Engravably Yours: A Success Story
By: Kris Wieber
Custom Gift Retailer Magazine
Engravably Yours operates in the small town of Spring Valley, in Rockland County, in the state of New York. The company opened its doors on March 1st, 1980. Its owner and operator is Norman Stillman, but his history in the personalization business goes back beyond even the early eighties, to the late fifties, when Stillman took a job to train as a hand engraver.
"I was a young guy coming out of the service, about twenty years old. In those years, there was a lot of unemployment going around. I had a high-school diploma, but I never went to college. I couldn't find a job and a friend of my mother's had a friend who was looking to hire someone," recalls Stillman.
He hired Stillman and trained him to hand engrave Florentine finishes. The business was located in New York City's (which is approximately 30 minutes from Spring Valley) jewelry districts. After six months of training, Stillman was engraving on a number of jewelry items, something he continues to do to this day. But while his career in engraving has lasted over forty years, that particular job lasted only a couple.
"There was a partnership between these two young guys, and the partnership broke up. The two of them went on to do different things and left a void. There were a couple of manufacturers looking for their products to be taken care of, and I went to work for one of them," remembers Stillman.
In those years, Stillman was making about $87 a week and had a friend who was jealous because he was only making $80 a week. According to Stillman, that wasn’t a bad salary, but he was getting ready to be married and thought he needed to earn more money, so he asked his boss for a 25-cent an hour raise. His boss said yes but stalled him on the raise a month, and when it finally did go through, it was only a ten-cents an hour raise. Stillman was not happy.
"This was on a 35-hour week, so that was only $3.50 more on my paycheck. I told him I needed to get a different job and gave him two weeks notice. He came by later and said I could have the 25-cent raise. I told him it was too late and that I was planning to go into business for myself. He walked away and then the Friday of my last week there he came by and asked, ‘Norman, would you do some work for us; we have no one to take over your place?’ I said, ‘Sure.’"
The company that once paid his $87 a week salary now gave him $200 worth of business a week. In addition, Stillman was engraving items for other companies and other people. He was making $400 to $500 a week.
"I still see that guy now and then, and when I see him now, I say, ‘Thank you, if you hadn’t been such a jerk, I still might be working for you.’ He still laughs at it, too," says Stillman.
THE PERSONALIZATION NICHE
For many moons, Stillman maintained that Manhattan business, engraving for a variety of businesses and people and raising a family. In the late seventies, Stillman, today a grandfather of six grandchildren, recognized that there was a niche for a personalization gift shop in the community where he lived, Spring Valley.
In 1980, when Engravably Yours opened, Stillman was still very busy running his other business in the city. To help him out with th
e business, his wife, Marilyn, began working at Engravably Yours.
"I actually went in to help this woman that was working for him. I was supposed to be there one day a week, and it became an all-day, six days, sometimes seven days a week job," says Marilyn.
"She's really the key to the business; people love her," says Stillman.
She has certainly done a good job, going into its 23rd year of business, Engravably Yours now has four employees working for them in their thousand-square-foot store, which offers thousands of different items.
We carry a lot of desk items, and we try to make everything we carry engravable. I would say 90 percent of the items we carry are engravable. We have three thousand different pens alone, seven or eight thousand different items altogether," Stillman says.
Over its years, Engravably Yours picked up some machinery as well, "We have two computerized engravers, a Dahlgren and New Hermes. We also still have a pantograph that we use, as well as a couple of ring engravers," says Stillman.
While most of its business is related to rotary engraving, that’s not the only process of personalization offered by Engravably Yours.
"I also do sublimation. I like sublimation. It’s the easiest way for me to personalize some items, and it’s the cleanest look," says Stillman.
Over the years, Stillman has also tried his hand at screen-printing and laser engraving. He does not offer either process in-house any longer, but continues to outsource them each in addition to outsourcing some sandblasting and embossing. He now focuses his in-store diversification efforts at keeping a new and varied product line.
"I always like to see what’s new in the field; I’m always checking into things," says Stillman.
"We look for unique things, and that’s the important thing," adds Marilyn.
So what does Engravably Yours carry?
"MontBlanc products have been our best sellers; they sell jewelry, cologne and perfume (the bottles of which Engravably Yours personalizes) and leather goods as well as pens. We are actually what they call a MontBlanc Shop and Shop," says Stillman.
Engravably Yours also carries a line of crystal gifts, called Orrefors, Kosta Boda, and sells a lot of fine jewelry.
"One type of jewelry we sell is a designer line called Judith Jack. Their items are made out of sterling silver. We sell a lot of pewter items. We’re also using Royal Salinger quite a bit. They make a pewter goblet, trays and other items like that," says Stillman.
Marilyn sees a broad product line as one of the keys of success for Engravably Yours. "We have a wide selection. My attitude is if customers walk out of here and don’t buy something, there’s something wrong, because if you need something for ten dollars, we have it. If you need something for $10,000 we have it."
Another key to success for Engravably Yours has been their marketing.
"Some people think they can just open a business, open its door, run out and get some business and just start making money right away. That’s not the case. You have to develop a business, learn what your machines can do, offer a diverse line and market your business," says Stillman.
"I think a lot of our customers come to us because they want their gift engraved. If it’s a pen they’re buying, they come to us because we’re pen experts. There’s no one in our community who’s offering anything like what we’ve got," and letting customers know that is critical, says Marilyn.
During the early years of his first business, Stillman used to take an elevator to the top floors of buildings in Manhattan and knock on doors until he was back at the bottom.
Today, it’s much easier for Stillman to get his company’s name out in front of a lot more customers. "We’re doing a lot of marketing. We have a website, www.engravably.com,
and that’s been a good supplement to our business. We also do TV advertising; we spend $800 a month just on cable advertising, and we do a lot of newspaper advertising as well as direct mail. We keep a list of all the people who buy around the holidays, and we’ll give them a call or a reminder as those times approach."
Engravably Yours has also found an excellent way to promote particular product lines: shows.
"We run four shows in the store annually. Two are jewelry shows and two are pen shows. We have representatives from the companies come here with a complete line of their items. We’ll have hundreds of people a day walk in and look. Judith Jack comes for the jewelry show. For the pen show, we’ll have people from Parker, MontBlanc, Cartier, Cross and more. We run a raffle and give away a few pieces donated by suppliers, four or five hundred dollar pens," says Stillman.
A FAMILY EXPERIENCE
Of course, there is more to the success of Engravably Yours than products and promotions. Great customer service is the essential characteristic key to their success.
"We work long days, long hours, but have fabulous customers, and we’re very lucky because we have a large customer base, and we have developed long-term relationships with most of them. They’re like family," says Marilyn. She adds that her customers know that she’ll take care of their needs.
"The old expression: the customer is always right, that’s really true. It’s very important to take pride in what you do. It’s also important to offer very good service. I always say, ‘This is a very small community and if you do something wrong, everybody’s going to know about it. You really have to watch what you’re doing and care about it."
She adds that, "You have to be nice and friendly with customers. People like you to say, ‘Hello, how are you? How’s your family?’ And what ends up happening is that you learn about them. We know our customer’s children, their aunt, their uncle, their father, etc. It becomes a family experience."
When customers have a good buying experience in your store, they come back for more, and that repeat business can take a couple of different forms. "About 65 percent of our business is retail, 35 percent corporate. There’s crossover, because people come in here to buy gifts personally and then later they come in and buy things for their corporation," says Marilyn.
In the end, success is granted to those that work hard and smart, offering great service and products and making sure that people are aware of them. Of course, to be truly successful, it’s got to be about more than that.
Marilyn says, "We enjoy what we do; we take pride in what we do. We have a lot of friends who ask why we don’t retire or sell. I would go crazy. I really, truly enjoy our customers."
There’s more than one way to measure success.