HO HO HO Merry Profits

Copyright © 2004 by Davis Multimedia, Int'l. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in October 2004, Volume 30, No. 4 of The Engravers Journal.

     When it comes to the holiday gift-giving season, personalized holiday gifts are really the name of the game. Nothing says “I care” better than an ornament personalized with your grandchild’s photo or a tote bag imprinted with the likeness of Aunt Hilda’s precious dog. And with today’s technology, the sky’s the limit when it comes to personalized gift-giving. “We see people personalizing just about anything for holiday gift-giving,” says Margaret Johnson, Johnson Plastics, Minneapolis, MN.
    The fact that we’re in the business of personalization gives retail engraving shops an extra special boost, particularly during the holiday season. “It’s not necessarily the gift—it’s the thought that went behind it,” explains Diane Clancy, Gravograph-New Hermes, Duluth, GA. “Whether it’s a corporate desk set, silver picture frame or glass decanter set, it’s the engraved message that takes it to the next level. Engraving signifies craftsmanship. Chances are one of the first things the recipient of an engraved gift does is run their fingers over the engraved message to feel the engraving. This form of art began in the U.S. 65 years ago, when New Hermes introduced the first portable, affordable engraving machine. Although computers have simplified the process, the impression remains of the craftsman and his art.”
    It’s no secret that technological advances in this industry—many of them recent—have made the range of available personalizable products enormous. With sublimation, for example, you can find everything from ornaments to toys to a complete collection of home decor items. Likewise, there are more items available for laser engraving than ever before. “I think from the laser standpoint, the availability of materials is greatly improved in the last, say, year to year-and-a-half as companies have started to tune their materials for lasers,” says Mike Fruciano, LaserBits, Inc., Phoenix, AZ. “And the big thing is using CerMark on bare metal products. So that’s opened up lots of applications as well.” (CerMark is a metal marking solution; when applied to uncoated metal and lasered, it leaves a permanent black mark.)
    Consumer trends in holiday gift-buying run the gamut from simple to extravagant, decorative to functional and expensive to economical. “We expect to see the introduction of more unique holiday-specific gifts this year, particularly for Christmas and Valentine’s Day,” says Cary Green, Laser Reproductions, Skokie, IL. “Gifts that serve a dual purpose, both functional and decorative, will be more popular as will gifts that recognize two or more cultures or traditions—Christmas and Hanukkah, for example.”
    “People are thinking both larger and smaller about personalized gifts,” Green adds. “Nowadays, they can create personalized jewelry having images in sizes as small as 1/4" with sublimation or laser engraving.”

Photo courtesy of Johnson Plastics, Minneapolis, MN. Photo courtesy of Topmost Designs, Montclair, CA.

Photo courtesy of Gravograph-New Hermes, Duluth, GA.

Photo courtesy of TSI Gifts of Recognition, Huntsville, AL.

Ho Ho Holidays To Remember
    Of course, one of the biggest sellers during the holiday season are gifts that relate specifically to the holiday. These days, what parent doesn’t have a personalized ornament for “Baby’s First Christmas” or personalized stocking hangers hung by the chimney with care?
    “There’s a wider variety of shapes and media available in holiday-specific gifts of all kinds, including ornaments and stockings and porcelain, ceramic, glass and wood products,” says Green. Laser Reproductions, a supplier of sublimation products, supplies, equipment and coating services, has a selection of sublimatable porcelain ornaments in a variety of shapes, such as a star, heart and snowflake.
    A variety of Christmas ornaments made out of fiberglass reinforced (FR) plastic that can be sublimated with bright, colorful images and photos are available as well. Johnson Plastics, for example, carries a line of ornaments in several different shapes, including a bell, tree, star and ball, which can be sublimated on both sides. For example, a photo or other personal touch can be imprinted on one side and a holiday message on the other, making a great gift for parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Johnson Plastics has also introduced an attractive pewter ornament shaped like a wreath that features a sublimatable disc in the center. The beauty of this type of gift is that a new one can be given each year; they often are not one-time purchases.
    “Many people are using ornaments as collectibles that they can personalize for gifts,” says Diane Clancy. “Adults and children enjoy an ornament with a message or name and date to hang each year. New homeowners, newlyweds and parents enjoy receiving ornaments signifying their first Christmas celebrated. Our best sellers are the bronze ‘Boy or Girl in Prayer’-shaped ornaments and our pet ornaments in the shape of a cat or dog.”
    A variety of different styles of ornaments can be found from suppliers throughout the industry. “The most recent TSI holiday-specific gift items are the six assorted enamel and brass tree ornament/photo frames,” says Rick Rainey, TSI Gifts of Recognition, Huntsville, AL. “The assortment consists of an angel, stocking, snowman, Santa, train and a moon-shaped ornament.”
    LaserBits has recently introduced a line of acrylic sheet material in various colors along with different varieties of thin wood sheets that, says Fruciano, is ideal for laser cutting and engraving, allowing you to create custom ornaments right in your shop. “That’s just gone bonkers,” he says. “We also introduced a CD ornament design disc (for more information see Supplyline page 66) that has CorelDRAW files containing ornament designs that are laser-ready. So, essentially the creation of a custom ornament that you would hang on a tree is all done for you.”
    You simply open the file, drop in a name, date, message, etc., and then cut the ornaments out of the acrylic or wood. “You can easily make holiday ornaments either for window hangings or tree hangings, things like this. That market is huge. The beauty of this is that you buy a sheet of acrylic and pay $12 for it and out of that you can make 20 or 30 $6 or $8 ornaments. So the markup is dynamite. And you can make some really cool looking pieces. Clear acrylic is very ‘holiday-looking.’ It’s bright, it’s shiny and it looks pretty on a tree.”
Holiday Jewels
    According to a market research study from Unity Marketing (The Jewelry Report: The Market, The Industry, The Trends), consumer spending on jewelry for personal and gift purposes has not slowed as some other retail segments have. The consumer market for fine and costume jewelry rose 5% in 2000 to total $39.8 billion. Personalized jewelry continues to be extremely popular, particularly around the holiday season when consumers are frantically searching for that perfect, “personal” gift.
    Being able to offer custom engraving services is a major advantage for retailers during the holiday season, says Diane Clancy. “For a jeweler expanding into engraving, it’s not what they engrave that is as important as the fact that they provide engraving. You need to get the word out! Up to 75% of customers want their purchases personalized and once the item is engraved, it’s a permanent sale. Many jewelry and gift retailers have reported they have increased their profits by up to 20% by adding engraving. This is not just a service but a revenue-generating service. With small engraving systems like the (New Hermes) IM4 you can set it up in the front window of your shop and let passers-by watch you engrave. We’ve had customers that once they began marketing their new engraving services, they had to limit it to customers who purchased the item in their store because they could not keep up with the demand.”
    A variety of attractive jewelry items are available in the industry, allowing retailers to capitalize on personalizing and selling engravable jewelry. Traditional jewelry items are always good sellers, says TSI’s Rick Rainey. “Assorted silver jewelry with engraving space for a name, initials, birth date or anniversary are popular right now, including items like identification bracelets, earrings, rings, silver chains and charms. Cuff links for men, as well as other personal items like tie clasps, key tags, money clips, chains, and yes, earrings for men, too, are current trends.”
    “Porcelain and stainless steel jewelry products, link bracelets and necklaces and personalized watch bands are all hot items this year,” adds Laser Reproductions’ Cary Green.
    John E. Lepper, Attleboro, MA, has been in business for 50 years and is a long-time industry supplier of engravable jewelry items. “Our items are basically jewelry oriented,” says Robert Lepper. “We have a standard line and we change designs within the categories from time to time. Our merchandise is priced competitively and it’s all American-made.” John E. Lepper’s women’s line of pewter jewelry includes cuff bracelets, lockets, pendants and key tags, and many of these pieces are embellished with hand engraved accents around the edges. “For example, some of our cuff bracelets have what we call a feather-cut edge around the edges and the center of the bracelet is an engravable area. Others have engraved flowers or other ornamentals,” says Lepper. The company’s men’s line includes brass-plated money clips, key tags, tie bars, tie tacks, etc. “We have somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 different designs of our money clips,” explains Lepper.
    One of the most popular engravable jewelry items this year are military-style dog tags, says Lepper. “I’m not sure if it’s because of the military situation or what, but we are selling a lot of plain tags that are being laser engraved with photographs as well as dog tags.”
    Mike Fruciano agrees that this is definitely a current trend. “One popular jewelry item this year is the traditional style dog tags. The anodized aluminum styles come in lots of different colors and are very popular, especially as gifts for teenagers,” he says.
    John E. Lepper also carries a line of jewelry items such as pewter pendants and earrings that are silk screened with a “theme” image. “I’m working on an order right now that’s for a New Hampshire gift shop. The items are based around a theme; one piece I’m working on has a silk screened loon which is the state bird of Maine. Another piece is a pendant that features a covered bridge, which is big in New England,” he says. “This is a little bit of a variation from our engravable line, but many people do engrave on the backs of these pieces.”

Personalized home décor items are available in abundance for holiday gift giving. Photo courtesy of Unisub, Louisville, KY. LaserBits, Inc. Phoenix, AZ, has a variety of thin wood sheets for laser cutting and engraving custom ornaments.

    One of the hottest jewelry gift items to hit the industry and one of the biggest sellers for the upcoming holiday season are Italian charm bracelets. “The Italian charms are where it’s at,” says Mike Fruciano. “We’ve introduced quite a few new styles of the charms rather than the traditional stainless-looking style. There’s a huge growth market there.”
    Not only are they a major hot fashion item, the fact that the charms can now be easily laser engraved (with the help of a metal marking solution) with anything from an initial to a soccer ball to an actual photograph makes them an appealing and profitable item to sell in a retail engraving shop. “Italian charms are a huge, huge application for laser engraving. Lots of people with lasers are just now getting into that,” says Fruciano.
Gifts ’R Us!
    “There are so many holiday-specific gifts available in the market. However, we also look for items that can be presented as a gift or an award—a quality item that can be personalized and is practical and will be used by the recipient all year, and not just during the holidays,” says TSI’s Rick Rainey. Beyond holiday-specific gifts and engravable jewelry items, the industry has much more to offer in personalized gifts.
    “Each year there seems to be a larger selection of personalized gift items available in the market,” says Rainey. “The items can be engraved, lasered, sublimated, pad printed, screen printed, etc. With the increased variety of equipment that can be used to personalize products has come the increased demand for additional materials or surfaces to be imprinted in order to meet the requirements of a particular customer or to enhance the quality of the object. TSI Gifts of Recognition sells an assortment of engravable gift items that, in the past, were made only in brass. Nowadays, the products come in a variety of materials like brass, silver, natural wood, acrylic and glass.”
    Some of TSI’s new items include engravable silver photo frames (for 2-1/2" x 3", 31/2" x 5", 5" x 7" and 8" x 10" photo sizes) and laserable natural wood photo frames (available in the same standard photo sizes as the silver and the brass frames). Other new items are nickel silver bookmarks, key tags, a horseshoe-shaped money clip, a note holder and a coaster.
    Rowmark has recently introduced mouseMATES mouse pads (distributed by Johnson Plastics), a different take on the traditional “soft” mouse pads. The new mouseMATES feature a high gloss white sublimatable surface laminated to a rubber backing. The attractive high gloss surface sublimates with rich, vibrant colors. Also available are mugMATES coasters. “These can all be personalized with photographs to make beautiful gifts,” says Margaret Johnson.
Johnson Plastics carries a selection of other merchandise that makes great holiday gifts. Some examples include wood picture frames and gift boxes with a high quality lacquer finish and a velvet-look lined interior. The boxes are designed to accept a personalized sublimated tile in the center.
    Johnson Plastics’ line of sublimated tiles can be used for a variety of other gift purposes, as well. For example, by applying a cork backing, the tiles become attractive coasters; sublimating the back side of a tempered glass tile and attaching rubber feet creates a personalized chopping board. Individual tiles can be sublimated on the back and used as a trivet or dropped into a frame to create wall art.
    “JDS Industries, Sioux Falls, SD, offers several gift-related products, including several styles of name bars, sublimatable mugs, piano finish clocks and much more,” says Mike May. The newest offering from JDS Industries is a line of sublimatable mugs including 11 oz. and 15 oz. ceramic mugs in white or four different color options, and stainless steel sublimatable travel mugs available in two different styles.
    Laser Reproductions stocks a large selection of sublimatable products for the holiday season. Some of the newer, more unique items include: dog and cat bowls, dolls and bears with sublimatable faces, pillows and pillowcases, stadium cushions and much more. “We just introduced frosted glass candle votives and vases to the imprintables market, as well as glass tiles that can be used to make stunning framed pieces, trivets or murals. Boxes and serving trays are always great gifts and we carry beautiful solid oak products that hold sublimated tiles, such as pegged frames, bookends and Lazy Susans,” says Cary Green.

Many jewelry and gift retailers have reported increased profits by adding engraving. Today’s small engraving systems like the Gravograph-New Hermes IM4 are extremely versatile. Traditional jewelry items with engraving space for a name, initials, birth date or anniversary are popular right now. Photo courtesy of John E. Lepper, Attleboro, MA.

The Business of Corporate Gifts
    A major part of the holiday gift business for retailers in the Recognition and Identification industry lies in the corporate market. Businesses hand out large quantities of gifts customized with company logos to top employees and valued customers. Gifts for these occasions range from high-end pieces to smaller, more functional items. “The corporate customer may prefer items that represent their focus in the market, attractive and meaningful gifts that can be imprinted with the company logo, to give to special clients or to staff and employees,” says TSI’s Rick Rainey.
    Johnson Plastics carries a variety of products well-suited to the corporate market, such as pewter goblets, glassware and wine glasses. “I do see that corporate buyers are more interested in a quality product and I’m seeing that, thanks to today’s technology, many of our customers are much more confident in taking on a piece of Waterford knowing that if they laser engrave into it or sandblast it they’re going to feel confident that they’re going to produce a quality finished product,” says Johnson.
    “Traditional corporate gifts are still popular with clients, items like desk clocks, solid brass paperweights, golf sets, letter openers and card holders,” says Rainey. “TSI carries many items for the corporate market, including clocks, desk accessories, business card cases and card holders. Another idea for a corporate gift that fits the corporate theme or focus in the market could be an assortment of personalized products presented in a gift basket or a gift assortment. TSI sells a selection of gift items that can be combined with other products to create a gift assortment that appeals to the corporate market.”
    Beyond the more expensive items are lower cost options that still have quality appeal yet serve as an appropriate “thank you” to clients and employees. “We have our anodized business card cases that are popular during the holiday season. Lots of companies hand them out as gifts with the company name or company logo on it. And those are easy to laser,” says Mike Fruciano. “There are lots of smaller giftware products such as bottle openers, wine openers and multi-tools. A lot of these are available in anodized or stainless and are very popular corporate gifts.” LaserBits’ online catalog features a category called “CerMarkables” that includes a wide variety of metal products that can be personalized with a laser and metal marking solution. “That’s almost exclusively corporate gift items, from stainless steel coffee mugs to knives and golf tools and all sorts of things.”



Italian charms are the exciting new item and are sure to have huge growth potential. Photo courtesy of LaserBits, Inc., Phoenix, AZ. The newest offering from JDS Industries, Sioux Falls, SD, is a line of sublimatable stainless steel travel mugs, perfect for personalized holiday gift giving.

Promoting The Holiday Spirit
    “In general, a retail business could increase sales during the holiday season by 50% or more, depending on the type of products the retail engraving shop sells to customers,” says Rainey. “The retail engraving shops can take advantage of some good sales during the holidays, and that’s something that will help the cash flow to begin the new year.”
    Getting the most out of this potentially profitable season in your shop means kick-starting your marketing program early and with gusto. “First, know your market,” says Cary Green. “Know what and when they buy. Items that serve dual holidays (Christmas and Hanukkah) or dual purposes (functional and decorative) will increase the likelihood of sales.”
    Rick Rainey also stresses the importance of tailoring your products to your clients. “For starters, know what your customers like when it comes to selecting appropriate holiday merchandise to sell. Keep the traditional good sellers in stock; however, look for some popular new items to present to the repeat customers and to the possible new customers, too,” he says.
    Once you know what merchandise you plan to stock, be sure to order early. “Order soon,” says Margaret Johnson, advice that is strongly echoed throughout the industry. “November and December are big sale months for both corporate and retail sales in our industry. The holidays represent a good percentage for many retailers, especially if they hit on a hot item. This time of year can really be good for them.”
    Robert Lepper says that his company actively encourages early orders. “Generally in the fall we try to encourage our customers to order early,” he says. “We sometimes provide incentives, like a discount if they order by a certain date and that type of thing. This is the biggest season for us—September, October and November.”
    Mike Fruciano agrees with “the earlier, the better.” He says, “September isn’t too early because a lot of people make their buying decisions, especially corporate customers, in the September-October time frame. Sometimes even earlier than that.”
    “Retailers should order holiday merchandise as soon as possible, or when it's economical to order early,” says Rainey. “In most cases, a supplier that sells a specific holiday item(s), prefers not to carry these items in inventory after the first of the year. Items that are more generic, not holiday themed, can be ordered later in the season, or when the items are needed by their customers.”
    “People in this industry start buying for the holidays in August, so if you haven’t ordered your products by now, you might have a hard time getting some of the most popular merchandise,” says Cary Green. “Deliveries to you and to your customers could be delayed, especially between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Be prepared to pay expedited shipping costs if you need something in time for the holidays. Begin purchasing plans for next year as soon as this season is over and you’ve assessed buying trends.”

Laser Reproductions, Skokie, IL, just introduced frosted glass candle votives, vases and glass tiles that can be used to make stunning framed pieces, trivets or murals. A significant part of holiday gift business comes from the corporate segment. These examples from Crystal by Design Co. Inc., Arcadia, CA, are just the tip of the iceberg in what’s available.

    Once you have the merchandise on your shelves, it’s time to promote it. While this takes some effort, time and money to do effectively, it’ll pay off in the long run. “If you don’t market it, people don’t buy it,” says Johnson.
    The importance of showing finished products to your potential customers cannot be underestimated. (Yet another reason to order early is to give yourself time to create finished samples.) “Make a special display that focuses people towards these special holiday items and encourage them to customize it with names or things like this,” advises Mike Fruciano. “If you don’t have a display that’s special, it’ll get lost. Customers don’t know that you can laser cut ornaments out of plastic. You have to show them the finished product. A special display or a section of your showroom or a section of your Web site highlighting those products—that’s what is really required.”
    Diane Clancy says that in addition to showing off personalized merchandise, show off your actual craft as well. “Get a small system like the IM4 that comes complete with jewelry fonts, software and accessories and put it in your window and start engraving ornaments, jewelry boxes, pen and pencil sets and charms. You can add a Ring Engraver and mark the inside of rings right in front of your customers’ eyes. People have a perception that it takes weeks to get an engraving order filled and it may hold them back from taking the extra step. When they see it being completed easily in your shop, you’ll be their jewelry and gift shop of choice.”
    Rick Rainey says that many retailers successfully utilize a rotating theme display in their stores. “For example, create a display with a back-to-school theme, then the same for Halloween. Next would be one for Thanksgiving, then a display for Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa. During the month of a particular holiday theme, build on that theme with appropriate mailers, E-mails, newsletters and advertising.”
    With today’s digital technology, creating your own promotional pieces to highlight holiday merchandise and services is as easy as “point-and-click.” “You can do that so easily now with a digital camera. Then mail your flyers or E-mail them to customers,” says Margaret Johnson.
    Rick Rainey agrees that a good marketing plan includes advertising. “Send out mailers to customers with information about new items. A newsletter would be a good way to inform customers of the latest store news, an open house, product specials or just to keep the company name in the minds of the clients during the holiday season. E-mails with the same information can be sent to special customers, and advertising in the local media are good ways to promote sales during the gift-buying season.”
    Cary Green says that creative marketing strategies really pay off. “Hold a ‘Holiday Open House’ for your best customers early in the season to showcase products,” he suggests.
    Corporate customers, Green adds, require special care. “Corporate buyers want to feel special, not mass-marketed. Learn who the buyers and gatekeepers are. Send them targeted samples and/or messages. Tell them how you can help them solve holiday gift problems—don’t just show them what you have to sell. Provide added services like help with gift selection, delivery services, presentation options, etc.”

Show off your actual craft! These unique laserable items from Universal Laser Systems, Scottsdale, AZ, have taken engraving to the next level.   To take your popular sublimated tile to the next level, Lavivrus Woodworking, Troutdale, OR, offers an extensive line of frames, bookends, Lazy Susans, trivets and other items specially designed for your tile designs.

    Rainey agrees that tapping into the corporate gift-buying market often involves slightly different tactics. “Retailers can get involved in the corporate holiday gift market by getting involved in community activities and by providing a service in the area where the store is located. These tactics can be a great advertising tool. Many corporations are out in the public and they, too, understand the importance of being involved in the community. If the retailer is visible on the corporate gift buyer’s radar screen, then it could be easier to make an appointment with the corporate gift buyer, and probably easier to make the sale.”
    Mall kiosks and carts are another way to sell during the holiday season, and one that has proven successful for some retailers. “Mall kiosks, in my opinion, are a good way to generate additional market sales,” says Rainey. “During the holiday season, many people will go to a mall or a shopping center looking for several gifts. Displaying items in a kiosk for several months during the busy season can be good exposure for the main store, and it can create additional sales of items that will, in most cases, be sold only during that time of year.”
    Experts do caution, however, that the value of a mall kiosk depends on your business and the amount of time and money you can give to it. It is, in essence, a separate business of its own and requires separate resources. “It’s really almost a full-time business. There have been people who have been successful at it—but it’s really a different animal. It takes a lot of concentration and focus to be successful,” says Mike Fruciano.
    In addition, mall space and carts/kiosks can be expensive to lease. (In some malls monthly charges are estimated at at least $800 per month; in addition, some malls charge an additional percentage of your monthly sales on top of your monthly lease.) You also have to have the right product to sell out of a cart and you have to keep it staffed with reliable personnel.
    If you do decide to try a mall kiosk, there are several ways you can run the business. For example, promoting the business as an on-the-spot engraving service is one option. You’ll need the necessary equipment and supplies on-hand, as well as employees who are able to personalize merchandise quickly and with quality results. Another option is to take orders and have customers return, say 24-48 hours later, to pick up their personalized merchandise. “That’s a good way to go if you want to try the waters with a mall cart,” advises Fruciano. “You could take orders for custom products, but you don’t need to produce them on site.”
    However you choose to promote your holiday business this year, keep in mind that planning is key. In addition to getting an early start, give your staff a once-over. Whether you need to hire temporary help or expand existing employees’ hours, be sure you’re ready to handle the holiday rush.
    Above all, be prepared to give your customers good, friendly, fast customer service. Consumers will be stressed—it goes with the season—but if you make their gift-buying experience an enjoyable one, they’ll be back throughout the year.
    Make your plans now and have a happy, healthy and profitable holiday season!