Here at AP Lazer, we pride ourselves on our relationships with our customers. We are invested in their success, which is why we offer 24/7 Tech Support for the lifetime of every machine we sell. Unlike any other laser engraving machine company, we are available to support you and your business any time, day or night! Because these relationships are so important to us, we’re also starting a new series of interviews with actual AP Lazer customers! Today, we have Kim Wolfe, who in partnership with her husband Dorant run Lazer Anything, their company based out of Denville, New Jersey.
How did find out about AP Lazer?
We were on vacation in Tennessee last August where we had rented a log cabin. One morning, as I was sitting in the cabin in the middle of the wilderness looking out for bears and drinking a fresh cup of coffee. I started browsing Facebook at 5 am while my family was sleeping. An ad for a $300 laser engraver popped up. I clicked on it and found it really interesting. At the time, my husband and I were in search of a new business opportunity.
We had been in the food business for 15+ years and had sold our restaurant two years prior. We wanted a business that we could operate from home with limited overhead. I immediately began doing some research on the internet about laser engraving and I discovered about four different companies, including AP Lazer. I got really excited about the possibilities, so I woke up my husband and showed him my computer screen so he could see what I had found. He was completely uninterested, so I dropped it.
Two weeks later, he said to me, “I’ve been looking at the laser engraving machines you mentioned to me and it looks interesting.” I laughed to myself and we began our research in earnest. Mandi reached out to us within minutes of us sending an inquiry and we poured through all of the great information she sent over. Her customer service and patience with us were impeccable.
How did you fund your laser?
Initially, we looked into financing the machine but in the end, decided to use our savings so as to not have a large bill each month. Given this was completely new territory for us, we had no idea where we’d find our customers, and how much we could earn, we played it safe.
What was the biggest selling point of the AP Lazer?
In our research, we looked at all of the big names in the laser industry, as well as some of the smaller ones. My husband attended the NBM show and saw some of the machines from other companies in person. While some of them were impressive, we kept coming back to AP Lazer. Mandi arranged a demo by a local funeral home so that my husband could see the laser engraving machine in person. The factors which really drove our decision towards AP Lazer were the open architecture and the customer service. There were certainly less expensive options out there but we recognized the value in having a strong and responsive service team at our fingertips, as well as the ability to laser engrave large items even without purchasing the biggest machine.
How difficult is it to run the laser?
My husband runs our 2816 with great ease and skill. It took him a few days to be able to operate our laser on a basic level and about three months to get really good at it. Given our inexperience in this industry, that’s a really short period of time.
What have you used tech support for and how was your experience?
The 24/7 Tech Support has been incredibly impressive. In the early days, there were days where the techs spent an hour or more on the phone with my husband helping him through an issue, such as re-calibrating the machine. We travel to craft fairs with our machine and make items on the spot for customers. With all the jostling of the machine, it sometimes gets out of sync and needs some TLC. Tech Support has been super responsive and helped us get the machine back to optimal performance in a short period of time. They are always available no matter what time of day or what day of the week. The other point to note is that the machine is incredibly resilient and well made. We have not had issues with our laser engraving machine because of its design or quality of the parts. Most of our issues have been user created (that’s us) or our issues have been with our inexperience with the software. In the first four to five months, the service staff knew my husband well and by name. Now we hardly ever call. That’s an indication of the machine quality!
What do you like about the AP Lazer family?
We LOVE our AP Lazer family. From the moment we joined the “Before You Buy” Facebook group and then transitioned to the “After the Purchase” group, we have felt an incredible amount of support and camaraderie. People help each other out and share ideas without worry of competition. In these forums, our AP Lazer family has shared the items they make, how they make, and even what they charge. The group sincerely wants to help each other succeed.
One thing we’ve learned is that this business is a local business, even if you are selling on the internet. The creation of priceless items for people is largely one where you are interacting face to face, learning about the stories behind the items they are asking you to create, and seeing their eyes light up when you deliver it. With that kind of business model, we are not competing with someone in another part of our state (certainly not to any significant degree), so why not share information? That’s the mindset of our AP Lazer family – share share share and help help help.
Do you have any specific stories?
One story worth sharing as it is a testament to both Tech Support as well as the AP Lazer family: Last year in early December, we were taking the machine out to fairs every weekend and had accumulated about 80 orders to be delivered before Christmas. We had a fair on Thursday night and another on Saturday morning, so we left the machine in our trailer just out of sheer exhaustion. The temperatures dropped below freezing overnight and when we arrived at the fair on Saturday morning, the machine didn’t fire up. My husband opened the back of the machine to find a cracked 100-watt laser tube. We were horrified and had forgotten that the tube can freeze.
We called Tech Support immediately and even reached out directly to Tong Li. We had a new tube by Wednesday. In addition to that, we reached out to another AP Lazer owner about 90 minutes away to see whether we might be able to use his laser engraving machine to get some critical orders done. We really weren’t expecting a “yes” but he and his wife welcomed us with open arms and gave us about seven hours of machine time. We were incredibly grateful and blown away by the gesture. That’s the way our AP Lazer family works.
Did you start your business when you purchased your laser or did you purchase it to diversify an existing business?
This was a brand new business for us. No experience in graphic design. No experience in operating this kind of machinery. We’ve since diversified into other product sets that complement the laser – sublimation DTG printing and vinyl cutting. Next year’s plan is to add a UV printer and maybe a small CNC router. We’ve quickly established ourselves as personalization experts in our community. Even with all of the machinery we currently own, the laser is our bread and butter. We are having a ton of fun figuring out ways to produce mixed media products, such as cutting something on the laser and then adding color with the DTG printer. It’s really setting us apart.
What is your business and how would you describe it?
Our business tag line is “Make it Yours”. We are all about creating products that are special to our customers.
How would you describe the impact owning a laser has had on your business?
The laser opens doors for us that would not otherwise be open. There are tons of people creating personalized products from home – hand painting personalized products, sublimation, personalized garments. There are very few who can cut a wood sign with precision and engrave it beautifully Our laser engraving machine makes us unique and gets us into just about any craft fair. Craft fair organizers often contact us directly asking that we participate, whereas other vendors might be on a waiting list because there are so many others offering the same products that they do. Laser-cut and engraved products are what we lead with and they enable us to cross-sell some other products.
How have you marketed your laser business and products?
We market solely by attending craft fairs with our machine and through Facebook and Instagram. We’ve not done any print advertising. Our business has grown purely by getting out in the community and showing people what we do.
Do you have a website, and do you think it is necessary?
Setting up a website was one of the first things we did. It’s necessary in order to have credibility as a business. We also have an online store as part of our website. This is less critical but very nice to have. Most of our sales are generated by text, Facebook message, or email as opposed to someone going to our online store and ordering something. This is because a personalization sale usually requires some dialogue between you and the customer. It’s not like ordering paper towels or a pair of jeans. It’s about understanding what the customer is looking for, designing artwork that captures their vision or idea, and then bringing it to life.
How do you target your customers?
We talk to everyone about our business and hand out business cards all the time. At some point, everyone will need a personalized gift or item, so it’s all about making an impression and letting people know we are out there. This also why we chose a simple name that’s easy to remember. We are blown away by how many different markets are available to us with our laser engraver and are struggling to choose! There is industrial marking, commercial signs, personalized signs, custom engraving for gift shops, memorial products, promotional items for small and medium-sized businesses, just to name a few.
Where do you source your blanks from?
We have primarily used Johnson Plastics and JDS for engravable blanks. Having said that, most of our products are created from wood or acrylic. We use Home Depot for our premium birch plywood and a local supplier for acrylic. Shipping cost of blanks can be a killer, so we try to source as much as possible locally.
How do you determine pricing for your products?
Pricing is a tough one. When determining a price for a product, we start by looking at Etsy or other online sources for a similar product. The reason we do this is that most customers will be aware of the pricing they can get online, so it’s a benchmark that they use for comparison. We take the online price including shipping and price ourselves a little bit higher. We find that our customers are willing to pay a little bit more to purchase locally. This is because when you buy online, you never know what you’re going to receive in terms of quality, and returning items can be a real hassle. Our customers have already seen and touched our products, so the certainty around what they are getting for their money offsets the few extra dollars that they are paying over an online source.
When you first started out with a laser what products did you start with?
Our very first products were laser cut names and monograms. Mandi gave us the idea! The funny thing is that when we first started researching the laser engraver, our intention and vision was centered around engraving. I insisted that we didn’t need the 2816 and that we wouldn’t do a lot of cutting. We ended up getting the 2816 rather than the 1812 and we are incredibly thankful that things worked out that way. Our business is 85% cutting and 15% engraving. Being able to cut through ½” plywood with ease and on one pass is an absolute necessity for us!
What products would you recommend a new owner start with?
My recommendation to a new owner is to test the market with a variety of products and see where you get the best response. The options with your laser are only limited to your imagination. It may take you a while to find your niche and you will have some waste, but that’s ok.
What is your favorite part about using the laser engraver?
I read something published by AP Lazer recently and Tong Li said that after all these years, he still can’t help but to look through the window and watch the laser do its thing. We share that sentiment! It’s so neat to watch the laser glide over a piece of wood like a sailboat cutting through a calm lake. You just don’t get tired of it.
In what ways do you see yourself using the laser in the future that you haven’t tried yet?
This is a super tough question. There are so many things we haven’t tried yet! We love the work we see done with acrylic and LED lights, and we are starting to try pet memorials. We’ve started to dabble with both but would like to take it to the next level. Our business has been non-stop since we received our machine last October. It’s been difficult juggling fulfilling orders with marketing the business and developing new products. We get maybe we get one day a month where we can step back and try something new. Those are the extra fun days!
Advice for anyone looking to become an AP Lazer owner:
AP Lazer is the right partner, and that’s what they truly are – a partner. They don’t forget about you after the sale. They don’t rush you through the sale. Learning the machine and the software can be a bit daunting at first, but with the 24/7 Tech Support combined with hard work and commitment on your end, it all comes together.
The big BUT here is that the laser will NOT make you money by itself. You absolutely must get out there and market your company and services. You absolutely must learn how to use the software and machine. A laser is an amazing tool with incredible versatility but it is not a get rich quick scheme. You get out of it what you put into it. Investing your time, money, and efforts into it can reap tremendous reward and satisfaction. We are so thrilled with our decision and sometimes lie in bed at night marveling at how many opportunities we have because we own our AP Lazer. It’s up to us to put in the work to turn that opportunity into a success!