View Full Version : Reality or Pipe Dream?

Ricky Gore
11-07-2007, 9:49 PM
Hey Ya'll,
I would like to get everyones opinion.
My wife and I have been going back and forth deciding on whether we want to spend $15k on a laser machine. We were both really excited about it at first. We went to Florida to visit some friends who are in the sign business (and have been for many years). Their company has grown 30% per year for the last 5 years (they have been VERY successfull) and they are really close friends of ours. Anyway, they have been trying to get us to join them because they have more work than they can handle, and they said we are the only people they would trust to go into business with them. We'll my wife and I both have really good corporate jobs and we really like our jobs. We would however like doing a more creative type of work (like they do). I've been doing research for a while now and I have some jobs doing glass awards for our company if I want the job. The idea was we would get the laser and learn how to use it well and pay for it with awards work, while still working our regular jobs, then eventually move to Florida and work with our friends. I've done all the research and have the numbers on what kind of profit we could make on the awards. But my wife is really worried about spending that kind of money on a machine. She is afraid it will turn into a toy that just costs us a lot of money and sits there. So, I guess I'm just really getting down because we were so close and then she got scared. Maybe she's right, but I really feel like this would be a good move for us. Anyway, I would just like to get your opinions and experience on the matter.

Thanks Everyone,
Ricky :(

Bob Davis
11-07-2007, 10:32 PM
I really cant advise you on the laser business - just too many unknown factors that you'd need to decide for yourself.
However, I have seen a lot of friendships ruined when the friendship became a business partnership. The business aspect introduces a lot of pressures, and disputes between partners can get very ugly very quickly. I read some stats recently where few partnerships survive their first birthday and almost none their 5th (can't recall the exact figures). In theory a good partnership will combine their skills, making the sum greater than the parts, but in reality it often ends in tears.
If one of the main reasons for wanting to be self-employed is to get control of your future or to be independent, you really don't want a partner; reliance on others is what you're trying to get away from.
I'd suggest that you do your business homework, think very carefully about what you want to achieve and how committed you are to it, and then make the decision. If the decision is to go into business, take a deep breath and do it as well as you can. Removing the safety-net really concentrates your attention!

Robert Alexander
11-07-2007, 10:54 PM
Dear Rickey,
I have had my engraver for 2 1/2 years now. I originally got it to do work part time. But my business plans have changed since I bought the laser in May of 2005. I use the engraver to do custom art work, along with my personal vector graphics that I draw up, and other art areas that I am working into. I have not made tons of money, but I have made money. I put down a large down payment on my engraver so I did not have to worry about making a big monthly payment. So I can afford to try different things. Some have worked out, and some did'nt. But now people are coming to me to do one of a kind items. I have stayed away from the awards market because there are plenty of business that do that around here. But I am finding my nich market. And I like doing one of a kind stuff. For you the biggest thing is making the plunge. You need to sit down and make up a business plan. If like you said you allready have work to do, that will be in your favor. Because of the friends that want you do do some of their laser work. You will need to realistically look at that in a business way. Because some good friendships have gone bad because of business decisions.
I love creating things on the laser. Right now I am working with a photographer to do some laser art work on his photos. So there is allways something new to try. So try not to get cold feet, but look at your options carefully.
Good luck:)

Joe Pelonio
11-07-2007, 11:11 PM
I have to agree about friends going into business together, have seen that cause problems for people many times.

Also, it seems like a successful business would not be looking for partners, usually that's done to bring in more money for a business that needs help to keep from going under. There are many economic factors that affect a small business. My sign business (pre-laser) grew over 50% per year from when I started in 1993 through 1999 or so, eventually I had 3 employees to keep up. The "dot com bust" in this area had a huge impact on my gross sales as many of my customers went out of business. Another factor especially these days is health insurance. With my wife getting a great benefit from her employer we pay about $370/month. If we were both self employed that would be about $1,200 for less coverage.

I bought my laser in conjunction with my established sign business. While I see some others able to succeed with just a laser, many more have ended up selling it after it sat unused for a year or two.

Just some things to consider.

Good luck on your decision.

Andy Hullinger
11-08-2007, 7:20 AM
Similar problem for me. A group of us (all have fulltime graphic design jobs) see a need for tattooing iBooks and iPods and thought we could form a sort of co-op to keep a machine busy enough in the evening to make money.

Our worry is how we diversify. We all work around hi-tech and saw a link in Make Magazine about this new site/business idea (from new zeland) http://www.ponoko.com/ It's a website that hooks up a product designer with a laser cutter and streamlines the whole process of manfacturing custom products.

Anyone know if something like this exists in the states?
The whole idea of personal manufacturing is getting talked about a lot these days. And for a group of graphic/product designers being one of the laser suppliers in a network like this appeals to us.

Also, (regarding friends) in our business we have a saying "never hire your friend to be your printer, cause you can't get mad enough at a friend"

-Andy Hullinger

Ricky Gore
11-08-2007, 9:41 AM
Thank you all for your input. I just want to add that we have had long discussions with our friends about how this would work. We would actually work independantly of each other to avoid the clashes that happen between friends in business. Our main goal will be to keep our friendship in tact. We would actually start a seperate company but move close by, and they have offered to pass along the work they have been turning down. They have moved into doing only VERY large condo's & things like that. They are so busy with that, they have been turning away lots of customers who they used to do work for. Their C.P.A. has advised them to sell the small sign business and continue what they are doing. The CPA suggested that the business is worth 300k and they could probably sell it easily, but they wanted to see if we were intereested in doing the work before they make that decision. They are a married couple tyhat work together everyday and they have a blast doing it. They took on one employee a few years back and it didn't work out, so they have tried not to have employees since then. I actually worked for them many years ago and that was a great and fun time. My wife & I work together everyday and we have a lot of fun as well. We also are together all the tim when we aren't at work. So, we know we can work together. We have a lot of people tell us (Man, I could never work with my spouse!) But, us and our friends in Florida are not like most couples. We like being together all the time. And we love doing creative work. Just to put things in perspective, our friends in Florida bought their 60watt laser machine, and they said it paid for itself on the first job. My wife and I have the money saved to buy it outright, we would not be financing it. But, that will take our emergency fund down to about $12k. It's a long story but we never finance anything, we just save up and buy it. Our house payment and utilities are the only bills we have. Man, I am just rattling on and on. I'm sorry. I'll stop now, but please let me know your thoughts. ;)

Thanks again,

Scott Shepherd
11-08-2007, 9:50 AM
Ricky, I'm far from being qualified to give too much advice, so I'll speak from my personal experience, however limited that is.

I see a lot of sign business out there. I mean a lot. However, I don't see a lot of laser owners going after sign work. Not sure why, but my guess is that the majority of laser owners have their laser business as a part time business, working full time jobs to support their families. That leaves little time to interact with the people who buy signs who go home at 5:00 each day. It's hard to sell your company when you're calling people on your lunch hour (which is when the buyers are at lunch as well).

You can get commercial work as a part time owner, but more often than not, it's because you know people. It's hard for someone to give you a lot of business when they know you only do it at nights and weekends. I've done a fair amount of rush stuff for people. Stuff I would have missed had I not been here during the day.

But, that's all just speculation on my part. I'm sure there are exceptions to that, but that's what I believe is the case with many owners.

That drives them into markets that are much more "operating hours" friendly for them. Nothing wrong with that either.

Just know that a laser alone will not put you into the sign business. We started with a pantograph, went to a computer controlled rotary engraver, now up to a laser engraver. What we found is that there is a market, but people have sign packages they want. They want signs for their office or their building, or both, and if they have to look for one person to do ink work, one to do laser work, one to do vinyl work, then they won't do it (because they don't know what processes are used to make various things). They will just find one shop who does it all. We watched a ton of work pass us by because we were limited. We bought a vinyl plotter and now we get most all of that work that used to pass us by. We still can't do print, but we sub that out. We try and be a one stop shop for people, even though we can't do it all ourselves. We're going to look at some more equipment in several more weeks so we can do more.

It just takes more than a laser to fill the needs of anyone who needs signs, in my opinion (and I think Joe already said), but I do think there is a lot of sign work out there and I also believe there is very good money in it.

Brian Robison
11-08-2007, 2:32 PM
I PMed you the other day. Did you get it?

Ricky Gore
11-08-2007, 4:17 PM
Yea Brian,
I got your PM, I really appreciate your offer. Would you be open to me coming to visit and see how you're using your laser sometime?

Did you work with Randy Sharpe to purchase yours?

Thanks again..

Brian Robison
11-09-2007, 8:01 AM
Randy is a good friend of mine.