Spring into Engravable Gifts

This black glass plate can be beautifully sandcarved and makes a truly elegant gift. Photo
courtesy of Rayzist Photomask, Inc., Vista, CA.

Copyright © 2006 by Davis Multimedia, Int'l. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in April 2006, Volume 31, No. 10 of The Engravers Journal
  Wedding items seem to go in cycles; here are some examples of hot wedding and attendant gifts from Gravograph-New Hermes, Duluth, GA.  

     Spring is in the air, and if you sell engravable gifts, that means the opportunity to increase your sales is knocking at your door. Springtime is packed with gift-giving holidays and events: Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, graduations, weddings, baptisms, retirements and more, all happen during the spring months so it’s time to gear up and take advantage of what could be your most profitable time of the year. “Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and graduation make up what I call my second Christmas Season,” says Rex Tubbs, owner of Engraving Connection, Plymouth, MI.
Tracking the Trends…
     Although engravable gifts have been a part of the Recognition and Identification industry since the very beginning, this market area is growing and becoming a much bigger profit generator than it ever has been. One of the current trends in this market segment is the fact that there are more suppliers carrying engravable gifts and the selection is much broader. “In the past, I really had to head off to the gift shows to find more engravable gifts. You really didn’t see them at industry-based shows, but now we are seeing a much bigger gift selection at the shows,” says Tubbs. Even suppliers that primarily carry award products have started stocking gift items. “There’s got to be some serious volume starting to happen. More than what it was in the past,” says Tubbs.
     Part of this can be attributed to technological developments in lasers and computerized engraving machines. Gift items have always been somewhat challenging to engrave (think tankards, flasks, vases and other odd-shaped pieces), but today’s equipment makes it much easier for you to produce professional engraving with half the work and time.
     According to several successful engravable gift retailers, traditional products like Cross pens, key chains, money clips and Swiss Army knives remain solid sellers year after year. “People still want things that are personalized like key chains, pens, business card holders and desk items. We have added an additional line of photo frames, which are really popular. We are also seeing trends going from silver back to gold,” says Beth Holley, director of sales and marketing for Dynamic Trophies and Awards, Shreveport, LA.
     “This last year we upped our inventory of desk clocks. This is a trend that keeps on giving. Bulova, Seth Thomas and Tropar clocks have been great,” adds Tubbs. Tubbs says that one of the newer items that they carry are glass ornaments with photos engraved on them. “We tested them this last Christmas. The selling price of the ornament is $7 and we add $30 for the engraved photo. Our cost for the ornament is $2 at the most. A product like this makes for a good markup.”
     Bob Natase, owner of Crooked Creek Creations, Indiana, PA, also says that his Corian ornaments have been a surprising hit. “It kind of stunned me for this time of year (February), but we just got an order for 25 Corian ornaments.”
     Of course, trends are just that—trends. So it’s important to stay in tune with what customers are buying and asking for because that can, and does, change. Says Tubbs, “Engravable gifts go in cycles. They come and go. Some of that is especially evident in the wedding gift market. Two years ago, traditional flasks were hot, but last year it cooled down. This year or next year at the latest, flasks will be hot again. A lot of this has to do with flasks being given as wedding attendant gifts. With the guys being in multiple weddings, everybody has a flask. It takes a year or two for the cycle to come full circle with a crop of wedding attendants who haven’t gotten a flask. The same thing happened to me back in college. For a while, all we got were pewter mugs and then it was manicure sets.”
     Successful gift retailers point out the importance of being proactive when it comes to building up inventories and dropping them down. Reliable suppliers with quick delivery times can be a great asset here. “You never know what is going to surprise you. One great thing about our industry is that we do not have to keep a big inventory on any product. We can always jump fast to get the stock we need. We have great suppliers in our industry. They are our warehouse,” says Tubbs.
     Just as you gear up for Christmas, if you want to get the most out of the spring gift season, you need to gear up for that as well. In fact, retailers with lucrative gift businesses make a time plan for the entire year. Here are some of the most popular spring gift-buying occasions and how successful retailers tackle them.
This lovely marble candlestick from N & R International, Inc., Marietta, GA, is appropriate for any occasion.    

Sublimated italian charms, like these from Johnson Plastics, Minneapolis, MN, make a unique gift that may even bring in more sales for new and exciting designs.

Say “I Do” to Wedding Gifts
     According to a survey by The Fairchild Bridal Group, consumer spending on weddings hit a staggering $125 billion last year. In 1999, brides and grooms spent an average of $299 on attendants’ gifts, a figure that grew to $550 in 2005. That’s an increase of 84%! This phenomenal growth is indicative of a major trend in what is called the “recession proof” wedding market; even when the overall economy is weak, the spending on weddings remains strong.
     The majority of weddings occur in the summer and early fall, but the actual “spending season” kicks off in January when the bridal shows come to town. “This business just keeps building and building from spring through August, with August being the biggest month. Then it starts to drop off,” says Tubbs.
     Weddings open up a plethora of engravable gift opportunities starting with functional items for the bride and groom, including toasting goblets and cake servers and moving on to wedding favors for the reception tables, attendants’ gifts, gifts for the ring bearer and flower girl and gifts purchased for the bride and groom themselves.
     Many traditional engravable items remain popular year after year. Crooked Creek’s Bob Natase says that weddings are one of the biggest gift-giving occasions that he caters to and he sells a variety of merchandise. “As for weddings, I usually sell the typical products like etched toasting flutes and engraved cake servers. In fact, I have a cake server in here right now to engrave,” he says.
     Bridal party gifts are a big part of Natase’s wedding sales and he frequently engraves items like pocket knives and flasks for the groomsmen and beveled glass jewel boxes for the bridesmaids. A newer trend he’s noticed is to give each attendant an engraved champagne flute. “They will order two crystal toasting flutes for the bride and the groom and then they will pick glass champagne flutes for the rest of the table. They will just make those part of their bridesmaids’ and groomsmen’s gifts. We usually put the recipient’s name and date on the flutes. I discourage putting the bride’s and groom’s names on them because the recipient will never use that glass,” he says.
     Engraved items are also very popular as gifts for the bride and groom from friends and family and can include a variety of items from ice buckets to engraved glassware to trays and picture frames. “I do trays once in a while engraved with the text from the wedding invitation,” says Natase. “That’s a nice niche because even though there’s lots of engraving, there’s lots of money for the engraving. Anything engraved with a photograph is also a good gift idea,” he says.
     Tubbs also sells a wide variety of merchandise like this: “We sell curved glass frames etched with the wedding date. Once we have sold one to a family, they come back for every wedding they are invited to. I recall one customer who bought 11 frames over the last couple of years,” he says.
     Even though traditional items are always popular, offering something new and unique can really draw attention. For example, Tubbs recently came across a combination cigar tube/flask that he is introducing as an alternative groomsmen’s gift. “I took it to a bridal show and people were going nuts over it. The basic line is, ‘You can kill two vices with one gift.’ They just went bonkers over it. So right after the show I immediately ordered some more and filled up my inventory because the wedding sales are coming in with April and May. I better have some inventory to take care of it,” Tubbs says.
     Bob Natase says that introducing customers to something new can sometimes mean bigger profits, as is the case with his line of gift items made out of solid surface material. “People are afraid of Corian because it’s a higher end material. But I engrave it and I get on average $1 a square inch engraved. Interestingly, people don’t have any trouble buying it,” Natase says.
     Among his most popular lines for the wedding market are his Corian plaques laser engraved with a photograph on one side (a wedding or engagement photo, for instance) and the text from the wedding invitation on the other. “I have one in my shop. I get lots of comments on it. It makes a very memorable and lasting gift,” he says.
Themed display cases like this one from Dynamic Trophies and Awards Shreveport, LA, show how a well designed display can highlight a product.   Rex Tubbs, owner of Engraving Connection, Plymouth, MI, has an in-house photo corner where he shoots all of his web and marketing photos.

Springing Into Gift Sales
     There are several other holidays and events that occur during the spring months that can mean increased gift sales. For mom on Mother’s Day, items like jewelry, vases, small jewelry boxes and picture frames engraved with “Mom” at the top and the children’s names on the bottom are big sellers. For dad, key rings, Swiss Army knives, money clips, Cross pens and card cases are perennially favorite Father’s Day gifts.
     According to several retailers, Graduation is another big sales generator. “Graduation generates the most business during the spring season. There is such a wide variety of items that work well for graduation gifts,” says Beth Holley.
     Rex Tubbs agrees: “This time of the year the overall biggest event is graduation. College graduation gifts come first and are where you sell the most expensive gifts. One of the best is to reproduce the diploma on a plaque. Desk sets are starting to make a comeback and merchandise like Cross pens, clocks and desk nameplates are also good sellers. After college graduations settle down, the high school graduations kick in. Here it’s harder to make the big sale, but key rings, picture frames and crystal trinket boxes tend to sell well.”
     In the sports market, spring signifies the end of some sports, culminating in end-of-year banquets and the kickoff of others, such as golf. And while much of this market may be looking for awards, there’s plenty of room for sports gifts as well. “All the high school sports teams are awarding and rewarding the year. That’s a nice market. I often do items such as team mugs sublimated with the pictures of the graduating senior players,” says Natase.
     Holley adds that golf-related gifts are very popular during the spring season and that carries over to summer as well. “There are some really great new creative products out this year. They are really great because they can be used as awards but they can also serve as personalized gifts,” she says.
     Many retailers also see a surge in corporate gift sales during the spring due to retirements (many people wait until the year turns over to retire) and the fact that many businesses have their year-end during this time of year. Natase says he has several retirement gift orders already and Tubbs says he’s seeing an increase in corporate gift sale orders too. “It’s amazing how many corporate gifts we are doing. We are selling a lot of our crystal pieces and clocks and I just etched an art glass piece that we are ready to ship out to Florida,” he says.
     One of the newer items making a splash among corporate customers at Engraving Connection are crystal English biscuit jars. “We etch the jar and do very well with it as both a corporate and a personal gift for a wedding or an anniversary.” Tubbs says that corporate recipients often fill the jar with jelly beans and set it on their desks, whereas a jar filled with colorful potpourri works as an elegant wedding or anniversary gift.
     Although not necessarily springtime events, baby gifts and baptismal gifts are year-round strong sellers. “Baby gifts stay strong and price does not seem to be a problem,” says Tubbs. “Reed and Barton baby cups keep going up in price, but it doesn’t faze the customer. Even sterling silver cups sell as long as you stay in the smaller cups.” Boy and girl crosses and plaques engraved with a name and date remain popular baptismal gifts.
     Finally, don’t forget about events taking place in your own local community. There may be fairs, festivals or events like a daddy/daughter dance or a Chamber of Commerce event where engravable gifts might be needed.
     “Being in Louisiana we generate some business from Mardi Gras events during February and March,” says Beth Holley. “This would include anything from engravable toasting glasses for the Krewe members (costumed Mardi Gras paraders) to engravable crystal items for the Krewe Royal Courts. We have even engraved the Krewe logo on glass plates for the Queen to use at one of her balls.”

Rex places optical crystal and crystal awards where the afternoon light comes from so it creates rainbows in the store to catch the eye of the shopper.   ATdesigns, Tonawanda, NY, creates a plethora of gifts to fulfill almost any need.

Tips for Great Displays
     All of the retailers we spoke with placed great importance on clean and attractive in-store and window displays. Beth Holley, who has a degree in Merchandising and Consumer Affairs, offers this advice: “Take a look in your showroom and make sure you are putting forth your best efforts. Make sure everything is clean, dusted and displayed with flair. Make sure you bring in new items that will create interest which will in turn generate more sales.”
     Rex Tubbs has two window displays in his store that he uses to showcase his merchandise. In the window facing the street, Tubbs shows off gift and wedding related merchandise, including glass pieces that refract sunlight. In the window that’s located by the parking area, Tubbs presents optical crystal and crystal awards. “I take full advantage of where the light is coming from. In the afternoon, we get all of these rainbows in the store to really catch the eye. We have to keep the dust off so we get maximum benefits.”
     Inside the store, Tubbs takes advantage of every square inch of floor space, right up to the ceiling, a feat he accomplishes with six-foot tall displays throughout. “Merchandise stays pretty much in the same area but I will bring up what’s selling a little bit better to eye level. I will raise or lower merchandise depending on sales and some seasonality,” he says. Tubbs takes advantage of natural sunlight on the inside of the store as well by strategically placing crystal items where the light will hit them.
     Bob Natase says that he typically does a wedding gift window display in his retail store in February. Here, he displays wedding items like champagne flutes, flasks and cake servers to promote the message that he has wedding gifts.
     With her professional background in merchandising, Beth Holley says that putting together displays is one of the most enjoyable aspects of her job. Here she shares some of her ideas for unique spring displays that she’s created to promote their products.
     Weddings—Incorporate rice, tulle and rose petals among suitable wedding products.
Mardi Gras—Fill crystal vases with colorful Mardi Gras beads and add Mardi Gras masks for a little flair.
     Graduation—This year she’s working on a display theme of “Those Were The Days,” which will incorporate old graduation invitations, high school and college photos and old yearbooks. “Stacking the yearbooks is a great way to elevate your products,” she says.
     Golf—Last year she used AstroTurf to line the bottom of a display cabinet to represent the greens. Golf balls and tees were used to add in color and dimension.
“Show” Me the Money
     When it comes to promoting your business and products, many retailers say that bridal and home shows are one of the best ways to get the most bang for your buck. Setting up a table at a show can cost as little as $200-$300 and will generate business for weeks, maybe even months, to come. “You are making business contacts in the spring and that’s a big market. And the brides are always early. They are in your shop three months ahead of time which is much better than a customer who comes in today and wants an order tomorrow,” Natase says.
     Tubbs says that he uses mailing lists from bridal shows for direct mail campaigns. “This year I’m doing five bridal shows. The largest one was at the Palace in Auburn Hills where I generated 1,300 names. It is all about working the list. Several mailings to each bride is even better.”
     Natase says that springtime home shows are another great way to cultivate customers, pointing out that they can be lucrative even in small communities like his. “You kind of have a captive audience. You get maybe 2,000 people coming through a home show over a weekend. I can catch a lot of markets that way just because they are mostly homeowners and homeowners have kids who are getting married or kids who are graduating.” Home shows are also great for promoting other types of merchandise. For instance, for an upcoming show, Natase plans to display a Corian backsplash mural for a kitchen and one made out of Avonite for a bathroom picturing a cascading waterfall.
Custom engraved photo albums house memories that last a lifetime and create very special personalized gifts. Photo courtesy of LaserBits, Inc., Phoenix, AZ.   This 15 ounce stainless steel mug from Johnson Plastics can be sublimated and makes a terrific gift.

Changes In Advertising
For years, the benefits of advertising in the Yellow Pages or Yellow Book have been emphasized to business owners in this industry. Seminars touting the advantages of this advertising avenue were common and EJ has devoted entire articles to the subject. While the Yellow Pages/Yellow Books are still a very viable way to advertise, technology has taken over and the trusty printed media isn’t the number one source that customers go to anymore when looking for a business or service. Tubbs explains, “I hate to say it, but today it’s more about what strategies you use to hook into the search engines, like Yahoo and Google. Last Christmas I couldn’t believe how many new customers told me they found me through a local Google or Yahoo search and then came into the store. It was like three or four times a day! In the past, they found me in the Yellow Pages and came into the store three or four times a day. Not anymore. You have to have a Web presence. Customers will go to your website and decide if they really want to do business with you.”
     Another advantage of Internet advertising is that it generates business beyond the local community. “Around Christmas we were averaging some days over $500 to $1,000 a day of additional business off the Internet nationwide. Today, I’m just shy of $200 off the Internet and I still have a lot of day left,” he says.
     Tubbs says it’s important to develop a website that reflects your business. From there, you can define “key words” that customers might use to find your business (engraved gifts, wedding gifts, personalized gifts, etc.). These can be put into the “meta tags” on each page of your website as well as the text that appears on each page; then, when a customer types in one of those key words in Google, for example, your business name and website will pop up. Tubbs suggests developing a relationship with Yahoo and/or Google and using their tools to learn what key words can drive traffic to you. (FYI: Tubbs gave a seminar about this subject at the recent Las Vegas trade show.)
     Interestingly, Tubbs still uses the Yellow Pages, only now he uses it to drive customers to his website. “Remember, more and more people now have high-speed Internet access It’s just easier to turn on the computer and punch in the key words of what they are looking for rather than finding the Yellow Book buried under a stack of stuff. The future of gaining new customers means a Web presence,” he says.
     Other tried and true forms of advertising include E-mail, direct mail, print advertising and radio/TV advertising. Dynamic Trophies and Awards, for instance, sends personal E-mails to customers informing them about new products they might like. They also send out flyers each season featuring new products. Tubbs says that direct mail is his tool of choice when it comes to reaching his own customer database.
     For most retailers, print advertising can be effective as long as the chosen magazine or newspaper is aimed at your particular customers. “We advertise in a local magazine,” Holley says. “We tie our ads in to the feature stories for each issue. For one of their spring issues they are featuring a local golfer and our ad will be golf related featuring the newest and hottest engravable golf items. Our magazine ads seem to work the best because the magazine is targeted to the customer base that our gift items appeal to.”
     TV and radio advertising are a little riskier, especially if you are in a large community. “I would only consider TV or radio at Christmas,” says Tubbs. “If I were in a smaller market, I might consider Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and graduation time of year. This last Christmas, I advertised on the local CBS station in Detroit. I did a $5,000 package starting on Thanksgiving Day which went for one week. I was pushing people to go to my website or shop our store. During the week I received very little response and thought I had just kissed five grand goodbye. Toward the end of the week, the ads finally started to work. You must have frequency to have success on TV and radio. It takes awhile for the customer to start noticing your ad. We averaged 30% increases in sales for the next three weeks.”

From graduation to wedding gifts, a semi-custom pewter pendant or key ring is the ideal gift. Photo courtesy of John E. Lepper, Inc., Attleboro, MA.  

Image Matters
     Looking professional, acting professional, sounding professional and, well, being professional are crucial components to finding customers and keeping them coming back. It’s all about image.
     “If you want to sell expensive gifts, you have to look professional, clean and well-organized. We have jewelry display cases and modular glass shelving. We have dark green carpet with lighter green walls and our shopping bags are also dark green. We have customers coming in and asking if we are a chain,” says Tubbs.
     Beth Holley says that having a clean and well-organized store is very important. “We constantly receive comments and compliments from our customers about how organized the showroom is which makes it easy for them to find the items they are looking for. Also, having creative displays can help catch the customer’s eye and create more sales for your gift items. The customer who comes in for a plaque might then see something they want for a wedding or graduation gift because those items were presented in a way that was appealing. All items that leave our store have our company label with logo and contact information on the item or the box.”
     Tubbs adds that sometimes just the way you phrase something can boost your image in the customer’s eyes. “We are doing more and more etched glass (sandblasted) gifts, but we do not use the word ‘sandblasting.’ When the customer comes in with a Waterford Crystal piece, using the word ‘sandblasting’ will send them right out the door. Etching works every time. Also, I never say ‘discount.’ It’s ‘value added’ only.”
     In this day and age when customer service is lacking in so many businesses, keeping your level of customer service above standard is very important to remain competitive. Deliver the product on time and, if possible, ahead of time. Present merchandise in a clean, organized manner. Tubbs says, “We will poly bag many items after cleaning off fingerprints. When the customer comes in, we want the pickups to be very organized so we can find the product as quickly as possible. Always show the finished product to the customer in a well-lit area to show off the product. The little things make a difference. Good customer service also means we need to do mailings several times a year to remind them of us and the good experiences they have had in the past and tell them of the good experiences they will have in the future doing business with us.”
     Now is the time to gear up for spring gift sales. Keep in mind all of the holidays and events occurring and get your business ready to capitalize on potential engravable gift sales. From your products to your advertising to your professional image, make sure everything is in tiptop shape.
     As Holley puts it, “Customers want to shop somewhere where they feel appreciated and the staff is highly professional and very knowledgeable of the award and gift market. When our customers place an order and walk out the door we want them to feel assured that they are going to receive a quality product on time and with the accuracy they expect.” And that’s something that each engravable gift can aspire to.