View Full Version : Question about the alphabet

Mark Smith61
03-14-2013, 6:08 PM
The question is about the frequency of letter use. I offer custom orders on acrylic letters and sell them by the letter. I want to offer those letters to retail hobby and business supply stores in my area. But instead of selling them by the letter and having them tell me how many of each letter they want, I want to sell them by the Unit. One Unit would be a set of all the letters of the alphabet, but obviously you can't do just one of each letter. So a unit would be something like 1 X and 5 E's and so on based on the number of times letters are more frequently used. So one unit to a store may consist of 100 total letters, but I need to figure out how many of each letter to put in a unit.

So the question, has somebody already done the research on this and is their an answer out there on the Internet someplace? I did a Google search and the best thing I could find was a listing of the letters included in a Scrabble game. They are as follows: A=(9), B=(2), C=(2), D=(4), E=(12), F=(2), G=(3), H=(2), I=(9), J=(1), K=(1), L=(4), M=(2), N=(6), O=(8), P=(2), Q=(1), R=(6), S=(4), T=(6), U=(4), V=(2), W=(2), X=(1), Y=(2), Z=(1). This actually equals 98 total letters in one unit if I use the Scrabble model. Scrabble also comes with 2 blanks so there is 100 pieces total, but I'm not going to include a blank acrylic letter in a unit.

My only concern with the Scrabble model is you can't use proper names in a scrabble game. Many people buying acrylic letters are using them for signs and signs have a lot of proper names. So for example "Y" probably comes up more in proper nouns than it does in other words in the dictionary. So I'm just wondering if there is any industry standard out there that would be better to use than Scrabble?

William Adams
03-14-2013, 6:25 PM
This is studied / used in cryptography. The search term you want is ``letter frequency''.

Here's a chart based on 40,000 words:


Richard Rumancik
03-14-2013, 6:41 PM
Mark, what are these letters typically used for? I suppose if your customers are typically using hundreds or thousdands of letters it might approach the theoretical frequency. But for the customer who only wants to make a few words, or a sign or two, it seems inefficient and somewhat wasteful to require them to buy a "unit" when they may end up discarding 30-40%. I know that wasn't your question but it's just an observation - you may find it is easier for you to have pre-packaged sets, but it may hurt sales when the customer realizes that are paying for a lot of letters they can't use. Just my thoughts.

Doug Novic
03-14-2013, 6:41 PM
Keep life simple. Go to a craft store or an office supply store and buy a pack of vinyl stick on letters for making signs. Use their quantity of letters since they have already done the research. Offer additional letters to your customer for a fee that is 15% higher for one letter than one letter costs in the unit. This will allow the customer to see that buying a complete unit is more cost efficient for them but if they are short one or two letters they are not stuck and will return to you for their order.

Good luck and I hope it goes good for you.

Mark Smith61
03-14-2013, 7:32 PM
Thank you William. That is what I was looking for.

Mark Smith61
03-14-2013, 7:36 PM
In most every hobby store or craft store or business supply store you walk into you see a variety of different types of letters for sale. Everything from vinyl decals to wood letters to cardboard letters and various other types. I have yet to see any acrylic letters in those types of stores. Sure you can special order acrylic letters, but they may be good sellers in a regular craft store where people can go in and just buy them off the shelf. That is the reason for my question. I can custom make letters all day long but I only do that when somebody finds me and asks me to make them. But if the letters were just sitting there on the shelf and people could see them I think they will be better sellers. At least that is my theory and I'm going to go out to local stores and market them like that. And of course if some store owner wants to buy them but doesn't like the Unit model I've designed obviously I'll make what they want as long as the profit is there.

Mark Smith61
03-14-2013, 7:38 PM
That's a good idea too Doug. I'm sure whomever created those packets of vinyl letters must have done some type of research. I also bet the number of each letter in the package is written on the outside someplace. I'll save myself a couple of bucks and just take a picture of the package with my iPhone.

Mark Smith61
03-14-2013, 7:43 PM
William, I just looked at that chart a little closer, I think there is a flaw in it similar to what I pointed out with Scrabble. If you look at the chart they show that J is second to the bottom on frequency of use. According to their chart X and Q are used more often than J. So that may be true of words found in a dictionary, but I bet it isn't true of names like people would be putting on signs. John is the most common name out there so if you're going for the sign market and I only give them one J in the package that may not work well. K and B are also near the bottom of the chart.

This is studied / used in cryptography. The search term you want is ``letter frequency''.

Here's a chart based on 40,000 words:


ray hampton
03-14-2013, 8:47 PM
do you intend to include the number set also ?

Mark Smith61
03-14-2013, 10:45 PM
Yes Ray, but numbers don't have the same issue. One Unit would just be 10 pieces.

Mike Null
03-15-2013, 6:40 AM
I believe I would first contact your prospective customers and see whether they think buying a whole set is something they would do. I doubt it.

William Adams
03-15-2013, 6:46 AM
Letter frequency isn't based on raw lists, but typical long text usage.

Personal names skew things for a couple of letters, depending on which names are used. Increase the floor of the caps by one or two.

Bert Kemp
03-15-2013, 11:24 AM
I think if Names were the priority for letters I would just make name sets. You see them all the time, Key rings, bike plates and the like. Maybe you should get a list of the common names and package them instead of certain amount of letters. JMHO

Mark Smith61
03-15-2013, 11:47 AM
That won't work Bert because I think the people buying these would be making signs with them. You don't make a business sign that says "John". You make a sign that says "John's Plumbing." So the only way to sell them like I'm talking about where people can buy them off the shelf, is to have every letter available to them, but in the right quantities.

Martin Boekers
03-15-2013, 11:56 AM
What would say a whole set cost? I used to by letters from time to time BL (before laser :D)
But if I just wanted to spell stop, I don't think I would buy a whole set just for 4 letters.
As for numbers , say I want it for an address plaque and my street number is 5578, then I would have to
by 2 sets?

I think an idea to consider is setting up a small display with 5-10 of each letter to start with. Each letter
in a bag for protection, then you can adjust inventory as it sells. How many sizes do you plan on? All Caps or upper and lower case?

Jesse Anderson
03-15-2013, 12:26 PM
You ever Cut out one letter to serve as doubles as other letters.. U could Use the letter A.. Take out the Center Piece, Flip it around u have a V. Or use a "H: Take out the center and get I or lower case L or even a upper case L...... Just a a handfull of combined letter could cover a different assortment.

Dan Hintz
03-15-2013, 12:50 PM
Provide the potential customer with a sheet listing a "typical" assortment of letters / numbers along with the cost for the base package. They can make changes to the package by adding individual symbols for +$X/symbol, or subtracting individual symbols for -$X/2. Incentive to take the package as it is offered for cost reasons, they can always add more, but will rarely take less. Should give you a good reason to keep several kits pre-made for speed.

Mark Smith61
03-15-2013, 2:06 PM
No Martin, the intent is not for me to sell to the individual buyer. My intent is to sell to retail stores who would put them on the shelf. You then go into the store and buy your four letters from them. As for setting up a display, I don't have a retail store, I want to sell to retail stores. They already have displays set up for this kind of thing.

Mark Smith61
03-15-2013, 2:06 PM
No Jesse never did that. Just let the laser cut what I need.

Martin Boekers
03-15-2013, 3:07 PM
No Martin, the intent is not for me to sell to the individual buyer. My intent is to sell to retail stores who would put them on the shelf. You then go into the store and buy your four letters from them. As for setting up a display, I don't have a retail store, I want to sell to retail stores. They already have displays set up for this kind of thing.

I thought that your intention was to sell to the store, maybe I worded it wrong. I envisioned a bag at the store with 50 letters or so not split up by the retailer. Most that sell this type of product has a small display they set up in a retailer's store, sort of
like a key chain rack. You want your display to stand out and not get lost with the rest. It's tough though for some retailers to
give you space. If there is interest see how they prefer to buy. They may decide their own inventory and order letters and
numbers as needed.

Me if I was a retailer I would not like to stock letters and numbers that don't sell, if I have to buy by the set I imagine I may
accumulate a bunch of Zs or Qs. Again pricing may be tough, as most acrylic letters I do to specific size and fonts. I can see
acrylic for house numbers, garage numbers or names. What is the market you are selling to? Would they be happy with a single
font and size? Are you cutting them with double stick tape on back or how would they be applied?
Multiple colors or just black.

Have you talked to retail shops to see of their intrest. I think that is where I'd start.

Is there a market? Probaly, but it may need a bit more research to refine it.

Good luck! It's nice to see folks try different things!

Mark Smith61
03-15-2013, 6:03 PM
Martin obviously you can't supply every single font and combination out there. I was just in a large local hobby store and they had racks and rack of letters in several different parts of the store made out of everything but acrylic. So I'm guessing there has to be a market for them like that. That particular store is a big chain and I did speak with an assistant manager who said they aren't allowed to buy local, the buying department at headquarters does that. And I can't supply 500 stores so their out of the question. The object here is to have stores maybe offer a couple of sizes and a couple of colors that people can walk in of the street and buy. And if I'm selling them to the store 100 or more letters at a time I can probably give them a pretty good price and I can still make money on the deal.

But anyway, my question was only about frequency of letter use. I know all the other stuff I need to know about selling, but thanks for all the free advice on that anyway. And for the record the person who said to go check the vinyl letter packing and see what they include had the best answer. I'm going to do that this weekend. So my question has been answered.

Mark Smith61
03-15-2013, 6:05 PM
Exactly the plan Dan, thanks. Of course I'll give the customer what they want. But I just want to be able to have a package put together with the correct numbers of each letter that I can sell as a unit for one set price based on the size of the letters. If they want to customize than sure I'll do that and adjust the price accordingly.

Kathy Madan
03-15-2013, 8:14 PM
As a retail store owner, I can tell you that manufacturers sell this way all the time. You buy the pre-pack with all the letters and then display to sell them individually to the consumer. Some only allow you to buy more pre-packs, the best allow you to then fill in the letters that have sold the best. Most make you buy a minimum order $100 being standard in the gift industry. Some require you to purchase x amount of each letter, some let you buy in ones. Unless you are selling to really small stores, do not be afraid to state those requirements up front. Most will expect it.

Mark Smith61
03-16-2013, 1:58 AM
Thanks for the info Kathy. Do you actually sell acrylic letters like this? I don't recall every seeing pre-made acrylic letters on the shelves at any place I've been. Wood seems to me the most common. Just seems to me like acrylic would be good sellers and if they were right there on the shelf where people could pick them up and take them right then it may work. And like I said, for me doing it this way, I could sell the letters for a lot cheaper than I would if I was custom making them on a per order basis. There is a big difference in making and selling 100 letters in one transaction to one customer than there is in selling 10 letters each to 10 different customers in 10 different transactions.

Kathy Madan
03-27-2013, 7:46 PM
The craft stores all seem to do wood letters, but I think the acrylic ones would be a nice addition. There is currently a wide interest in words/letters and names for walls and decorations.