Expanding & Diversifying: Where Should Your Business Go From Here?

Copyright © 2012 by Davis Multimedia, Int'l. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in October 2012, Volume 38, No. 4 of The Engravers Journal

   We all face it from time to time: What should we do next in our business? Should we spend our resources expanding into brand new areas, expand what we are already doing or bank our cash and hope for the best? These decisions aren’t easy because there are no clear cut answers. What is easy is making the wrong decision, losing our cash reserve, wasting a lot of time and ending up worse off than when we began.
   OK, you have worked hard. Your business is doing OK or at least you’re holding your own. But you know you can’t just sit still—especially in today’s soft economy. A business that isn’t growing is moving backwards. In order to survive, you must stay competitive, offer the latest technology and do it with greater skill and quality than the guy down the street.
   The options for doing that, however, can be pretty overwhelming and so can the price tag. So what should you do? The safety conscious may tend to stick their money in the bank and hold onto it for a “rainy day,” and that may not be a bad idea—especially with the uncertain economy and political climate we live in today. But companies don’t grow and thrive by stashing money, they grow by investing it. Once all this economic evil settles down, it will be the company with the best technology in place, the highest skill levels and the most “go get ‘em” attitude that will lead all the others.
   There are a couple of schools of thought for keeping your business moving forward. One approach is to expand and diversify your business into a totally new market where there are new customers, new equipment and new learning curves. For example, a business involved in primarily engraving awards and gifts might spread out into screen printing and the wearables market. However, the problem with this approach is you run the risk of investing your time, money and resources into a brand new (and unfamiliar) area. Sometimes this is a perfect solution but sometimes the new venture does not go as planned, or the success of it is at the expense of your core business.
   A better approach might be to expand within the realm of your core market. This involves using or upgrading your existing equipment to market more profitably to your existing customer base. It might also involve investing in new equipment—without too much of a stretch. An engraving and awards business, for instance, might invest in sublimation equipment to offer a broader product selection to customers. When you expand into a better-connected market niche like this, you really don’t run into the problem of putting your core business at risk.
   Of course, expanding and diversifying your business in any direction is a decision you have to make for yourself. I can’t tell you what to do. Your financial advisor or CPA can’t tell you what to do.


Getting into promotional products might be an easy way for your business to diversify. Photos courtesy of Hirsch Gift, Inc., Houston, TX.

   What EJ and I can do is eliminate some of the guesswork about your expansion options. We can help you become an educated buyer, help you eliminate the technology that isn’t right for you or your business and give you insight into those areas of expansion that might be right for you. No two companies will be the same and no decision is without risk. Yet, the more information we share with each other, the easier it will be to make a decision that brings about growth and increased revenue.
   Following is a look at some of the possibilities for expanding your business, what those possibilities can offer and a few pitfalls to watch out for (mostly from personal experience).
Upgrade Computers & Software
   We all hate this part of the business. It seems like once we finally become adept at using one version of software, it is all of a sudden time to upgrade to another. Upgrading is expensive, time consuming and frustrating, but it is also necessary—at least occasionally—to stay caught up with the rest of the world.
   Perhaps it is time for you to bite the bullet and upgrade your computer system. I just purchased a new computer for one of my workstations and I was amazed at how old and clunky the previous machine seemed by comparison. It sure didn’t seem that long ago since I bought it.
   One of the nice things about the new computers is that they are so much more powerful than previous models. I used to run seven computer workstations in my shop. Today, I have added a laser engraver and multiple printers, but I have managed to reduce the number of computers I use to three.
   Fortunately, the prices have also fallen and today you can find a state-of-the-art computer for most applications for about $400 if you really shop around. Add $59 for a replacement guarantee and you are sure to get at least two years of service out of it—and that seems to be about the life of most of them anyway. Like most of the technology in our society today, desktop computers seem to be pretty much a “throw away” commodity for most of us. The days of $2,000 desktops that merit constant upgrading are gone.
   If you are still running computers that can’t be upgraded to Windows 7 and can’t accommodate 4 GB of RAM memory, it’s probably time you bit the bullet. The memory requirements of most new software, especially CorelDRAW, are already there and although you can run Corel X5 on less powerful machines, the new X6 is written for a 64-bit processor with 4 GB of RAM (although a 32-bit Windows XP version of it is available). You might be able to use CorelDRAW on a slower computer with less memory, but suffice it to say, the older the computer, the more lockups you are going to have and the slower it is going to be.
   So, having said all that, it may be time for you to replace your outdated computer(s) so you can run the newer programs, and be ready for the next generation of operating systems (Windows 8 will be released in the near future) and software.
   As for software, we could spend all day debating which software is best and when you should upgrade. I depend on CorelDRAW in my operation, so I upgrade to the newest version just after the first set of fixes are released. Currently, I am running Corel X5 and will move up to X6 shortly. You may be running an older version and that’s fine. There is very little difference between X3 and X6 in my estimation—some bells and whistles to be sure and improvements in the 64-bit operating system, but nothing to get too excited about. If you are running anything older than X3 however, it’s time to get into the 21st Century. You’re not doing yourself any favors by hanging onto software that is that old.
   As for other software that you use in your business, you may need to take a look at that as well. If you are in sublimation, for instance, you should be running the new version of Adobe Photo Essentials. It’s a $100 program, but its worth its weight in gold.
   The same might be true of your accounting software, marketing software, Word for Windows (Version 2010 is very nice and 2013 is soon to be released), plus any proprietary software you might be running, such as Gravograph, CADLink, EngraveLab or PhotoGrav.


The Zing 16 Laser from Epilog Laser, Golden, CO, is an entry-level system with a starting price of $7,995.

   Two other computer-related upgrades you should consider include a good UPS (uninterrupted power supply) and a dependable backup system. These can save you a ton of frustration and thousands of dollars yet cost very little to install. They both fall under the category of “insurance.”
   Have you ever been in the middle of designing a job only to have the electricity flicker? That won’t crash your computer with a decent UPS system. A UPS will not only smooth out the AC electrical input to your computers, it will also keep your CPU running for a period of time while the power is out. The bigger the UPS, the more computers it can handle and the longer it will keep them on. The idea is that if the power goes out for more than a minute or two, the UPS actually shuts down the computer safely so no files will be lost and no damage will be done to the computer(s). Small units cost about $100 to $150. Putting a UPS on your laser engraver isn’t a bad idea either!
   The other critical component that many of us overlook is a means to automatically back up the information on our computers. I recently paid almost $500 to retrieve data off a damaged hard drive when I could have backed it up for free. I was just too lazy to do it!
   There are all kinds of backup systems available and what you chose is up to you, but I think the best thing to come along in years is iCloud. This is a remote, highly secure bank of computers scattered across the country that allow you to upload your computer’s data as often as you tell it to and stores it so you can recall it in the case of a crash. You can access it from your laptop or home computer anytime you need it! The service is not free but it is very inexpensive, depending on how much storage you require, starting at about $10 per year; most engraving shops would be hard pressed to need more than 100 GB which runs about $50 per year. iCloud is available from a number of sources, including AT&T and Amazon.com.
Laser Engravers
   If you already have a laser, I don’t have to sell you on them. If you don’t have a laser engraving system in your shop, perhaps it is time to bring one in. I run three in my shop and I am highly prejudiced. I believe that if you can’t make money with a laser engraver, “you just ain’t tryin’.” That doesn’t mean they are for everyone, however. Lasers are expensive and technical. They can be intimidating and come with a learning curve that some people just aren’t willing to invest in.
   If you have a laser already, it might be time to add a second system. There are several reasons why most businesses should have two laser engravers in the shop: First, as a backup. Lasers are just machines. They break down and, depending on the brand you have and the quality of service offered by that brand, you can expect to be “out of business” anywhere from a couple of days to several months when something goes wrong.
   Second, lasers have a life expectancy. Most electronic devices are expected to last from five to ten years although most lasers in today’s market last far beyond that. Two of mine are over the ten year mark and are still going strong, although I had to put a new laser tube in one just recently—it was out of service for about a week.
   Some think it is wise to bring in a second laser either as the workload demands it or about five years after you buy the first one—and I agree. This not only gives you a backup laser but you then have systems that are spaced apart so you won’t have two machines reach old age at the same time.
   The best reason to bring in a second laser is because the workload demands it. When this happens, you might want to consider bringing in a larger, more powerful laser or a laser that offers some feature(s) your first laser doesn’t, such as cylindrical engraving capabilities, air assist, more sophisticated positioning abilities that allow you to easily engrave odd-shaped items or inside deep bowls, or some other new innovative feature.
   When it comes to cost, you do have options. For example, if you are buying a laser on a shoestring, there is at least one system that sells for as low as $8,000. More commonly, others are priced around the $10,000-$14,000 price point. Add to this any accessories you might want and an exhaust system, computer, etc., and you are ready to make money. For what they are worth, here are what I consider my absolute minimum requirements for a CO2 laser:
• 25 watts of power or more
• An engraving table of at least 12" x 18" (12" x 24" preferred)
• Air assist
• A metal laser tube (vs. glass; glass tubes are not for raster engraving)
• Purchased from a laser manufacturer that offers support and training, not a supply house (service and support is everything)

The Vision Express is a new entry-level rotary engraving system from Vision Engraving & Routing Systems, Phoenix, AZ. The Viper 1625 from Xenetech Global, Inc., Baton Rouge, LA, is a mid-sized rotary engraving machine with a 16” x 25” table.

   Notice that I haven’t said anything about the speed of the laser. Most lasers have a maximum speed of about 80 ips, but for buying a laser on a shoestring, speed isn’t nearly as important as the other points in my list.
   If you are tempted to add a cylindrical engraving device or other expensive accessories, invest your money in a larger, more powerful machine and hold off on the accessories until you really need them.
If you don’t have to buy a laser on a shoestring, there are a number of machines on the market to consider. If you think you can make use of a table larger than 12" x 24", then by all means go that way. Also, if you can afford it, invest in a laser with 50-60 watts of power. This will open up the world of wood engraving and cutting that a 25 watt machine might be able to do, but not nearly as fast.
   Ideally, I think a shop should have, at a minimum, one 25 and one 50+ watt laser. If you primarily work with materials like self-adhesive foils, thin cap plastics, acrylic and black brass-plated steel, you really don’t need anything more than 25 watts. In fact, more powerful lasers can actually be difficult to control with these more delicate materials. If you want to engrave wood plaques or cut wood, acrylic, etc., you really need at least 50 watts. Your sales representative can help you understand the advantages and disadvantages of buying a laser larger than 50 watts, if that is of interest to you. The price tag for this class of lasers is between $15,000 and $30,000, depending on size, wattage and features.
   The larger laser units are equipped with some features that the smaller units don’t have. The most important of these is the depth of the engraving field (referred to as the “Z” field). In other words, what is the maximum material thickness that you can engrave in the laser? You may not need to engrave an 8" thick box very often but it is nice to have the ability when you need it. The same is true with a cylindrical device. The smaller, less expensive machines can’t accommodate very large cups, stemware, etc., making the investment of a cylindrical device for these machines a highly questionable choice.
   A final word about upgrading lasers: There are several fiber lasers on the market now that are halfway affordable ($28,000+) that can broaden your engraving applications. Fiber lasers use fiber optics with Ytterbium that are stimulated with LEDS to generate a laser beam which has markedly different characteristics from those of a CO2 laser. A major advantage of fiber lasers is that they can mark on uncoated metal, such as stainless steel, which CO2 lasers can’t do without using a laser-markable coating. They are also good for marking some plastics, such as the plastics used to make medical equipment. My favorite thing to engrave with a fiber laser is gold satin brass—the same stuff we usually engrave with a rotary engraver. The look is fantastic and a fiber laser can engrave gold engraver’s brass much faster than a rotary engraver.

The IS400 Volume from Gravograph, Duluth, GA, features a flat table, a vise and a cylindrical engraving setup.



Rotary Engravers
   Most of us “old timers” cut our teeth on rotary engravers. We thought a computer-driven rotary engraver was a gift from heaven, but just as I am prejudiced for laser engravers, I must admit I am a bit prejudiced against rotary engravers.
   Most work that comes into my shop is done with a laser, but to be fair, there are some things you just can’t do with a laser—at least not with a CO2 laser. If you get calls for these items, you should consider buying a rotary engraver:
   1. Deep engraving in metal or plastic. No laser in our industry is capable of either of these tasks and, if they were, we couldn’t justify the cost. In addition, a rotary machine can engrave all types of plastic whereas a laser really only works well on laserable plastics. Many exterior sign-
age and reverse-engravable plastic engraving stocks are best suited to rotary engraving because they have a thicker cap layer (e.g. .010"). In addition, there are certain types of plastic, most notably phenolic and PVC, that are not recommended for laser engraving due to the harmful fumes they emit and their overall laserability, e.g. melting vs. engraving.
   2. Satin gold brass. Unless you own a YAG or fiber laser, there is no way to get a good mark on gold engraver’s brass with a laser. Since this was the mainstay of the industry for 50 years, most engravers are called on repeatedly to engrave gold perpetual plates or to match previous plaque designs using leaded brass, satin gold brass or nickel.
   3. ADA Braille. The new regulations for making ADA interior sign-
age require that the Grade II Braille on the signs have rounded tops. One of the best ways to achieve this is by using the Raster Braille method which involves drilling holes into the material and then inserting small acrylic or metal beads into the holes to create the Braille message. Many experts claim this cannot be done with a laser, but everyone agrees that it’s easy using a rotary machine. If you want to do a lot of Braille, you need a rotary engraver.
   4. Cutting out plastic in odd shapes with a bevel. There are a great many reasons why customers might want sheet plastic, such as engraving plastic, acrylic or ABS, cut into irregular shapes where you also want a beveled edge. A bevel on a name badge, for example, creates an attractive border in a different color around the badge. Although you can cut out a badge with straight edges on a laser and then bevel the edges with a beveling machine, this is difficult to do with most irregular shapes and, therefore, a laser won’t meet the need.
   Of course, there are many tasks a rotary machine can do just as well as a laser. Some can be done faster and more efficiently, and some cannot. You are the only one who can make the decision as to which type engraver is going to best fulfill your needs. Ultimately, it will probably be one of each.
   As with laser engraving machines, there are a variety of systems to choose from and most of the systems available come with proprietary engraving software. There are “entry level” systems available that are basically rotary machines with a small footprint and a small table size, e.g. 6" x 8" or 8" x 10". These machines are designed for applications such as small signs, awards, name badges, jewelry, pet tags, industrial plates, plaques, ID plates and personalized gifts, and have a price range of around $4,000-$6,000.
   Medium size rotary machines generally have table sizes in the 12" x 12" to 16" x 24" range and cost around $8,500-$12,000. The larger machines available in the industry, which are designed for larger work and higher production capabilities, typically have a 24" x 24" or 24" x 48" table size and are priced in the $15,500-$17,500 range. And, of course, there are very large routers with 25" x 25" to 25" x 50" table sizes. These are designed for industrial applications and cost around $18,000-$24,000.
   Accessories that you will need with a rotary system include diamond drag and rotary cutters (around $17-$20 each) and a vacuum chip removal system ($750 based on one manufacturer) if you plan on engraving plastic. There are a variety of optional accessories available as well, including various clamps, fixtures and vises, a high frequency spindle for deep engraving into metal, table stands, etc.
   In addition to standard rotary systems, there are also specialty engraving machines available. For example, there are systems available that will accommodate a flat table, a vise and a rotary fixture for engraving a wide variety of items ranging from flat signs to jewelry to glass. These systems typically cost around $15,000 and are a good investment if you do this type of work.
   The newest type of rotary system to arrive on the scene is an “all-in-one” diamond drag system that requires no software or computer to run. This machine is designed to allow you to basically select a template for an item to be engraved, such as a pet tag, type in the text and engrave in minutes—while your customer waits. These machines have a small engraving area, e.g. 3" x 6", and are designed for engraving metal items like pet tags, ID tags, luggage tags, small gifts, etc. At around $3,000, these systems are a very affordable way to add these capabilities to your business.
The Ricoh SG3110 is a smaller, less expensive sublimation printer for an entry-level setup.

Sublimation
   
Some will say that sublimation has gotten a bad rap because of all the years of printer/ink problems we experienced. Actually, sublimation deserved most of the bad press it got as engravers bought system after system, printer after printer, only to be frustrated and pitch the technology either for some other form of full-color printing or just decided they didn’t need to offer full-color options that badly.
    Over the past few years, however, with the introduction of the Ricoh printers, these problems have all but gone away. My personal experience over the past couple of years has resulted in zero clogging and no printer issues (printers are just machines, however, and they do fail from time to time). To offset the potential printer issues, I buy an extended warranty because the manufacturer will replace a defective machine while under warranty with a brand new machine—no questions asked. They even pay for overnight shipping.
    Sublimation is probably the least expensive technology you can add on to your existing business. It is also a great process to help you start up a new business. With a thousand or more products available, and a very substantial markup on most of them, sublimation isn’t just coffee cups and T-shirts any more.
    There are three avenues one might follow when introducing or expanding their sublimation offerings. They are:
    1. A full-blown professional setup with a price tag of about $3,300 plus a computer and software, if you don’t already have it. The full-blown system should include the largest heat press you can afford. Our price estimate includes the Geo Knight DX20S, a 16" x 20" swing-away press. Other manufacturers offer similar presses in the same price range. A swing-away press is mandatory for the variety of products this level of system is capable of producing.
    It also includes a Ricoh GX7700, the largest and newest of the Ricoh printers, along with the necessary Sawgrass inks. Some assorted accessories will be added along the way to enable you to make unique products or to make products faster, but few are mandatory or, even if they are, they are usually under $50 each. You will need CorelDRAW X5 or X6 and a good computer to round out your business package.
    2. A shoestring entry level setup that will give you a solid start, but will limit the size of the items you can sublimate, comes with a price tag of about $2,000. The shoestring version can include the same heat press as the full-blown system so you don’t have to buy a small press now only to end up upgrading it later. Since heat presses can last for 20 years or more, it is wise to buy for the future. The second reason for buying the top-of-the-line heat press is because they hold their value very well. If you should decide to sell your press for some reason, you can recoup most of your investment from a large heat press. You will see very little return on a smaller, less expensive press since the used market is flooded with these presses that didn’t get the job done.
    What does vary with this system is the printer. In this system, a much smaller, less expensive printer is used; in this case, the Ricoh SG3110. This is an 8.5" x 14" printer that has the same technology as the larger GX7700, but a much lower price. Add ink and the necessary software, and you are off and running.
    3. The third option can be an add-on for someone who already has a sublimation system or an even less expensive way to break into the business. This is a portable system—small and light enough to be carried in the trunk of a car and transported to various events. The bottom line for this system will run about $900.
    This system includes the same SG3110 printer as the shoestring system, but a much smaller, lighter heat press. In this system, I suggest the Geo Knight JP12 JetPress. It has a small press area (9” x 12”), but it is light and the only press I know of that can produce a solid 400° F which is required for sublimation. Although I wouldn’t recommend this press for in-shop use, it might be the desired press for those working out of their home and certainly for those who want to attend sporting, school or other events and produce products “on the spot.” A few examples of where this system would be beneficial include: Car, motorcycle and hotrod shows, antique shows, horse shows, dog and cat shows, hobby shows, skating competitions, track and race events, bicycle races and many more events like this. Add a folding table and perhaps a table cover or some kind of backdrop to display your samples and you are in business!


Geo Knight & Co., Inc., Brockton, MA, offers a complete line of heat presses, including the DX20s swing-away. Trotec Laser, Ypsilanti, MI, offers the Speedy 300 fiber.

Sandcarving
    Sandcarving (aka sandblasting) is one of the oldest technologies in our industry. Today, we prefer the term “sandcarving” because it sounds more elegant and expensive, and it separates the art from the people who sandblast graffiti off the sides of buildings—but it is basically the same process. In our industry, sandcarving is a preferred method for etching glass for products for corporate clients, wedding parties, the souvenir/gift markets and the promotional products market. Sandcarving is also used to etch stone and metal.
    The process consists of five basic components: A blasting cabinet, an air gun or nozzle, a compressor to push the abrasive, the abrasive itself and stencils. There are two major suppliers of blasting equipment in our industry (Rayzist and IKONICS Imaging) and, of course, each will claim to be the best. In reality, both are good and, with certain variations, they both offer about the same equipment. Personal preference and the personalities of the salespeople are usually the deciding factors when selecting one over the other.
    You can purchase ready-made stencils or make them yourself. With today’s technology, the latter option will probably end up saving you time and money. Twenty-five years ago, the only way to make a stencil was to create a drawing and send it off to someone who chemically milled it out of a sheet of very thin brass. This was fairly costly and time consuming, and it resulted in crude images because those stencils needed to have “bridges” to hold the image together.
    Today, we make our stencils in-house for just pennies and, although we are far from where we can make a stencil and produce a product “while you wait,” we can certainly produce a product within a few hours. Because we can create our own highly detailed stencils from a plastic-like film rather than brass, we can personalize the products or even justify making just one—something that was economically impossible 25 years ago.
    A new way to make stencils is to apply a specialized film on the product to be blasted and laser engrave the stencil design directly on it. This has obvious advantages but carries limitations as well, especially on odd-shaped items.
    Getting into sandcarving on a shoestring means buying a tabletop blasting cabinet, a decent sized compressor from a home improvement store, abrasive and a means of making a stencil, usually a UV exposure unit and stencil film. Altogether, these will ring up about $600-$1,000.
    A professional entry level setup will vary in price from $4,000 to $13,000 but will step you up into a whole new world of capabilities and, even more important, create a much more enjoyable work environment. This level will include a professional freestanding blasting cabinet with interior lighting, an exhaust system to extract dust so you can see what you are doing, comfortable gloves (or removable gloves which I prefer), a high-end, high-volume compressor, a variety of nozzles, a pressure pot (which holds the abrasive under pressure to insure smooth, even flow) and a means of making your own stencils (probably the same or similar to the one used in the shoestring system; a $4,000 professional version is also available).
    The big difference is the cabinet, and considerable time and energy should be spent selecting the right cabinet for you. Do not run out to a Harbor Freight or a sandblasting supplier in your town and buy a cabinet—you will be sorry if you do. You can, however, go to a supplier who specializes in compressors for advice about buying the best compressor for your application. Your cabinet supplier should also be able to help you make that decision.


 

 

The CrystalBlast Pro from IKONICS Imaging, Duluth, MN, is a freestanding sandcarving cabinet described as a “workhorse” unit.


Promotional Products
    Adding promotional products to your business may sound easy and inexpensive, but that isn’t necessarily true. The competition for these products is fierce and new Government regulations on anything sold to children under the age of 12 is giving the industry nightmares. Still, there is a lot of money to be made here if you are serious about it. It is a great business to expand with because you can buy a “ready to go” website with over 800,000 products and your company name for only $500 per year. That $500 also gives you access to buy from all ASI and PPAI suppliers, many of which will not sell to you unless you belong to one of the associations. It is also a good add-on because you can strike a deal with people you trust who want to make a few extra dollars to go out and sell the products for you for a piece of the profits.
    Other than the initial investment, there are no additional hidden costs. Most companies will gladly send you imprinted samples (called over runs) for the cost of shipping. You can build quite a showroom of samples for very little cash. You can also buy color catalogs to give to your potential clients for next to nothing. You can even select from a variety of covers and, of course, your company name will be printed on them as well.
    More and more, the promotional products industry is reaching out to award dealers to become promotional products dealers. One reason is because you don’t have to make a living and carry the overhead of a business with promotional products alone and, secondly, the people you talk to each day are pretty much the same people promotional products dealers talk to. It only makes financial sense for you and the suppliers to include this extremely diverse line of products in your operation.
Websites
    Having discussed the promotional products websites that are “ready to go” for a mere $500 a year, perhaps this is a good time for you to invest in your own website. Having a website is very inexpensive. Keeping it updated and current, plus making it in the first place, can be a different story. Many hire professionals to develop their websites while others try to do it themselves.
    Either way, the truth is, more and more people are making purchases at night, even into the wee hours of the morning, when your storefront is closed. One statistic I read claimed that 38 percent of all purchases made by the 21-40 generation are online. That’s billions and billions of dollars. Getting your piece of that isn’t as easy as it sounds but this much is for sure—if you don’t have a website, you aren’t going to get any of it.
    Here is a shortcut you may not know about. Did you know that you can build a website with thousands of award and gift products for almost nothing? You can. To start, get a domain name (the name your business will use to be called up on the Internet). Sources like Yahoo, Go-Daddy and Google will sell you a domain name and host your site for $10 to $20 per year plus allow you to select a free template to build your website. Use this template to introduce your company and then build in “links” to other pages that contain products you want to sell.
    Several suppliers in the industry, such as Johnson Plastics and Classic Medallics, have a number of these pages set up as catalogs you can link to for free. They show the engraved product and give a description without using the supplier’s name. So as far as anyone knows, these are exclusively your products. Unfortunately, they don’t include a price, retail or otherwise, so you can’t use them for online purchases but you can always have the potential customer e-mail you for additional information. Some other companies, such as Classic Medallics, will provide you with CDs of their catalogs suitable for this same purpose for a small fee.
Establish New Connections
    Don’t be afraid to outsource. A great way to expand your business is to establish connections with others who offer products you can’t (or don’t want to) make in-house, such as laminated plaques, bronze baby shoes, bronze signs, plastic letters, zip letters, promotional products, flags, banners, printing, rubber stamps, yard signs and just about anything else you can think of. What about an award made completely of chocolate?
    Most suppliers offer samples and literature for the asking. At worst, you might have to pay a small fee for your samples. Fox Laminated Plaques doesn’t even charge shipping for three very nice samples. Bron-Shoe Company charges $35 for a sample that normally sells for about $100. Gemini will send sample letters and even a bronze display plaque for free.
    If you aren’t taking advantage of these opportunities, you are leaving money on the table. You may not sell a lot of them, but you won’t sell any if you don’t try. Give them a shot. You just might be pleasantly surprised.


The Ricoh GX7700 is the largest and newest of the Ricoh printers.

Miscellaneous
    There are many other possible lines of business you might consider—too many to include in the scope of this article. Things like Digital/UV wide format printing, vinyl signage, impact printing, screenprinting or direct garment printing. I just became the authorized dealer for LED message boards in my area. A bit out of my regular line, but I had some clients ask about them so why not? Listen to your customers. Ask them what they need or are looking for. Take note every time you answer the phone and tell the person on the other end, “Sorry, we don’t do that.” Those are clues and, although you may never be able to offer all the services people ask for, nor should you, if you don’t listen, you just might miss the pot of gold at the end of your rainbow.
    It’s exciting to think about all the ways one can expand their business. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about it for my business. Most of the time, it is just a passing thought. Sometimes, I actually go online and do a little research and, occasionally, I attend a tradeshow that features that particular niche. Even if I never add another process to my lineup, it is always interesting and exciting to learn about other technologies, meet the people who know about them and dream about owning them.
Is it time for you to expand your business? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, you should always be thinking about it so you don’t miss what could be a prime opportunity. This economy won’t stay in the slumps forever. There will be a day when it takes off again. When that happens, I want to be ready. How about you?

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