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Ron Hampe
01-16-2017, 8:33 PM
Looking for opinions!

I am 63 and would like to start a new business that is far less physically demanding than the air duct cleaning I have been doing for the past 16 years. Laser engraving seems like a perfect fit as I already have a very well equipped wood shop, but I've also read a few posts where the authors say that cnc may be a better way to go. Iíd love to hear your opinions on this as well.

I recently came across the 2009 reviews here describing the pros and cons of getting into this business. For those who have had engravers for a while now, how much has your market changed over the years? I'm also curious how much of an impact the cheaper DIY desktop models are having on your business?

Iím not looking to get rich but I canít afford to invest in something that wonít at least pay for itself. Iím accustomed to long hours and I have a substantial middle income customer base that I would market to first. I also have app. 2000 bd. ft. of kiln dried ash, cherry, and red oak that has been in my basement for a few years and Iím thinking that laser and/or cnc pet related items would sell well at craft shows and online.

I am leaning toward Epilog as they are made in the states and will be doing a live demo at a woodworking show in Columbus on later this month. Also like that they are compatible with Coreldraw.

For cnc, I like the CAMaster Stinger, but may start with something cheaper like a Shark to test the waters. Your thoughts on these too please.

Thank you

Bert Kemp
01-16-2017, 10:20 PM
My advice would be to see if there is a maker space near you become a member and see what the laser can do. learn how to use it, make some stuff and then see if you can sell it. Your not going to buy a laser and start making money. Most everyone here stared slow and took years to build up a business. The laser is just one tool in your bag of tricks. I wouldn't invest in a laser till you know you have a marketable product.This question has been asked here a 100 times. Do a search on starfting a laser business here and se what people have said in the past.

Bill George
01-16-2017, 11:04 PM
Ditto and spend a lot of time on here just reading and reading plus some market research in your own area. The guys making money here are working hard and Not a 40 hour week that's for sure.

Chris DeGerolamo
01-17-2017, 8:25 AM
Speaking from experience, working craft shows can be demanding and fruitless. We quickly found that simply paying for admission to said shows and handing out cards yielded more business than setting up a booth. Your mileage may vary...

The ground and pound approach to advertising has been good to us. Everyone loves something for free; handing out samples is a great way to get your product/business out there.

I believe the more you read on here, and the more others way in, you'll see that lasers are a great way to expand a current business operation. Buying a laser to start a business is a different animal and can be very profitable. Be aware that laser manufacturers will be more than happy to sell you a laser and tell you about all the money you can make selling [insert laser engraved items here]. Truth is (at least our truth), monetizing a laser means finding a niche and hitting it hard.

Hope this helps.

Keith Outten
01-17-2017, 8:38 AM
Purchase the Stinger first. The profit margin for CNC work is much higher than laser engraving, that's been my experience. Once you are making money and have a steady income buy a Trotec laser and you will have an amazing capability with both machines.

No matter what you decide to do the best advice you will ever get here is to concentrate on your marketing as your number one priority. Try to stay away from walk in work, the profit you will derive from non-commercial work is very low compared to large commercial projects and servicing local companies.

Just my 2cents.
.

Mike Null
01-17-2017, 8:39 AM
If your result is like the majority of others who tried craft shows you'll be selling your laser in short order. Don't even think about it.

Don't buy an Epilog until you see Trotec.

If you do your home work, you'll find that most of us who have started a post-retirement business try to appeal to commercial customers.

Tim Bateson
01-17-2017, 8:44 AM
Unlike a lot of others... I believe the best profit is not in products, but as a Service business. Debatable - yes, but true in my case. Whether you sell a Product or a Service, do your homework first.

Gary Hair
01-17-2017, 9:30 AM
Unlike a lot of others... I believe the best profit is not in products, but as a Service business. Debatable - yes, but true in my case. Whether you sell a Product or a Service, do your homework first.

I couldn't agree more! 95% of my revenue comes from engraving OPS - Other People's Stuff. This year was an exception in that I had a very large job reverse engraving and paint filling Duets. Even on that job the COGS was extremely low, the money I made on it was my labor to engrave and paint fill.

You have to be careful how you price your time, too many here are working long hours for too little pay. My typical rate is well in excess of $200/hour, and that's not possible on one-off jobs.

Kev Williams
01-17-2017, 11:39 AM
^^ what they said :)

My dad bought his first engraving machine in 1966, and I've been at this full time since 1975. There's only been one time in all those years that we (I) made an engraved product first, THEN tried to sell it. I was able to find 3 people willing to take one for free. Period.

Nice product, people loved them, others are selling the same things daily, but I literally couldn't give them away.

A few years ago a couple of guys came here convinced they were going to be millionaires by selling custom engraved cutting boards. umm, okay, but I've heard that before. I engraved dozens of samples for their webpage and free giveaways. I was to prepare for an onslaught of orders after the big rollout, would I be able to handle them all? Could I get new lasers quick if need be?

Yawn, just as I suspected. Not only did the big rollout not produce an onlslaught orders, it produced NO orders. None. Ever. Never seen or heard from them again. They still have their own folder in my Corel files. I leave it there as a reminder :)

that's just 2 stories, I have more ;)

Meanwhile, my phone and doorbell never stops ringing from people and businesses searching me out to do work we've never once advertised for- the service of engraving.

You'll never get people to open their wallets to buy something you're selling that YOU think is cool. Well, maybe not never, but you'll be one of the lucky ones if they do...
But they'll gladly give you their money if you can provide something they need--name badges, cubicle name plates, labels for a toolbox, replacement VIN plate for an old Jeep, their Ipad personalized, an award plaque, engraving the name of the retiring Fire Dept chief into an axe handle... when people find out you can do these things, word spreads.

the trick is, how to let people know you can make name badges, cubicle name plates, toolbox labels, replacement VIN plates, can personalize Ipads, make award plaques, and can engrave axe handles ;)

You need much time and patience. And time to get skilled at engraving.

John Kleiber
01-17-2017, 12:34 PM
Unlike a lot of others... I believe the best profit is not in products, but as a Service business. Debatable - yes, but true in my case. Whether you sell a Product or a Service, do your homework first.
Yes indeed, as for our operation, it is truly a service business.

Neville Stewart
01-17-2017, 3:35 PM
Yes indeed, as for our operation, it is truly a service business.

Where are you in Houston John? Id love to stop in and say hello next time through.

David Somers
01-17-2017, 6:22 PM
Ron,

I agree with the first few folks who said seek out a Maker Space and see how each works and what their limits are. YOu might even use them to develop products in small amounts and see how they are received.

Craft Fairs can be hit or miss. I do them, and have fun with them. But I also have a retirement annuity that I live on comfortably and income from craft fairs is a nice bonus as well as a fun social event. I have been averaging about $100/show hour so far, but that is in the higher volume Christmas season. Not sure how this will pan out in other seasons. I will also be selling on line and via Etsy or Amazon Handcrafts. Will see how it goes. I have already paid for my Chinese laser and CNC for the most part this season so after this I am free and clear sort of.

I also agree with folks who have been saying commercial work is a much better generator than one off work or selling retail at fairs and shows. You need to be careful how much you take on though. A number of us doing commercial work sound like their candle has a flaming wick at both ends they are trying to deal with. Too much success if you will.

One thing to keep in mind. If your desire is to use the laser for cutting wood to compliment your wood shop you will be tied up while you do the cutting. You cannot trust a laser that is cutting. You MUST watch it for fire. You cannot fire it up and go pee without high risk. So that is dead time to you. At least if you are engraving you do other things, or if your CNC is running you can usually let it run in the background. But not laser cutting. If you are primarily looking at laser cutting you may want to consider Chinese machines. They perform nearly as well as the western machines for cutting, and you will spend a lot less on the equipment, perhaps allowing you to buy more capacity that can help you. Bed size, tube power, etc. If you are engraving for a living then the Epi's and ULS and especially Trotec machines are the better bet.

Lastly, while I love both my Chinese CNC and my laser, if I were in a wood shop I might be tempted to rely on hard templates and a router table or shaper over a CNC. But that is my take on it. Development time on a CNC job can be significant when you include test runs and whatnot. You can do about the same with a template and at a much lower cost. They are cool though and with a solid unit and a good knowledge of the software you can do a lot.

Definately try to find a maker space and play with both so you have a feel for what we are all referring to.

Good luck!

Dave

John Lifer
01-17-2017, 6:53 PM
Ron, I'll throw my penny into this. It's not worth two cents....
I've done craft shows as wood turner for about 5 years about 15 years ago. At near the start of the pen turning craze. I missed getting into the parts business, that's where the money is, but that's another story. (oh, there are a few REAL craftsmen out there making decent money on pens, but not nearly 1% of those making them). I made spending money, paid for my tools and supplies, but no real living money. Make crafts if you want to meet people and socialize at the shows. Not to make $. Most spend more than they'll make. I go to a couple here every year to look, and see several making things that are pretty, high priced and not selling. :(

As far as laser, I've had mine a couple of months. I am working to LEARN to use it, and my real goal this year is to earn enough to pay for the thing. If I can work my way into some greater income, great! I'm headed towards service also. I see very little possibility in items sales except thru a storefront and I'm not going that way.
Etsy, eBay etc are advertisers for me, there are already too many people making the same items that I can make. i.e. If I sell something thru one of those sites, it is more getting my name out in advertising. Nothing more.
Can't say anything about the CNC, never really thought about it too much.
If you HAVE to have it pay for itself, then it might be hard decision. I want to add a fiber already and I'm almost in same position. But with potential business opportunity, maybe not so far fetched.

Bill George
01-17-2017, 8:09 PM
Just wondering if we can get all these Threads about going into the laser engraving business put into a Sticky so next week when someone asks the same question again we can just refer them to the Sticky?

Ron Hampe
01-18-2017, 1:29 AM
I sincerely appreciate your advice but honestly don't think its worth the price to belong to a maker space. The only one around is in Pittsburgh and I'd rather lose money than drive in that city. I've also been blessed with a wife that says if you want it, buy it and my goal is to have something to do in "retirement". While I have no intention of closing my current business for several years, I don't want to wait until the last minute to start learning a new one. After reading your posts, I'm leaning more toward a cnc, but space is an issue. I have a really nice location for a laser, but just bought a panel saw and fitting a large bed cnc in my shop would be a challenge.

John Kleiber
01-18-2017, 9:34 AM
Where are you in Houston John? Id love to stop in and say hello next time through.

Our location in Houston is about 3 miles north of the 610 Loop. Just google engraver or Red Bolt Laser and a map to our location should pop up.

Bob WrightNC
01-18-2017, 11:06 AM
Trotec is also opening quite a few Training/Demo centers where they have machines that you can demo besides at a trade show. You may want to contact them and see if there is one near you. Get a feel for the machine and people - always a good idea.

Neville Stewart
01-18-2017, 2:49 PM
Our location in Houston is about 3 miles north of the 610 Loop. Just google engraver or Red Bolt Laser and a map to our location should pop up.

Im sure I can find you, just wanted to check if youre up for a drop in.

Rodne Gold
01-18-2017, 3:06 PM
Its pretty simple , the laser is the wrong tool for wood .. unless all you want to do is engrave it or generate char
The laser is just another tool like a lathe or mill ..owning one means nothing until you can use it effectively .. you dont have a tool and die business out the box.
The biggest problem you face is that in the last few years the barrier to entry in this field has plummeted ..$10k gets you a fiber galvo and a decent sized 80w machine .. thats not big money .. so much more competition out there at stupidly low pricing

David Somers
01-18-2017, 3:18 PM
Robert,

Rodne's comments are exactly why we were suggesting a maker space to start. You don't need it for long. Just use it as a way to test out ideas and play with the tools to see if they really will do what you envision. Or find local laser and cnc shops who will indulge you. They are a cheap way to test the waters before you put a chunk of money into something. And if you are looking at an Epi or a ULS or a Trotec you are looking at a chunk, supportive wife not withstanding.

Martin Boekers
01-18-2017, 4:37 PM
I sincerely appreciate your advice but honestly don't think its worth the price to belong to a maker space. The only one around is in Pittsburgh and I'd rather lose money than drive in that city. I've also been blessed with a wife that says if you want it, buy it and my goal is to have something to do in "retirement". While I have no intention of closing my current business for several years, I don't want to wait until the last minute to start learning a new one. After reading your posts, I'm leaning more toward a cnc, but space is an issue. I have a really nice location for a laser, but just bought a panel saw and fitting a large bed cnc in my shop would be a challenge.

It's a shame you don't have a TechShop in your area. One just opened in St Louis it's about $1200 a year depending upon the promotion going on. I've been there a couple times.... To have access to lasers, CNCs, water jet, welding, vinyl cutters, 3d printers, heat pressed, embroidery machines, powder coating... and I can go on... :) Not only that but the are located in the heart of "Start-up" and entrepreneur community... There is some better maker spaces... ;)

Kev Williams
01-19-2017, 12:07 AM
The biggest problem you face is that in the last few years the barrier to entry in this field has plummeted ..$10k gets you a fiber galvo and a decent sized 80w machine .. thats not big money .. so much more competition out there at stupidly low pricing
I used to worry about his, but every time someone else around here gets into the engraving business, I get more business. Lost count of how many times I've been told 'I used to get these done at _____ but _____' ;) -And I'm one of the last people around these parts to get a fiber, but I'm getting their biz too. Biggest problem from what I can gather: Their machine breaks down, and they don't know what to do to fix it, or won't spend the money.


... Or find local laser and cnc shops who will indulge you. They are a cheap way to test the waters before you put a chunk of money into something...
I actually had a guy call me a couple of years ago, and stated pretty much flat out "I've just bought a fiber laser, would you be willing to teach me how to use it, and maybe send some of your gun customers my way?"
Why sure, but first, can you spell "Chutzpah"?

He either found someone else to teach him, or he learned himself. He started engraving guns, charged a LOT more than I ever did. Then one day his machine broke down... ;)

Bert Kemp
01-19-2017, 12:49 AM
Kev theres 3 kinds of Laser engravers

The Wanna Bee's these lead to>>

The Has Beens and then you have

The Survivors KEVIN:D





I used to worry about his, but every time someone else around here gets into the engraving business, I get more business. Lost count of how many times I've been told 'I used to get these done at _____ but _____' ;) -And I'm one of the last people around these parts to get a fiber, but I'm getting their biz too. Biggest problem from what I can gather: Their machine breaks down, and they don't know what to do to fix it, or won't spend the money.


I actually had a guy call me a couple of years ago, and stated pretty much flat out "I've just bought a fiber laser, would you be willing to teach me how to use it, and maybe send some of your gun customers my way?"
Why sure, but first, can you spell "Chutzpah"?

He either found someone else to teach him, or he learned himself. He started engraving guns, charged a LOT more than I ever did. Then one day his machine broke down... ;)

Gary Hair
01-19-2017, 9:21 AM
The "here today gone tomorrow" are why I always recommend they buy the best machine available - it keeps the used laser market filled with barely used machines that are worth buying...

Jay Selway
01-19-2017, 10:45 AM
The real money is in manufacturing imo. We make more money for less time when people just send us files, tell us what material they want, and we cut a ton of them. Then again, that's what the Kern lasers excel at.

Ron Hampe
01-20-2017, 1:48 AM
They have 3 Troteks at the Tech Space in Pittsburgh, but you can only reserve one for up to 2 hours at a time and their schedule is almost completely full. The list price to join is $200 month. In addition they offer a few classes and from the reviews other than the required basic safety classes none are geared toward a beginner. The laser classes are $99 to $129 each and I honestly can't see spending that kind of money and having to schedule time a month in advance too.

Martin Boekers
01-20-2017, 10:20 AM
I think STL Has 6 lasers ULS. They just opened a few months ago. Pricing is a lot cheaper (anywhere from $900-$1500 depending upon the promotion). There are a few smaller clubs
in the area Arch Reactor, Fab Lab could be more I'm not sure. If you get on as an instructor. $25hr (contractor) If you teach 12hrs a month in classes you get free membership. There
is room to grow in STL because the are located in the heart of the Cortex District, and incubator for start-ups. So as the area grows there is potential to add to it. The do have "Dream
Consultants" that are supposed to help you along your way... What a great job title! Good luck!

David Somers
01-20-2017, 1:53 PM
Bummer Ron, Sorry to hear that. We have a modest number of them in Seattle, catering to college students and apartment dwellers who don't have room for big toys. Some are more learning oriented than others. Might have been a good tool for you to test the waters if the price and accessibility were better.

Another thought then....How some local clubs or meet up groups related to lasers and CNC's? We have several of each that meet in the Seattle area. Around here they tend to be mostly retired Boeing Engineers who bought the tools and are having fun with them. Some using them for profit of some sort. Others just for personal growth and challenge and enjoyment. They might be willing to talk to you about your thoughts on the use of the machine and what you can expect to get out of it. Perhaps even spend some time with them on a machine to see for yourself? And you wouldn't be asking a business person to teach you to be their competitor either like Kev Williams describes above. Might be worth checking.

My main thought is for you to get a little bit of first hand experience under your belt before you leap into an Epi. These things do have lots of limits that the manufacturers gloss over or ignore completely. This will vary from sales person to sales person, but our Epi sales person here in the Seattle area was exceptional in sitting down with me and talking about what a laser would and wouldn't do for me. I was able to hook up with him when he had a few hours free and he was a huge help, even though we both knew right away that an Epi was going to be wayyyyyy beyond my price range. In spite of that he was open and sharing which I have always appreciated. Our local Trotec rep was the opposite, failing to return calls or emails. A polite brush off would have been fine rather than simply ignoring me. ( I think the person who replaced him is much better) Anyway...a decent rep can be a big help. Obviously beware of the rep that is totally into sales and tells you a laser will lead you to a life of leisure and prosperity.

Keep throwing thoughts and questions at us too! Don't forget that SMC has a good CNC forum as well. And in a city the size of Pittsburgh you may find that various laser and CNC reps do shows and events for local clubs. Legend CNC's came out here and did a full weekend with a local club. It was partly sales, but also mostly demo and discussions about capabilities. It was a great session and very worthwhile. They were here to deliver a new machine to a buyer which is why they hooked up with the club. Very worthwhile.

John Lifer
01-20-2017, 2:20 PM
i didnt have a makerspace anywhere close to me. on is trying to open now, but they are leaning towards only kids and have not offered time to the public. but if it were me, id drop the 200 for a month and spend as much time on that laser as i could. would get you hands on experience. at least if trotec and epilog US machine is in your sights.

Joe Pelonio
01-20-2017, 7:09 PM
When I had a sign shop and employees to do the work we tried some laser items at craft shows, they were just not profitable. You also face the prejudice against machine-made work from the sellers of hand made, who would even post signs "hand made-not laster or CNC". My money came from wholesale work, in volume. Some of my biggest customers ended up buying their own lasers after prices fell with more competition, and Chinese machines. The biggest went with a local guy to save money because they were paying me about $3,000/ month plus another $600 in shipping. Since closing and getting a regular job in 2009 I do some laser work for a handful of good customers, wholesale parts for items they assemble and sell. Last week I got orders for 50 of one, 2000 of another, so two weekends worth. It's good for about $20k/year in vacation money, and I expect to continue when I retire.

Ron Hampe
01-21-2017, 1:11 AM
Weather permitting I'm going to the woodworking show in Columbus next week. Epilog is supposed to be there and hopefully I can spend some time talking with their rep. Their website lists the closest dealer as being in New York and if they are willing I'll probably head up there in the spring for a hands-on demo. I like the idea of finding a local club, but not sure how to go about that. I've also been going thru the tutorials for vector drawing in Coreldraw and I don't think I'll have any issues with it. My ideas for the laser would be custom engraving, trophies, etc. I had a K-bar engraved at a local shop for a friend who was headed for Parris Island. That company has some really nice high end lasers, but I seriously doubt that they would work with me. Still it doesn't cost anything to ask. Few craft shows at least here have homemade items and because of that I think the shows are dying off. I've been invited to setup a duct cleaning booth at several of them for the past couple of years which is something that was unheard of a few years ago.

Ron Hampe
01-21-2017, 1:23 AM
I'm leaning toward building my own cnc. Curious if anyone has done that and if so are there any kits or suppliers that you would recommend?

Mike Null
01-21-2017, 8:32 AM
Ron

there is a CNC forum. You'll get more answers if you post your CNC questions there.

Ron Hampe
01-21-2017, 6:16 PM
I'm assuming that there would have to be fume exhaust added, but is there any reason why you can't replace the router with a laser on a cnc?

Bill George
01-21-2017, 7:33 PM
I'm assuming that there would have to be fume exhaust added, but is there any reason why you can't replace the router with a laser on a cnc?
Unless you just want a 6 watt diode laser. A standard CO2 machine uses flying optics to get the 40 watt or whatever beam to the head.

Ron Hampe
01-21-2017, 9:35 PM
Thank you!

Rodne Gold
01-22-2017, 3:46 AM
Here's a plan that will cover any eventuality and not cost you the farm
A $5000 20w fiber laser , a $5000 80w 600x900 glass tubed laser and a $10k cnc router 4'x8' , 3-5kw spindle , you can cut anything and engrave anything and carve anything

From cupboard doors to marking titanium hip joints

Mark Davison
01-22-2017, 2:32 PM
Ron , We have just purchased our first machine. We spent most of our time researching what we could produce with it that would give a decent return on raw material costs primarily and how much machine time to generate x revenue. Its an add on to an existing business, our existing skill sets mean the learning curve for us is minimal. We have been working with vector software etc for the last 3 years.

Starting from a standing start will be a tough call especially if you are looking at producing online retail type products, lots of sellers squeezing margins trying to gain sales, not a good sign. We are already established with a core range of existing products and we are a 100% online business, the laser will not only add to our offering but will also add value to products we currently produce. From what you have said previously , you dont have that luxury. As a new online seller, it will take you a minimum of 6 months before the "market places" will allow you to sell enough product to make a difference.

Another important issue is what happens if it doesnt work out. If you buy a brand new "western" machine my opinion is its worth 50% of what you have just paid once the supplier has taken it out of its crate and connected it to your electricity supply (the good news is , it stays at 50% for a good few months so at least you have a bit of time to recoup the initial loss) If its a bog standard Chinese machine and you cant make it pay, its got the same value as a large paperweight.

It isnt my intention to try and dissuade you from your intended venture, but its tough out there and getting tougher (online) If I had a £1 for every engraved (insert your material here) picture of a dog cat baby etc that laser sales reps told me were the path to riches I would have at least £10 and probably an extremely expensive paper weight.

I wish you well.

Bill George
01-22-2017, 7:40 PM
FYI Rodne has been in the laser engraving business since the beginning of time. Look at his signature line. You have just purchased your first machine.

Mark Davison
01-22-2017, 11:01 PM
FYI Rodne has been in the laser engraving business since the beginning of time. Look at his signature line. You have just purchased your first machine.
FYI the post was directed at the op Ron Hampe not Rodne Gold. But thanks for the heads up George.

Keith Outten
01-23-2017, 7:51 AM
Ron,

There is no substitute to spending the time reading our Laser Engraving archives...every single page. We have some of the most incredibly talented people in the industry here and they have been very generous sharing their expertise over the years. Some of them are still active here, some are long gone and some are to busy to respond to requests for information that they have already shared.

If you really want to make an informed decision spend the time and do the research. There is good advice in this thread and much more available to you if you are willing to wade through a mountain range of information.

David Takes
01-23-2017, 10:22 AM
That is much like asking, opening a restaurant - good or bad idea? There are so many variables that come into play that make any business venture a success or failure. Good planning will increase the odds of your success or convey that your idea is simply the wrong one for your market. You can have an excellent drawn out plan and still fail based on factors that were overprojected in that plan.

Do your homework. Use local economic development resources to help evaluate your market and develop your plan. Determine how you are going to differentiate your business from the thousands of other laser owners out there. If you are one more laser owner in the long list and don't have a unique selling proposition, the only thing that will differentiate you is price. Those who try to win at the pricing game are very busy generating gross sales, yet will have no income to show for all that work, and will eventually have their equipment up for sale.