A quick glance at a Dallas Morning News 24 years ago was a good move. And what came from that glance is still generating business.
A small retail gift store in a posh north Dallas shopping area, Highland Park Village, ran a small ad in the paper with a photo of a Waterford crystal bowl. It was an invitation for Waterford collectors to come to the store to meet the Ireland designer and buy one of his bowls. He was a guest in the store to sign (etch by a slow electric tool!) his name on the bottom of the bowl. I saw that ad as an opportunity.
Off I went to the nearest department store to buy a wine glass. I had a brief window of time between buying the wine glass and being at the Waterford event before the man's 2 hour visit was over. I had to buy the glass, take it back to the Studio, engrave it, get back home, shower, get on my coat and tie, and be at the gift store.
I got to the store in plenty of time but had to park a brisk hike away. The store was packed. Women were lined up like loops of people in line at the Six Flags roller coaster. Must have easily been 100 women, bumper to bumper, with their bowl in hand waiting to reach the Irish gentleman in the front of the store.
I stood for a moment surveying the crowd. No way did I have the time to make the long wait to see the old boy signing his name on customers' bowls.
You see, I had stippled the the Waterford guy's first name, Ted, on the bowl of a Mikasa wine glass. Mikasa is good stuff but not in the Waterford class in quality, prestige, or price. I wanted to hand it to him to see my work.
Really had no idea how that might benefit me, but it was worth a shot. It had occurred to me to buy a Waterford glass but that thought was fast-fleeting. Its cost would have been seventy or eighty bucks. The Mikasa glass was a cool fifteen. I figured the pedigreed glass cutter from Waterford probably didn't own a Mikasa glass...and with his name on it!
I was in business attire and looked relatively important. Perhaps it bordered on rudeness, but I walked straight to the woman who'd be next in line to see the guy signing bowls. She was turned speaking to the woman directly behind her as she waited her turn. "Excuse me ladies, I have a very important package for the Waterford gentleman. Would you mind if I step in front of you for about 30 seconds?.... and then I'll be on my way."
Both women smiled and graciously let me break in line. I stepped up in front of the guy, extended my hand, and greeted him with a big smile. "Welcome to Texas, Mr. O'Brien!" In the same moment, I handed him the wine glass with his first name stippled on it; inside the glass was my business card.
At that early stage in my engraving...about 3 months into it...I hadn't sold a nickel's worth of my work. I was just learning the thinner script that I now use almost exclusively. Then, I was far more agile with stippling larger Calligraphic letters done with a pen and ink on paper. His name was lettered in india ink on a thin sheet of mylar with a wide steel pen.
The name was snipped out with scissors, the thin backing was removed, and the name was positioned on the glass. I burnished it down smoothly with my fingers. I then 'traced' the outline of the three letters with tiny dots, using the dental drill. When the outlines were finished, I peeled off the pattern and made a zillion little dots to fill in the letter shapes.
"I also do glass and crystal engraving and wanted you to have a sample of my work!" He looked baffled. He didn't rise from his chair or say anything other than a quite 'thank you.' I was simply an interruption to him in his endless process of scratching his name on bowls customers purchased.
I excused myself for butting in, then turned and thanked the ladies again. Quickly, I made my way across the loops of women back to the store entrance.
Just as I reached to push the glass door, a petite lady in a dark suit, standing near the door, said, "Hello sir. What did you just give to Mr. O'Brien?" I told her I was a glass/crystal engraver and I wanted him to see a sample of my work, so I brought him a wine glass and welcomed him to Texas.
She brightened up with obvious interest about my work and asked if I had a business card. We exchanged cards on the spot. She told me she worked for Waterford out of the Dallas World Trade Center. As we talked briefly, I learned she was the host for Mr. O'Brien, squiring him around to several Dallas area retailers over a three day period, for him to sign his designs for collectors.
Our visit was brief and I was out of there. Fast-forward about a week and I got a call from a female executive at the Waterford showroom at the Dallas World Trade Center. She asked if I could engrave on a round object. Told her I could. She said an area woman had just purchased 8 Waterford crystal baseballs from a Dallas retailer and the store was searching for someone to personalize them. She needed a three-letter monogram on each one, as gifts for groomsmen in a fancy wedding.
I connected with the customer right away. Though certainly not today's routine, I went to her house to pick them up, arduously stippled 24 capital letters, three for each monogram on each piece, and delivered them back to her house in a couple of days. The customer was thrilled with the work and handed me a check for $280. Not a bad opening order for very green, unpolished engraver. I KNEW I was onto something good.
Through the years that quick visit to the Waterford guy, and meeting his host, has meant thousands of dollars in work. Because of that chance meeting with the lady in the dark suit, word has made its way to many area department stores selling many brands of crystal, porcelain, and china. Now, many stores call me directly, or they give my little card to the customer needing engraving.
Often, I recall that morning visit to give a little piece of my work to the Irishman. Without the woman in the dark suit, it would have been an expenditure of fifteen bucks and 3 hours of my time that would have probably produced nothing.
BOTTOM LINE: Gamble a bit of your time and a few dollars when you can visualize that your gift of a personalized goodie might just have legs. It could be a glass, small knife, wooden spoon, or other of many items you'll find at the Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, Dollar General, etc. AND...the Goodwill store and other similar stores have cartfuls of ideas that might just help you turn a small gift into a large stream of income.
Oh, yes. Don't forget to order a good supply of business cards when you have your business name, web address, contact information, etc. Spread them around generously. Your phone will likely ring often.