Ideas for Creative Agencies & Brands – #19

How to use laser cutting to stand out from the crowd


The distribution of ‘freebies’ or giveaway items can be a powerful marketing tool, with novelty objects triggering conversations between stakeholders in new and interesting ways. When used to full effect, these products become memorable in their own right… and most importantly, that also means the brand identity becomes an integral part of the ongoing conversation.

For an exhibition showcasing the best student works titled ‘D& AD New Blood’, the creative design team from Southampton Solent University incorporated visual, conceptual and sensorial metaphors into their very effective event freebie. A neat little laser cut box was produced in the style of the ubiquitous Southampton dock packing crates. Inside, further supporting the theme of “Cargo”, nestled a macabre-looking glass vial with the top sealed in wax.


This small bottle of wine continued to play on the New Blood idea of creative juices being shipped out. All sealed in a laser cut crate with sliding lid and laser etched details, it held just the right combination of conceptual nostalgia and contemporary novelty to become an effective conversation starter. People loved the diminutive scale and the nonsensical utility of the object. This was all made possible through clever use of laser cutting to increase brand awareness. See more photos of the miniature crates on behance.

How would you stand out from the crowd with laser cut freebies using the Ponoko Personal Factory? Let us know in the comments below, and for more ideas for Agencies and Brands, see the other posts in the series.

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#HolidaySales Tip #2: The Simplest Sales Hook Is A Festive Look


In our last post, we looked at the importance of planning your retail strategy before the start of the holiday season. Assuming you’ve got all those aspects locked in, let’s move on to the next step – decorating.

Remember ‘Home Alone’? Most of us can recount almost every gag in the movie. But apart from those moments, another fact that’s cemented in our memory is this – it was a Christmas movie. This association, even after so many years, is due to the visual power of décor. This festive season, you can tap into the pool of positive emotions associated with the holidays (the biggest of all being ‘spending’) simply by taking the time to incorporate an appropriate festive look in your online stores and through your social accounts.

Aim to look inspiring, not conspiring

It’s no secret that shoppers are aware of the myriad of psychological ploys employed by retailers to entice them into spending more during the holiday season. And while most shoppers tend to ignore this fact while shopping, any retail brand, which doesn’t sound genuinely participative in the holiday season, will immediately be seen as nothing but a money-grubbing Grinch.

As Trixy Eichler, head of merchandising for various large and small retail stores puts it succinctly, “When considering decorating your store, don’t limit yourself by the product in your store. Take inspiration from your surroundings, your community, what might be going on in the world. This will show your customers you’re active, aware, and participate in daily life. You are not just a sales outlet. You give people something to relate to and you’re engaging your customers.”

Now for many of you the act of physically decorating a store may not be something you do, but an online store’s front page and in many ways your social accounts are for all intents and purposes delivering the same message that a shop window would. Regardless the input required from you as a seller remains the same.

Start outside and work your way in

When planning your festive décor, start with the first point of contact for a shopper- your “window display”. As previously mentioned, by window display we are referring to your online store’s home page or your social accounts that take a pictorial focus, such as Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest. “Window displays” are key to breaking the visual monotony, whether on a social feed or as an attractive click action on your homepage and if you can grab someone’s attention for even a few seconds, you greatly increase their willingness to “walk in”.  With social posts, having relevant content that can be boosted to increase its appeal to a wider audience, beyond those of your fans, will attract people’s attention and may get them to click through to your site or “walk in” if you like.

Start your design and social posting plan by choosing a theme which reflects your store image. Is your store trendy or high-end? Will your store be offering huge bargains or will there be marquee products on sale? Your theme should reflect these elements and showcase products which reflect your store’s image.

When creating a storefront for the holiday season, start by using a background image, banner or set of images to create a clear distinction between the Christmas store and the regular store, if you are continuing to market merchandise not specifically applicable to Christmas. Consider the option of vividly showcasing just a few products. Or if you want to use a wider collage of items, consider building a story around them which intrigues shoppers to stop and take notice.

Great examples of this are creating split sections on the homepage that have a targeted gift market i.e ‘Gifts for Him’ or ‘Gift for Her’ and even by pricing, ‘Gifts for under $20’. You can then use relevant hashtags through social media to get the product in front of people looking for ideas and link them back to your store.

Decorating your store with no walls

As web usability guru Jakob Nielsen puts it, the reason we must decorate our websites for the holidays is “…because we respect users as human beings, rather than simply as ‘eyeballs’ or a source of e-commerce transactions…it is a way for websites to connect to users and be seen as welcoming environments, rather than places focused solely on money-grubbing.”

With a few simple touches to your online store, you can translate the festive spirit customers enjoy in your physical store and drive them to buy more.

More ideas for your graphics


If your website uses a header, updating it with a seasonal image can be a great start to sprucing up your site for the holidays. Also consider adding some sidebar images with holiday graphics and, if you have the time and the resources, try to incorporate your products into the graphics as well. 

If you can’t pull this off in time, use what you have available. For instance, you could simply decorate your site’s background image with holiday snapshots from you and your employees’ families.

Tell interesting holiday stories

If your website features a carousel on the homepage, this is a great way to incorporate your brand’s products with the holiday season. Use each image to create a story around a single product or a group of products. Your carousel can do more than just advertise your wares during the holidays, it can become a great medium to highlight new gifts this season and even push gifting of items which may not be getting as much attention across your site.

Using your social accounts to tell an engaging holiday story is a great way to get people connected to your brand and product and will leave them waiting for the next update. With the introduction of video in social, this is a great way to tell stories to the visual people in the world. Creating short, entertaining videos as little commercials will stop people in their tracks when reading through their social feeds. Producing videos up to around 30 seconds is ideal and easy to do with apps like Vine and Instagram and if you’re using an iPhone the built in apps from Apple are a great movie studio for the beginner. If commercials aren’t your thing, find someone you know to create review videos or how to videos, if they apply to your product.

Say hello with a holiday smile

Last, but not least, if your homepage has a welcome message, take a few minutes to update it with a note about the holidays. Here’s your chance to really be creative. Instead of just a boring “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”, think of how you can incorporate your brand’s ethos into this message or simply let customers know how your brand plans to celebrate the holiday season this year.

Decorating for the holidays should always be light-hearted yet subtly tactical. If done well, it can put customers in the right mood to shop, draw attention to items you would like to sell and above all, make your brand a friendly place to shop this season. In our next post, we’ll look at building your customer base through customer service (which always get more strenuous during the holidays). For now, as you begin decorating for more #HolidaySales, just remember to stick to a theme, be prudent in your choices and above all else, have fun doing it.

#HolidaySales Tip #1: The best sale is a planned one

the best sale is a planned one

“The holiday season is almost here”. If hearing that makes you squirm in your seat, even a little bit, maybe you need to stop working on your next sale poster and take some time to plan out your strategy first. We know the holidays can be a maddening time for retail. But to make sure your business doesn’t get swept up in the oncoming cacophony, we’ve created a 10-part blog series covering each aspect of holiday season retail. Think of it like decorating a Christmas tree – you wouldn’t just throw decorations at it and see which sticks, would you? With that in mind let’s hang our first bauble – planning.

Do you have a calendar handy?

In retail, there’s more than one date you need to keep in mind during the holiday season. Not only because you need to prepare for the added sales volume on those days but also because you need to integrate your sales plan backwards from those dates to be fully prepared. While you might know most of these dates, here is a quick refresher on the ones, which should definitely on your retail calendar for the holiday season:

October 31, Halloween: Each year, about 40% of consumers begin their holiday shopping before Halloween.

November 28, Black Friday: 2013 saw online spending on Black Friday increase 15% to a record $1.20 billion.

December 1, Cyber Monday: Online shoppers spent over 1.73 billion dollars on Cyber Monday in 2013, marking the heaviest online spending day in history.

December 8, Green Monday: Last year, consumers spent $1.4 Billion on Green Monday – a major e-retail day falling on the Monday in December, at least 10 days prior to Christmas.

December 18, Free Shipping Day: Shoppers took advantage of Free Shipping Day in 2013, making 1.03 billion in online purchases.

December 25, Christmas Day: With most shoppers spending time offline, this is one day to (sort of) relax and prepare for Boxing Day.

December 26, Boxing Day: Boxing Day is consistently among the biggest retail days of the year. 2013 saw an overall jump in online sales of 40% when compared to the same day in 2012.


Start wide but finish deep

Before the season starts, spend time putting together a complete assortment of merchandise across all your categories. But as the season gets closer, start to narrow your assortment and focus only on the ones which have proven to work, the best sellers in your lineup. Since customers have already expressed interest in those items, they more likely to generate sales and have the lowest markdown risk.

Look past the immediate horizon

Even though we’re still in September, you need to start reviewing your sales plans for November and December right away. By now, you should be far enough into the season to project the last two months, as compared to the start of the season. Ask yourself key questions like “how have sales trended compared to last year?” “Which categories have proven to strong?” “Are any weak categories lagging behind in my lineup?” Answering questions like these will help you make more accurate sales predictions for the holiday season.

Do you have enough supply to meet demand?

Most retailers have mixed feelings about inventory around the holiday season. Order too much inventory and you risk significant markdowns later in the season but order too little and customers might go elsewhere in a heartbeat if they don’t find what they’re looking for.

That’s why you need to review your inventory plans for the end of October, November and December. Think long and hard about what percentage of your ending inventories each month you want to dedicate to stocks of your best items. Because irrespective of quantity, the quality of these items ultimately drives your sales in the last two months.

Don’t lose focus on your vendors

While it’s great to plan inventory and sales projections (and feel quite proud of yourself) don’t forget your retail business is not a one-man band. Once you’ve calculated which items you need and what quantities you need them in, the next question to ask is – which vendors? Choosing the right vendor will give you a better handle on delivery dates.

Make sure your vendors are clear with your requirements and if you primary vendor doesn’t have a key item, don’t panic. Someone else is bound to have it and consider yourself lucky you discovered the weak link in the supply chain sooner rather than later.

Keep the phone lines open

Once you’ve got your vendors to agree with your requirements for the holiday season, don’t give in to the urge to kick your feet up and let automation do its job. Think of this as a mission to space. So far, you’ve only gotten past launch. There’s still plenty that could go wrong. Late deliveries in November and December can very easily turn all your hard work upside down and before you can say, “Houston, we have a problem”, you could be looking at lost sales and heavier than anticipated markdowns.

Stay clear of ‘inventory blindness’

When you’re making your list of items to stock for the holiday season, it’s easy to start assuming certain items are going to be a hit. But knowing what you shouldn’t buy is as important, if not more, than knowing what you should.

Take another looks at your inventory and identify those items, which you don’t absolutely have to maintain until the end of the season. These items may have been necessary to complete a full assortment but any money spent on them during the holiday season might not generate the same sales volume as your better performing counterparts and leave you exposed to a greater risk of markdown.

Planning for the holiday season can be a daunting task, but it’s not impossible. All you need is a little foresight and time set aside to get it done properly. In our next post, we’ll go over designing your storefront (both online and offline) for the holiday season. For now, just remember, if you go through planning your #HolidaySales step by step, you’ll end up with a better looking inventory and a cash register that keeps on ringing. In the world of retail, what could be better holiday music?


Ideas for Creative Agencies & Brands – #18

Topping off tasty treats with laser cutting


Tasty treats are a great way to draw a crowd, and as these playful laser cut cake toppers demonstrate, there can be so much more to the proverbial ‘cherry on the top’ if you’re willing to get creative with laser cutting.

This approach calls for elements that ring true with the strengths of laser cutting – a combination of crisp outlines, bold forms and delicate silhouettes that are uniquely eye-catching. Each individual unit is also fast and cheap to make, and will be resilient enough to withstand the rigors of more than a few rounds at events or parties. This makes them great take-home souvenirs or giveaways, with the added memorable twist of your brand being associated in a fun way with a tasty treat.


Using the cupcake as a base for their creative endeavors, John and Christine from Thick and Thin Designs have gathered quite a following with their cake toppers on Etsy; a few of which are pictured here. How does this inspire you to use the Ponoko Personal Factory to sweeten your corporate messaging? Let us know in the comments below. For more ideas for Agencies and Brands, see the other posts in the series.

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Ponoko designs & makes promo products from scratch for event marketers.  Hit us up for a free quote.

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How to Decide When the ‘Price is Right’ in your Retail Strategy


Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 3.44.45 PMPricing your products can be an exciting time as you begin to imagine the cash registers ringing. But when you actually get down to it, the initial excitement often gives way to doubt and nervousness.

Suddenly your mind is racing with questions and explanations – What if you price too low? You might make a ton of sales but still end up alarmingly short of money to cover your expenses.

On the other hand, what if you price your product too high? You might convince the market you are a high-end, luxury manufacturer. It might even begin to draw a financially upmarket range of customers. The high cost may offset your smaller sales figures, but what if the market shifts? What if a change in manufacturing or a new competitior can match your level of quality and reduce the price? Can your businss compete and survive in a price-sensitive market?

Such questions and more will always be floating around and no one strategy can magically address all your pricing doubts. However, by being aware of the options available for retial pricing, you will be in a position to choose the one which suits your business when the time comes.

Before we go into specifics, there are some basic overarching categories which classify individual pricing strategies. These include:

  1. Demand oriented strategies: In a retail environment, you don’t always have to depend on your skills as a marketer to attract customers. Some porducts, or even categories of products, have such a magnetic pull that setting the retail price for them can be done simply by observing demand.
  2. Cost oriented strategies: This is a more common format for calculating retail pricing and revolves around the relationship and ratio of merchandise costs, operating costs and expected profits.
  3. Competition oriented strategies: These strategies involve observing, analysing and responding to market changes to maintain the perception of competitive pricing at all times in a given market.

Let’s begin by looking at some common demand oriented strategies:

Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
As the name suggests, this is a price manufacturers recommend retailers use to sell their products. This strategy is used by manufacturers to standardize prices of products across multiple locations and retailers.

However, MSRP can also be used in a market where there is high product demand. In such a market, by sticking to the manufacturer’s price, the retailer can drive higher profit sales and determine what the price levels of certain products will be in his store, irrespective of the consumer’s bargaining power.

Demand Ceiling Pricing
In this form of pricing, the retailer takes into account the maximum a consumer will pay for a certain item and as far as possible, try to keep the price up to that level so as to maintain a demand momentum for that product.

Demand Floor Pricing
Here, the retailer takes into account the lowest he is willing to go on price to meet demand for a particular product. This is usually done on lower cost items where a retailer might go lower on the cost to keep the volume of demand constant for longer.

Odd Pricing
Studies have shown that when customers spend money, they actually feel a sense of loss. But if you help minimize this feeling of loss, it is possible to nudge customers into making a purchase. In retail, you can do this by ending the price with an odd number like 5, 7, or 9. For example, using $8.99 instead of $9.00.

Also if you want to know the ideal odd number to pick, it’s 9. A study conducted at MIT and the University of Chicago ran an experiment on a standard women’s clothing item with the following prices $34, $39, and $44. The item priced at $39 outsold even its cheaper counterpart price of $34.

Zone Pricing
It’s no secret that certain suburbs or geogrpahical areas house more affluent people. In such areas, the demand for certain types of products or categories will always be high, simply due to their increased ability and propensity to spend. Using this tactic, retailers can map out certain areas where they can get away with charging more for the same stocked item as compared to stores in other locations.

Now, let’s examine some cost oriented pricing strategies:

Multiple Pricing
This is a common pricing strategy wherein you can sell more volumes of smaller itesms simply by grouping them together. It’s a strategy you normally see in grocery stores and even across clothing brands espcially for smaller things such as socks, underwear and T-shirts.

Discount Pricing

All customers love agood bargain. That’s why sales, discount coupons and even holiday deals are so popular. The only thing to consider is why you’re choosing to discount your products. If it’s for more footfalls, consider going wide with your discounts so as to attract a variety of people. If it is to get rid of unsold inventory, try setting a time limit on your discount (1 day only, flash 12-hour sale) so as to not draw too much attention to the items on sale. And if you’re trying to attract price-conscious customers, club your discounted items together to seem more appealing.

Loss-leading Pricing
If you’ve ever walked into the store because you saw a ‘too-good-to-be-true’ discount sign but walked out with three things, you’ve just experienced loss-leading pricing at work. The idea is once you get a customer in store to buy one item, just looking at other items on the shelves is often enough to drive more sales.

Finally, let’s examine competiton oriented pricing strategies:

Below Competition Pricing
As the name suggests, retailers employing this strategy use a competitor’s pricing data as a benchmark and consciously price their products below them to lure consumers into their store, instead of the competition’s.

Above Competition Pricing
While below competition seems like a no-brainer, retailers need to be cautious before using this strategy. That’s because if your competition is willing to go head to head, he might keep dropping his prices to the point where it’s no longer financially viable for you to go any lower. A good example of this is Amazon who brought the cost of paperback books so low, they put Barnes & Noble out of business.

Instead, retailers can do the exact opposite – benchmark their product at intentionally higher prices than their competition. This forces customers to stop and consider why your prices might be higher. And, not surprisingly the conclusion most arrive at is – your produt must be of higher (and therefore better) quality. A classic case of this strategy working is Starbucks, where people consistently pick them over Dunkin’ Donuts.

One of the most exciting and nerve-wracking aspects of retail is determining what price to sell your products at. However you must remember that pricing is both an art and a science. It requires an experimental attitude and an intuitive feel for how you want your brand and, by extension, your products to be perceived.

Please feel free to share in the comments below other ways you might calculate your retail pricing.


Ideas for Creative Agencies & Brands – #17

Laser cut changes in scale: How small can you go?


We have seen how taking and everyday object and making it big can really change your perspective. The same thinking can be just as effective going the other way – when large objects become interesting and engaging by making them tiny.

No-one does this better than the clever makers at Everything Tiny. As we can see in the tinysaur example above, miniaturisation is an easy way to encourage a fresh, light-hearted response to your brand. Considered use of layering and materials can also help to create more impact, and also remember that small items tend to be fragile or easily lost – so a display case of some kind would be a handy addition.

How would you use the Ponoko Personal Factory to go really small? Let us know in the comments below. For more ideas for Agencies and Brands, see the other posts in the series.


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Ponoko designs & makes promo products from scratch for event marketers.  Hit us up for a free quote.

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Wholesale Pricing Strategies To Keep You Smiling!


Pricing for wholesale doesn’t necessarily mean cutting your retail price in half. In fact, that’s more likely to make your wholesale prices unsustainably low. Instead, when you set your wholesale price, you need to price for profit.

Pricing for profit at the wholesale rate

When planning your pricing, you first need to come up with a wholesale price that pays you for your time, labor, materials, packaging and everything related to the core of your product. This price should have profit built into it so that you are able to stay afloat and grow your business.

Once you’ve set your wholesale price, perhaps double that price to create your retail price (the suggested retail price to your wholesale customers). And when you sell your product yourself via ecommerce, use the same ‘suggested retail price’.

What to include in your pricing formula

When pricing, we suggest you consider:

Labor: This is not negotiable. Build labor into your price, so you can easily hire someone in the future.

Cost of goods: You have to include every single material used to create your product.

Profit: The margin needed to reinvest in your business. Without profit, you can’t grow, hire, or even take a break from your business.

For labor, consider what you would feel comfortable paying an employee per hour, and work out how many of your products you can make in an hour to figure out labor costs per product. Do not include your labor for ideating or designing (these go into the general expenses category discussed at the bottom of this post), only include the labor directly input into the making / assembly of each product.

The Ponoko formula for success

At Ponoko, we’ve spent years experimenting with multiple formulas to arrive at one that works best, is easy to remember and even easier to implement. Here’s what we think wholesale pricing should look like:

Cost of Goods = Product Cost (Making + Materials + Shipping + Making / Assembly Labor) + Packaging Cost.

Wholesale Price = Cost of Goods x1.5 at least (to get you started), and preferably x2 or even better x3.

Retail Price = Wholesale Price x1.5, x2 or x3 as above.

When starting out, we recommend you stick to this formula because it’s the easiest way to calculate your pricing, and all the information needed for these calculations is easily available.

Calculating overhead costs and general expenses 

It’s too tough to try and work out how much of your power bill or your ideation or design time should be allocated to any one product you sell. So let’s not try. Instead, use your near constant monthly expenses to calculate your break even point – the number of products you need to sell at the price you set to cover all of your general expenses.

For example, if your expenses are $1,000 per month (including design labor) and your product costs you $25 (including making labor), this means:

* If your retail price is set at $100 (gross profit of $75), you need to sell 14 units of your product at retail every month to break even.

* If your wholesale price is set at $50 (gross profit $25), you need to sell 40 units of your product at wholesale every month to break even.

This example shows the power of increasing your prices (and keeping cost low), because the more profit per product, the less number of them you’ll need to sell each month to break even and start making a decent profit!

Please feel free to share in the comments below other ways you might calculate your pricing …

Ideas for Creative Agencies & Brands – #16

Going BIG: Changing the way we see everyday objects


Every day we interact with hundreds of objects, barely giving them a second thought as they perform their designated functions. The transformation that happens when you dramatically upscale an item can be a real conversation starter, as is demonstrated by the giant comb bike rack pictured above.

This clever design was a response by Know How Shop LA to the question: “What would I lock my bike to if I were really small?”

Changes in scale can be a simple way to create an eye-catching impact, where often the more ubiquitous the item, the stronger the reaction will be. See how using laser cutting to go big can help your clients stand out from the crowd! Let us know about your ‘big ideas’ in the comments below.

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Ponoko designs & makes promo products from scratch for event marketers.  Hit us up for a free quote.

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Ideas for Creative Agencies & Brands – #15

Laser Cut Mobiles

laser cut robot mobile das wood

While there are some people who don’t give the humble mobile much thought outside of a baby’s nursery, for others the transformation that takes place as an object floats delicately through the air can be quite mesmerising.

Mobiles can take on many forms, as is demonstrated by the playful examples pictured here from Diana Jess aka daswooddesign. Hand-made from low impact eco-plastic, she used the compositionally friendly arrangement of four floating elements (pictured above)… but you can also have just as much impact with five, three, two or even one lone pendant suspension. It all comes down to how interesting your individual items are, and how well they balance when suspended.


Many of our favorite laser cutting materials are ideal to use in this application, as the silhouette of the object and the negative space around it contribute to creating a dynamic visual impact. The designs from daswood achieve this particularly well, using the strengths of laser cutting to make the most of the chosen material’s physical characteristics.

Where can you suspend an eye-catching promotional laser cut design from? Going beyond the standard ceiling mount, there are opportunities around us all the time. How about something dangling from the rear-vision mirror in a car, or clipped to the edge of a computer monitor? See what else you can come up with, and use the Ponoko Personal Factory to create a ‘space modulator’ that leaves a lasting impression.

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Ponoko designs & makes promo products from scratch for event marketers.  Hit us up for a free quote.

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Ideas for Creative Agencies & Brands – #14

High contrast laser cut layers

Laser cut and etched wood has a striking impact all on its own, but as this example from San Francisco creative duo b-spired shows, adding in a backing layer of bright colored card really makes things pop.

Enhancing the crisp lines and bold negative space that is such a strength of laser cutting, the layered card creates a high-contrast visual impact that completely transforms the natural tone of the timber. The same effect will be equally impressive when applied to other popular laser cutting materials such as acrylic and metals.

These greeting cards and invitations by b-spired also have a sturdy backing and a neat little pop-out stand, because when something looks this good, chances are high that people will want to display them.

Imagine how this technique would look when applied to corporate identities and company artwork. How can you use the Ponoko Personal Factory to create promotional laser cut layered items, inspired by b-spired?

Let’s Talk Ideas

Ponoko designs & makes promo products from scratch for event marketers.  Hit us up for a free quote.

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