt.

Cindy Rhoades
08-26-2009, 8:37 PM
Steve -

Contact your local Kiwanis club, they helped me out quite a great deal and the members are doing a lot of marketing for me. They are even going to display my work in their booth at our local "craft" show in town even though I also have a booth they want to try to help me get up and running. They may have youcome to one of their meetings to play show and tell about your business but they do help out the local businesses where they are located.
You might also get a couple of dog tags in your local school color get a copy of their mascott and show them a sample.
I have had my laser for almost 2 years and good thing I don't have to pay for my own food or I would have starved.
Hang in there it is frustrating at times but a lot of fun.

Steve Clarkson
08-26-2009, 8:53 PM
Steve -

Contact your local Kiwanis club, they helped me out quite a great deal and the members are doing a lot of marketing for me. They are even going to display my work in their booth at our local "craft" show in town even though I also have a booth they want to try to help me get up and running. They may have youcome to one of their meetings to play show and tell about your business but they do help out the local businesses where they are located.
You might also get a couple of dog tags in your local school color get a copy of their mascott and show them a sample.
I have had my laser for almost 2 years and good thing I don't have to pay for my own food or I would have starved.
Hang in there it is frustrating at times but a lot of fun.

Thanks for the idea Cindy.

John Barton
08-28-2009, 6:21 AM
I don't have to make a living using the laser but if I did then this guy would be one of my absolute heroes.

http://www.engraveyourtech.com/

He forges all sorts of relationships with artists and ends up doing a lot of really cool work.

We do a lot of personalizing on pool cues which is why we bought our Universal Laser. But the really big payoffs came when we did jobs like 100,000 custom pool table spots for a huge beer brand. Doing jobs like 1000 cue balls for another beer brand.

It sucks to hear your kids don't even want you to do their stuff. In our shop everyone wanted me to do their cellphones.

I don't have any real advice except that you have an awesome tool and it sounds like you know how to use it well so there has to be some business out there for you. It would be a shame to see someone who is passionate and enthusiastic about the business give up.

John Barton
08-28-2009, 6:35 AM
If you mean Bank of America, they may be in some sort of real mess on paper, but I was in a Gemini Letter factory a couple of weeks ago and there were more "Bank of America" signs cut out of aluminum than I've ever seen before. They had a slew of people working on them. So they are either buying up banks, opening new ones, or changing their logo.

Either way, it's a ton of sign work in all the name changes and people consolidating.

You know it's funny you say that. I live in China and all along my street businesses change every few months. I have often thought that being a sign maker has to be a good business in China for that reason.

John Barton
08-28-2009, 6:55 AM
6. Engraving is an occasion based business. In other words people aren't going to buy until they need it. That goes for all customers. (That means it is not an impulse business.)

I disagree with this point slightly. When we bought our Universal we had it sent to Las Vegas where we did three 10 day shows back to back. These were large pool tournaments with 3-7000 players in each one.

All of my engraving jobs were impulse driven at those events. I did hundreds of cues, about a dozen cases, more balls than I can count, and even got the organizers to send me anyone who wanted their trophies personalized and ended up doing about 50 of those.

Granted this is an example of going to the customers instead of having the customers come to us.

In an earlier post I mentioned this company http://www.engraveyourtech.com/

If I remember right they do these "laser parties" where they bring their laser and offer to engrave whatever you bring and from their descriptions these events really pay off. Now that might a little too hipster for a lot of us but it does show that taking the laser to the customers can pay off as well.

Joe Mioux
08-28-2009, 9:27 AM
I have not read this entire thread, but I have a suggestion.

My real job is florist/greenhouse owner and operator. In the flower shops our main source of revenue is the sympathy business. Flower shops sell a boat load of angels and concrete stepping stones with various sayings.

I am always on the look out of new products such as this. However, there are some very specific issues that must be addressed for me to make sales.

Stepping stones sell, wall plaques don't. Angels sells, fairies don't. Angels sells, cherubs don't.

St Francis statues sells, Jesus statues don't. Crosses with sayings on don't sell.

I also have a network of florists across the country (via a florists forum). In that network, the product I sell doesn't necessarily sell in other parts of the country, so you might want to consider looking for markets across the country and not just locally.

I don't have the time to type all the sayings that sell so if you are interested in learning more about what a flower shop might buy and sell you can contact me.

Funeral home directors view most of this stuff as junk. They hate cast concrete products and they normally break 10 pct of all poly resin angels that enter their funeral homes. I have a very good relationship with my Funeral Directors and we have discussed and joked about concrete stepping stones and angels.

my point is the funeral homes are not your best source for selling "sympathy" product, flowers shops are. A funeral home might sell one item to a family while a flower shop might sell 10 or more.... or less.... per funeral.

hope this helps.
joe