February '23

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G R A P H I C S - P R O. C O M F E B R U A R Y 2 0 2 3 • G R A P H I C S P R O 5 9 Find your customers e third piece of advice is to find your customers. As a new vendor, you won't be the first thought for a customer, so go out to them. We were already equipped to develop a Celtic Heritage and Heraldic theme, and we were friends with a couple of business owners serving that general market. I made up some pieces for them and asked them to consider a new product. (If they didn't want to carry the products, I told them they had early Christmas presents!) So, determine your starting point, and keep an open mind about what you think you might want to work on. Customers can come up with some great ideas. We've been able to grow from there. Find the right machine at takes us right to my fourth piece of advice: Consider all the materials you think you might want to work with and their dimensions. Decide on your first machine based on that (after doing your homework), then move one size up in power and work surface. Consider acces- sories like a cutting table and/or a rotary adaptor. Machine choice is, of course, critical. In my case, I considered multiple factors, and this is what I recommend: Find out where the machine is manufac- tured or where the nearest rep is located. It may be possible to pick the machine up and save shipping costs. Training has to be included with the purchase. Follow that up by checking warranties, tech support, and spare parts availability. Even the simplest laser is a relatively complex piece of equipment, so make sure you understand what regular and routine maintenance is needed. Safety. In my case, having experience with large, powerful machines, I had seen what could happen to an operator who was too slow to get body parts out of the way or to technicians who had bypassed sa fet y devices. Even a low-powered machine can hurt you if you're careless about safety. Depending on who your customers may be, investigate CO 2 machines, fiber machines, or hybrids. These different machines produce different results on var- ied materials, so look at them all. After considering all that, I selected a 30-watt machine. e rep was close, and the factory was an easy drive away. It was an enclosed frame with interlocks to pre- vent exposure to the beam or to the radi- ation generated. If you've ever looked at arc welding, staring at a laser beam can produce the same discomfort. For those reasons, I would never personally consider an open-frame device. I realize they're less expensive and appear to be more con- venient — I just prefer the safety of an enclosed machine. Again, I'm not dismiss- ing open-frame machines or disparaging their manufacturers. You must make the best decisions based on your own specific needs and preferences. Be somewhat tech-savvy You will need to be at least familiar with running a computer. Your laser will likely come with its own computer-con- trolled operating system, and the graphics program you choose will certainly require some familiarity with a computer. When I started, there weren't a lot of choices for graphics, and most of what was available required the purchase of the pro- gram. I chose Corel and have stuck with it. ere are now several readily available programs on the market, both as avail- able for purchase or "open source." As with your machine choice, consider the software carefully. Pricing Fina lly, pricing your f inished product at the right price point is essen- tial. First, most people forget to include a cost for their time. Your time has value. Remember wastage and/or test pieces with blanks. If you want to build a wholesale business as well as retail, remember to allow for a discount. ink of discount levels for bigger orders at the retail level. If you're starting a full-time business in a store, your costs will differ from someone operating from a garage as a hobby. In closing, none of this is eye-opening information. Again, I don't claim to be an expert, but I have figured out how to do a lot of things the wrong way. I wish you the best of luck wherever your new ven- ture takes you. GP 3 4 5 6 Make sure you can afford to cover the expenses incurred with the new business (including an exhaust and filtration system).

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