Gifts Galore

Copyright © 2005 by Davis Multimedia, Int'l. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in October 2005, Volume 31, No. 4 of The Engravers Journal
  The beauty of Italian charms is that you can create such a unique message economically with sublimation (like these) or laser engraving. Photo courtesy of Johnson Plastics, Minneapolis, MN.  

     When you consider that an estimated 50%-60% of your engravable gift sales will occur during the “holiday” months of September, October, November and December, it makes terrific sense to take an aggressive approach to getting the most out of this time of the year. Industry experts agree that the earlier you get started on your holiday promotions, the better your chances are for a successful sales season. Some professionals even stress that you should start planning for the holiday rush a full year ahead of time!
     “Promote your products and engraving services to customers all year long,” says Rick Rainey from TSI Gifts of Recognition, Huntsville, AL. “Don’t wait for the holidays to begin. Order the products early, let your customers know about the new items, make phone calls to your special customers, send out letters with a brochure or create an attractive E-newsletter containing some colorful graphics of the new items.” The point, Rainey says, is to get the news out as early as possible.

    Corian tree ornaments are a great holiday seller and can be personalized with your laser engraver. Photo courtesy of Crooked Creek Creations, Indiana, PA.  


Gifts, Gifts & More Gifts . . .
     If you take a look around the personalized gift market, you’ll see that there is quite a selection this year in new jewelry and gift items in addition to a wide variety of traditional standbys. There certainly isn’t a lack of merchandise to choose from! When personalized with sublimation, laser engraving, mechanical engraving, sandcarving, etc., these items can make great keepsakes that will practically sell themselves. Here’s a look at what’s available for the 2005 holiday season, followed by some expert tips for boosting sales.
     Crooked Creek Creations, Indiana, PA, offers a full line of gifts that can be laser engraved, mechanically engraved, sandetched and sublimated. According to Bob Nastase, the hot new product for this year’s holiday season is his new line of Corian blanks. “Corian accepts laser engraved photographic images exceptionally well,” Nastase says.
     For customers looking for gifts with a holiday theme, Crooked Creek Creations has introduced 1/4" thick oval-shaped Corian ornaments, available in six different colors. “The bone and gray color are probably the most outstanding looking from a photographic standpoint,” he says. And they make an excellent “functional” holiday gift item. “They aren’t heavy. The ornaments won’t bend the limb on something like a Fraser fir.”
     Another great selling point for Corian tree ornaments is that they can be personalized any way the customer desires. For example, an ornament can be engraved with a baby’s photograph and “Baby’s First Christmas” to make a wonderful keepsake. “All you need is a laser engraver and you can put anything on it,” Nastase says. (Crooked Creek Creations also offers personalization services.) “My neighbor is into POW/MIA so I engraved an ornament for him that has a POW/MIA logo on it and says ‘You Are Not Forgotten.’”
     Crooked Creek Creations also offers custom-shaped Corian blanks. For example, Nastase recently created an ornament in the shape of Indiana County. “State shapes are another option. Anything I can put in a vector format I can make,” he says.
     Each ornament is packaged in a gift box with a hang cord and an elastic-stretch bow to dress up the box, making an elegant, yet affordable holiday gift. “I’m selling these for $4.95. Everyone thinks that Corian is so price prohibitive and it’s not,” Nastase says.

Traditional jewelry items like these from John E. Lepper, Attleboro, MA, include necklaces, lockets, pendants, tie bars and cuff links are all perennial favorites.  

     In addition to ornaments, the company offers a variety of other blanks crafted from Corian, such as plaques that can be engraved to commemorate an important occasion, e.g. a wedding, anniversary, birth, retirement, etc. Nastase says that he has recently begun making blanks out of thin stock that can be laser engraved with text and designs and then affixed to Zippo lighters. “People are obviously still buying Zippo lighters, either from a collector’s standpoint or just from a usage standpoint,” he says. Another, more unique gift Nastase recently made is a 16" x 20" Corian wall mural laser engraved with a covered bridge. “That is absolutely beautiful,” he says. And with Crooked Creek Creations’ custom cutting capabilities, Nastase says that he can make Corian products to order, such as custom-shaped key chains and trivets.
     Traditional engravable jewelry remains a popular gift during the holiday season. TSI sells a variety of engravable jewelry items for men, women and teenagers. “Silver jewelry is still very popular for gift giving during the holidays,” says Rick Rainey. “It’s a good material for engraving, and combined with its beauty, style, etc., it can add extra profit to the total sales of the store.”
     Rainey says that traditional women’s jewelry items like rings, earrings, charm bracelets, necklaces, lockets and pendants and men’s engravable ID bracelets, key rings, tie bars and cuff links are perennial favorites. “The not-so-traditional items can be popular too, like toe rings, anklets and personalized stretch bracelets,” Rainey says. Other jewelry-type items include assorted glass and brass jewelry boxes, brass and silver key tags, money clips and many other personal items.
     Looking beyond jewelry, you will find a plethora of gift items to please even the pickiest customers. “The selection of personalized general gifts can be endless around the holidays,” Rainey explains. “That is especially so these days with the new technology for engraving or imprinting on many materials. Some examples of trendy general gifts that could be personalized are scrapbooks, albums, photo frames in many varieties and materials, candleholders, boxes and even colorful and scented monogrammed soap bars packaged in attractive gift boxes. Flasks continue to be popular and are available in stainless steel and lead-free pewter. We even carry mini flask key chains with an area for imprinting. Engraved with a logo, these could be used as promotional items for a company or organization.”
     Silver engravable gift items, crystal and glassware continue to be especially fashionable during the holidays. Rainey says that the traditional items like photo frames, bookmarks, card holders, pen sets, key tags, letter openers and paperweights remain great sellers at TSI.
     Mike Fruciano, LaserBits, Inc., Phoenix, AZ, says that one trend that gift retailers may want to capitalize on this holiday season are the new silicone wristbands that are currently in style, especially among younger people. “The silicone wristbands are very popular,” Fruciano says. “They are laser engravable but I don’t think it’s quite caught on yet, people haven’t yet started to laser engrave and customize them.”
     Fruciano adds that the Italian charm bracelets that were all the rage during the 2004 holiday season remain a trendy gift option this season as well. “The Italian charm business is still popular. I think that the Italian charm business has evolved so that people are now laser engraving photos onto charms and that has started to catch on. The beauty of laser engraving these charms is that you can create such a unique message specific to that person and you can do it economically. With a laser you can do one of anything and still do it economically. In addition, the laser engraving is very durable.”

Some examples of trendy general gifts that could be personalized are scrapbooks, albums and photo frames in many varieties like these from PSI, Miramar, FL.  

     LaserBits also offers a line of black onyx jewelry with sterling silver trim—items such as necklaces, pendants, earrings and cuff links—that is ideal for laser engraving. “We carry some onyx jewelry and that’s been very popular. It’s easy to laser engrave with photographs, text and clip art,” says Fruciano.
     For men, LaserBits’ multi-tool, golf tool and stainless steel beverage mugs remain very good sellers from year to year. “These are really nice stainless steel items that can be laser engraved using Cermark Metal Marking Solution. They are really great premiums as well as men’s gifts,” Fruciano states.
     The company has also recently introduced a line of wooden game sets, ranging from small sets, e.g. dominos and cards, to complete chess and cribbage sets. Each game set can be laser engraved with a special message, the recipient’s name, graphic images, etc. “These game sets have become quite popular. We’re getting lots of large quotes for fall orders. They are well-made, they are affordable and they make really nice holiday gifts. Both from the corporate side or the personal gift side, these kinds of gift items are unique and probably their biggest selling point is that they’re very affordable.”
     Laser Reproductions, Skokie, IL, a leading supplier of sublimation equipment and supplies, has recently introduced SubliTags, a series of sublimatable dog tags, to its holiday lineup. Over 20 styles of dog tags are available in sizes ranging from .75" x .75" to 2" x 3". SubliTags are available in both silver and gold tone and shapes include traditional dog tags, as well as hearts, crosses, squares, rectangles and dog bones. Chains are also available in a variety of styles and lengths.
     According the Carol Gibson, the company carries many other products that make excellent holiday gifts. “Most of our general gift items can be personalized to target the holiday gift market. Gift tins, glossy puzzles, men’s neckties, women’s purses and jewelry boxes easily lend themselves to holiday gift giving and offer customers a wide selection from inexpensive to premium gifts. Other general gifts that fit into this category include glass and porcelain steins, espresso cup sets, cat and dog bowls and glass coaster sets. Ice cream bowls, cookie jars and tooth-fairy boxes seem to be especially popular this year.” Another trend that Gibson notes is that customers are using sublimatable gift tins and wood boxes to creatively package other personalized gift items, such as jewelry, baby tees, boxer shorts, neckties, etc., providing retailers with a great opportunity for multiple sales from one customer.
One trend that gift retailers may want to capitalize on this holiday season is the new silicone wristbands that are currently
in style.
  This onyx jewelry from LaserBits,
Phoenix, AZ, has been very popular and is easy to laser engrave with photos, text and clip art.
The Business of Holiday Gifts
     Holiday gifts are a high priority in the corporate market as well. This is the time of year that businesses can recognize hard-working employees, loyal customers and good suppliers. “Businesses look for quality items, practical gifts and merchandise that provides a means to promote their logos and name brand recognition. The corporate client will purchase imprinted gift products that will be valuable promotional tools throughout the year,” explains TSI’s Rick Rainey.
     “The corporate market seems to be interested in many items including desk clocks, some with photo frames, others with card holders and pen sets. A piano wood plaque with a clock and an insert for a photo makes a practical, yet attractive corporate award or gift. Crystal and beveled glass desk accessories fit into the corporate look, as do paperweights, plaques, desk clocks, card holders and pen sets. The recognizable trend seems to be anything with a star shape, or an engravable star inserted into a plaque, pen set, clock, photo frame, etc.,” Rainey continues.
     Rainey says it is important to recognize the changing tastes of some businesses when you sell gifts to the corporate market. “The corporate gift market seems to be strong, but their taste in products may change to reflect their changing image or to be more representative of the younger work force. The type of products sold to the baby boomers may not work for the majority of the corporate workers of today, and that goes for the loyal customers of the corporation too,” he explains.
     Bob Nastase, Crooked Creek Creations, says that his new line of laser engravable Corian ornaments make an excellent choice for corporate customers. “On the corporate side I have some stock images. I have an old fashioned Santa and a sleigh of reindeer sweeping across the bottom of the oval,” he states. “I made some up for my Corian supplier that says ‘Seasons Greetings from Ohio Valley Supply.’” Nastase notes that gifts made out of Corian are especially suitable for corporate America. “Corian is all American-made and with me manufacturing it, it’s made in America by Americans.”
     Carol Gibson from Laser Reproductions adds that price and usefulness are on the minds of some corporate customers. “Corporate clients are looking for items that are cost-effective and functional. We have new Zippo-style lighters with a unique, non-glare gloss coating that are very popular with corporate clients this year.”
Wooden game sets, including dominos, cards, chess and cribbage sets can be laser engraved and make really interesting corporate holiday gifts. Photo courtesy of LaserBits.   Sublimatable ice cream bowls, cookie jars and tooth-fairy boxes seen to be especially popular this year. Photo courtesy of Laser Reproductions, Skokie, IL.
Early Birds Get The Sales
     One of the best strategies for getting the most out of the holiday season is to start putting your plan into motion early. “The percentage of business during the holiday season, in my opinion, can be as high as 50% of the total sales for a retail business, depending on the shop location(s), products, etc.,” says Rainey. “Stretching the holiday sales from the back-to-school season through the first of the year will add to the total sales.”
     Mike Fruciano from LaserBits agrees. “You should have samples engraved and in your showroom by the end of August, beginning of September. Any later than that and the sales cycle is just too short. So you should already have things on your Web site and in your showroom in September.”
     In addition to getting a jumpstart on your promotional plans, you also need to select the right merchandise to sell. “Start as early as possible to select, purchase and display the items for your customers,” says Rainey. “Select items that are proven good sellers during the holidays and select some good new items that will add a fresh look to the display. Also, choose a larger percentage of the items that can be marketed all year long. Remember that the customer has to make choices too, when it comes to holiday gift giving, so begin early by making them aware that you have the perfect selection of engravable gifts.”
     Carol Gibson from Laser Reproductions also points out that by planning early, you could actually save money. “For the best deals, order during the spring/summer season—June, July, August. You’ll beat the holiday rush and you may get better prices when the demand is low,” she says. “Also, make sure your supplier will have plenty of stock available throughout the holiday season. There’s nothing worse than launching a big promotion on a new holiday item, only to run out of it on December 1.”
     Gibson suggests that a great way to test the popularity of prospective new products is to conduct a focus group. “This doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. Even informal testing is helpful and better than none at all. Show holiday products to friends and customers. Get their feedback. Find out what they like or dislike about each product.” Gibson adds that the products you do choose to add to your holiday lineup should also enhance your existing product line and allow you to up-sell your other products and services.
Budgeting For Profits
     Developing a holiday marketing plan will involve some time and expense, but the key to an effective plan is to make sure you actively promote your holiday season and that you are equipped to handle the holiday rush without blowing your budget.
     Mike Fruciano says that a successful selling strategy doesn’t necessarily have to be an expensive one. “Market as much ahead of time as possible. Do anything you can do to let people know that you have an extensive gift selection, whether it’s your local newspapers, church bulletins or anything. That’s what I refer to as the ‘organic level’—the real basic kind of marketing. This level of marketing can be pretty effective but you have to start it early.”
     Likewise, seriously consider the costs vs. the need before hiring extra help. You may need to just tough it out with the staff you have in order to make a profit. (Starbucks anyone?) On the other hand, don’t sacrifice the importance of meeting deadlines for the cost of hiring extra help if you really need it. “If you don’t meet deadlines, you’re basically blocking yourself out for next year’s orders,” says Fruciano. “It’s an excellent opportunity to build customer rapport, so do whatever it takes to meet the deadlines.”
     If you do find yourself in need of additional employees during the holidays, Rainey suggests looking at students who are on vacation as well as friends and even family members. “Many of these people may need some extra cash for their own gift-giving,” he explains.
The corporate market covers items including desk clocks, some with photo frames, others with card holders and pen sets. Photo courtesy of Richwood Gift & Award Sales, Elora, ON.  
Let’s Go To The Mall
     There are pros and cons to leasing space in a local mall and setting up a kiosk to supplement your holiday sales. It’s important to weigh your situation carefully because kiosks can be expensive and somewhat tricky to set up and operate.
     Rainey says that a kiosk can be a very good idea for some gift retailers. “In my opinion, a kiosk is a good idea for extra sales during the holidays if the shop has extra personnel, a good assortment of engravable gift items in the $10 to $25 price range and some cash to invest in a mall location. Try to work out a fair rent and a short lease with the mall management—just for the holidays and maybe some additional time for an after-holiday sale.
     “If the kiosk is used as a second or an additional location, not only will the sales add to the total revenues, but it can be used to promote the main store. So, in January, when the kiosk is no longer in the mall, the customer will be familiar with the retailer as well as the store’s location, products and services.”
     On the con side of the kiosk decision, be aware of the expenses and logistics of operating a second location. Fruciano explains: “The successful mall kiosks that I’ve seen are the ones that actually don’t do engraving on site. Laser engraving on site is inherently challenging and pretty expensive from the aspect that it requires some special filtration and the filtration is not cheap. You also have to go through the expense of putting the machinery on site, having somebody there to operate it and having inventory nearby to engrave. Plus, the malls take a percentage of your sales. It’s pretty complicated and expensive and it’s a relatively short selling season.” Fruciano says that some retailers have been successful doing on site engraving, but he sees more potential in selling personalized items from a kiosk in, say, a three to four day turnaround time period rather than on-demand.
Selling The Sizzle
     An inexpensive and extremely effective way to promote your products and services is through your in-store displays. Here, experts weigh in on what you can do to make your displays do an outstanding sales job.
     Mike Fruciano: “I like to sell the quality and sizzle of laser engraving by creating a ‘mini showroom’ area that highlights materials and special products that have been laser engraved. Having a mini laser engraved gifts area promotes the fact that you have a laser and also promotes the quality of the products. It says, ‘Look how great they are.’”
     Rick Rainey: “Some important tips for setting up in-store holiday displays include creating an attractive holiday display and changing it frequently, at least each month, to give it a different look. Rotating stock helps to capture consumers’ attention. Include an attractive storefront display that will bring the consumers inside your store to see other items and services that you may offer during the holidays, as well as other times throughout the year. As a retailer, you could also contact the suppliers or manufacturers for ideas on displaying their particular products. Complementary promotional materials and samples could be available from the supplier, so it doesn’t hurt to ask for some free advice or samples.”
     Carol Gibson: “Make a variety of showroom samples using images that are relevant to your audience. Also, show customers that the same image can be used on a mug, a puzzle, a gift tin, a T-shirt, etc.”
Online Marketing
     If you have a Web site for your business, you know what an effective advertising tool it can be. Even if it isn’t a full-fledge E-commerce site, a basic Web site highlighting your products and services can show customers what you have to offer in the comfort of their own homes and it can actually shorten the sales cycle, which can save you loads of time and money.
     “Come up with a real basic Web site for shopping,” says Fruciano. “I hear a lot from shop owners that people come in and the sales cycle is really long for, say, a $100 item. It might take three or four hours to go through the showroom, etc. Give people the opportunity to shop online and that way when they come in to buy, that sales cycle is a lot shorter. The site doesn’t even need to have pricing. It doesn’t need to be an E-commerce site but it needs to be something where people can start to see some items. You can talk to a customer on the telephone, get them to your Web site where they can start the shopping cycle and reduce that sales cycle of customers coming in and tying you up for two or three hours for a $100 order. That can be a big deal because you’re pretty much limited if you only have eight hours a day to juggle running your business and talking to many customers.”
Start as early as possible to select, purchase and display holiday items for your customers like these sublimation-personalized mugs from Nova Chrome, Pleasant Hill, CA.  
Marketing Corporate Style
     Marketing to corporate clients may involve a somewhat different approach. Typically, these customers are interested in purchasing higher-end items, and many may not have the time or inclination to come in and browse your shop, which means you have to more proactively pursue them.
     “I think the corporate market has been very strong,” says Fruciano. “Post 9-11, corporate customers were either not doing corporate gifts or they were purchasing very low-end items. Now, I’m amazed at how upscale the corporate market is. Cross pens versus generic pens, things of that nature are selling now. There’s enough of corporate business right now that you should not undersell. Go in there with some good items and offer a medium to high price range.”
     Rainey suggests that a great way to tap into the corporate gift market is by being involved in your community. “The business will probably be active in some of the same activities, so show them that you, too, operate a business and that you care about the people and community. Also, the retailers that are active in professional, social and other organizations can increase their exposure in the community and to potential corporate clients. By becoming interested in the businesses in your area, knowing what products and services they offer and being familiar with what they do for the community, you’ll have more opportunities for a sales call or product demonstrations.”
Happy Holidays
     What’s the bottom line for a successful holiday sales season? Rick Rainey offers some good advice: “Don’t get started during the holidays, but begin earlier in the year. Look for some new products for the store, design a plan for the display(s), work on your promotions, decide on extra help, etc. All of this mixed together is one recipe for a successful, prosperous, and happy holiday sales season.”
     Good luck and… Happy Holidays from The Engravers Journal!