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Tim Bateson
06-13-2010, 8:46 PM
I donít know how I can compete with eBay. Desk Nameplates for $1.75. ADA 6x9 signs for $1.45, Industrial Signs 1x8 $4.95, & Electrical Tags for $1.75. Most of these are charging < $2 for shipping.
Personally I canít buy the materials for that price then add in time, labor & shipping. Is this stuff all being shipped from China or is someone making mass sales for very little profit?

Tim Bateson
06-13-2010, 8:55 PM
Additional information: Some of you know I've been slowly changing my business model to include more industrial/commercial offerings. I was recently asked for a quote on a bunch of ADA signs - restrooms, exit, no-smoking - that sort-if thing. I started to do some pricing research & was floored with the rock bottom prices I found on eBay.

Larry Bratton
06-13-2010, 9:16 PM
We, as computer savvy people, labor under the assumption that everybody is the same as we are. The vast majority of people out there don't go shopping for signs on ebay. The market for personal service still exists. I don't worry about the cheap stuff sold on e-bay, because a great many people still believe that you get what you pay for and are suspicious of super cheap prices, especially with something from an unknown entity. Just my two cents worth.

Joe Pelonio
06-13-2010, 9:42 PM
Probably yes (China). I had a visit from a woman who has staff in China and offered me finished signs for less that I paid for materials, this was back about 2006. All I had to do was e-mail the artwork files. The shipping was included in that price. I passed. We were discussing on another thread that plastic prices have risen, and material sales to China contribute.

About 2007 I did a huge installation for a sign company in Seattle, at a local brand new high school. Lot's of ADA including large ones with a lot of text. They ordered everything from China, to fatten their profit margin, but there were some problems. I had to replace missing braille and letters that fell off, and missing signs took weeks to get here so I had to finish with all the kids running around.

You have to sell your service, offer speed and meet your promise dates, and provide custom design and colors that are not available from the people on E-bay. I suppose it's harder now with budget becoming more important to potential customers.

Larry Bratton
06-13-2010, 10:14 PM
I wonder how Braille is translated in China? That might be a source of concern when purchasing ADA signs from there.

Mike Null
06-13-2010, 10:16 PM
In 12 years I've never had eBay mentioned to me. Don't worry about it.

Tim Bateson
06-13-2010, 10:24 PM
Can I ask what the going rate is for say a standard 6x9 restroom sign - wheelchair accessible Ė non-bulk rate? PM me if you prefer.

Joe Pelonio
06-13-2010, 11:11 PM
The braille shouldn't be an issue for the manufacturers in China since the U.S. designer or sign shop would have sent artwork including the braille holes.

Tim,

If the people want standard I will order from Grimco or even pick up at Tap Plastics for under $10 each. Grimco offers any color you want as long as you want blue, black or taupe.:rolleyes: Tap has only blue.

Then I mark up 100% and resell. For custom, I have charged as much as $100 each for a really nice design with custom laminate and printed overlay, or exotic material like bamboo, but for fairly standard with custom color only about $50 each. My former wholesale custom place was charging me close to that for clear which I had to back paint.

James Terry
06-13-2010, 11:15 PM
I would say that all of this underscores the need to keep your customers these days almost no matter what it takes. Albeit, what's the point of working for free or at a loss, but good customer service doesnt have to cost you anything. We all know that a customer calls YOU back first if they need something.

I wonder if the group here should work up some educational material that discusses the China and ebay situation with the idea that you get what you pay for. It sounds like there are some good examples out there of people saving money up front and then spending more after the fact to fix it.

This kind of information might be useful on some of our web sites, so perhaps we should work up a thread here of examples that we can take to our customers if the need arises.

"Why are you more expensive than Ebay?"
"Cant you meet the Chinese prices?"
"I cant do business with you unless you lower your price by 50%."
"I need it by tomorrow at the same price"
"I'll accept lower quality to save money"
...


When I was shopping around for custom engraver labor, I never went to Ebay. I did search Craigslist for some ads though and never once went to the Yellow Pages. In the end I finally bought my own machine which solves my initial problem and creates many many more.

Dan Hintz
06-14-2010, 6:55 AM
James,

Personally, my respect for a company is immediately reduced if they have to hand me a sheet explaining the difference in their prices versus foreign. It's irrelevant. A potential customer who decides upon a product purchase solely by price point is not really a potential customer. I'll surf eBay once in a while for a good deal, knowing full well it probably comes from China (or similar), but it's something I don't expect to be of high quality, and I wouldn't purchase it at all if I could only choose US prices. Customer service is definitely a draw for some, but for the customer that just wants it done as cheap as possible, no piece of paper will convince them otherwise.

Scott Shepherd
06-14-2010, 8:15 AM
It's not apples to apples either. You're talking about a mass produced sign, 10's of thousands made at a time verses you trying to make one.

Ebay might have ADA signs, but they are standard restroom signs, not custom made signs. Custom made ADA signs go for about $1 per square inch or more, depending on colors and complexity.

You can go to Lowes and buy ADA restroom signs for $10 or so. You can't compete with that either if you're trying to make them from scratch.

The laser is not the most productive method to produce volume signs, so any time there is volume involved, you'll lose to people that have the right machines to mass produce them. You have to compete in the right market for your equipment and you can't do that on off the shelf items, that's not where the laser shines.

Mike Null
06-14-2010, 8:53 AM
I belong to two other engravers forums. Both are frequented by people whose only business is engraving. The topic of eBay prices has never surfaced.

Most are doing well, a few are slow and some are having a hard time. Those having a hard time are not doing a good marketing job--at least in my opinion.

Those who are engravers realize that they offer a service not a product. Don't worry about eBay--that's not your competition.

I wholesale a few thousand name tags a year at $2.85. Sounds awful, right? Well my material costs $0.30, my engraving time is less than 30 seconds, set-up, clean-up, assembly and packaging about a minute. So a minute and a half at 2.55 is $102.00 per hour. I do an equal number at $3.85 with a material cost of $0.45. Or a gross of $3.40 each caculated per hour is $136.00. Admittedly, these are low margins for name tags but the volume keeps me busy and lets me buy lower. These are customers I've had for 10 years--that's reliable business and it grows every year.

Larry Bratton
06-14-2010, 9:13 AM
Somehow the idea of sending all this to China just doesn't set well with me. I reckon I'm just old fashioned. I agree with Scott and we have to sell on the premise that our work is custom, is job specific and will meet architectural specifications.

Mark Ross
06-14-2010, 9:16 AM
Tim,

I have been dealing with China since 1998 at various jobs and I can tell you this. The main reason that one could buy a finished product from China for less than material cost here is that their currency is undervalued by about 40%. It does not float like many world currencies do. This gives them a completely unfair advantage. If it was floated and correctly valued, overnight, their "competitive advantage" would disappear.

ISO, TS, UL, and VDE over there don't mean diddly. I have seen many examples of it.

I can't buy material from China for less than I can get a finished good from China because they get tax rebates, and those rebates are adjusted for what the export is. The rebate is larger for finished product than raw material.

As soon as someone has a quality issue? Their grasp of English goes from poor to non-existent.

The only way for an American company to truly succeed in China is to own the factory or send over some American Overlords.

I have yet to see any product come out of China correct the first time. I can send them mounds of technical data and they screw it up everytime. They are great at sort of copying things but that is all...for now...

Jim Beachler
06-14-2010, 9:26 AM
Tim, don't mention others pricing to your customer unless they bring it up. They did not ask you to do price comparisons with other companies. They want YOU to give them a bid. Give them a bid that is fair and makes you a profit. You might be surprised that they will think your bid is low. (This has happened to me several times). If they feel your bid is high, don't lower the price, rather make them aware of the personal service, expertise and custom work that you are doing just for them. Let them know the phrase " Good work is never cheap and cheap work is never good."

Rodne Gold
06-14-2010, 9:41 AM
The issue is not pricing , but the cost effectiveness of the tool you are using to make those signs , one doesnt buy an expensive and slow tool such as a laser to compete in the mass market/cut throat arena.

Tim Bateson
06-14-2010, 9:54 AM
Hmmm a lot of good thoughts on on the subject. Makes me think though - The signs sold at HD, JDS, Grimco or any other wholesaler - seems like a good chance they are all made in China.
I like the "Custom" angle. China - "Men/Women" or custom ""Gentleman/Ladies", oh & by the way we do produce "Men/Women" if you so need." You get the idea - offering a product or range of products where there is no real comparable from China.


...Most are doing well, a few are slow and some are having a hard time. Those having a hard time are not doing a good marketing job--at least in my opinion..

I resemble that remark. :D True & I will add those of us that are not doing well (currently) in this biz my need to change our business plans to target a more reliable customer base - a process I'm currently involved with.

Scott Shepherd
06-14-2010, 10:50 AM
I'm in commercial office buildings just about daily and I have signs in all the ones I am in (or I wouldn't be in there, would I? :) ). In all the buildings I have work in, I'm still called in, time after time.

Here's how it works to some degree- restroom signs are required by code or they building owner cannot get the certificate of occupancy. Those signs are 90% of the time selected by the contractor building the building. Stairwells and restrooms. They are almost always forgotten about and caught by an inspector, so it's always a rush to get them done and they want them cheap. They almost always go with the HD, Lowes, or someone like that, where they can send a flunkie to the store to pick up "20 restroom signs and bring me lunch on the way back".

They don't care what they look like, they just need them for the certificate.

However, once that's done, the rest of the signs fall under the building owner, and they are much less likely to have a $8.99 sign on their walls when they are trying to get the maximum dollar per square foot for their space. They want something nice looking and unique to set them apart from the building their potential customer looked at yesterday. You can't get custom made signs like that from China. It would take 4-6 weeks at least, and it's all one off runs.

My advice, forget all about that type of sign and don't play in that market. Play in the latter part of that market where you are supplying the rest of the signs. Once you do that and sell them on it, you will have the perfect opportunity to tell them "We really did some nice signs for your building, it's a shame they are right next to those signs bought from home depot that don't match", and next thing you know, you'll be custom making all those signs to match the rest of your signs.

Been there, done that.

Joe Hayes
06-14-2010, 11:02 AM
Just as an added note. We are certified licensed producer of ADA raster Braille and what we find quite often is companies who are produce Braille signage that does not meet the specifications. An example : We stock some of the restroom signs from Grimco for contractors who need a generic restroom sign for small jobs in a hurry. In going through them we found some that had incorrect Braille lettering. Apparently someone who made them got off on their text and the braille was spelling something else other than men or women. :eek: I think there was a hole batch done this way. The most common error found in ADA signs is spacing, between lines or between lettering is incorrect. Unless it is closely checked this happens quite often. Crowding raised lettering together to get it to fit a certain size, flat top braille, and not enough boarder space are common errors that we see from some of the mass produced shops.

Mark Winlund
06-14-2010, 11:33 AM
One aspect not discussed yet is that the engraving business in general (with a few exceptions) is in decline. the china syndrome (where all of your profits seem to vanish in a hole that winds up in china!) is just one part. Add to this the general depression we are in (right word), the rapidly escalating prices for raw materials, and the cost of living going up (ask your wife (or significant other about grocery prices).

In the next 5 to 10 years, many many engravers are going to vanish, especially the ones that "bought a laser so I can make a living in retirement". They all compete with established businesses to the point where no one makes a living. Believe me, the "glory days" are behind us. Hundreds of thousands (millions) are out of work, and the businesses that relied on them spending freely are going to go.

Remember, engraving is basically an "optional luxury". Awards that used to be ordered by the hundreds at $100 each are being replaced by fancy certificates "suitable for framing" at 50 cents each.

What to do? Stay out of debt. Completely. Live cheaply. Have a big savings/retirement account. Don't believe everything uncle sam tells you.

Mark

Mike Null
06-14-2010, 11:44 AM
Mark

I almost totally disagree with your view. I often wish that I were younger because I see so much opportunity in the engraving business. Because of my age (73) I scale back on some of the things I could be doing but with a few thousand dollars worth of new equipment and a couple of employees I could triple my business in less than two years.

There's a lot more to engraving than gifts and awards.

St. Louis has been hit just as hard as other areas of the country by the recession so it's not that my area is prosperous.

I do agree that hobbyists who planned to pay off their equipment with engraving jobs are vulnerable for a variety of reasons.

Larry Bratton
06-14-2010, 1:10 PM
Just as an added note. We are certified licensed producer of ADA raster Braille and what we find quite often is companies who are produce Braille signage that does not meet the specifications. An example : We stock some of the restroom signs from Grimco for contractors who need a generic restroom sign for small jobs in a hurry. In going through them we found some that had incorrect Braille lettering. Apparently someone who made them got off on their text and the braille was spelling something else other than men or women. :eek: I think there was a hole batch done this way. The most common error found in ADA signs is spacing, between lines or between lettering is incorrect. Unless it is closely checked this happens quite often. Crowding raised lettering together to get it to fit a certain size, flat top braille, and not enough boarder space are common errors that we see from some of the mass produced shops.
Right. I can imagine what kind of mixed up junk you would probably end up with from a non-english speaking country with no braille knowledge. Although, as Joe says, the artwork is sent to them, who made the initial translations and who is to say that it is correct? Does Chang Wong check it for accuracy? I doubt it. ADA is a civil rights thing and one can get sued by folks that make a business of collecting off infractions. No Chinese braille signs for me.

Ross Moshinsky
06-14-2010, 1:20 PM
Can I ask what the going rate is for say a standard 6x9 restroom sign - wheelchair accessible – non-bulk rate? PM me if you prefer.

You realize these are sold by JDS for a few bucks, right? I should add that custom work is custom work, and these signs will not work in a reasonably nice place, but I'd still offer it.

I think people miss out on a lot of orders because they don't offer products at various price points. Then the next question comes, do you have the resources to offer various price points. As mentioned, the laser is not the best option for everything. For the 4th straight year we've filled an order for 100 plaques for roughly $1000. Now some might say that profit margin sucks, but we use 5x7 particle boards from JDS and basic gold aluminum and sublimate all of the text. As far as materials are concerned, it's probably $1.50 in materials. 100 plaques takes roughly 5-6 hours including time with the customer, cutting, printing, prorgramming, ect. Even with aluminum and steel being similarly priced, to engrave the plaques at a reasonable resolution, it would take me 10x as long to do the job.

I have similar concerns as Tim because I'm expanding my business to an eCommerce site. With people offering plaques that cost $15 in material for $30 shipped, I have concerns with getting business. At the same time, my investment is relatively low for the site and I can market the website in a number of ways so I think it should work out in the end.

Tim Bateson
06-14-2010, 1:39 PM
You realize these are sold by JDS for a few bucks, right?

Yes, but my initial point was that even if I were to buy in bulk, I couldn't even come close to the eBay prices. The JDS bulk prices are still higher then what's being charged on eBay.

Joe Hayes
06-14-2010, 1:52 PM
ADA is a civil rights thing and one can get sued by folks that make a business of collecting off infractions. No Chinese braille signs for me.

I agree with you, sad fact is that the architects and others involved with the signage normally do not have a clue about current laws. It is small part of a normally much bigger job and normally one of the last things they think of. Speed is more important to them than accuracy. Unless someone complains normally these less than legal signs go unnoticed.

Joe De Medeiros
06-14-2010, 2:07 PM
We, as computer savvy people, labor under the assumption that everybody is the same as we are. The vast majority of people out there don't go shopping for signs on ebay. The market for personal service still exists. I don't worry about the cheap stuff sold on e-bay, because a great many people still believe that you get what you pay for and are suspicious of super cheap prices, especially with something from an unknown entity. Just my two cents worth.

I agree, we work with lots of architects and interior designers, and have never been asked to beat an ebay price.

Joe Pelonio
06-14-2010, 5:46 PM
I agree with you, sad fact is that the architects and others involved with the signage normally do not have a clue about current laws. It is small part of a normally much bigger job and normally one of the last things they think of. Speed is more important to them than accuracy. Unless someone complains normally these less than legal signs go unnoticed.
Having installed literally thousands of ADA signs in the last few years, I agree about architects, but will add that contractors, many sign companies and even municipal building inspectors do not know the ADA laws either. I fought with one City for two weeks before starting the job because they thought the "proposed" new ADA sign installation regulations had been passed. I didn't want to install hundreds of signs with VHB tape onto brand new walls and have to later move them. It took a letter faxed from the Department of Justice to convince them. They are the enforcing agency, however a city building inspector or a fire marshal can deny occupancy if the ADA signs are not up.

Chuck Stone
06-14-2010, 6:31 PM
"Why are you more expensive than Ebay?"
"Cant you meet the Chinese prices?"
"I cant do business with you unless you lower your price by 50%."
"I need it by tomorrow at the same price"
"I'll accept lower quality to save money"

Do you really WANT these customers?

Call me jaded, but you'll lose money trying to coddle them and in the end
they'll show you no loyalty anyway. It will cost you money to do business
with them. Plus (if the talk is true) they'll tell all their friends what a low
price they forced you into .. and then you'll have MORE low paying
pain-in-the-arse customers that you don't really want. Oh, joy.

If they really don't care about quality and quality is really a big issue for
you, send them to your competitor. Revenge with a smile. :p

David Hecker
06-15-2010, 1:36 AM
What they really want is your e-mail address. When you send them a file they then have got it. Then you get 20 spams a day.

Andrea Weissenseel
06-15-2010, 3:14 AM
ebay is serving a completely different customer base. I made some good deals there and I often compare prices at ebay before I buy something.

We're in Germany are also in a despression but I don't think that serious companies are going out to shop on ebay to get their supplies. Even the most companies and private households don't have much money to spend, they still want a good quality and want to be powder puffed, that is where you always can compete with products offered on ebay (may they be from China or elsewere) and those are the customers you need to take care off - the price is their only advantage, they can't compete with you on handling, flexibility, service and quality. Btw customers want to be sure that their signs say "Ladies Restroom to the left" and not "no, I don't want to buy that carpet"

Just my 2 cents

P.S. there is always a light at the end of the tunnel (let's not hope it's a train:D)

Andrea

Martin Boekers
06-15-2010, 9:48 AM
I never looked at Ebay as competition.

I have clients that want lowball pricing and I recommend alternative places for them to go. One of my favorites if they question the cost
of a plate I recommend a local scrap-booking shop that has hundreds of different paper stocks, marbled , metallic you name it and suggest that they can use that and print it on a laser or ink-jet ;-). They usually stick with a custom plate:D

I'll never sacrifice quality for pricing, my name and reputation is on everything I do. I would rather not do the project than put out an inferior product. It will bite you somewhere down the road.

I don't want to establish myself as a "lowest price" retailer. Yes, typically I am lower priced on most of my work than competition, but that is because of efficiency and knowledge that allows me to do that and still keep a resonable margine. (it's called competition).

You have to differentiate yourself from the rest. Everyone in engraving can do the same things I do. I'd reather compete with them on service than just pricing.


Marty

Rodne Gold
06-15-2010, 10:02 AM
If business is slow , I will go in at cheaper prices than i would normally charge to get the job - obviously not at unprofitable pricing.
It depends on what you are doing and for whom as to what quality is provided. The idea is to produce an item that is acceptable to the consumer for their price point. If for example , they are making 2000 labels to go onto a cheap product , and it takes 1/2 the time to raster em at a lower resolution and they are happy with output , so be it. I wouldn't do the same thing if I were doing a few upmarket awards.
I and others have discovered one fact - that merely engraving something doesnt seem to pay the bills , it's when you create someting using other machines in conjunction with a laser , thats where the real profits arise.

Tim Bateson
06-15-2010, 9:12 PM
I bought a couple of the ADA signs from one of the aforementioned mail-order warehouses. The signs are cheap molded plastic with the white paint so thin the blue shows through.

Viktor Voroncov
06-16-2010, 9:13 AM
And who can share GENERAL EXPRESSION about e-Bay? Very often I see laser engravers proposals from peoples, who also sell items like steam baths, electronic house hold devices and etc. Number of sales - over 1000, positive feedback - 100%. IMHO - it's impossible, because seller sell absolute scrap and 50% of buyers will be unhappy :(

Same time I post some products on e-Bay, products are HOT, good sales via other internet sales tools - but zero responce from e-Bay :(

I think importance of e-Bay marketing is seriously overestimated :)

Dan Hintz
06-16-2010, 11:08 AM
Yeah, I recently saw a guy with only 10 items sold so far (sneakers, a purse, etc., very low cost items) that was supposedly selling brand new ULS systems... I'm thinking it was a hijacked account.

Tim Bateson
06-16-2010, 11:19 AM
I didn't intend this thread to bash eBay. I personally have bought & sold hundreds of items on eBay & I like it. Quality CAN be found there, but as always Buyer Beware holds true. I've had to teach my own wife that Price isn't the only determining factor in purchasing. If you're savvy, you can efficiently utilize eBay for buying & selling.

Back On-Topic: I wouldn't sell those plastic pressed & painted ADA signs to my worse customer. Some may say profit is profit, but I still need to sleep at night.