Niche Engraving Markets Part 1

Copyright © 2005 by Davis Multimedia, Int'l. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in December 2005, Volume 30, No. 6 of The Engravers Journal
 
 
  Figure 1: This stainless steel plate shows the date that work was done and other details for repairs made to the gas company’s valves.  

     What is a niche market? It’s a highly specialized market or product that is outside the mainstream of what most engravers do. At least, that’s my definition. And there are lots of unique little (and some big) markets and products one can get into with an engraver that are pretty unusual and can be very profitable. Through the years, I have taken advantage of a few of these and have heard about many others.
     If you own an engraving machine, you may be looking for additional markets to keep it busy. Perhaps one of these ideas will inspire you. I hope so.
THE GAS COMPANY (Fig. 1)
     Now, I don’t know the particulars of the law but I have several companies that service valves for the natural gas industry. They tell me that every time they service a valve in a natural gas line, they have to make a stainless steel plate showing the date the work was done, by whom and show the worker’s ID number proving they are certified to do the work. I know this must be true because they pay me to make the plates on a fairly regular basis.
     I expect this extends far beyond the natural gas industry and probably includes things like pipelines, propane and gasoline valves and perhaps even some valves that handle chemicals. This brings to mind chemical plants, refineries and all the companies that service those facilities as potential clients.
     Most of the engraved plates I’ve seen have been deep engraved using rotary engravers, but my customers love those made with my CO2 laser. This is partly because my competition charges at least $1 per letter for rotary engraving stainless (and they earn it) while I can do them for much less using my laser and chemicals such as CerMark. I can also do logos, diagrams, etc. that would be difficult and costly to do with a rotary machine.
  Figure 2: Many organizations have fundraisers throughout the year. This train was used as a fundraiser by a local railroad historical group and the old building was used by a church to celebrate its 125 year anniversary.

 


FUNDRAISERS–CHRISTMAS ORNAMENTS (Fig. 2)
     Christmas ornaments or sun catchers can go a bit beyond the traditional and that’s what makes them so special. Be it in wood, glass or some other medium, lasers can do unique and highly detailed work in both large and small quantities. Most of this type of work (at least what I’ve done) has been created for churches, schools and similar organizations to use as fundraisers.
     Churches sometimes sell ornaments to raise money for a new building, a youth project or a missions trip, while schools might use the money to buy library books or new computers. Whatever the need, laser cut fundraisers are very attractive since they’re so unique and can be ordered as needed rather than the organization being stuck with 5,000 candy bars they can’t sell.
     A few companies have made this their entire business and offer their services to promotional products companies or through direct sales via the Internet or direct mail.
The potential markets are endless. Religious organizations, schools, non-profit organizations, fraternal organizations, class reunions, clubs such as Rotary and Lions Clubs, gift and tourist shops, florists, volunteer fire and EMS departments, hospital gift shops, pet stores, children’s boutiques (Baby’s First Christmas, etc.) and many more.
     Glass ornaments become sun catchers in the summer time and wood items can be displayed for no reason at all other than they are neat to look at.
If you aren’t good at doing the design work yourself, many designs are available ready made through companies like LaserBits or LaserBuzz.
PET TAGS
     Anyone who owns a pet needs a pet tag and fortunately, some pets are really creative about losing their tags (too bad). This means an almost endless stream of orders for tags, especially those cute little dog bones, dog houses, fire hydrants, etc. These come in a variety of materials including anodized aluminum and stainless steel, both of which can be done quickly and easily with a laser. The stainless requires a material like CerMark while the aluminum can be directly engraved on. The stainless commands a higher price but either way, the profits can be considerable.
     Think about working in connection with pet centers in your area. Independently owned pet stores, vets, animal hospitals, etc., will likely welcome the opportunity to offer quality tags to their customers. In return, they get a small percentage of the profits. As for those fancy automatic engraving machines you see in the big chain stores that engrave pet tags while you wait–don’t worry about them, they’re almost always either out of tags or out of order anyway.
There are lots of sources for pet tags including Inland Products (www.inlandproducts.com) and Chewbarka’s Engravable Tags (www.chewbarka.com).
HORSE TAGS
     You read it correctly–horse tags! Actually, they are halter tags for horses. These have traditionally been engraved strips of brass but laser engraved stainless makes a much better tag, easier to read and much more durable.

 

 
 
Figure 3: Horse stall signs are used to keep track of horses as they are moved from stall to stall.
 

HORSE STALL SIGNS (Fig. 3)
     Do all horses look the same to you? Then you can’t get along without a program. Seriously, many horse owners like to label each stall with the horse’s name. That way the horse will know which one is his (or hers) after a hard night of gallivanting around the barnyard.
     Using materials like Rowmark’s Textures is ideal for this since its so durable, UV stable and scratch resistant. Put that in a sign frame and you not only have a very handsome sign but also one that can be easily changed as horses move from stall to stall.
     Horse shows might be a good place to pass out some flyers to attract this business but a quick check of the local Yellow Pages should provide a nice mailing or call list of potential customers in your area. Anyone who boards, cares for or sells horses is a likely candidate.
ARCHITECTURAL MODELING
     Large architectural companies often build scale models of proposed buildings to help clients see what they are buying. These used to be cut out by hand using a ruler and X-Acto knife. Most now use lasers. Small desktop laser systems have opened this market and the larger companies have already incorporated a laser engraver into their art department.
     Medium sized companies, however, don’t have the funds for such things. In fact, they may not even have an art department. The art department is often the same guy that sells the job, designs the project and cleans the toilet. Yet, to compete with the big boys, these people also need 3D models made and they pay incredible fees to have that done. A few laser engravers now specialize in this process. If you can read blueprints and enjoy modeling, perhaps this is a new opportunity for you.
     I’m not sure how one would get established in this business but I expect a visit to a local architectural school might be a good start.
MEMORIAL PLAQUES
     Pet owners of all kinds, including horse owners (a little big to be called a pet but beloved nonetheless), love their animals and when the horse passes away, many owners would like to memorialize them with a plaque. Using a photo lasering program like PhotoGrav allows laser engravers to engrave beautiful photographic images on all kinds of materials, including marble and glass.

 
Figure 4: Industrial legend and data plates are in constant demand.  

INDUSTRIAL LABELS (Fig. 4)
    They are often called “legend plates” and they can be used for almost anything. Some may be attached to electric motors, electrical switching gear, or used as safety or procedure labels.
The latest twist in industrial labeling is the UID market where a “Data Matrix” code is marked either directly on a product (Direct Part Marking, aka DPM) or a label is attached to a product for the Department of Defense. This is a huge potential market that is just now unfolding. Check out the series in EJ that reveals all of the details of this niche market and also check EJ’s new UID website www.uidmarkinginfo.com.
    Labels can be made on all kinds of materials including anodized aluminum, Spectrum Lights, Horizon’s AlumaMark, engraving plastics, coated brass and stainless steel. Precut label blanks are often an easy way to go or you can cut your own.
    One of the AlumaMark products is a precut, self-adhesive material that’s specifically designed for lasering bar codes. The material is non-reflective, tough and offers high contrast for easy reading. Many companies require barcodes for things like tools, equipment, computers, furniture and a host of other items they need to track for security of maintenance purposes.


 
Figure 5: Mechanics and other who use expensive tools like to have their tools marked to keep them from disappearing.  

MARKING TOOLS (Fig. 5)
    Tools are expensive! Sockets and wrenches are especially expensive. Mechanics who use these tools daily constantly have to replace one size or another because it’s lost. The bad part is, more often than not, it’s lost by another mechanic picking it up and putting it in his toolbox—by mistake, of course.
    Companies like Snap-On, Sears Craftsman and others guarantee their tools for life—no “ifs, ands or buts” about it. The problem is, you have to actually have the broken or worn out tool for it to be replaced. Loss doesn’t count.
    Because of this, more and more mechanics, companies who supply tools like these and even home owners are marking their tools so they can at least identify them if they happen to find them in someone else’s toolbox or at the local pawn shop. They have tried just about everything to mark these chrome plated tools except the one thing that really works–laser marking with CerMark.
    Although marking a set of 125 sockets might take a little time and yes, cost a little money, it’s nothing compared to the cost of replacing even a few of the sockets or wrenches once they’ve been lost or misplaced. Some really large companies have even gone to laser engraving a barcode on their tools so they can track who they give what tool to and to insure it’s returned at the end of the day.
    A few engravers I’ve met take advantage of this market through the local Snap-On dealer who sells tools to all of the local garages and large companies. Others have made direct contact with service stations, garages, railroads and anyone else that might use and lose a lot of tools. People don’t usually steal my tools, I just lose them. I wonder if marking my own tools would help?
 
Figure 6: This is a tension wheel from a high tech competition bow (as in bow and arrow), that we marked.  

PART MARKING TO BOWS AND ARROWS (Fig. 6)
    When huge manufacturing companies need to mark their manufacturing output, they usually just go out and buy a laser system of their own. Cost is of little importance and they usually buy a system far larger than what they really need.
    But when a small company needs to mark parts, it’s a different story. They can’t run out and drop $20,000 or more on a laser and then hire someone competent to run it for them.
As a result, they turn to companies like yours and mine that can do the work for them. That’s where the bows and arrows come in. The part shown here is a tension wheel from a high tech competition bow (as in bow and arrow). These don’t come in by the thousands but they do come by the hundreds.
    I can’t say I’ve done this work for a lot of companies but I have done it for a few. If you live in a more highly industrialized town than I do, you might see a lot of this type of work. They bring in the parts, you mark them and they pick them up a few days later. Clean, simple and profitable. Of course the part must be something that’s engravable. In the case of the tension wheels, they are made from anodized aluminum.
    There are, of course, a great many other things that can be made with engraving machines. In fact, this is my favorite Niche Market in Part 1. Check back next month to learn about more niche markets that you might not have thought about.
    If you’ve done something out of the ordinary, I would like to hear about it. Send your experiences to sspence@engraversjournal.com. If we publish your suggestion, there won’t be a prize but you will become famous when we print your name along with your contribution. Come on, have some fun and share the wealth of your experience!

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

EJ HOME PAGE