R&I Industry Scrapbook Part 4

Copyright © 2004 by Davis Multimedia, Int'l. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in April 2004, Volume 29, No. 10 of The Engravers Journal.
By Kristin Huff
 

    By the early 1980s computerized engraving had arrived in the Recognition and Identification Industry in a very BIG way! Among the manufacturers, three major players had evolved: Dahlgren (front runner), New Hermes and H-Square. Competition was fierce but the market was growing so fast that there was much business to be had. Users were discovering the virtues of the exciting new engraving technology as the engraving industry underwent its first major change in nearly a century. A lot of the early system owners can tell interesting stories about their entry into computerized engraving.
    For example, Scott Bradford of Artisan Engraving Supply Company, Carrollton, TX, tells about how he struggled with the pantograph. “We were doing wholesale engraving for industrial companies at the time,” he says. “We got a job from a telephone company here in Dallas. They had 10,000 tags they wanted to have engraved, and they called us because we were one of the few companies that had a computerized engraving machine. They needed the tags to be done in two weeks. On a pantograph, that amount of work would have been prohibitive – a big job like that for a small company like mine where I was doing almost all of the work. But with the computerized machine . . . it took me 20 minutes to set up the job, and I could fit 130 tags on the panel. I literally started engraving those things and went around the clock for two weeks to get the job done. When I took them back to the guy, he said, ‘Great! When can you do the next 10,000?’ I did a total of 140,000 or 150,000 of those tags, and they paid for my second, third and fourth machines. Plus we had money left over.”
    Dennis Trifletti, owner of Vision Engraving Systems, Phoenix, AZ, (formerly Western Engraving) tells a similar story. “We bought our engraving business in 1980 and were working entirely with pantographs. Six months of that would be enough to drive anyone to insanity. We were setting type all day!
    “I bought one of the first Dahlgren systems,” he says with pride. “Within six months of that, I bought another, and in eight months, I bought another. I was doing the tags for a nuclear plant, and the machines were a godsend. It was a major investment, but I could keep it running literally 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. It could do the work of 10 to 15 manual engravers.”
    As was the case for most engravers who made the switch early on, the machine allowed Trifletti to surpass the amount of money he thought he could make as the owner of an engraving shop. “Within three years we quadrupled our sales. We were doing five times the business in gross dollars. We were able to take on work that no one else wanted.” And working with the machine was terrific, if only because he didn’t have to deal with pantographs any longer. “The pantograph was aggravating!” he exclaims. “One little slip and you’d wipe out all your work. We were working on these little 1" x 3" tags with six lines of text, something like QRZ valve45RT. The chances of making a mistake were very high.”
    Jay Hoffpauir, who later created Xenetech, Inc., Baton Rouge, LA, a manufacturer of engraving systems, was another early convert to the computerized engraving machine. He had worked for his father’s business, Hoffco Sales, Inc., in the mid-1970s as an electrical contractor, making small tags to mark individual wires and control boxes. When he heard of the computerized machine, Hoffpauir flew to San Francisco, met with Dahlgren, and brought one of the first systems back to Baton Rouge, LA. Guy Barone, who also worked at Hoffco, tells the story of Hoffpauir’s first exposure to the world of computerized engraving. “Jay bought that machine and he didn’t tell anyone. He kept it in a little room and plowed through the backlog of work he had with these little tags. The backlog was holding up hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of work. Jay was very successful with the machine, and he started to see things that could be added to make the machine more productive.”


The Concept 2000 from New Hermes was called the ultimate engraving machine, with 64k memory and a 16 bit (not 8 like the others) micro processor. Photo circa 1982. In 1986, Baton Rouge-based engraver Jay Hoffpauir, one of Dahlgren's earliest customers, started offering software utilities for Dahlgren systems. After some successes under the "Hoffco" name Jay founded Xenetech, a major player today in the laser and computerized engraving business.

    Hoffpauir’s engraving experience led him to consider ways to modify the machine’s software. “He didn’t intend to sell the modified software at all,” explains Barone. “He just wanted to make it into something he could use.”
    Hoffpauir and Barone had experimented with programming at an early age. “When I was still in college, I was at their house one day, programming his TRS80 Model 1, state-of-the-art computer,” says Barone. “I did a checkbook program and explained the language I was using to Jay. He just ran with it.” Hoffpauir’s innate curiosity, combined with his interest in engraving and self-taught mechanical inclination, naturally led Hoffpauir to modify the machine he found so intriguing. Says Barone, “He started to write after-market software to make the machine more productive. He developed multiple plates, grid cutouts, batch engraving, long plates and tall plates.” People began learning of Hoffpauir’s user-friendly after-market software, and in 1982 he began marketing it through ads placed in The Engravers Journal.
    “Jay and I started programming around the same time,” says sales rep Roy Brewer. “He learned so fast! He just skyrocketed! Jay never had a course in programming. He went to the library and learned all he knew either from books or from tinkering with computers. He had a tremendous hunch as a proprietor and created his own solutions.” At the same time, Hoffpauir began selling the Dahlgren systems, spreading the word of the revolution that was taking place.
The Battles Begin
    In the meantime, Will Dahlgren, Ted Claire and Lew Silverstein were having a good old time as the industry’s number-one seller of computerized engraving machines. The business grew very quickly—so quickly that its owners did not always have time to adjust to the changes that were taking place. “In the early days,” says Dahlgren, “the place we rented for the business—where we had to use a forklift to get the machine inside—was about 500 sq. ft. And I lived there, too. I had to get up early in the morning and take a shower before the employees arrived. But the place didn’t have a shower, so I used this plastic Flintstones sandbox for bathing. I’d hose down over the sandbox, and then dump the water down the toilet. Occasionally I’d be running late, or an employee would arrive early, and I’d be in the middle of my shower.”
    It wasn’t long before Dahlgren needed bigger quarters. They moved into offices that were 4,000 sq. ft., and because things were starting to happen pretty fast, leased another 3,000 sq. ft. in the same building in San Francisco’s Mission District. The business was rapidly sprawling into a much bigger operation than Dahlgren and Claire had bargained for, and they began to grow uncomfortable with their increasing management responsibilities. In one year, sales grew to $1 million. They were making 12 machines a month and were backlogged with orders. “We enjoyed the take-off more than the flying of the plane,” says Dahlgren. “The company had grown to about 20 people, and we needed someone to take care of personnel and handle financing. We just wanted to put on blue jeans and play with fun stuff. But it was becoming clear: Someone was going to have to put on a suit and go talk to the bank. Someone was going to have to buy a suit!”

Manufactured by New Hermes' competitor, H-Square, the New Hermes 1219 was touted as the "expandable" system with "unlimited capabilities." It utilized plug-in font cartridges. Photo circa 1984. In 1981 Dahlgren and his two partners sold the company to Ray Schaaf and part of the deal was that Dahlgren, Silverstein and Claire would stay on for three years and continue developing products. Schaaf was the industry's first Harvard MBA, and the second of a long list of Dahlgren owners and executives.

     They discussed their options with their accountant, Ray Kelly, and came up with the idea of either selling the business or hiring a CEO. They decided to sell.
    “Our accountant had a client who was looking to buy a company and who was willing to pay based on the slope of the sales. We had only sold about 80 machines at that point, and we had a one year backlog. We sold to Ray Schaaf in 1981, and part of the deal was that we’d stay on for three years and continue developing products.”
    Much to the relief of the owners, the sale transaction was seamless and, more important, they no longer had to deal with the headaches of managing a rapidly growing company. Lew Silverstein was an immediate casualty of the sale. “He and Ray didn’t see eye to eye,” says Claire. “The things that Lew had been doing were things that Ray anticipated doing, so within a few months, Lew left.” Dahlgren and Claire stayed on to help the company battle the increasing competition that was coming their way. Their last major contribution was developing the Wizzard.
    In the meantime, New Hermes’ owners were going ahead with their company’s sale. Although Morrison had wanted to buy the company from Schimmel and Dannheiser, the deal fell through and the company ultimately sold in late 1981 to Chinook, Inc., which was headed by Tom Kuhnen, an investment banker from Snowmass, CO. Chinook was founded in the 1930s, and the company made recreational vehicles until the energy crunch of the early ’70s. After business dropped off in the ’70s, Chinook’s owners were looking to buy an operating company with good earnings. They found one in New Hermes.
    “Mr. Kuhnen and his investors saw the worldwide nature of the company, its huge market share, tremendous cash flow, and the fact that it had no debt, and they offered to buy the company,” says Bernstein. But Kuhnen bought it on a leveraged basis and put a lot of debt on the books—a fact that many long-time New Hermes employees didn’t like. In addition, Kuhnen brought in his own management team, which ran the company in a much different fashion than Schimmel and Dannheiser had.
    In early 1982 Kuhnen brought in a new president named Jim Myers, who had been vice president of the Toledo-based Questor Corp., a much larger manufacturer than New Hermes. Myers was an “executive-type” CEO, not a hands-on leader. He once stated to EJ publisher Mike Davis, “I don’t know how to operate an engraving machine, and when I’ve been here five years, I still won’t have learned.”
    But New Hermes had other issues to face. With the old New Hermes (after defecting) reps now selling thousands of Dahlgren machines, New Hermes’ market share was eroding rapidly. And although the company was putting forth some effort to join the computerized engraving market, they still weren’t aware of just how big—or how permanent—the revolution was going to be. In an EJ article from Sept./Oct. 1983 (“The Incredible New Hermes Story: Part 2”), New Hermes representatives stated that “…the standard pantograph is expected by New Hermes to remain the fundamental choice for most engravers.” Accordingly, the company was largely focusing on ways to promote and improve their pantograph line.
    By 1984 the company was facing financial difficulties. According to New Hermes’ then-vice-president Bob Domito, “Kuhnen and the banks sucked all the money out of the company that they could find. When New Hermes was in business under Schimmel, it was a very straightforward company with good management and good personnel. For example, when there was a downturn in the economy and people got laid off all over the country, Schimmel never laid off anyone. He’d keep the employees on and find work for them to do. They’d clean up the factory or repaint the machines. But under Kuhnen, the old feeling in the company was gone.”

In the early days, Will Dahlgren recalls "the place we rented for the business–where we had to use a forklift to get the machine in through a second floor window–was about 500 sq. ft. And I lived there, too. I used a plastic Flintstones sandbox for bathing. I'd hose down over the sandbox, and then dump the water down the toilet." Dahlgren's Wizzard was the first of a "second generation" of computer engraving machines. It was described as the first machine to break the price-to-performance barrier in 1984, selling for under $5,000. In late 1981 New Hermes was purchased and in early 1982 brought in a new president named Jim Myers, who was an "executive-type" CEO, not a hands-on leader.
    
    A number of industry insiders agree that Kuhnen’s/Myers’ management was the main problem. They structured the company and ran it like it was General Motors, but it was a small, entrepreneurial business with mom-and-pop clientele. It didn’t work well to create many levels of management and highly paid people.
    For a while during the Kuhnen/Myers era, New Hermes turned to H-Square to manufacture their systems. It was an odd situation, as buyers could go to a trade show and buy an H-Square machine from H-Square, or buy the same machine from New Hermes with the New Hermes label on it. This marriage of convenience provided a short-term solution to the problems of dealing with Gerber for the cash-strapped New Hermes, but it wouldn’t last.
    Things started to turn around in 1984 when New Hermes was purchased and Hobart (Hobie) Kreitler left Dictaphone to join New Hermes as the new company president. Kreitler had a solid reputation as a 20-year veteran of business; he was used to businesses with problems, and he could fix them. “Mr. Kreitler saw a 45-year-old company with a huge name in the industry,” says Bernstein. “He saw that New Hermes still had a 40% market share worldwide, and he saw a major opportunity. He was a great, great manager.”
    Kreitler released the Kuhnen management team and brought in his own. Kreitler faced some major challenges: he needed to restore the company’s financial stability yet keep the day-to-day operations going. And, he realized immediately that New Hermes needed a viable, low-end, affordable computerized engraving machine that could compete in the marketplace.
    New Hermes already had preliminary designs in the works for an 8" x 10" engraving table and was looking for a place to manufacture it. They found Wayne Hoffman, a former associate of Kreitler and an engineer in Melbourne, FL. The relationship produced a machine that proved to be a turning point for the company. “It pretty much saved the company,” says Bernstein. “It sold for under $6000, had twice the table size as Dahlgren’s Wizzard, and it had user-friendly software, written by Su-ling Hsu of H-Square.”
    The New Hermes 810 could engrave everything from jewelry to trophy plates to signs, which covered the company’s major three markets. It also had the capability to do light industrial engraving, and its advent generated huge revenues back into New Hermes. Now on the right track, New Hermes was able to begin introducing other competitive machines to the marketplace, such as the 1219 (with a 12" x 19" table), which, according to Bernstein, was suited to 85% of the market. New Hermes was on the road to recovery, and ready to battle the other market stalwarts. But New Hermes was not the only company eager to enter the fray.

 

 

Things started to turn around in 1984 when New Hermes was purchased for the second time and Hobart (Hobie) Kreitler saw a 45-year-old company with a 40% market share worldwide as a major opportunity. He instilled sound management techniques.   The New Hermes 810 could engrave everything from jewelry to trophy plates to signs, which covered the company's major three markets as well as light industrial engraving. Its advent generated huge revenues back into New Hermes and got them back on track. Photo circa 1985.

Enter Domiteaux
    Among those to leave New Hermes after the disastrous “sales force conversion” was Jack Domiteaux, the son of Bob Domito, New Hermes’ Vice President of Sales. Differentiated from his uncle, Jack Domito, by the nickname “Toledo Jack,” Domiteaux first got his feet wet in the industry when he took over his father’s sales territory for New Hermes. After leaving that company, Domiteaux sold Dahlgren machines, though he tended to clash with Dahlgren’s then-president, Ray Schaaf.
    “You know that Frank Sinatra song ‘My Way’?” says Mike Davis, who knew Domiteaux well. “Jack was a ‘My Way’ guy. He had a psychological burr under his saddle; he tended to clash with whatever authority figure was around. He had an odd way of doing things, but always with a flair. People really liked him, and he inspired fierce loyalty among his employees. He was a thorn in the side
of [Dahlgren president] Ray Schaaf. Jack was always criticizing Dahl-
gren’s products: ‘It’s too noisy!’ ‘The cutter isn’t long enough!’ ‘The spindle isn’t long enough!’ He would make things to add on to the Dahlgren machines to improve them.
    “Jack wasn’t negative,” continues Davis. “He was filled with great ideas and he had a keen insight into the marketplace. Jack had little patience with those who weren’t up to speed with him.”
    Tensions between Toledo Jack and Schaaf eventually reached a breaking point, and Domiteaux left Dahlgren to start his own engraving machine company, known simply as Domiteaux Incorporated. Once he had his own company, Domiteaux began producing machines that were to his own liking, such as the first computerized machine that could engrave cylindrical objects.
    Mike Dehabey, owner of Allgraphics, in Toledo, OH, met Domiteaux in kindergarten, and the two remained friends through high school and beyond. “Jack was very good at inventing and designing machines. Even when he was working for his dad at New Hermes, Jack could take an idea, visualize a holding fixture, and be able to engrave with a pantograph. He was an artist. He could dream things up. I remember one time,” Dehabey continues, “New Hermes had a customer that made turbine blades for jet engines. The company wanted to engrave on the blades, so Jack took a six-spindle machine, modified it, and made it so it could engrave on multiple blades at a time. He also made a machine that could engrave on bowling balls. He was great that way.”
    Domiteaux also created his famous TLC (Tender Loving Care) machine that fit onto the base of a New Hermes GTX pantograph, modifying the manual engraver so that it could be run by a computer. This machine afforded a level of comfort to people who were still leery of the new technology, and it was a huge step forward in making computerized engraving accessible to all those who didn’t want to give up the comfort and familiarity of their trusty pantographs.
Enter Western & Signature
    Dennis Trifletti, who had seen the potential of the technology early on, had customized his own computerized machines to meet his needs, which involved extensive sign work. “I made one of the first 12" x 24" machines,” says Trifletti. “We made it for ourselves, and we were able to do larger work and engrave much faster with it. People in town saw our machine and wanted one, so they were buying Dahlgren systems and sending them to us to have them converted.” Ultimately, Trifletti formed Western and sold his engraving business. He took on the sales of Dahlgren machines and Rowmark plastics.
    In the meantime, a mechanical engineer names Chris Parent started United Innovations Inc., which later became Signature Engraving Systems. Along with two engineers, Jim Voss and Jim Richmond, Parent began selling a flatbed plotter in 1982, but he quickly discovered a niche in the specialized engraving machines market that focused on jewelry engraving and developed his first machine, the Signature 8000. According to Annette Peloquin, Signature’s current marketing director, the company grew quickly because Parent thrived on a challenge: “A customer would say, ‘If you could do glass, then I’d buy a machine.’ So Chris would sit down and figure out a way to engrave glass. Then someone would say, ‘This is too tedious, you have to do all the calculations for each line.’ So he’d come up with programming to eliminate that step.”
    Signature Engraving made a huge leap forward when the company struck a deal with Cole National Corporation, owner of the Things Remembered chain of gift stores. The stores sell jewelry and gift items such as door knockers, desk sets and picture frames. But the average Things Remembered employees were often young women around the age of 20, with no experience in engraving, who often accidentally ruined the objects they were trying to engrave with a pantograph. Signature Engraving approached the chain with a solution: a retro-fitted unit that allowed the store’s existing New Hermes GTX-Super pantographs to be controlled by a computer. The deal was a huge success, and it put Signature Engraving on the map.
    Eventually, Signature discontinued the pantograph retrofit machines, replacing them with several models designed for engraving jewelry and giftware.
    With more and more companies joining the fray, competition was becoming ferocious. Scott Bradford, who was one of the original H-Square sales reps, tells a story of frustration from the salesman’s point of view: “I remember, going to an H-Square sales meeting in California. They had decided to introduce a new model of their machine, and they wanted us to sell it. So we said, ‘Ok, can we see it?’ No. ‘Have you got one?’ No. We said, ‘Okay, how far along is it?’ ‘Well,’ they said, ‘there’s no prototype yet. But when we get it, it’s going to be great!’ They hadn’t done anything to develop this machine yet. The problem was, they had already placed large ads in the trade papers announcing this new system, and when the ads came out the next month, people started calling us! It drove us crazy! It didn’t even exist! The ads just showed an artist’s rendering of the machine. Competition was that fierce.”
 
Jack Domiteaux, at various times worked for New Hermes (twice) and Dahlgren before developing his Domiteaux-brand engraving system. After Jack's death in January of 1986, the company and its equipment line were acquired by Pantograph Corporation of America and then by Newing-Hall.
Domiteaux also created his famous TLC (Tender Loving Care) machine that fit onto the base of a New Hermes GTX pantograph, utilizing the highly versatile manual engraver so that it could be run by a computer. Photo circa 1985.   Brother-in-law of Xenetech's founder (Jay Hoffpauir), Guy Barone is Xenetech's president today. Photo circa 1988.

’80s & ’90s
Xenetech
    While competition was growing in the field of computerized engraving, Jay Hoffpauir was doing well at Hoffco Sales & Supply, selling his after-market software. The computerized systems he’d bought allowed him to increase the amount of engraving work he took on, and the engraving side of his business was growing locally.
    In 1986, at the encouragement of industry leaders, Hoffpauir took the plunge and decided to sell computerized engraving machines equipped with the software he had developed. Hoffpauir formed a partnership with several people, including Doug and Bill Richardson (former Dahlgren reps), who agreed to manufacture tables for the new Xenetech systems.
    Hoffpauir’s unique software used the industry’s first Windows-type operating system, with the pull-down menus that we are so familiar with today. The operating system, known as GEM, was well-received and considered to be cutting edge in the industry. Xenetech’s relationship with the Richardsons worked well for several years, but shareholder disagreements caused Xenetech to go through company ownership restructuring in 1990. “The shareholders had difficulty agreeing on how to become successful,” says Guy Barone. “There was infighting, and things didn’t go as well as they should have. The whole corporation had to be reorganized.” At the end of this period, Hoffpauir succeeded in regaining sole ownership of the company.
    For a while, Xenetech’s engraving tables were manufactured by Western Engravers Supply (now known as Vision). This relationship ended in 1994, as Xenetech realized that their future success depended on being able to offer a complete hardware and software package.
    Xenetech thrived under Hoffpauir’s guidance until he passed away in May 2000 after a year-long battle with cancer. The company today is owned by his widow, Kathy.
Domiteaux
    Another industry death occurred much earlier, in 1986. Not long after making a splash with his own brand of innovative machines, Jack Domiteaux was diagnosed with cancer. The disease spread rapidly, and Domiteaux died not long after he was diagnosed. After he passed away, Domiteaux Inc. was bought by PCA, the Pantograph Corporation of America. Geoff Thompson, who hired on at New Hermes after the mass exodus of the sales force, worked a New Hermes sales territory until he was recruited by PCA in 1986. “After PCA bought the assets of Domiteaux, I was hired as vice president of sales. My job was to build a sales organization. After two-and-a-half years, sales were growing nicely, but the fellow running the company was spending too much money and building an infrastructure that was bigger than you’d logically expect.”
    “PCA tried to run the company like it was a big business, and they went bankrupt,” says Roy Brewer. Brewer had taken a job with PCA in 1988 as sales manager for half of the United States. “I was terrible at it!” he says. “I am not a good manager and I don’t know how to motivate people. I was very unhappy, and I felt like PCA was going the wrong way. They were ignoring our core market.”
    Thompson recounts the upheaval. “The venture capitalists pulled the plug on PCA and fired most everyone at management level. We had 90 days to figure out what to do.” A British company called Newing-Hall, who had been the distributors of Domiteaux products in the U.K., stepped in and invested in the company in 1989. It is still called Newing-Hall today.

Jim Bernstein, nephew of Paul Kahn, one of New Hermes' original salesman; joined the company in 1980 and fondly remembers the difficult times (2003 photo).

  The New Hermes Vanguard 5000 was one of the first "upscale" machines designed to offer a wide variety of features and its ability to simultaneously engrave two different jobs. Photo circa 1987.

New Hermes
    Throughout the 1980s, New Hermes continued to introduce new machines and regain market share. “From 1985 to 1989 we increased our revenue over 35% a year,” says Jim Bernstein. “We were able to pay down our debt 60% ahead of schedule.”
    Under Hobie Kreitler’s guidance, New Hermes pursued a joint venture with Gravograph, New Hermes’ French sister company. After consolidating their operations with Gravograph, the owners and managers of New Hermes purchased the stock of the company back from Kuhnen and investment partners, who still legally owned it. Says Bernstein, “From a management standpoint, the company became friendly again. We owned our company, similar to the days of Mr. Schimmel and Mr. Dannheiser.”
    Throughout the late 1980s, New Hermes focused on new markets, such as hospitals, hotels, the government, and the signage market. The company went public in France in 1989 under the name Gravograph. In 1991, after helping New Hermes again become one of the industry’s leaders, Hobie Kreitler left his post as the company’s president.
Dahlgren
    The stiff competition created by the influx of so many companies in the 1980s caused Dahlgren to falter. By the mid ’80s, the company had been sold many times over and in 1987 wound up in the hands of PIC, Product Identification Corporation. Rich Zydonik, now Rowmark’s Vice President of Operations, started at Dahlgren the day it was sold to PIC and found that while the company had been battling new challenges in the market, it had neglected customer service. “My first day there, they handed me 200 pink notes that were messages from irate customers. It was a nightmare. In that stack, there were sometimes four or five calls from the same person, getting more and more mad with each call. And it was my job to fix their problems. It was an interesting beginning, to say the least!” exclaims Zydonik.
    At this point, Dahlgren was still considered by many to be the leader in the market. “The Wizzard was designed so every man, woman, and child in the country could own and operate one,” says Zydonik. “People didn’t even know the Dahlgren name —they just said, ‘I have a Wizzard.’ How’s that for name-brand recognition? It’s almost impossible to kill a company like that. But we did. We torched it.”
    How did Dahlgren lose its spot as the number-one producer of computerized engraving machines? According to Zydonik, the company spawned its own competition through poor distribution systems and missed sales opportunities. Will Dahlgren agrees that the company could have done more to ensure its market dominance in the early days: “We could have been more aggressive about increasing our production. We had more competition than we would have had if we had been able to satisfy demand more quickly. There were a lot of smaller competitors that we might have discouraged by growing more rapidly.” Zydonik also mentions that PIC’s mismanagement and inattentiveness at Dahlgren led to a loss of market share.
    A succession of new presidents, including Larry Timque, Orton wisegraver, and Mark Goldman took over Dahlgren in the years after PIC’s management. During the Goldman era, Dahlgren was beset by financial problems. EJ publisher Mike Davis relates a story about inviting Mark Goldman to send their newly released System 300 to EJ for a product review.
H-Square's WB (Wide Body) system, circa 1989. Xenetech's Graphic Workstation, circa 1989. New Hermes' Vanguard 1000, circa 1989, utilized font cartridges and a work holder that would accept New Hermes' line of versatile holding jigs.
    
    “Goldman seemed quite excited, and arrangements were made for Dahlgren to ship us a system immediately following a trade show. When the show was over, the machine never arrived—nor did an explanation. The story we heard eventually was that the machine was damaged in shipping and was tied up pending a freight claim with the trucker. However,” Davis continues, “a Dahlgren employee told me, off the record, that the company was on C.O.D. with all its vendors, and that they decided they couldn’t have a system tied up for a few weeks without severely impairing cash flow. Consequently, the article was never written.”
    In 1995, Dahlgren filed for bankruptcy. At that point, Kevin Brown of Suregrave stepped in and bought Dahlgren’s assets. Suregrave has owned and managed the company since then, and computerized engraving machines are still produced under the Dahlgren name.
Western (now Vision Engraving Systems)
    Dennis Trifletti partnered with Dahlgren Systems in 1983 as the company’s table manufacturer. The relationship ended after PIC bought Dahlgren, says Trifletti. “PIC realized that 25% of their business was being done by Western-Dahlgren, and they started to worry that if I went away, that business would be gone. So they bought me out.” Trifletti signed a non-compete agreement that lasted 18 months, and after that period he got involved with many projects, including a partnership with Xenetech. “They were making the software and the electronics system, and we were making the tables,” says Trifletti. “Dennis had some good, solid designs,” says Zydonik. “They were better than Dahlgren’s, because Dennis tended to simplify stuff. He’s a good engineer and made bulletproof products.”
    In the mid 1990s, Xenetech decided to make their own tables, and Western and Xenetech parted ways. “Western was in deep trouble,” says Zydonik. “They only had half the components to make a system. So Dennis banded together with several distributors, and went from 0 to 60 with a new product. Western was down only six to nine months!” When Western’s new machines were launched, they were an immediate hit, spawning incredible growth for the company. Western changed its name to Vision in 1994, and the company continues to produce specialty machines and lasers today.
End of an Era
    “Those were the wild, wild west days of the industry,” says Scott Bradford. “It was a really exciting time, because the industry was developing at a lightning pace. Computer technology was the big determining factor in how fast we could go.”
    The industry’s turmoil was due to an exciting mix of new technology, fierce competition and the unique character of the R&I business. “Working this industry is not like selling copiers,” says Trifletti. “This industry is special, and the people who make it in this business are the people who understand engraving. Many people in sales think you don’t have to understand the business to succeed, you just have to know how to sell. But that’s not true. As things evolved, people understood more and more what they liked about the different machines. At first, if it would engrave anything, it was the best thing ever. As we went along, people got smarter and the machines got better. People started shopping for features, for the different things that the different machines would do.”
    But where will the industry go in the future? What will be the next engraving revolution? As technology continues to evolve, the industry will evolve right along with it, and something is bound to be invented that’s as revolutionary as the computerized engraving machine was. The next big thing is out there, waiting to be discovered and percolating in the minds of the entrepreneurs who know and love the engraving industry. Are you one of them?

 

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