Business and Increasing Efficiency

My laser engraving business is almost two years old now.  Things have reached the point that I’m getting orders every day directly through the e-commerce website. This is a change from the past where I had mostly corporate orders.  For those, a customer would usually just contact me by email to set everything up.

I enjoy doing personal orders for consumers a lot, but it takes infinitely more “hand-holding” of the customers and an order of one personalized item requires almost as much work as a corporate order of 10 items at once.  So as these types of orders increase, and in the holiday season especially, I spend a lot of time taking care of orders.

While thinking on how to make things more efficient I do a lot of visiting of other sites.  Customization of products is definitely on the rise!  Some sites have online flash-based designers that provide a ‘self-serve’ setup.  Some of these solutions are truly amazing – my favorite has to be moo.com - but vistaprint and sites like Zazzle and Cafe Press are other fine examples.  Those sites are all owned by business much larger than mine, and all use custom proprietary software solutions.  I’ve also looked into three different systems that mesh with my shopping cart (using Magento currently) to allow a designer to be added for custom products.  Unfortunately, none of these have met my expectations for user friendliness, both for customers and for myself.  They didn’t make me more efficient, and were troublesome to set up and use.

So I was planning to go back to just a ‘download a template’ and send it to us system.  This is done really well by sites like StickerMule.com and GroveMade.com.  Grove goes so far to charge for proofs.  I only just started charging for proofs after the first change a few months ago, and I worry that I’ll mess something up during the artwork transfer, so I’m not ready to encourage folks to not see a proof.  But it’s all about setting expectations as clearly as possible, so saying right away that there’s a fee for a proof probably would cut down on the people who think they can email me a description and have it engraved (“I want her name, and hearts, and a fancy border around it all, oh and incorporate Hello Kitty into it if you can?”).

My biggest goal lately has been to better integrate the ordering process.  I use a help desk solution for emails, Magento for e-commerce, Apollo for proofing.  There’s a disconnect between Apollo and Magento that I’d like to solve.  I’ve looked at other online proofing solutions and they’re all a lot more robust than I need.  Apollo has been terrific (and it’s free!) but it’s meant a lot of manual copying and pasting and updating order status.

So, to pull everything together, I’m currently setting up a whole new e-commerce system that I’ve bypassed before because it was out of my price range.  It looks fantastic, but I’m still at the stage of hoping my expectations aren’t too high.

I’ll be writing more about that soon.

1 Comment

  1. Alan Reeves
    Apr 3, 2012

    Great post. Glad to see someone doing so well with laser engraving, especially a fellow Mechanical Engineer. Sounds like you have your work cut out for you with all the e-commerce integration. I really like the Corel plugin/widget that lets customers create a design right on a Kindle.

    I read on your About page that you dabbled in baby sign language; we taught both of my kids (7 & 4) a little sign language as babies and try to keep teaching them as much as possible. I know very little but my wife is pretty good. We all learn from a PBS series called Signing Time. Mostly for kids, I still learn a lot. Thanks

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