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Growing in the Mountains

By all accounts, Mike Westbrook’s Mile High Laser Engraving shop is new, having just opened in 2014. But there’s nothing new about the day-to-day work for Mike: For years prior to the business’ opening, his various jobs had him trekking the industry’s familiar terrain of engraving products, hunting down sales and overseeing online product distribution.

Growing in the Mountains

Mike Westbrook’s Mile High Laser Engraving has experienced year-over-year growth since starting in 2014, and he’s aiming even higher.

By: Matt Schur

(Originally published in the July/August 2022 issue of Insights.)

By all accounts, Mike Westbrook’s Mile High Laser Engraving shop is new, having just opened in 2014. But there’s nothing new about the day-to-day work for Mike: For years prior to the business’ opening, his various jobs had him trekking the industry’s familiar terrain of engraving products, hunting down sales and overseeing online product distribution.

“I’ve been playing around with starting businesses and online marketing since at least my 30s,” Mike says. “I’m 54 now. Back when eBay first came around, for instance, I was selling airsoft guns when those were popular.”


From left to right: John Westbrook, Ty Westbrook, Renee Wales, Mike Westbrook and Deanina Netz

After the 2008 recession, Mike got his first introduction to the engraving world when he started engraving custom pieces for the medical marijuana industry. Mike and his son John are both photographers and love creative projects. As he was looking to move beyond the medical marijuana industry, the awards and personalization space proved to be a natural evolution in combining his various skills and passions. “I knew I wanted to be in the industry,” Mike says. “The second I saw my first CO2 machine, I was hooked. I thought, ‘wow, that’s really cool.’”

As with any new business, times were lean in the beginning. “Honestly, if we did $2,500 in a month, that was a good month for us,” he says. “I realized really quickly that I wasn’t going to make a good living off of a single laser.”

Investing in more equipment helped turn the tide along with the shop landing a big account, Hydro Flask, shortly after. Mile High’s growth has skyrocketed since: They’ve grown every year since 2014 and have added employees, lasers and plenty of customers in the process. Mike’s sights, though, are set on ever-greater growth.

The Generalist Store

Mile High has four full-time employees, with John helping to oversee production, setting up files and more. Mike’s other son, Ty, pitches in part-time as well. The business sits in a big industrial complex: There are a handful of buildings that house hundreds of businesses, with everything sitting off two major highways that bring retail traffic from the city. Half of the 1,800-square-foot space is dedicated to the warehouse, with offices, lasers and showrooms occupying the rest. “I could probably use 2,500 square feet or 3,000 square feet, but I haven’t found anything that I like as much as where we’re at now,” Mike says. “We’re centrally located, and we just get jobs from all over the place.”

Four CO2 lasers, three fiber lasers, one sandblasting cabinet and one UV printer—all housed in one room—comprise his current equipment setup. Ideally, he’d like to add more space between equipment, including putting the UV printer in its own room. “I think if we were able to have more space between more machines, we’d be more productive.”

But it’s sufficient for now, especially with the work he’s doing. Mile High Laser Engraving is, as Mike describes it, more of a generalist than a specialist business. The shop makes everything from drinkware and one-off personalized sandblasted wine bottles to industrial print marking on metal appliances and aerospace parts. “This is always the way it is; you start to get going in a market, and then customers start to request, ‘Hey, can you do this? Can you do that?’ And so you start to add those services, right?”


A display shelf at Mile High Laser Engraving

Search Party

Underpinning much of the shop’s success is Mike’s acumen and familiarity with sales. “I love running machines, and sometimes I’ll come in on a Saturday just because I like doing it,” Mike says. “But my job is to make sure that we have enough work so that everybody is busy, so I spend a lot of time on the marketing side. I’m the sales guy. I’ve done enough door-to-door sales that I don’t mind doing it.”

In particular, he’s invested a lot of time in pursuing digital sales, including investing in search engine optimization (SEO), Google ads and the company’s website. While most of Mile High Laser Engraving’s work is local, roughly 30%-40% of products are shipped out of state.

Even in the shop’s early days, Mike was investing in Google. “I really knew how to use Google Local. Back then, there were only three or four shops that were using it well, so we were able to start driving business pretty quickly.”

Google—more than Facebook, Instagram or any other online sales tool—“has been my key.” That online marketing doesn’t just help build out-of-state customers, but local sales, too. “Google Local has added so many tools—you can post photos, put products online for sale. Google Local is what drives most of our local traffic.”

Mike monitors how much other shops around him are advertising and will up his bid on Google accordingly to make sure his site continues to rank high on Google Local. “Google is king. If you use Google right, and you’re willing to spend a little money with them, they will make sure that you’re getting jobs. They want to make sure that I make as much money as I can so that I’ll continue to spend money with them.”

Westward Expansion

As Mike eyes the future, he hopes that his shop will continue growing. “I’d like to keep rolling, adding more customers, adding more capabilities, adding more staff. I was always told, ‘if it’s not growing, it’s dying.’ I’d like to be able to grow the place where it’s got some value to sell and be part of my retirement package. I’d like to be as big as anybody out there at some point.”

Part of that growth strategy, Mike hopes, will include adding the technical capability to do color printing on glass, “like really good color printing,” he says. “The other place that we’ll have to focus a lot more is industrial engraving. Those jobs bring in 2,000 pieces and pay extremely well. But we’d have to look into building a separate website because our site now is geared toward personalized gifts and corporate gifts.”

Like many other businesses in the industry, the hardest part of his growth so far, and a challenge for future growth, is finding good, trainable staff. “The work is technical, and it doesn’t pay great. That leaves you, a lot of times, with younger people or retired people. The hard part is finding someone who is detail-oriented and has the computer skills and desire to produce a great product for the customer.”

Growth, labor shortages—all of this is familiar terrain for small business owners. “I think you’re always going to run into challenges in the business,” Mike says. “You’re going to get stuck in certain places, and you need to have a group before you that you can reach out to.”


Mile High has four CO2 lasers, three fiber lasers, one sandblasting cabinet and one UV printer

APA’s community and events, including the Expo, help bridge that gap, he says. “APA’s trade show is important for staying on top of what’s new,” Mike says. “It helps to talk about challenges I’m dealing with, to talk with a vendor that might be able to help your account. Even if you walked away with just one nugget, it was worth it. I always come back from the Expo and think, ‘OK, what changes do I need to make? What new things do we want to be looking at?’”

For instance, Mike saw a printer at a past Expo, but it took two or three years to finally take the plunge and buy it. But, he says, “I wouldn’t have even known that technology was out there if I didn’t attend those shows. So, all that stuff, I think it’s really valuable.”


A personalized black faux leather flast set.

Back when Mike was starting Mile High in 2014, he knew that the business wasn’t going to blow up overnight. The five-year mark—that’s when he figured he’d have some success. As he approaches 10 years in business and looks to continue expanding Mile High Laser Engraving, he’s leaning on all the skills that brought him to this point, including never being afraid to go out and find customers.

“I think once you know what’s involved in building something, it’s not so much that you’re concerned about it working but more how long it will take.”

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