Recently I was ask to do a Skype interview with the folks over at A&E Magazine and they had some really great questions laid out for me. I went ahead and wrote out all of my answers to best be prepared and I thought I would share my answers with all of you. We did not have time to get to all of these things in the interview so some of this will be “Bonus” material. Check out all of the Q and A items below and at the end check out the video.
Q: What do you think will be the best money-makers in the near future?
A: It seems as if the mobile device category continues to gain ground and it is a highly profitable market for the decorators we serve. We also see strong growth in the all over garment decoration field as more and more teams want sublimated jerseys. While the initial investment in this market place can seem daunting, you can work with a leasing company, make very reasonable monthly payments and be making money right away. I know both of these items are not specifically related to awards, but in today’s economy and competitive environment, you must diversify your business to grow and succeed.
Q: How does a beginner just entering the awards industry go about creating a business plan?
A: Well first off I think the plain fact that you are writing a business plan is a huge plus. Far too many small business I talk to don’t have a business plan at all and are just shooting in the dark. I think these companies thing business plans are only for large businesses with boards and CEO, CFO’s etc. but business plans are for everyone. It doesn’t have to be a massive professionally printed document, it can be hand written with notes and scribbles all over. It can be a couple pages long. It is more about the process, identifying your target market and spending time thinking about your business and putting it on paper to review.
Q: What strategies would you suggest to retailers to help them increase sales?
A: I think I’m going to stick with my earlier comment about diversity and then add personalization to the mix. For example, lets say your business retail business is selling award plaques. And just to use round numbers, lets say they sell for $10 each. How about allowing your customer to add some personalization to your pre-made award design and charge then $2.50 for that added wording. As the business owner you are making an extra $2.50 per plaque with very little work and the customer appreciates the extra value they get to be able to call it their own. Now lets take that one step further and offer those customers a full color plaque of their team with personalization. Now you are selling those for $20 each and again not much extra work for you if you are sublimating.
Q: What one piece of advice would you like to share with every awards & engraving retailer in business today?
A: Have a business and marketing plan. We are all too busy and need more business and the only real way to effectively use your time and create the most value for your efforts is to have a plan in place that you can follow, and review for success and tweak if it is not working. Having at the very least a marketing plan will allow you to better understand your customers and help solve the problems and fulfill their needs.
Q: What’s the secret to long-term business success?
A: To me there are 2 keys here. One is to place value on customer service and passion over bottom line numbers and being the lowest price. The jobs you lose to the low price guy are probably not worth it and the value you build in your business and your customers business by being a partner in your customers success will grow over time to sustain you even through market changes. The second key is to make sure you build those same relationships based on service and mutual success with your vendors and employees as well as your good competitors and community. Don’t beat up your vendors. Yes the customer is always right, but who do you want to go over and above for the partner and person that worked with you or the guy that screamed at you over a human error and made personal attack in the process? Don’t bad mouth your good competitors either as that just makes you look like you are being beat by them and your service is not as good. Sing your own virtues and keep your doors open as that competitor could become your future partner.
Q: What do you expect from the market in the next five years?
A: We do see the sublimation side of the industry continuing to grow. With the entry of Epson into the market place they will continue to push it forward and I think there will be other changes that really open up the sublimation market. I also think you will see new innovations in the products that can be sublimated.
Q: What product segment is creating the most excitement this year?
A: Sublimation in general will grow substantially this year so we are very excited by the opportunities. I think you will see more and more business add sublimation to their available decorating methods with a start-up system being available for less that $600 and with Epson now in the market place. I think you will also see people investing in the 44 and 64″ Epson printers to save big on ink costs and have a reliable option for creating sublimation transfers.
Q: What product categories will grow the fastest in the next year?
A: The mobile device arena continues to impress. There are lots of available profit for decorators and lots of potential customers. I read that there are now 421 million iPhones that have sold since its launch in 2007 so that is a lot of potential customers. Samsung puts up slightly smaller but still impressive numbers so its hard to even have this conversation with out someone out there listening to this making money.
Q: What kind of new products are on the horizon?
A: I think that we will see the rise of items created with a vacuum press. Someone will find a film that works for the transfers and you will find new creative ways to decorate all sorts of items.
Q: What products do you expect to be big sellers over the next year?
A: As mentioned I think the mobile device cases will continue to do well, but I also think the typical staples of the sublimation industry will continue to do well. Items like mugs, mouse pads and award plaques will see steady growth when being decorated with sublimation.
Q: What are the most important emerging opportunities available to the industry?
A: Well I’m just going to beat this sublimation theme to death, but in talking to companies recently and hear some of their success stories, I think you must have the ability to create sublimation transfers. I also think you have to take a long hard look at the numbers when it comes to the Epson systems now available. If you just compare the ink costs along you are looking at $115 to $125 per liter for the Epson systems compared to a desk top sublimation system where your ink cost over $2500 per liter. Doesn’t take too many printers to pay off the cost of the printer with those numbers.
Q: What’s the best design software program for awards retailers to use?
A: I think the industry standard is the Corel Draw suite and for good reason. I know for years I had touted Photoshop as the program of choice for sublimators but as more awards retailers come on board they need something that is a little more versatile and the investment in Illustrator and Photoshop, especially with their new subscription based services can be limiting. In taking a closer look at Corel I found that the Photopaint program is actually stronger than I realized and paired with Draw can cover a lot of ground for you.
Q: What is the biggest threat to the awards and engraving market as it exists today?
A: I think the threat is the devaluing of the perceived value of available products. We continue to see more pressure from overseas companies entering the market and the willingness of some to make a race for the bottom as far as pricing is concerned. I think we need to focus on creating quality products that have higher perceived value and give our customers products they want and will be proud of. We are selling memories, not piece of wood, plastic or aluminum.
Q: What is the single biggest thing that is changing the awards & engraving industry today?
A: If you guys won’t hang up on me now, I’m going to again say the sublimation side of the business. I think the other side of the market with engraving and other methods is mature and strong with some amazing companies involved on all sides. The bread and butter is there and should stay strong, but sublimation is the meat and cheese adding flavor and extra value to your offering. Its time the market really got serious about it and as a company we at Coastal have made a commitment to sublimation and our customers success in it.
Q: If you could personally change one thing about the industry, what would it be?
A: This is a great question and in fact a few weeks ago my friend Terry and I covered this in our weekly podcast over at 2regularguys.com. We talked about the 10 things we would like to see in 2014, but if I had to pick one, I think for me it would be more working together as an industry to improve processes, products, information exchange. I’d like to see less competing in spaces like online forums, trade shows and more cooperation and push to help for the sake of the greater good. You guys do an awesome job of that with your magazines, videos series and this cool new format and I really love being a part of it.
Q: What is the largest untapped opportunity in this industry?
A: I think it is probably not diversifying your business and reaching out beyond the standard trophy or award. Your customers come to you because you have earned their business, so why not figure out what other things they need and find other ways to support their success. Doing things like working with your customers to help with fundraising activities or awareness of cause they are involved in can not only be personally rewarding but if done right can also be lucrative for your business.