If you want to provide a custom key chain, another option to consider is the Punch’nPress key chain maker from Johnson Plastics Plus, Minneapolis, MN. You can buy the machine to make the key chains, 100 blank key chains to get you started, a die and an assembly tool for $289. If you want more than one Punch’nPress, you can add a second one for only $100, provided you order both at the same time. Additional key chain shapes (lanyards, magnets and lapel pins are now also available) require additional dies and assembly tools which are sold separately for $85 and $9, respectively. Some of the cutting tools can be used for multiple styles of key chains which saves money.
To use this tool, you start by printing a custom design or photo on glossy photo paper (also available from Johnson Plastics Plus) to make a glossy, detailed image for the key chain. Then you place the printed image in the press, cut it out using the cutting die and then place the trimmed design in the blank key chain. Finally, position a clear plastic lens over the top of the image, place it in the press and pull down the handle to permanently press the lens into the key chain.
These personalized key chains are great award and gift items for sports team banquets, birthday party favors, class reunion mementos, souvenirs and a host of other applications. They also allow lots of room for quantity discounts.
Having a second Punch’nPress is handy because you can load a cutting die in one and an assembly tool in the other and not have to interchange them unless you change the shape of the key chain being made. Key chains cost roughly $1 each and are typically sold in quantities of 100. You can price the finished key chains as you see fit, but some people are selling them for as much as $20 each.
Button Badge Makers
Button Badges are always a winner. People love to wear the popular 2.25" buttons promoting their favorite cause, political leaning, school, sports team, company, brand, etc. They are also popular as promotional badges for employees in retail establishments, e.g. “Ask Me About…” for servers in fast food restaurants or “How Can I Help?” for employees in home improvement stores. They even have award applications, e.g. “Superstar” awards in an elementary school or as low cost participant awards.
Button badges are easy and inexpensive to make. Of course, you will need a computer and a good printer to create the graphical insert for the button badge, in addition to the badge making equipment. Button badge making equipment ranges from small plastic presses that cost only a few dollars to large professional models that cost thousands. For a “while you wait” low quantity service (ten buttons or less), however, our focus is on the inexpensive tabletop model. You can always have the customer come back to pick up larger orders.
Badge-A-Minit, Oglesby, IL, has been in the button badge equipment business for a long time and is one of the companies that offers inexpensive equipment for beginners with an entry point of less than $30 for a press and ten 2.25" buttons. Buttons range from 45¢ each in a quantity of 100 to 21¢ in lots of a 1,000 and less for larger quantities. Badge-A-Minit also offers bench presses for intermediate users, semi-automatic presses for advanced users and automatic presses for professional applications.
Button Makers (Seattle, WA, and St. Louis, MO) offers an upscale punch for $429 and includes 500 buttons, in addition to other sizes of buttons and punches. They also include a die to cut out the graphic which is a great feature. Buttons are 17¢ in lots of 100 and 7¢ in lots of 1,000.
American Button Machines, Plano, TX, offers another high-end button press made from steel with a swivel design that eliminates having to change dies. Sold for about $230 for the 2.25" size, the buttons cost 12¢ each in lots of 250 and 8¢ in lots of 1,000.
There are a number of name badge printers available to cater to this market. I’ll break them down into three types: monochrome paper badges, colored paper badges and plastic badges.
A quick Internet search found three printer manufacturers that stood out for the monochrome paper printers: Brother, Dymo and Seiko Instruments. Several other brands I found were actually these same printers but under a different brand. These printers can be used to make simple printed paper badges that can be inserted into a plastic holder. I have actually been asked for this type of badge many times, but I unfortunately let the potential sales slip by not realizing I could print them on my Brother label maker using a stock roll of paper. I can also use this label maker to print self-adhesive label type badges using the same labels I use to print mailing labels. The cost of these printers and a couple of rolls of easily changeable labels starts at about $100. These printers require some type of computer or tablet and are fast, clean and low maintenance.
The second type of printer is similar to the monochrome printer except the labels are printed in full color. These are commercial grade label printers available from manufacturers like Primera and Epson. The Primera LX500 starts out at about $1,200. I have no experience with these printers but I do use other Primera and Epson printers and have found them to be well-built and good performers.
The third type of printer is designed for printing plastic cards similar to credit cards. Almost every business, school and medical facility uses this type of ID card, and they can be used for many applications, such as badges at trade shows (many include a barcode) and business cards. Card printers are typically thermal printers that use dyes that are coated on a ribbon. The great thing about them is they can print virtually anything on a plastic card, including full-color photographs, text, logos and even a security strip on the back where information can be encoded.
Several companies manufacture these devices including Magicard, Fargo and Zebra. These printers are priced at about $1,200 and up depending on the features and speed. Some are single-sided printers while others print on both sides of the card. Precut blanks for these machines are available from multiple sources and run about 30¢ to $1 each depending on the size and color. You might need to buy a punch ($10-$40) if you want to make a lanyard type badge.
Condé Systems, Inc., Mobile, AL, has developed a way to set up a POP center to sublimate most items and to do it almost automatically. Condé’s Kiosk Image Upload Software is a program that sells for $200 and allows your customer to transfer a photograph from their smartphone directly to your computer in a matter of just a couple of clicks. No need to email it and import it, etc. The photo always transfers at full resolution and can then be adjusted to fit the item to be printed and sent to the printer. Almost no training is required to operate the system for making things like key tags and phone covers. It really is that simple. According to Condé, future versions will even allow the computer to size and print the image automatically. Combine the software with the smaller SG400 sublimation printer and the compact JP14 heat press from Geo Knight & Co., Inc., Brockton, MA, and the entire layout can be contained in just four or five square feet of space. Check out http://dyetrans.com/details.php?item_no=KSW728 for more information about Kiosk Image Upload Software.
A few businesses, such as copy shops and office supply stores, supply laminating services but the demand is far from fulfilled. Practically any thin, flat item can be laminated, including newspaper clippings, photos, business cards, bookmarks, diplomas and certificates, temporary signs and instruction sheets. Even pressed flowers, children’s artwork, recipe cards and other keepsake items can be laminated.
|The 21/4" hand press button badge maker from Badge-A-Minit is an inexpensive starter unit.
||A small heat press, such as this one from Geo Knight & Co., Inc., takes up little space and can be used for sublimation and heat transfer applications.
Commercial laminators are expensive and take up a lot of real estate but tabletop thermal laminators are inexpensive, don’t take up much room and don’t require more than a few minutes of warmup time. Amazon sells a number of small laminators, including Scotch and Fellowes brands, for under $25. The lamination pouches sell for 30¢ to 50¢ each depending on the quantity. A more professional model can be purchased for about $125 and up. The price is usually determined by the width of the input. The 13" model I use in my shop was made by Tamerica and costs about $200. These machines are completely standalone, require very little maintenance and have a small footprint.
Commercial models for laminating larger items, like posters and maps, range in price from about $1,300 to $4,000. Based on my experience, I would suggest that you keep this type of laminator behind the scenes where you have lots of tabletop space and a helper standing by to ensure everything goes as planned.
We couldn’t possibly omit T-shirts in an impulse sales article. Of course, you would not want to screen print shirts in your showroom but there are currently other processes that are clean, fast and “on demand” solutions to shirt printing.
Direct-to-Garment (DTG) printers have been around for some time now. They are fairly expensive, especially if you want the ability to print on dark colored shirts. Expect to invest $12,000-$18,000 for a DTG printer. You will also need a computer of some type. For an “on demand” sales counter, you will likely want to offer only stock designs along with a person’s name or a shirt with the customer’s design brought in on a disk. These printers do well on cotton shirts so a good shirt might cost you $2 which you can easily sell for $20. The cost of ink, especially when printing dark colors, can be significant so profit margins might run from about $15 down to as low as $4 when printing on black. Costs vary from brand to brand so research what will work for you.
Heat transfer is another option for printing T-shirts, and there are a number of heat transfer processes on the market. Most require you to outsource the transfer design, which will only work for stock designs that you can buy in quantity and inventory. Outsourced transfers are typically good quality, inexpensive and easy to apply to the garment using a heat press. These are usually produced in a single color.
Laser Transfer is the new kid on the block. Condé Systems, Inc. is now offering laser printers that utilize white toner for creating heat transfers for garments. This process produces a transfer that is self-weeding, prints on black fabric, including cotton, and can be printed one-off and personalized on demand. Cost for these transfers (8.5" x 11") ranges from 50¢ for a color image on light colored fabric to $2.50 for a full-color image on black fabric. (The difference is the layer of white toner that has to be placed under the color on a dark garment.) A custom shirt like this can easily sell for $20 leaving a profit of $15 or more per shirt.
The downside of this full-color laser process is that it will require two heat presses since the transfer has to be transferred to a carrier sheet at one temperature and then applied to the shirt using another temperature. However, you don’t need to invest in expensive, space hungry, energy hungry presses as small desktop presses will work just fine. Presses like the Geo Knight JP14 with a cost of only $350 each will get the job done. This press weighs only 65 lbs., draws 10 amps and has an overall footprint of 25" x 16". The time required for printing a shirt from start to finish is less than five minutes once the press is pre-heated.
|DTG printing is an option for creating custom T-shirts while the customer waits. Photo courtesy of Brother International.
The printer required for this process is a bit expensive but it can be used for all your color printing since it uses regular toner. Only the transfer paper is special. The printer most commonly recommended for this process is the OKI Data OKI C711 (8.5" x 11") and the OKI C920 (11" x 17"). Entry cost for the C711WT is about $3,400 and includes white toner capability.
You might want to consider a ribbon printer as a POP service for your shop. Not only can ribbons be used as awards for nearly any occasion, from winning a race to losing your first tooth, they can be used for many other impulse applications, such as personalized hair ribbons, bookmarks, gift wrap and floral arrangement embellishments, wedding decorations, etc. The Digital Ribbon Printer sold by Jackson Marking Products (which I have experience with) and Howard Imprinting, Tampa, FL, will print ribbons up to 4" wide by any length so you can make sashes with it as well. Polyester ribbon is available in a variety of colors (ribbon materials should be purchased from your dealer because some ribbon will not work well). The newest feature on this printer allows you to print up to 4" wide clear labels with a self-adhesive backing for creating items like window decals and stickers. (I have not tested the product for UV stability yet.)
Trophy Plate Maker
This device is new to the market and has great possibilities. With a total cost of about $1,800, this computer-driven printer produces a .020" thick strip of gold or silver plastic with a black imprint up to 2" wide and whatever length you need. The price includes a cutter and taping tool. The time it takes to make a typical trophy plate is about three seconds at a cost of around 3¢ per inch, depending on the width. This device can, of course, be used to print all of your trophy plates if you want it to but its strong suit is accommodating those walk-ins that just want their kid’s name on the front of their sports trophy.
You can also use this machine to drive traffic to your shop by including a sticker on every trophy you sell that says, “Bring this trophy back to our shop and we will personalize it for free.” Every kid wants to see his or her name on a trophy and this is a fast, easy way to get them (and their mom or dad) into your shop where they will see all kinds of neat stuff to buy! The ProPlate, as it is called, is made and sold by JSC, Inc., Sparks, NV (www.trophy-supply.com).
Gift Center Standalone Engravers
Another option to consider is a standalone rotary engraving machine. A standalone engraving machine is essentially “compact mechanical engraving technology.” These machines are small and designed to fit on a desktop or small stand. What differentiates them from other desktop engraving machines is that they are self-contained, including a computer, LCD display screen and software all in one compact unit. Some models also feature a touch pad or touch screen so you don’t even need a keyboard or mouse. These machines are touted as being “plug-and-play.” You basically just plug in the machine and you’re ready to go.
Standalone engravers are designed for specific applications that mostly involve engraving small items like pet tags, ID tags, small plates, jewelry and other small engravables. Although applications are somewhat limited, equipment costs are low, starting at around $3,000, and the machines are designed to be extremely user-friendly and efficient for their intended purpose.
These machines are a quick, convenient way to personalize merchandise at the point of sale. You can easily offer customers while-you-wait engraving for certain types of merchandise, which is a big advantage in the “I want it now!” world we live in today. Not only do customers receive their personalized merchandise quickly, they can watch the engraving in-progress or even operate the equipment themselves if you choose to go that route.
|The Punch’nPress from Johnson Plastics Plus is an ideal POP marketing tool for selling custom key chains to impulse buyers.
||The Digital Ribbon Printer from Jackson Marking Products Co., Inc. can be used to quickly and easily create custom ribbons.
Because the machines are small, compact and self-contained, they easily fit in a retail environment and, perhaps even better, they are portable. A standalone machine can be set up in a kiosk in a mall or other public location. If you want to do any engraving at off-site locations, you can easily take a machine like this with you to trade shows, marketing events and fairs. For example, you could personalize medals at a gymnastics meet, bag tags at golf tournaments, keepsake key tags at parties, wedding favors at bridal shows or pet tags at dog shows. Gravograph, Duluth, GA, offers a line of standalone engraving machines, such as the TagCube. This unit features an engraving area of 2.75" x 2.36" and a maximum holding capacity of 4.7" w x 3.1" h x 1.5" l. This machine is designed for engraving pet, halter and many other types of small tags. Vision Engraving & Routing Systems, Phoenix, AZ, offers the iMARC-IT Engraver, a compact standalone engraving machine that measures 14" w x 16" d x 15" h. (For more information about this equipment, read “Small, Simple & Speedy: Is a Standalone Engraver in Your Future?” in the Dec. 2015 issue.)
Gift Center Rotary Engravers
Some say rotary engravers are a thing of the past, but I say they are wrong. There are a lot of things you can do with a rotary engraver that you could never do with a laser, and an impulse gift center is one of them. Granted, you won’t want to put a full-size 18" x 24" rotary engraving machine in your showroom but there are some really nice small desktop machines that can do amazing things.
If a gift center is interesting to you, this might be just the ticket. Key chains, cuff links, pens, flashlights, money clips, lighters, letter openers, Christmas ornaments, bracelets, pendants and hundreds of other items can all be personalized quickly and easily with some rotary engraving machines. Consider these:
Roland Metaza MPX-95 with gift package ($6,395): From Roland DGA Corp., Irvine, CA, this is a unique impact marking system. It doesn’t actually engrave as you would expect but rather uses an impact type head that marks metal items much like a dot peen machine or a dot matrix printer. Since the image consists of a series of hundreds or thousands of tiny hammered dots, you can engrave a variety of copy, including text, logos and even photo images. It is capable of marking all kinds of products up to the size of a coffee cup. It works only on metals such as gold, silver, steel, copper, aluminum, chrome, etc.
Roland EGX-350 ($5,995): This “automatic” enclosed engraver is capable of engraving tasks far beyond what you would ever want on your sales floor but it is ideal in a gift center. It is quiet, has a small footprint and an engraving area of 9" x 12". It also has a remote control that makes programming fast and simple.
Vision Express: From Vision Engraving & Routing Systems, this small desktop rotary engraving machine features a 6" x 8" aluminum T-slot table with an optional self-centering vise. The Vision Express has a footprint of 17.5" w x 17.5" d x 9.5" h and weighs 23 lbs. This machine comes with Vision Express Engraving Software and is designed for engraving small signs, awards, name badges, jewelry, pet tags, industrial plates, plaques, ID plates, personalized gifts and more.
Signature 8080 Mini ($9,900): Perhaps you have seen the engraving machines from Signature Engraving Systems, Holyoke, MA, in many of the Things Remembered kiosks. There are three sizes to consider but for most gift items, the Mini is more than adequate—especially since it can also engrave mugs or steins up to 5" in diameter. The engraving area of the Mini is 8" x 6" and it offers the ability to engrave inside rings. A laptop computer is also included in the price.
|The Brother Stampcreator Pro stamp-making system can create pre-inked stamps in just minutes. Photo courtesy of Jackson Marking Products Co., Inc.
||The OKI C711WT is a white toner laser printer that can create heat transfers for both light and dark colored garments. Photo courtesy of OKI Data Americas, Inc.
Gravograph M20 Gift ($5,500) and M40 Gift: Gravograph, Duluth, GA, manufactures several engravers suitable for a gift center on a sales floor but the two that stand out are the M20 Gift and the M40 Gift. The M20 Gift can engrave all kinds of jewelry and gift items, and setup is fast and easy. The M20 has a small footprint with a maximum work area of 4" x 16". The M40 Gift model does all the M20 does plus it can engrave glassware.
Gift Center Laser Engravers
Really, the only thing different about a gift shop laser and a workhorse laser is its size and power. A gift shop laser needs to be small and quiet, and it either must have a fume removal system or be vented to the outside. All the lasers mentioned here require a computer. Air assist is an option but is highly recommended for any cutting or wood engraving. These are all 30 watt lasers:
• Gravograph LS100: Engraving table is approximately 12" x 18" and the footprint is roughly 30" x 28" x 17".
• Epilog Zing 16 ($7,995): Engraving table is approximately 12" x 16" and the footprint is roughly 29" x 22" x 12". (Epilog Laser, Golden, CO)
• ULS VLS2.30 ($11,400): Engraving table is approximately 12" x 16" and the footprint is roughly 26" x 14" x 25". (Universal Laser Systems, Scottsdale, AZ)
• Trotec Rayjet 50 ($10,495): Engraving table is approximately 12" x 18" and the footprint is roughly 29" x 16" x 27". (Trotec Lasers, Inc., Plymouth, MI)
• GCC C180II ($11,495-$12,300): Engraving table is approximately 12" x 18" and the footprint is roughly 29" x 30" x 16". (GCC America, Walnut, CA)
Another way to get started is to become a dealer for P. Graham Dunn, Dalton, OH. P. Graham Dunn manufactures all kinds of wall art and you can become a dealer for the company by placing a $50 order. This gives you wholesale rights to hundreds of their products and designs, and also to a laser engraving deal for a LS100 laser in cooperation with Gravograph. You don’t have to buy your laser from them (any laser will do the job) but this is a time-pay arrangement that might make the entry to the laser world a bit less painful.
I’m not sure this will work well as a POP product but some people think it will so I’ll include it in our list. The reason I’m doubtful is because it takes time and skill to make dies or set type. Having used one of these to make aviator leather patches for the Navy, I know it can be a time-consuming process. If you have a clientele that can be satisfied with stock designs or you are near a military base where leather patches are used, this might be a super way to pull in new business.
Equipment for a hot stamping service center will cost between $1,000 and $1,500 for a small manual machine and some type. If you have a laser engraver, you can make your own dies using a special “hot stamp die” material from sources like LaserBits, Phoenix, AZ. There is a lot of used type and type holders available on eBay which might save some money. Be aware when buying used type that type does wear out. Companies that sell hot stamping machines for our industry include Jackson Marking Products, AAmstamp Machine Company, Palmdale, CA, and Howard Imprinting.
Hot stamping will imprint lots of flat products including leather, plastic, promotional products, ribbon, books, matchbook covers, paper, some wood products and cloth. It can also be made to emboss leather.
|Lamination is a convenient service that is in high demand. This laminator is from Fellowes Brands.
||Professional label printers, such as this one from Brother International, can be used to produce high resolution badges and labels.
||The ProPlate from JSC, Inc., uses a direct heat transfer method similiar to sublimation to create a finished trophy plate on brushed gold or silver plastics.