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Crystal, Glass & Sandcarving

Copyright © 2011 by Davis Multimedia, Int'l. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in November 2011, Volume 37, No. 5 of The Engravers Journal
  Crystal key chain from GW Crystal, Rancho Cucamonga, CA.  

   Do what you are good at or diversify? Both are sound and solid pieces of business advice. On the one hand, if your business is really good at something, say selling youth sports trophies and academic awards, then it makes sense to focus your business and marketing efforts in those areas.
   On the other hand, everyone would agree that putting all of your eggs in one basket is never a good idea. What happens if your basket breaks? Every once in a while, it makes good business sense to take a look at different areas of the industry to see what’s happening outside of your main niche. One major area of the industry to consider, if you haven’t already, is crystal, glass and sandcarving.
   Those of you who don’t sell crystal and glass products or offer engraving or etching services for these products really owe it to yourselves to explore this area of the industry—it is a potentially high-profit area that could turn into a long-term money-making avenue for your business.
   Those of you who do offer some of these products and services may have recently backed off marketing efforts in this area, thinking that there’s no way that customers are going to spring for high-end personalized awards and gifts in today’s turbulent economic climate.
   In truth, however, the value in crystal and glass products is not going unrecognized by award and gift buyers. In fact, it appears that there is a positive upswing in this area of the market.
Current Trends Point Up
   Although they may have less money to spend, people still want the awards and gifts they purchase to look expensive and appear high-end, and nothing fits those needs better than glass and crystal. “The current economic situation is actually causing demands for awards that fit a decreased budget while holding a high perceived value. Sandcarved glass and crystal awards provide the recipient with a timeless and personalized high-quality memento,” says Bruce Wang, Marketing Manager for Topmost World, Montclair, CA.
   Glass and crystal have long had an “expensive” reputation and while there are certainly some high-end pieces with price points to match, there are also many glass and crystal products that are priced competitively with other types of awards and gifts. “We have noticed a trend in that with the rising cost of petroleum-based products, such as Lucite and acrylic, crystal products are becoming a more affordable solution for recognition and gifting,” says Scott Erickson, CEO for GW Crystal, Inc., Rancho Cucamonga, CA.
   Peter Ilaria, Director of Sales & Marketing for Tropar Manufacturing Co., Inc., Florham Park, NJ, agrees that today glass and crystal prices are comparable to those of products that have traditionally been less expensive. “At this point, glass awards are equal to or even less expensive than acrylic awards. The look and feel of glass combined with upgraded packaging and a relatively low price make these awards very appealing to end users,” he says.
   And while mainstream prices may have leveled off, there is still a broad range of products and price ranges available so there is something for just about every budget. According to GW Crystal’s Erickson, “Our product line includes less expensive items such as key chains all the way up to high-end awards and we’re experiencing steady growth at all points, from low end to high end.”

Crystal by Design Co., Inc., El Monte, CA, offers a variety of high-end crystal awards and gifts. Traditional awards, such as these from Freeman Products Worldwide, Elmwood Park, NJ, appeal to many different types of customers.

Is it Selling?
   Years ago, glass and crystal products were mostly reserved for high-end purchasers, typically buyers in the corporate awards market. Today, there’s a broader range of products and prices so the customer base spans a much wider range and includes not only those with larger budgets, but those with smaller ones as well. “In addition to businesses and corporations, many schools and organizations purchase glass and crystal awards. Today, the cost of one of these awards is comparable to a high-quality plaque, so the decision comes down to the buyers’ tastes and preferences,” says Tropar’s Ilaria.
   Some schools and sports leagues turn to glass and crystal to recognize teachers, administrators and coaches. Glass and crystal are also options in other markets, including graduations, holidays, home décor and even signage. According to David Burke, Marketing Manager for Crystal World, South Hackensack, NJ, “Sandcarved products and interest in crystal in general continues to grow. End users, ranging from the sports, entertainment and performing arts fields, to corporate, business and government purchasers, are all recognizing the beauty, symbolism and value of optical crystal awards, trophies and gifts.”
   The wedding market is a huge profit area for glass and crystal, and is one that appears to be continuing to grow. And, of course, there is the corporate awards market which remains the largest avenue for selling these products. “On the higher end, purchasers are looking for uniqueness and a ‘wow’ effect. On the lower end, they are looking for value, but are still paying attention to quality,” says Burke.
What’s New?
   Another positive trend in today’s glass and crystal market is that suppliers continue to expand their product lines, so you and your customers have more to choose from—and that can definitely make selling easier.
   Tropar currently offers six styles of crystal awards in multiple sizes as well as a crystal clock. The company also offers ten styles of glass awards, including several that feature black silk screening to make the engraved or sandcarved message stand out. “Some award retailers have been reluctant to laser engrave glass because they feel the contrast of the copy is not bright enough. Tropar has introduced several styles of glass awards with black silk screened uprights. When engraved, the copy comes through as bright white against the black background,” Ilaria explains.

  The Continuum Pen Stand from Crystal World, South Hackensack, NJ, makes a beautiful and functional gift or award.  

   According to Ilaria, the demand for “art glass” is a growing trend in the industry and the company now offers two different styles of these high-end awards. Art glass primarily refers to pieces that involve some hand work and are of a more decorative rather than functional nature. Whereas standard glass awards are made from clear and semiclear sheets of mass-produced glass, Tropar’s art glass pieces feature colorful tints mixed into the glass by hand. Each piece follows a basic color pattern, but is also slightly different. “We introduced two art glass trophies last year that have been very successful sellers,” says Ilaria. “This is an area that is growing. These awards capture people’s attention due to their attractiveness, packaging and low cost.”
   Topmost World offers its blue series of corporate awards that are reasonably priced for the current economy. “These items have a distinct yet classic design that incorporates clear crystal with color and metal. The end result is a series of awards that will be popular for all events and celebrations,” says Topmost’s Bruce Wang.
GW Crystal offers optical crystal awards and gifts that are subsurface laser engraved with high resolution 2D and 3D images, in addition to colored crystal products. “We specialize in making custom products, so we are constantly creating new products for our customers as well as expanding our product line. Recently, we introduced a new cylindrical award shape as well as a variety of new key chain and bottle stopper styles,” says Erickson.
   Crystal World has introduced several new items to its product line. The new “Attainment” award is available in several sizes and features several flat surfaces designed for etching in addition to angled cut facets to create fascinating light refraction. Crystal World’s “Luminary” is a new optical crystal sculpture featuring vertical pillars and a crystal globe (available in blue crystal) of the earth. The crystal base on this award can be engraved or etched.
   Crystal World has also once again added to its collection of crystal desk accessories for customers interested in affordable, functional awards and gifts. The company’s new “Continuum Pen Stand” features a sculpted crystal base designed for adding a logo or message and includes a pen.
The Value of Personalization
   Clearly there are plenty of beautiful products available in the industry to offer your customers. But what really creates value to the recipient is personalization. Rotary engraving, laser engraving and sandcarving are all options for adding names, messages, logos and graphics to crystal and glass products.
   Laser engraving is an easy way to customize glass and crystal but, as most people in the industry know, not all types of crystal are laser engravable, including high-end crystal that contains lead. In addition, laser engraving does not always produce consistent results—an etched image may look different on different pieces of glass. However, many engravers are producing good results on glass as they learn the tricks of the trade.

The CrystalBlast Elite sandcarving system from Ikonics Corporation, Duluth, MN.

Colored accents add flair to crystal awards. Photo courtesy of Marco Awards Group, South Windsor, CT.

This award is part of Topmost World’s (Montclair, CA) blue series of corporate awards.

   Says Tropar’s Ilaria, “Glass has been gaining popularity in recent years due to its high perceived value but also due to the fact that laser engravers are more comfortable with engraving glass. All of our crystal awards are designed to be compatible with both laser engraving and sandcarving.”
   For the most part, however, sandcarving is the method of choice as many people prefer the look of sandcarving over laser engraving and this technique allows you to do some things that you can’t do with a laser system. “The sharp and deep etch provided by sandcarving shows a value that cannot be replaced by other etching means,” says Topmost World’s Wang.
   Craig Kubasta, Sales Manager for Ikonics Corporation, Duluth, MN, is a major supplier of sandblasting equipment and supplies. According to Kubasta, abrasive etching allows you to engrave on challenging shapes that other engraving methods can’t easily accommodate. “Abrasive etching also creates a very crisp etch and that allows you to easily carve into many materials while retaining a sharp image. Color filling applications are also easily achieved with a sandcarved piece since you can etch more deeply. Multi-level stage carving and shading can also be accomplished using abrasive etching,” he says.
   Adds Crystal World’s David Burke, “Optical crystal lends itself beautifully to sandcarving and etching in general. The polished surfaces offer a perfect contrast to the etched words and logos, making them easily readable.”
   Sandcarving equipment is available from several suppliers in the industry. Ikonics Imaging, in partnership with Media Blast & Abrasive, Inc., has developed a comprehensive line of sandcarving equipment. “The CrystalBlast line of sandcarvers is designed based on information supplied by the decorative sandcarving industry and addresses key issues like ergonomics, mobility, size, performance, cleanliness, noise, maintenance and ease-of-use,” says Kubasta.



GW Crystal specializes in custom subsurface 3D laser engraved optic crystal.  

   According to Kubasta, the sandcarving industry has changed dramatically due the introduction of state-of-the-art equipment, such as the company’s CrystalBlast Elite system. “A once messy process has now been revolutionized with the cleanest, quietest, ergonomic and most efficient sandblast cabinets in the industry,” he says. Features of the CrystalBlast Elite include ergonomic features such as seated or standing operation, an adjustable foot treadle, eye level machine controls, a microsized abrasive hose, fully padded armrest and large view window. Additional features include a 700 cfm exhaust blower along with a patented separator reclaimer that prevents the loss of small abrasive, a dust collector and LED cabinet lighting with a dimmer control.
Making the Sale
   Crystal and glass products are readily available as is the equipment to personalize those products for your customers. Making the sale is up to you. Here are some tips to get you started.
   Be sure your customers know that many glass and crystal products are not priced out of their reach, even for tight budgets. “Educate customers about the fact that crystal is affordable and is available at almost any price point or for any budget,” says GW Crystal’s Erickson. Erickson also points out that there are many marketing tools available that you can use to sell crystal and glass. For example, the company’s new website features videos showcasing 360 degree interactive spinning crystal products that allow the customer to experience the products without actually having them in hand. The website is also retailer friendly in that no contact information for GW Crystal is listed.
   If you have a retail store, take advantage of the fact that customers will truly appreciate the value of crystal and glass if they can see and touch it. Tropar’s Peter Ilaria says, “Nothing works better than actually placing the item in the buyer’s hands. When people feel the weight of a crystal award, they immediately think it is more valuable. Both crystal and glass have a property that keeps them cooler than the surrounding air, so the weight and feel impart a message of higher value.”

Art glass is an up-and-coming trend in crystal awards and gifts. Photo courtesy of Tropar Manufacturing Co., Inc.

Crystal gifts and awards also appeal to hobby clubs and organizations. This piece is from SCT Crystal, South El Monte, CA. The 2034 VXA Sandcarving System from Rayzist Photomask, Vista, CA.

   Ilaria adds that maintaining a display of engraved awards in your showroom is critical to selling because it lets buyers actually see the possibilities. “Displaying engraved samples is a must; people lack imagination so it’s up to you to show them what can be done. Displaying blank merchandise either in a showroom or on the website should be avoided whenever possible,” he advises.
   Bruce Wang from Topmost World also stresses the importance of attractive displays in your showroom. “We recommend strong, focused lighting with a dark background to truly display the stunning reflection of glass and crystal products. Mirrors can be placed behind and below the crystal pieces to further redirect light and provide the clarity and prism effect.”
   Wang adds that it is also important to group personal gift items and high-end corporate gifts separately and be sure to show engraved pieces. “Displaying engraved items will show customers how their logo and message will look on the finished product,” he says.
   Crystal World’s David Burke agrees that great displays are key to making sales. “Show merchandise right up front in halogen-lit displays,” he says. “Only halogen lighting can bring out the refractive qualities of the beautiful medium of optical crystal. There are a number of manufacturers who make attractive, affordable, halogen-lit displays. Also, feature an assortment of sculptures in various sizes to add a dramatic effect.”
   If you don’t currently offer glass, crystal and sandcarving, or if you have let this area of your business slide somewhat, then perhaps it’s time to reconsider. Today’s prices for these high-end products are more affordable, which means you can sell them to a host of customers besides the traditional corporate awards market. Suppliers continue to offer stunning products ranging from smaller items such as bottle stoppers and ornaments to upright plaques and trophies to high-end art glass sculptures. And the technology is there for you to expertly customize these products to suit your customer’s needs.
   When it comes down to it, crystal and glass, combined with your ability to personalize these products, allows you to offer beautiful merchandise and a level of sophistication that’s really not found in other recognition products. Check out what’s happening in this area of the industry.