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Expanding into a Laser Job Shop

Becoming a laser job shop doesn’t just add customers; it benefits your reputation and helps to grow your business. It doesn’t require new skills or equipment because engraving a trophy plate isn’t that different from engraving a barcode on an industrial tool.

Expanding into a Laser Job Shop

Turn Your Existing Customers into a Gold Mine Without New Investments

(Originally published in the June 2014 issue of Rec Review.)

Becoming a laser job shop doesn’t just add customers; it benefits your reputation and helps to grow your business. It doesn’t require new skills or equipment because engraving a trophy plate isn’t that different from engraving a barcode on an industrial tool. Like a recognition business, a laser job shop creates custom products, lasers a variety of materials, and sells to a variety of markets. You’re 90% there with developing this business. All you have to do is find the markets. If you look at your customer database, you probably already sell to a variety of markets, which means you just need to sell a different product to the same customers. Learn more about your customers to find out what services they need so you can extract more business from them. A trophy shop owner might say, “I engrave recognition products.” A laser job shop owner says, “I don’t care if I’m engraving on metal or a plaque or a jet engine fan blade. It’s all the same.”

Your core products, such as plaques, acrylics, and name badges, bring in a certain amount of work. Expanding into a laser job shop adds another category to boost your profit without detracting from your core product income. Doing this also can fill your slow seasons for more consistent sales, evening out your income. It can reduce the need to seek out new customers. After all, finding new customers is expensive, but selling more to each customer is an easier way to increase income. Offering new products lets you grow your business with your existing customers and new ones.

Do your customers have businesses or hobbies related to cars? Are they pet owners or veterinarians? These are some of the questions that can help you find markets for new products you can sell to existing customers, such as license plate frames and pet memorials. These products are all sold through LaserBits.

With existing customers, your reputation precedes you, allowing you to build on it. If you already do awards for a company, they already know they can trust you to laser mark their parts; you don’t have to spend time convincing them of your reputation and trustworthiness. With existing customers, it’s a matter of letting them know what services you can offer. Don’t just send an e-mail. Engage them in a conversation, whether in person or by phone, to mine them for additional opportunities.

What services can you offer them? Think about what you can do with your laser and what materials you can laser. Lasers can cut and engrave, and they can work with a variety of materials, including wood, plastic, acrylic, leather, stone, paper/cardboard, rubber, coated metals, bare metal with a marking material such as CerMark®, glass and crystal, shell, cork, and tile and ceramics. Thinking about these capabilities can help you come up with other work you can do for customers, such as cutting rubber gaskets or paper.

You also need to be aware of materials you cannot work with. If a customer brings something to you for marking or cutting, find out what is in it before putting in your laser. When lasered, some products generate dangerous gases or explode. Examples include the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) found in certain foams or sign vinyl; polycarbonates like Lexan; and flammable materials, such as butane lighters or compressed gas bottles. If you can’t figure out what a product is made of, don’t put it into your laser. Know it before you cut it.

Expand by Market

The two main markets you should start thinking about are industrial and decorative. Industrial jobs include cutting stencils, parts marking, gasket cutting, creating control panels, tool marking, stamp making, acrylic fabrication (such as point-of-purchase displays), and cutting model part kits. If you don’t have customers with these needs, find distributors in associated markets. For instance, to market control panels, offer your services to switch distributors. In the case of parts marking, pitch your services to the companies that anodize or coat these parts. Instead of creating individual stamps for customers, you could be creating inspection stamps for a manufacturer, or find a club that does model airplanes and offer to cut their AutoCAD files of planes from balsa wood.

Decorative market options include photo engraving, identification tags and bracelets, memorials, and garden and tree markers. Identification tags are popular for schools and clubs, but also to inform emergency responders about a person’s medical needs or emergency contacts; market ICE bracelets (bracelets engraved with the wearer’s “in case of emergency” contact) to athletic groups, for instance. Talk to veterinarian offices about creating pet memorials. These all offer opportunities for many sales instead of just one.

Expand by Material

Think about the materials you can cut and engrave to come up with products you can make and groups to which you can sell them.

Plastics can be turned into stencils for scrapbooking or nail art, bookmarks for book clubs or libraries, name badges, custom holiday ornaments, or signs.

Metal products that can be engraved include machine parts, knife or sword blades, restaurant tools, stethoscopes, and medical and dental instruments. If you find a knife-sharpening service, ask to market to its customers, such as chefs who value their knives above all other tools. For stethoscopes, market to doctor’s offices, nurses associations, and a variety of other healthcare organizations, offering to put the owner’s name on the device.

Glass engraving opportunities include wine and liquor bottles, industrial glass, CerMark on glass, and cabinet windows. Liquor distributors may hire you to engrave special bottles for customers or gift boxes; laser engraving bottles does not ruin the liquor inside, contrary to popular belief. The market for industrial glass is difficult to break into, but you can find scientific-glass distributors, for instance, and start there. If you can engrave on stemware, you can engrave on scientific glass. Cabinet makers won’t want to buy a laser, but you can offer to do their glass in your shop.

Ceramics and bricks can be engraved. Tiles can have photos or text added for display outdoors or in homes. Donor tiles and bricks used for fundraisers for hospitals, schools, nonprofits, and other groups. However, engraving bricks can be messy, so consider steering customers toward tiles.

Hot Market

Hot markets include machined metal parts, anything pet related, memorials, firearms, and religious articles. Machined metal parts can become a whole business for you, and gun dealers, smiths, and manufacturers are good places to start when looking to break into firearm engraving. Before marketing firearm engraving, find out what ordinances affect you. In Illinois, where ARA is headquartered, state police confirmed that a shop owner must have a firearm owner’s identification card to take possession of a customer’s firearm long enough to engrave it. Recognition Review will explore these legalities in a future issue.

The Next Step

Pick an application that you can peruse and put it on a Post-It note to remind yourself. Allocate time in your schedule to look through your customer database or online for people to whom you can market one of these services. If you start with existing customers, your reputation paves the way, and if you’re serious about expanding into laser job shop services, consider adding “laser engraving” to your company’s name to open discussions about what you can do for customers. You will have to educate your customers. Talk to them about your capabilities and, even if you can’t offer e-commerce, post photos on your website to educate them about what you can do.

But first, you need to educate yourself. Try new processes, take full advantage of your laser, find out what materials you can engrave and cut, and get training to advance your laser skills.

This article is based on a seminar presented by Mike Fruciano at the 2014 ARA International Awards Market in Las Vegas, NV. Fruciano coowns LaserBits, an ARA supplier that opened its doors in 1998. With 14 employees, LaserBits has locations in Phoenix, AZ, and Columbus, OH. Fruciano has a degree in electronics engineering and has travelled the world developing, marketing, and selling technical products. A frequent industry writer and speaker, Fruciano was honored as ARA Speaker of the Year in 2004. Fruciano has trained laser owners around the world through his Web-based training site, Laser University, and through The Laser Clinic, which visited 11 cities in North America last year. Turn to page 63 to see upcoming Laser Clinic details. Fruciano is active with local cancer support organizations The Arizona Wellness Center and Singleton Moms, an outreach for single moms with cancer. His hobbies include golf, cycling, and motorcycles. Visit www.laserbits.com and www.laseru.com to learn more.

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