Defining Your Business: Choosing Your Niche
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Perhaps the most difficult question to answer is: "What business do I want to be in?" The choices are limitless. So are the risks, costs and knowledge required. Start with a simple and easily executable plan and your shop will grow. Like all business ventures, a business plan is helpful if not essential. To help you plan, we'll first explore the types of market opportunities available and the typical products associated with them. Many products or engraving services can cross over from one market to another, so only generalizations may be made.
Commonly accepted markets include the following:
- Gift/Novelty - pens, key tags, ID bracelets, jewelry, pins, pendants, knives, wedding gifts, picture frames, door knockers, baby gifts, sports card plaques, license plate frames, gavels, etc.;
- Trophy/Award - trophies, plaques, small signs, desk and wall plates, name badges;
- Industrial/Institutional - control panels, tool & die, part serialization, electrical ID tags, stainless-steel or deep-brass engraving;
- Marking - rubber stamps, notary seals, serialized tags, part marking and identification;
- Signage - interior/exterior signs in plastic, foam or wood, cutout letters, directories, stencils, ADA-compliant Braille signs; and
- Cylindrical* - glassware, pewter mugs, wine and champagne bottles, bowls, loving cups, industrial part marking.
* FOR CLARIFICATION, CYLINDRICAL ENGRAVING IS NOT ACTUALLY A MARKET BUT A TYPE OF ENGRAVING PRODUCT OR METHOD. CYLINDRICAL OBJECTS MAY FALL INTO ALL DIFFERENT MARKET CATEGORIES. IN MOST INSTANCES, A UNIQUE TYPE OF ENGRAVING ATTACHMENT OR SPECIAL MACHINE IS REQUIRED. THESE PRODUCTS MAKE UP ONLY 5-10% OF ALL ENGRAVED ITEMS BUT REQUIRE SPECIAL MENTION SINCE THEY REPRESENT A GREAT NICHE BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY.
In deciding how much or how little you may want to do, consider this: It's easy to bite off more than we can chew. Trying to be all things to all people can not only be frustrating but can also get very expensive. Just carrying a full line of plaques and trophy parts can lead to an inventory of tens of thousands of dollars. And all of those dated trophy tops will become obsolete every year, so close management will certainly be necessary. Start small. Learn what products move and stick to engraving merchandise, processes and techniques that you are comfortable with. I called this section "choosing your niche" for a good reason.
Over the years I have had the pleasure of coaching many people new to the business of engraving. One thing that has been apparent is that many of them had only started in the engraving business after they had found their first engraving job. By some chance, they had found work prior to getting serious about the business. This is not a bad strategy since it helps to ensure your initial success. The drawback, however, is that if you take on engraving work before you have the equipment, know the techniques or understand the pricing practices, you may be setting yourself up for failure. Don't put yourself under the gun by taking on loads of work before understanding the industry. Your first work may not turn out to be as profitable as you would like.