Sping Cleaning Your Business

Copyright © 2013 by Davis Multimedia, Int'l. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in February 2014, Volume 39, No. 8 of The Engravers Journal
Keep up on your suppliers’ new offerings. These crystal vases from Marco Awards Group, South Windsor, CT, make stunning awards.

   As unbelievable as it may seem, 2014 is here already. Every year, I ask myself, “How did it catch me unawares…again?” Every year, I make all these grandiose promises to myself about keeping up on things and every year, I start out pretty good but somewhere during the year, I lose my way and by December, I am once again caught with task after task, resolution after resolution left incomplete. Sound familiar?
   This year is going to be different. This year, I’m haven’t resolved to do 20 things differently, but I am going to select a couple of important things I need to do and I plan to focus on them the best I can to be sure that at least those few things get done and get done right.
   Perhaps you are much the same way. You start the year intending to do things differently. You have every intention of doing a better job with your accounting or adding a new system to your business or learning about a new process or maybe just cleaning up the place and throwing out all of that old inventory you wrote off your books 15 years ago.
   It’s amazing how one can make these simple promises and then get sidetracked so easily…and the excuses…I can come up with so many excuses—really good ones—for not doing some little something, I even amaze myself. Unfortunately, those little tasks I procrastinate on tend to grow bigger and bigger with the passing of each month until, by December, they are overwhelming.
   Why not join me in 2014 and commit yourself to pick just two or three of the things on your list, or perhaps the list that follows, to make a priority this year? Don’t try to do them all for that leads to failure for sure. Just two or three is enough. In 2015, you can pick two more and although it may take a while, eventually we really will get them all done. The idea is to better your business in some important way, whether it’s in the services you offer or the marketing you do or in the appearance of your showroom. It will take time and effort, but I’m sure the results will pay off in the long run.
   Here’s a list of ideas for your consideration. Remember, just pick two or three. They are in no particular order.
   Add a new system or process: The businesses in our industry are progressing more and more towards becoming “personalization businesses” as opposed to trophy shops or engraving shops. Many in the industry are realizing that in order to really prosper, a business will go beyond offering engraving, trophies, sublimation and T-shirts, and will branch out into other areas, all under one roof. And the consumer demand is definitely there for personalized products, today more than ever.

Many suppliers offer preprinted catalogs, such as these from Classic Medallics, Inc., Mount Vernon, NY, that can be personalized with your business information.

   As such, now is an excellent time to consider adding a new system or process to your business so you can capitalize on the hot consumer trend of personalization. This might include sublimation, laser engraving, embroidery, vinyl cutting, rhinestoning, direct print, rotary engraving or sandcarving, only to mention a few. Consider what new products/services you can offer by adding just one new process or piece of equipment. Of course, this is a major step of both time and money, so choose wisely and I strongly suggest you add only one process or system at a time. Also remember that as an alternative, you can job out most services so you don’t have to purchase the equipment yourself. This also allows you to “test the waters” and decide if the process will be profitable for you to offer in-house. Either way, this is the year to explore a new service for your business.
   Add new lines of merchandise: This year, why not resolve to add at least two new lines of merchandise to your product offerings? As I mentioned, the personalization market is exploding right now—everyone wants personalized merchandise and they are willing to pay for it. Suppliers are offering all kinds of new products that can be personalized and that can open up some exciting new markets for your business.
   For example, consider the pet market. People spend big money on their pets and there is all kinds of merchandise available that can be personalized, including dog tags, collars, leashes, food bowls, urns, even pet wearables. Another flourishing market is the personalization of phone covers and tablets, and the cases to go with them. Or how about adding garment decorating to your business? If you have a rotary or laser engraving machine, you can easily add rhinestone designs to fabric and you can even use your laser to engrave fabrics directly. Now is a great time to explore new markets for your business.
   Learn some new software: Software is, of course, the driving force behind any of the processes you use, but learning to use it is time-consuming and most of us put that task on the back burner. But perhaps you have been putting off learning that new software program long enough. If you use CorelDRAW, for example, make it a point to learn new features in the program—there are plenty that can be useful to you and make your job easier.
   On the flip side of that, now could be the prime time to learn a brand new program. For example Adobe Photoshop and Adobe LightRoom are digital imaging applications that allow you to do anything imaginable with digital images. CADlink offers a variety of software geared toward our industry that could be just what you are looking for, including Engravelab (laser and rotary engraving software) and SignLab OOBling Pro (rhinestone decorating software).
   Make plans today to find a source and go learn the new tool. I went to a series of classes to learn LightRoom in January. I have been putting it off for a year or more and I am so glad I finally paid my money and took the plunge. This is a great piece of software for anyone who takes digital photographs or edits them.

Adding a new process or learning new software can pave the way for creating unique and creative products, such as this Corian and acrylic award. Photo courtesy of Kern Laser Systems, Wadena, MN.

This trophy features a plate that has been burnish engraved, a process that could be easily added to your business if you currently offer rotary engraving. Photo courtesy of Gravograph, Duluth, GA.

      Update or build your website: If you don’t have some sort of presence on the web, you need to make this a top priority in your plans to spring clean your business. How far you go depends on your personal preference and the time and money you have to invest in the project. If you choose to do it yourself, you are going to invest a lot of time. If you don’t have the time or don’t think you have enough skill and don’t want to learn it for yourself, it is going to cost you a fair amount of change. But the fact that nearly all consumers (97 percent) now use online media when researching products or services in their local area should be enough to get you moving, whether you decide to have a full-blown e-commerce site, a more modest website showing your products and services or even a simple web page with only your business and contact information listed. Whatever you do, get something on the web as soon as possible.
     If you do have a website, remember that it isn’t something that you set up and forget about. First impressions are crucial and by updating and modernizing your website you can show that your business is evolving and growing.
     If you are already on the web, the next step is to get into social media. This won’t cost much money, if any, but it will take time—at least a few minutes every day or so. Create a business page on Facebook and get on, post images and chat it up regularly. If you want to include Twitter, LinkedIn or other forms of social media, so much the better but don’t ignore it. It is a great way to keep in touch with your customers and find new ones at the same time. This is one I really need to focus on myself.
     Consider doing more e-marketing: Very simply put, e-marketing (electronic marketing) refers to using marketing techniques via electronic media and, more specifically, the Internet. One of the key reasons for using e-marketing is that when it is implemented correctly, the return on investment (ROI) can far exceed that of traditional marketing strategies. Whether you’re a storefront business or one that operates mostly online, don’t ignore the power of e-marketing. It is an excellent way to interact with customers and reach potential customers.
     E-marketing can include a lot of different things, such as display advertising, search engine marketing, social media marketing, search engine optimization, e-mail and video marketing. Direct e-mail is probably the most commonly used but you could also do newsletters, webinars, video chats or video messaging. This will take some time to set up (collecting e-mail addresses, Facebook friends, etc.) but once you have the information collected, it should be fairly easy to keep them up to date and start taking advantage of these free marketing tools. Just don’t overdo it. The idea is to make friends, not burden people with a lot of unwanted mail.
     Upgrade your computers: I hate this job worse than anything on this list, but from time to time you just have to do it. Many new programs coming out now won’t run on older Windows platforms and a computer without enough memory is going to cause lots of problems. Desktops are cheap right now, so it is a good time to buy. Still, it is a major step for most of us to have to reload programs and files and if you aren’t comfortable with Windows 8, you’re in for a long learning curve.
     Get your taxes ready: Here’s one that I intend to do this year: Get my taxes ready at least one month early. Every year, I put this off and we all know it isn’t going to take any more or less work if we do our taxes (or get your tax information to your tax consultant) this month rather than next. I’m going to shoot for 60 days before they are due and I’ll be very happy if I make it 30 days before. Either way, I’m a winner. I won’t have to sweat it any more, worry about a deadline I can’t miss or stay up late trying to do the impossible!

Adding a new process, such as sublimation, allows you to offer new products. Photo courtesy of Johnson Plastics, Minneapolis, MN.

     Advance your education: No, I don’t mean go to college but you can and should continue to learn—learn about business or engraving or something else that can help advance your business. Read books about business, take a class at a local community college, enroll in an online course or attend a tradeshow that offers education. Learn from your peers when possible, but regardless of what you do, your company will prosper by your advancing your own knowledge.
     Clean up your showroom: Do you have samples on your walls that you haven’t sold for ten years? Do you have samples of stuff that you can’t even get anymore? Do you have samples that are dirty, scratched, faded or just plain ugly? Showrooms need to always look clean, be brightly lit and show off current and new products. Nice showrooms take a lot of time and effort and they get out of date really fast. Is it time to bring your showroom into the 21st century?
     Set up a computer network: A network connects two or more computers and allows them to communicate and share data with each other. A connection like this makes all kinds of things possible. You can share files, share an Internet connection and share printers and other output devices. A network allows multiple people to enter orders or jobs and gives you real-time access to what’s taking place in the company.
     Setting up a network really isn’t all that complicated but if you don’t feel comfortable doing it, call in someone who knows how. Networking allows you to manage your business operations—communication, data transfer and storage—more easily.
     Upgrade your software: I put this on the “Not So Big” category because updating programs, especially Windows, can be a very frustrating experience. They always say it’s automatic and easy, but it rarely turns out that way. Eventually, however, you will have to give up the beloved Windows XP and go to Windows 8, and as for all the other programs and peripherals connected to your computer, they have to be updated too. Some peripherals, like scanners, may not be capable of being updated so be careful when you finally take the big step.
     Clean out your inventory: How much junk do you have to climb over to get to your inventory? Chances are, you have inventory that is so out of date, you have either written it off your taxes years ago and just never threw it out or you should. It hurts to throw out perfectly good merchandise, even if you will never sell it. But there comes a time when storage space and safety become a priority and is worth more than having lots of worthless old inventory. And that’s not to mention the fact that if you have written it off your taxes, you are required to dispose of it.

This is the time of year that suppliers introduce new products. These plaques are part of the BF Woods line from B.F. Plastics, Inc., North Lawrence, OH.

     Maintain your equipment: There is no excuse for not maintaining equipment on a regular basis, yet sometimes priorities and deadlines keep us from doing what we know we need to do. Take time this month to clean and maintain all the equipment in your shop. This is not only a good investment of time and money, it will allow you to produce a higher quality of work and that is key to the success of any business.
     Check out what’s new: Every year about this time, all the suppliers in the industry introduce their new products for the year. You need to know what these are. (Be sure to check out this issue’s 2014 Awards & Spring Preview Advisory for a look at what’s new from the major suppliers.) You also need to know what products you use that have been discontinued. Don’t let it come as a surprise when a customer comes in only to find out their favorite this or that is no longer available. Always be ready to show them something new that, hopefully, they will like even better.
     Update your wholesale catalogs: I can’t imagine not having current catalogs from all of my favorite suppliers which I use regularly and even some others that customers might ask for. For example, I buy weekly from several industry suppliers so it’s really convenient to have those catalogs on hand. There are other companies that I buy from only occasionally or rarely, but I still keep their catalogs handy because every once in a while, someone asks for a product that only they produce. The same is true with hundreds of other manufacturers/distributors. I keep my catalogs in three-ring binders—some marked by what they contain, such as ad specialty products or bronze signs, while others are in binders marked A thru Z. Remember, too, that most of the major suppliers have their catalogs online, so if you don’t want to keep printed catalogs around, you can access them online.
     Stock up on retail catalogs: In addition to wholesale catalogs, now is a good time to make sure your dealer catalogs are up to date. Many manufacturers and wholesalers in our industry offer preprinted catalogs that can be personalized with your own business information that your customers can take with them. Some are $1 or more but many are only 25¢ or so. You should have some of these on hand that are current. Giving out last year’s catalog sends a bad message to the customer. You don’t have to invest a fortune in these but you should have some.
     Many manufacturers also have online digital catalogs that you can post on your website. Both of these options represent a professional and cost-effective way for you to show customers the various types of products you sell without the time, hassle and expense involved in producing your own sales literature.
     Examine your scanner: If you use a scanner, is it time to replace it? Scanners don’t last forever. If your scanner is more than four or five years old, it is probably time to update it, even if you rarely use it. Over time, the bulbs or LEDs weaken and produce a lower quality image. Be sure to pick out one that is Windows 8 compatible and has a D range of at least 3.4 or higher if your budget can afford it.
     Clean up your computer: Most people who run as many printers, lasers, etc., as we do have a rat’s nest of cables, USB hubs and wires behind every computer that even you don’t know where they go. At least once a year, take the time to clean up that mess. Organize those cables by wrapping them with plastic tie strips or those wire ties you get on a loaf of bread. Make each cable the proper length, get rid of cables that don’t go anywhere anymore and tidy up those USB hubs along with all those little plug-in power supplies. While you’re at it, make sure those outlet strips are UL approved and don’t feel warm, have cut or worn wires and are not overloaded. Those “Made in China” outlet strips are notorious for starting fires—just ask your local fire department.

Adding a new line of merchandise can help breathe new life into your business. This laser engraved iPad Air tablet is from Epilog Laser, Golden, CO.

     While you’re at it, why not clean up your computer hard drive as well. Get rid of all the “Temp” files, “Cookies” and “History Files” and empty that “Recycle Bin.” Chase down all those little alerts that pop up, delete those dead links on your desktop, remove old programs you don’t need any more and run a disk fragmentation program (this is a standard utility in Windows). Keep in mind that although these tasks are important, you may lose some of the automatic “fill in the blank” features and automatic password memory until you re-enter it the next time you run that program.
     Think about the cloud: Is it time you learned about “the cloud”? The cloud is a series of huge computer banks scattered across the country where people can back up their computer files and programs. Many software companies are now selling licenses for their software that can be downloaded only from the cloud and are not even available on CD. Other companies, like Microsoft and Adobe, are beginning to rent their software on a month-to-month basis and although this costs money every month, you never have to buy another upgrade because the software is constantly being upgraded for free.
     But most important, you can set up an automatic upload of all your computer files to the cloud for just a few dollars per year based on the size of your upload and/or the number of computers you are backing up. Lots of people sell the service, including Amazon, and they promise the data is secure and there for you should you ever have a computer crash (and I have had several). Be sure to read “Backing Up to the Cloud” in the Sept. 2013 issue for more information about this topic.
     Remember these words, “Your assignment, if you choose to accept it…” is to select from the tasks discussed in this article and to make a commitment to two or three or perhaps just one from each category. Then actually start on them…today if possible. Remember the Nike slogan, “Just do it.” Don’t be like me and make resolution after resolution, year after year and then end up doing little or nothing. Select the ones that you need most in your business or add the ones I overlooked. Whatever the case, doing just one and doing it right is better than doing none at all.
     Good luck. Now, which ones am I going to tackle this year?




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