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Profitable Niche Markets for ID Products

Copyright © 2015 by Davis Multimedia, Int'l. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in November 2015, Volume 41, No. 5 of The Engravers Journal
ID products for pets are a great market to tap into.
Sublimatable collars and leashes are available from Condé Systems.
Animal hospitals, veterinarian offices, kennels, etc., usually like to have a “happy badge” for employees.

   I love niche markets. I cater to them whenever I can. They mean low competition, high profits and lots of nice appreciative people to do business with. Best of all, there are hundreds of niche markets to go after. All you need to do is look around you.
   A niche market is a customer base that is too small or too much trouble for most large companies to seek out and cater to. Some companies shy away from customers in niche markets because many purchase low quantities and they often require more specialized products.
   But there are hundreds of these specialty markets to pursue which can add up to substantial profits for you. All you have to do is look around your community and think about the people you know who are involved in various groups, organizations and professions. In reality, you will probably come up with more potential markets than you can handle!
   Have a dog or cat? There’s a huge market. Ever go to the dentist? There’s another one. Have a hobby? There’s yet another. Almost anything you do can lead to a niche market and, in particular, a niche market for identification (ID) products. That’s the focus of this article—making money in niche markets for ID products.
   When you think of ID products, what comes to mind? Name badges? That’s a big one and that’s a good place to begin. Almost every profession, activity, hobby and pastime uses name badges—some traditional, some not so much.
   I mentioned dentists and that’s a good place to start. Most dentists require their staff to wear name badges—or at least they should. Perhaps you already have a dentist or two as customers. So how can you turn those couple of customers into a bunch of customers? Why not offer a badge that no one else offers—one that is shaped like a tooth or is engraved or printed with a tooth? What about one that says “Smile” or “Don’t Forget to Floss” or “Have a Happy Checkup”?
   Nursing homes use a lot of signage for identification purposes. They need various kinds of tags and signs to mark rooms or beds with patients’ names and to identify patient drawers or cabinets. They also use tags to label supply cabinets, closets and the like. Many of these tags require special characteristics such as being magnetic, removable or changeable, e.g. a tag that can be written on with a marker and then erased and used again. Don’t forget name badges either. Nursing homes should be using large name badges that even elderly patients can read from a distance.


 

 

These control panels were engraved and cut out using a laser. Using 1/16" plastic for smaller panels or overlays works well while larger panels like the black one are best done using 1/8" plastic. Industrial customers require all kinds of unique tags and signs.

   Pets represent a multi-billion dollar market and the door is open to whatever types of products you want to offer: food bowls, place mats, collars, leashes and pet tags to name a few. Note, too, that ID tags for “pets” extends way beyond dogs and cats into numerous other niche markets. Halter tags for horses and ear tags for cattle, sheep and goats are a few examples of tags used by farmers, ranchers, zoos, 4-H clubs and, of course, pet owners. A couple more suggestions for pet ID tags include kennel nameplates which are attached to a carrier or kennel like those used in dog and cat shows. Horse stall signs are another niche market for pet ID nameplates. These are often simple frames with engraved plastic inserts that are quick and easy to make. The types of customers you might want to approach will mostly depend on the area of the country you live in and the type of personalization equipment you have. Sublimation, rotary engravers and lasers, for example, all bring their own flavor to this banquet of opportunity.
   Let’s not forget people either. Personalized dog tags are a popular item right now for both men and women. ID dog tags are available in anodized aluminum, brass, stainless steel and sublimatable aluminum. You can personalize these items with photos, names, personal messages and sentiments with minimal effort to create a very personalized and profitable product. That’s right. A finished anodized dog tag should sell for around $10 (or more) and will cost you as little as 15 cents. Stainless steel and sublimatable blanks cost a little more but the quality will let you bump up the price to $15.
   Industrial tags and signs provide another smorgasbord of possibilities. Many companies need machine tags, usually metal, that are chemical resistant. Stainless steel meets this requirement and can be rotary engraved or laser engraved using either a laser-markable chemical coating or a fiber laser. Interestingly, when the chemical reaction isn’t an issue, many companies prefer brass (although I don’t understand why). Anodized aluminum and plastic are also options, most of which can be laser engraved. Safety signs for equipment and areas of the facility are another ID product that can be sold to many industrial customers.


 

 

 

Dog tags for people are available in a host of colors and materials. These LED letters are connected together to form a mock neon sign. Glow-in-the-dark signs and safety tags are growing in popularity. Photo provided by Rowmark LLC.

   Tool marking is a great niche market with the potential for steady, repeat business. All hand tools owned by a government agency, including the military, are supposed to be marked with an ID barcode. Since most tools are either steel or chrome, they can be marked using a CO2 laser and a laser-markable coating, provided the metal hasn’t been coated in some way, or by using a fiber laser. The nice thing about fiber lasers is they don’t need a chemical bonding agent and they can mark any metal, coated or uncoated, including the newest super-hard alloys. I have never found a metal my 20 watt fiber laser can’t mark in one pass. Of course, mechanics also like identifying their expensive tools so don’t pass up local car dealerships and auto repair shops.
   The funeral industry is another viable market for ID products. One of the more popular items right now is T-shirts printed with a picture of the deceased. Custom memorial T-shirts can be worn by family and friends at a memorial event to honor the legacy of their loved ones and then kept as a sentimental remembrance. Some people take this a step further and start a memorial T-shirt fundraiser in honor of the deceased to raise money and awareness for a cause, such as cancer or heart disease. Sublimation, direct-to-garment printers or heat transfers can open a huge opportunity for shirts that people really want to have. Although you will probably have to offer a fast turnaround on these orders, there is a great demand for them. Talk with your local funeral homes about their market for these.
   And while you are there, talk to them about engraving plates for urns. I have done hundreds of these and they usually aren’t rush orders since urns are ordered and shipped after the ceremony. Don’t forget name badges for the funeral home employees. Every funeral home I know of uses them.
   Since we are on the subject of funerals, let’s think about pet funerals. These are big business now with people purchasing urns, grave markers, T-shirts, memorial plaques and gifts to memorialize their pets. I was in a pet cemetery a few months ago and they had over 100 different urns for sale. Each one required an engraved plate. You might even be able to sell the urns yourself but either way, you can make a few dollars of pure profit if you can engrave the brass plates for their urns. You can also offer grave markers for people to remember their pets by. Popular products today include garden stakes, garden stones and even granite headstones/grave markers.
   Have you ever noticed how ugly mailboxes are? People have all kinds of junky lettering on them that either looks like it was written by a six-year-old or is barely legible at all. Many only display the house number and even that is often difficult to find and read at night. Now granted, some people couldn’t care less and think that only the mail carrier has to read the information, but what about visitors or emergency crews? Why not create a niche market making mailbox signs that meet code and, better yet, look nice and can be read at night? There are lots of options. An engraved sign does the trick for many homes and businesses. For those who live in upscale neighborhoods, you might offer cast bronze. I like the ones I laser engrave using the glow-in-the dark plastics (they make glow-in-the-dark plastic for rotary engravers, too). Even if the sign has lost its charge after hours of glowing, as soon as headlights hit it, it lights right up. If the customer has a lamp post in their front yard, consider a sign to hang from that. There are all kinds of options. You could use cast bronze but you could also engrave regular exterior grade plastic and then laminate it to something thicker so it won’t bow in the sun’s heat. Or, you could use the Heavy Weights plastic from Rowmark which is either 1/4" or 1/2" thick. These have to be rotary engraved but they are tough as nails.

Electrical contractors often need to mark light switch covers and outlet covers for commercial applications. These were engraved with a laser and paint filled. Self-adhesive labels or tags of various types are often requested by plumbers for marking pipes, shut-off valves and gauges.

   Another option to consider for house ID is becoming a distributor for mock neon LED numbers and letters that can be displayed in the front window of a house or elsewhere in the yard to help emergency crews find a house quickly. These LED letters and numbers simply snap together and are powered by an AC wall plug or batteries. Better yet, they are inexpensive, easy for the home owner to install and offer a 100 percent markup.
   Group gatherings like reunions and tour groups are big business. One of the ID products commonly used by these groups is name badges on a lanyard. Sublimation is a great way to offer not only a durable name badge but a personalized lanyard that can be saved as a souvenir after the event is over. Although many such groups might prefer less expensive paper badges in a plastic holder (you can make those too!), a fair number prefer something more substantial. I recently sublimated badges for a group of Europeans who came to the USA to tour historical railroad facilities and tourist railroads. Best of all, the number of tours and reunions is virtually endless.
   ID plates for framed pictures and artwork is another too-often-overlooked market, and one that is pretty big. Every picture framer in the country needs those little brass plates that attach to the frame or are mounted behind the glass of a hanging. Think, too, about the art galleries and museums around the country that need ID plates for pictures and artwork. Actually, any business, organization or place that displays pictures or artwork is a potential customer in this niche market. The late Mort Tuller, founder of Tucson’s Tuller Trophy Factory, became famous during a visit to the White House by pointing out the poor state of a brass nameplate under a portrait of President John F. Kennedy. His comments led to an order on the spot which subsequently led to repeat business making presidential portrait tags for the White House. Mort secured a similar order from a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
   Brass plates are the tradition for this application but 1/32" plastic such as FlexiBrass is ideal for applications where the engraved plate will be mounted under the glass. FlexiBrass is easy to read, looks exactly like brass and can be laser engraved and cut to any size.
   Although a control panel might not always be thought of as an ID plate, it really is. It identifies the various knobs, switches, lights and signals that make up the panel. In addition to industrial businesses, there are plenty of niche markets for control panels as well. For example, consider limousine and marine businesses.

Full-color sublimation is an excellent method for creating custom badges for niche markets.


   One option is to fabricate metal control panels yourself using a rotary engraving machine and paint filling. If you aren’t set up for that type of work, another option is to make panels out of plastic or acrylic, or create overlays that can be applied to existing metal panels to identify the controls and make the panel more attractive. For example, you can laser cut 1/8" or 1/4" thick acrylic and paint fill or print it with a UV printer to produce a spectacular product and even offer back lighting. Overlays can be made out of thin plastic (1/16") or a thin sublimatable substrate such as Rowmark MATES to create a full-color panel.
   Here’s one you might not have thought of but it is a doozy. Talk to your local electrical supply houses that sell components to licensed electricians for wiring houses and commercial properties. The National Electrical Code requires certain things to be identified in commercial applications. These almost always include tags in electrical boxes, which are often simple 1" x 3" plastic engraved tags that are glued in place. They also require certain light switch covers and outlet covers (called duplexes) to be marked with various data. Plastic switch covers can usually be rotary or laser engraved and then paint filled. Metal covers can be laser engraved using a laser-markable coating or a fiber laser to produce high contrast lettering. Many electrical contractors have difficulty finding someone to do this kind of work so if you can get the electrical supply house to set up a supply of your business cards along with engraved samples, you should see some good business out of the effort.
   Johnson Plastics and other engraving material distributors sell prefabricated blank legend plates for labeling industrial type switches such as start/stop switches, knobs, dials, push buttons, indicator lights, etc. Of course, you can fabricate these yourself, but it’s probably less expensive and definitely faster to buy them ready-made if you can. All you have to do is engrave them.


Most metal tools can be marked with a CO2 laser and a laser-markable coating while all metals can be marked with a fiber laser.

   Don’t forget the plumbers! Just as electricians need tags for electrical panels, plumbing contractors sometimes need labels or tags for pipes. Chemical-resistant labels are sometimes required but usually a simple self-adhesive label will do the job. Materials such as Rowmark MATES (for sublimation) or LaserLIGHTS (for laser engravers) are waterproof and won’t be affected by condensation or the heat in a hot water pipe, so long as they are applied when the pipe is dry and clean. Stainless steel or anodized aluminum tags that can be attached with “S” hooks can also be used.
   Wood workers and cabinet makers often like to attach a brass plate to products they make or kitchens they build, etc. These are usually attached with two small wood screws but this can vary from application to application. Some of the fancy die-cut brass plates available from Identification Plates, Johnson Plastics, Gravograph and other suppliers are especially nice for these applications.
   Can you make rubber stamps? There can be potential niche markets for these ID products as well. Beyond the typical “For Deposit Only” and “Name & Address” stamps, consider this: What about an arrangement with your local realtors to make a return address stamp as a closing gift for everyone they sell a house to? These would include the name and address of the buyer and also the name and phone number of the realtor printed on the stamp. Remind them that people who are satisfied with the realtor’s service are the best advertising possible and giving them a stamp will keep that name in their mind since they will likely use the stamp every time they pay a bill or mail a letter. Stamps can be printed with UV printers or a label can be applied that is either engraved, printed or sublimated with the realtor’s information. A good way to sell these is to sell them in lots of 25 or 50 with the payment up front so the realtor just has to place the order and have the stamp mailed directly to the new home owner.
   Police, fire and EMS offer another opportunity. All of these professionals use name badges, usually metal ones. Knowing where to purchase these (ATdesigns is one source for custom badges) and how to engrave them (usually requires a rotary machine and paint filling) is key. If you learn how to do it well, not only will individual fire and police stations come to you for this service, retailers who cater to these first responders will also want your services on a wholesale basis. The key here is to always offer a fast turnaround since the typical sources often take several weeks to fill an order.
   Firefighters, including volunteer firefighters, love personalized merchandise that shows off their department. For example, shirts printed with a photo of “their” fire truck or fire station are a source of pride and will be a keepsake they will treasure. Hats, shirts, license plates, coffee cups, travel mugs and trailer hitch covers are also excellent products to offer.
   Zoos, botanical gardens, aquariums, nature centers and the like offer more possibilities as niche markets. These organizations require all kinds of educational, directional and advertisement signage throughout the entire facility. These customers can be very demanding in that they often need full-color UV-stable signage that is vandal proof to identify their exhibits. This can be a challenge but there are materials and processes available that can achieve this—and these markets can be very lucrative.


Here are just a few of the blanks that can be used for labeling pictures and artwork. People who own or keep horses often need stall signs like this one. Personalized halter tags are also popular.

   Barcodes are everywhere. They are used by all kinds of companies and organizations to mark property, track inventory or even just to sell on Amazon. These codes are used by schools, the military and other government organizations and their subcontractors for tracking purposes. In fact, they are so heavily used that some companies have made an entire business out of selling that one product. Barcodes can be generated in CorelDRAW or other software programs and engraved or printed on metal, plastic or self-adhesive labels. Likewise, QR codes can be vinyl cut, printed or engraved on all kinds of substrates. These codes can be generated for free on the Internet and used to direct people to websites, YouTube videos, etc.
   With a little thought and effort, it’s easy to find a multitude of niche markets for ID products, whether it’s selling engraved plates to art museums or offering personalized memorials to pet cemeteries. Having a pocket full of products and possible markets you can capitalize on is never a bad thing. Adding these potential markets strategically as your company grows is even better.
   Personally, I like niche markets because they are usually so small or concise that they are under the big boys’ radar. I love finding my own little corner of the market where I can set my own prices, develop my own customer base and pretty much be left alone to make money. ID niche markets can be great money makers for your business and are bound to make your business grow! After all, ID products have to come from somewhere, why not from you?


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