Hiring a Maker / Designer to Make Custom Products For Our Designer Customers


We have a part time Production Manager role for a maker / designer to make custom products for our online community of 150,000 makers / designers. And to help us change the world.


* You believe what we believe … That mass production is going local.

* You value what we value.

* You have a deep desire to help other makers / designers make their own custom products. This will make it easy for you to smile, persevere and shine through the ups and downs our customers experience on their personal creative journeys, and the ups and downs we experience on ours.

* You are:

  • A designer / maker. With a proven eye for detail.
  • Experienced working with laser cutters for at least one year in a production facility, nailing quality and speed.
  • Experienced with vector design software, specifically Adobe Illustrator.
  • Familiar with the properties of the materials in our catalog here.
  • Someone who works harmoniously with your team members to delight customers.
  • Cool under extreme pressure, and you radiate this with your team members and suppliers.
  • A happy soul. Who communicates well (including online with our global team).
  • Proactive. Detailed. Process driven. *All three.*
  • Someone who likes to lead, and enjoys working independently.
  • Effective at multi ­tasking and prioritizing the daily rush of tasks that come in an evolving company.
  • Someone who understands you get out of life what you put into it. And to change the world this means stepping forward and grabbing at responsibility.


You’ll be our part time Production Manager (32 hours per week, with the ability to go to 40-48 hours per week as needed). You’ll be the trusted maker of our customer’s product designs. You’ll enable us to deliver on time as our customer demand is growing. You’ll be working at our workshop in Emeryville, CA

Your typical day includes:

* Achieving 2 key goals – product making quality and speed of making service. Both measured and reported weekly.

* Managing our online customer order queue, and making customer’s orders using our laser cutters.

* Managing our materials stock so we do not run out. And communicating with our materials suppliers as needed.

* Carefully packaging and shipping customer orders. And communicating with our shipping suppliers as needed.

* Lending your expertise to assist our customers improve their product designs, as needed.

* Liaising with our customer team to ensure on-time delivery of quality custom products.

* Delighting our customers with the unexpected, and putting a smile on their faces, particularly when all seemed lost.

* Attending 2 weekly meetings – one full team discussion about company and individual results, plus one customer/production team discussion about customer experience.

* Identifying problems with and improving our workflows to delight customers.


* Freedom and independence to run your own shift.
* Feeling that your work day makes a difference in other people’s lives.
* Market salary.
* Unlimited paid time off.
* Employee rates on laser cutting your own stuff.


Dreamed up in 2006, Ponoko believes consumers of the future will download and make products locally (kinda like a ‘digital Ikea’, followed by a ‘Star Trek Replicator’).

We foresaw the third industrial revolution (distributed digital mass production) growing out of the first and second industrial revolutions (centralized analog mass production).

Hence in 2007 Ponoko launched at the first TechCrunch conference in San Francisco and became the world’s first to enable designers to make & sell downloadable product designs online (open, free, paid).

Since then a community of more than 150,000 makers, designers, hackers, brands and businesses have made over 450,000 custom products online. And they’ve sold them via our website, their own websites, ETSY, Kickstarter, design events, and to main street retailers.

With no minimum order size to get started and on-demand production available within 1 day to eliminate investment in stock, we’ve make it 10x faster than ever before for designers to prototype, make and sell their custom product ideas online.

Recognised as a pioneering leader of the online digital making industry, we have been featured in places like The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, CNN Money, Inc. Magazine (cover), Forbes, Wired, Core77, TechCrunch, Makezine, MIT Technology Review, BBC News and The Economist.

Your appointment will enable us to continue to support our new and existing customers, while we pioneer a new direction for our industry.


Send an email to dan.devorkin@ponoko.com to introduce yourself, send your resume, and your answers to these 3 questions:

1) Why do you want this role?
2) What gaps might exist between what we need and what you have?
3) Why are you the best person for this role?

We’re looking forward to meeting you :)

Ideas for Creative Agencies & Brands – #20

Life-sized Laser Cutting

lexus cardboard car

For brands and agencies in the automotive industry, the challenge of finding new ways to engage and excite potential customers calls for eye-catching innovations that are able to match the impact of the vehicles themselves.

In a campaign created for the Lexus IS Saloon, the collaborative team from LaserCut Works and Scales & Models faithfully reproduced the automotive giant’s flagship vehicle out of cardboard.

Hand assembled from 1,700 individual laser cut pieces, the cardboard replica carries with it the fine contours and perception of energetic motion that is a hallmark of the Lexus brand. For the model makers, the process of exploring the complex three-dimensional design contours using a flat 2D laser cut material gave them an insight into the creative skills of the automotive engineers.

Through this cardboard construction, they were able to create a visually arresting object that is “…a celebration of the human craftsmanship skills that go into every car Lexus makes”


Let’s Talk Ideas

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

Free Design & Quote »

Don’t Be Left Waiting, Get Your Holiday Orders In By November 25th!

The Holidays are our busiest time of year, be sure you get your orders in on time

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Hey there makers. Do you love the holidays but loathe delayed shipping and rush fees? Loathe no more! If you get your orders in by Wednesday November 25th to AVOID rush fees!

Laser Cutting

Early Deadline: Wednesday, November 25th

Final Deadline: Thursday, December 10th

3D Printing

Wednesday, November 18th

Photochemical Machining (PCM)

Wednesday, November 18th

Orders after this date will be shipped but will likely arrive after the Holidays, don’t miss out!

Get organized now!

#HolidaySales Tip #4: Turning On The Charm With Bloggers

hey blogger

In our last blog, we looked at the role of great customer service in building your sales during the holiday season. But if you really want to rake in the store visits, you need to be able to entertain another group of individuals, who may not be customers but are equally important to the reputation of your business – bloggers.

Many businesses are indifferent towards the blogging community seeing them as nothing more than prima donnas who expect freebies and special treatment at the expense of the business owner. Yet, this is usually just a narrow-minded, insular approach to business or even just a case of sour grapes from business owners who didn’t deal with blogger well enough and got called out for it on his blog the next day.

While the threat of having your business reputation tarnished by a blogger is very real, it is merely a misinformed urban legend that all bloggers are gremlins. The fact is bloggers are often well-informed individuals who through good quality reportage have amassed a loyal following. They have a responsibility towards this audience since their word is both respected and trusted. In that sense, they are very much like business owners who have a responsibility towards their customers. Bearing this in mind, let’s look at some of the simple yet effective techniques to get bloggers to develop an honest and favourable view towards your business.

Are you looking at the right bloggers?

This may seem like an easy task- pick the most popular bloggers and shoot off a press kit or an email to them. But you could end up shooting yourself in the foot instead. Picking a blogger is a lot like choosing a celebrity endorsement. The most popular bloggers may not be the best suited for your industry and even those who are relevant to your product may not be suited to your brand image.

Added to this, if you pick only popular bloggers it might be weeks before you hear back from them because they usually have a backlog of pending invitations and requests. And every day you spend chasing them, is another day lost towards promoting your brand.

To get past this, try to identify some top tier bloggers and some who are just starting out but have a good mix of followers. This allows you to get product conversations going while you wait for the more established bloggers to get back to you.

So who is a good blogger, anyway? While that question cannot be answered simply, here are some key criteria for choosing a blogger:

Does the blogger write well?

Is the content thoughtful and engaging?

How regularly does the blogger post? (At least once or twice a week is preferable)

Are there positive mentions or link backs from other, more respected bloggers?

Is it easy to contact the blogger and do they respond appropriately?

Some online tools can help find the right bloggers for your industry. These include:

Klout – This service measures social media influence and covers both companies and individuals.

Tomoson – This website matches bloggers with companies offering free samples for review.

Page Rank Checker – Through this service, you can check any site’s Google PageRank, which identifies the site’s importance and position in search engine results.

Looking isn’t enough. You have to read.


There are many ways entrepreneurs put their foot in their mouth when talking to a blogger. The first, and somehow still not obvious to many, is reaching out to a blogger without reading their blog. Not reading a blogger’s work is the equivalent of going into business without studying the market. If you won’t be caught dead doing the latter, then you sure as hell shouldn’t be seen doing the former. Get into a daily habit of reading the blog of every blogger you plan to contact. Every single one. We suggest using a tool like Netvibes.com or Feedly to stay up to date on new blogs as they come out.

Knowing their audience matters too

While a blogger may be right for publicity, you also need to consider if they are right for your brand image. A good way to gauge this is to study the profile of their audience. A blogger’s audience gives you a pretty clear insight into their area of interest, their tone (both in their own work and towards brands) and acts as a decent wind flag for how your brand is likely to be received if covered by this blogger.

If you approach the wrong blogger with your product, you may end up getting negative press that could be disastrous. Maintain a database of each blogger you identify as a potential option. Next add in their handle, a profile of their audience, areas of interest, blog address and how far along you are in forming a relationship with them.

Poke the bear, but be gentle

Herbert Bear - Self Portrait 3

We’re referring to the subtle art of commenting on a blog. Now, we understand the word ‘art’ doesn’t spring to mind when it comes to commenting. After all, we do it hundreds of times a week across our social media channels. But remember this…an influential blogger gets hundreds of comments all the time.  So if your goal is to get the blogger’s attention (and eventually build a relationship) then you have to rise above all other commenters.

The first step to achieve this goal is to always be one of the first 2 or 3 comments on a post.  Ideally, you get the top comment spot every time. But being first is not a goal in itself. You also need to appear to add value in order for your comment to be approved and potentially getting a response from the blogger.

Don’t just subscribe. Try to imbibe.

Once you’ve got into a routine of reading blogs and you’ve fined-tuned your commenting skills, it’s time to show a little more commitment and hit that scary ‘subscribe’ button. Now, this doesn’t mean opening yourself up to email tsunami. For starters, only subscribe to the following kinds of blogs:

Bloggers who write post that resonate with your brand

Bloggers who engage with you when you comment

Bloggers who have actually promoted products in the past and who provide you the best chance of getting a link to your eCommerce store.

When you do subscribe, use a branded email address that specifically identifies who you are. Ideally, the email address you use makes it easy to cross-reference you with the comments you make as well.

Another reason for using a branded email address is because every time you open and click the links in the email, your branded email address shows up in the email marketing stats of the blogger’s email marketing software and this hopefully makes you a little more visible.

Remember to play it cool

Now that you have a handle on the kind of bloggers you want to approach, let’s discuss the best way to go about it. Bloggers are generally open to communicating with new people but they are also careful about their space. Before you approach a blogger, check their site to see if they’ve laid out any ground rules about how they prefer to be contacted and if they have any specific dos and don’ts.

The safest way to establish contact is through a brief email, where you introduce yourself, establish why you contacted them, and make your intentions clear through a brief but effective pitch. Whenever possible, try not to overburden your email with too much supplementary information. Instead, offer it as an attachment or better still hold off on providing it until requested.

Start with casual (brand) name dropping

Outfitting posts are the easiest way to get a foot in the door with a blogger’s audience. Most bloggers regularly mention the brands they endorse in each video, whether it’s clothing, accessories, tech or gear.

By examining the brands they choose to mention, you can get a fair idea for on the how well your products will fit into their personal brand and if it will look like a natural fit. Also, you need to send out these requests ahead of time, because most bloggers queue up items they will feature much before writing the blog. If the blogger does accept to feature your product, be sure to share the post with your networks as well to amplify the impact.

Get on the tour bus


Bloggers are known to take various types of tours – closets, apartments, streets, neighborhoods. These videos are a great way to get featured because each usually covers five to six products at one time. A good way to slip your product in with their next tour is to simply ask if they can mention the brand/site in their photographs or video. Also make sure to send over the flashiest, most attention-grabbing product you have in stock to get extra attention on your brand.

Build a look around the blogger

Look books are a flattering way to approach a blogger and convince them to work with you. However, you need to be sure your brand aligns with the blogger’s style and lifestyle naturally, so as to not look like an awkward force fit.

A good way to indicate this is whether or not they’ve ever used your products before, or if someone has mentioned it to them in their comments. If you’re launching a new product, include a top local blogger as a model for your photo shoot. A creative storyline coupled with the blogger’s already recognized face will definitely get more views than just a regular online product launch.

Throw an (in-store) party


This is your chance to make a great first (or second) impression on the blogger and build a relationship in person. With the atmosphere of a party, the blogger will also feel more relaxed and will naturally be inclined to take pictures of themselves at your store or stall.

Also, parties tap into the blogger’s natural sense of vanity. They love to be handpicked and invited to exclusive events. So if you can keep the event light-hearted, build a fun atmosphere and hand out fancy gift bags to take home, you can be sure of positive blog mentions and posts on Instagram. To make this even more effective, make sure to include a hashtag for your shop or event before inviting them.

Roll out the exclusive offers

Sometimes a simple gesture can go a long way in building a relationship with a blogger. And few gestures are as simple as offering your blogger of choice an exclusive look and the option of reviewing a product before anyone else.

If you can make it happen, you should let the blogger know that he will be getting access to your product before it is launched in the market. Bloggers always want to be perceived as the influencer and thought leaders in their community. But you have to let them make up their own mind about the product.


Don’t be shy to return the favor

The last thing you can do to curry favour with relevant bloggers is buy something from them. It may be an book, an information product such as a online course or even just a T-shirt. To make your purchase seem genuine, don’t forget to write a 5 star review of the purchase and send the link of the review to the blogger.

However, there’s a reason we’re mentioning this last. Unless you’ve gone through the hard miles with them as mentioned above, doing just this could backfire. But if you’ve shown your commitment to building a relationship with the blogger, a small display of solidarity like this could go a long way. You could end up being seen as a blogger’s superfan. And superfans are the ones to get promoted first. Once you’ve done this, it’s a natural progression to get the blogger to link to your products.

Send them a free sample, and then ask for a review. They really won’t refuse.


Once you’ve set up a relationship, worked on it and convinced a blogger to review your product or service, you have to be quick to share it back on your blog, website and social media channels. This helps your business gain credibility and is the reason for approaching bloggers in the first place. It also gives the blogger airtime which is a positive for them, driving more traffic to their site and increasing their followers. Be sure to let the blogger know their post has been shared and guide them to where they can access it.

In our next post, we’ll look at making your product range pop through the right packaging and photography. In the meantime, remember that blogger outreach programs take time to nurture but the rewards for being fastidious are seriously worth it. So start slow, work hard and always, always be genuine.


#HolidaySales Tip #3: A Smiling Customer Is A Spending Customer


The last post delved into setting up the perfect festive look this holiday season to attract more customers to your brand both online and offline. But your mission as a seller doesn’t end when customers walk in. In fact, that’s where the real job begins. Which brings us to today’s topic – customer service.

If we asked you to recall a bad customer service experience, you probably have a doozy of a story. While having such a story is quite common, what’s also surprisingly common is how vivid the memory is – you probably remember exactly what was, the face of the person and maybe the day and date it happened. Why does bad customer service stick so vividly in our memory? Because no matter what type of store or what the purchase may be we all expect good service.

This is the crucial factor to remember as a seller, especially during the holiday season. If you fail to deliver on customer service (which everyone expects), you run the risk of being perceived as a seller who can’t even get the basics right. But on the other hand, if you can exceed expectations (even by a little) you not only gain the customer’s very public admiration but also improve your chances of turning them into repeat customers.

Aim to be amazing

While this may sound like an overpromise, the fact is, there are brands we look up to every year who seem to nail customer service. But if you study their practices, you’ll see each of them follow a few simple steps, repeat them without exception and have strategies in place to adapt quickly in case something goes wrong. The result is a flawless level of customer service, which often sets the industry benchmark. Some of these steps include:  

Planning ahead: Peak seasons are exactly that – seasons. Which means, you can plan for them ahead of time. You need to set your goals based on how many customers you plan to get this holiday season. To arrive at a safe estimate, look at business workflows to see which product lines or service branches have been gaining traction. You can also look at customer satisfaction ratings to know which areas of your business have been performing well and will most likely see a spike in the holidays

Using the rules of triage: In battle, the process of triage is used to assign degrees of urgency to wounds or illnesses and decide the order of treatment for a large number of patients due to the limited availability of resources. This simple principle has great insight for managing holiday sales too.

During this period, your phone lines and your company inbox will face larger volumes of activity, which could overwhelm you and (if you have any) team members. And the moment you or your team get frazzled, you have a block in your system. To prevent this, set up a system of priority for customer service and assign individual stakeholders for each type of problem. This ensures the right people are dealing with relevant queries, customer wait times for a resolution is kept to a minimum and you can redirect yourself to managing the rest of your sales pipeline.


Work on boosting self-service support: When it comes to solving a problem, customers don’t care how it gets done, as long as it gets done. And in the interest of saving time talking to a customer service executive, they are also willing to read your site’s FAQ section. But here’s where you have to be extra careful. You need to ensure your FAQ section covers as many topics as possible to minimize the load on your own time. Also make sure to have a clear and well-indexed search to keep online resolution times to a bare minimum. Remember, if the customer is taking the time to find his own solution, you need to respect his time and effort.

Set and stick to fast resolution times: While having a robust FAQ section will help, it will only deflect a small percentage of the overall volume of customer service queries. Which means, you have to prepare yourself and your partners or your team (if you have one). One of the best ways to do this is by setting efficiency metrics for first response and time taken on each resolution. Also keep a tab on unresolved cases (which is inevitable) as an added benchmark of success for next year.

Try to feel personalized


Think of each time you’ve called a customer service helpdesk and had to deal with an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system. While it’s designed to be very efficient and helpful, there’s just something about talking to a machine that just doesn’t feel helpful. That’s because while good customer service is always automated, it shouldn’t feel automatic.

To ensure your customers get a sense of understanding and empathy, remember to look and act involved in resolving their problem. When they begin talking to you on the phone, stop anything else you may be doing. If they show up in person, learn to make appropriate eye contact and nod at intervals to show them you’re paying attention.

If the complaint is over multiple items or technical in nature, don’t be afraid to take notes while listening to ensure you don’t miss any details of the request. Also, feel free to ask a few questions to confirm and clarify your understanding of the problem. And most importantly, hold back the urge to pre-judge your customer as they speak.

Be flexible as far as possible: When customers have a problem, all they want is a solution. They don’t care about your internal processes or how you get a solution across. With this in mind, you need to work out more than one scenario for as many potential problems. That way in case a customer isn’t satisfied with one outcome, you have the ability to suggest an alternative instead of antagonizing them even further by saying “This is the only way we can help”

Put yourself In their shoes: Most customers want similar things from a helpline – courteous service, useful information, a friendly smile (even on the phone) and prompt response. If you think about it, even you want the same things as a customer in someone else’s store. With this in mind, remember to assess every customer complaint from two angles – the service angle, which lets you pick the best solution and the customer angle, which helps you deliver that solution in the friendliest way.



Be extra patient: While customers tend to get a little more impatient with you during the holiday season, you shouldn’t use that as an excuse to lose your patience with them. If you maintain your calm, you prevent a disgruntled customer from getting even more irate and the sooner you get an irate customer out of your system, the sooner you can move to the next customer who needs attention.

Make your current customers feel important: While the focus will tend to be stronger on getting new customers, you need to keep an eye on your existing customers as well since they are most likely to be repeat customers, even after the holiday season.

Start by offering them price cuts or coupons and as an added touch, when you answer their calls, be sure to thank them for their business.

Seek and reward referrals from current customers: This may seem like a no-brainer but in the dozens of things pulling your attention during the holiday season, it’s easy to overlook. When planning your referral program, remember that the perceived value of your gift is far more important that the actual cost. The idea is to make your existing customers feel valued for choosing to be loyal to your brand, not bribe them into helping you.

Remember customer service is an ‘experience’


Customer service is not just a function that can simply be designated to someone. Nor can you merely ‘go through the motions’ on every call. Why? Because it shows. Customers can sense their needs being ‘delegated’ rather than addressed. But if you keep a few simple things in mind, you can ensure your customers never feel abandoned to the mercy of customer service:

Treat your partners and team well: This is single most important aspect of getting customer service right. If your partners and your team feel pressured or undervalued during the holiday season, that feeling will translate in the way they interact with your customers. Remember, just one disgruntled person in your business can easily alienate dozens of customers!

Make customer service a priority: The temptation to outsource or trim you’re your hours of customer service is strongest during the holidays. After all, you’d rather be selling to happy customers than dealing with unhappy ones. But we recommend you don’t. You need to treat customer service with the same enthusiasm and priority as selling and shipping. Because if you don’t, simple matters could escalate and be drawn out longer than necessary merely because customers aren’t feeling important enough when they exercise their right to complain.

Empower your partners and team to get the job done: When you bring in all your partners and your team to help out in customer service, you need to make sure they don’t raise customers’ hopes without having the authority to resolve it. Trust your team with certain decision-making powers and have the confidence in their ability to use it wisely.

Brainstorm with your partners and team: Even after the holiday season begins, you still have time to learn and adapt. Have a daily debriefing with your partners and team to go over the previous day and see if there were any requests the team could learn from.

Take individual feedback from every member of your team and be willing to embrace new ideas. Also, in order to encourage innovation and fresh thinking, be willing to reward ideas that can be implemented quickly and that show results.

In our next post, we’ll look at reaching out to bloggers to get coverage for your store (especially now that you’ve taken the trouble to decorate it and get your customer service in order for the holidays). For now, just remember customer service during the holidays is not impossible to manage or overly complex to get right. All it takes is patience, foresight and the ability to adapt.

How To: Get The Best Results out of Laser Cut Cardstock

Useful tips to ensure optimum cut quality from this versatile material


Cardstock is such a handy material for laser cutting. The versatile combination of lightweight tensile strength, fast cutting/etching and low unit cost means cardstock is a wonderful choice for greeting cards, business cards, model making and packaging. A number of popular cardstock options are available from both NZ and US Ponoko making hubs.

Cardstock cuts slightly differently from other materials in the Ponoko catalogues, so there are a few useful things to know to get the optimum cut quality for your project. Some of these tips are mentioned in the Ponoko material pages, such as designing around small light pieces that can shift during cutting. We always strongly advise that you carefully read material information to get a clearer idea of what results to expect. Material samples are another handy reference, although we stress that every project is different, and prototyping is the only way to ensure the best outcome.    (more…)

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.

Let’s Talk Ideas

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

Free Design & Quote »

Building The Ideas That Build Young Minds

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When most people imagine laser cutting, they envision quirky personal projects or grand scale commercial ones. One of the last places you would expect to see laser cut designs is in a Physics classroom. But thanks to the inventiveness and commitment of one teacher, a classroom of students are now able to grasp the more complex fundamentals of Physics bother literally and figuratively, thanks to Ponoko’s laser cut designs.  

In this blog, written by Physics professor Matthew Jacques at Pentucket Regional High School we’ll see how Ponoko was able to build the tools, which enabled him to demonstrate his curriculum and ensure pinpoint precision each time. With Ponoko’s help, ideas that were relegated to just a textbook came to life with tactility and are helping young minds experiment and learn Physics like never before.

(The following blog has been written by Matthew Jacques, Pentucket Regional High School, edited by Samantha Herald and republished here on Ponoko’s blog with his permission)

When I am teaching physics, I always find myself thinking, “I wish there was a lab accessory or device to do this or that.” Most of the time the thought lingers for a moment and I simply push on with the materials we have or ultimately discover with dismay the desired equipment simply does not exist. Such occurred when I began the year examining the core concepts of motion. The unit studies how an object change its velocity and distance from one second to the next when accelerating due to free-fall. It is challenging enough to guide the students to the conclusions through inquiry based labs, but it is even more challenging when the equipment introduces extra variables. I purchased a set of gravity drop kits that operate through an original mechanical release mechanism that drop marbles from rest through two CPO photogates. The mechanical release mechanism did not drop the marble from rest and was terribly inconsistent. If a student was not careful, the mechanism would give the marble an undue initial velocity. I instead needed an electromagnet to drop the marble consistently every time. No such mechanisms existed that could easily connect with the CPO base stands; however these could be specifically tailored by laser cutting sheets of woods.

A few years ago, I created a personal project from ponoko.com, a “maker” service that can laser cut materials such as wood, plastic, metal, and more out of varying thicknesses with, of course, laser precision. The premise was simple: a blueprint design could be created using either Adobe Illustrator, InkScape, or Corel Draw, and if a line was “blue”, it cut the material and if the line was “red”, it would engrave a line. The design process consisted of determining what type of lab equipment was needed, taking measurements to integrate it with existing equipment, and going through design iterations on the computer. Choosing a material and thickness is a critical first step since it drives the overall design and dictates how the sides fit together. I chose a wood laminate, as it was inexpensive, durable, and easily assembled with wood glue.

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The cost of any Ponoko order is extremely variable based on the complexity of the laser cutting and the types of materials being used. Luckily, I was able to have an idea of the cost by uploading designs and receiving an instant quote through the Ponoko website. The quote allowed me to optimize the project and cut down on costs. For example, if you have two objects laser cut, by sharing a “cut line” between objects, you reduce the laser time and thus the cost. Certain types of laser cutting such as engraving an area costs far more than just creating an engraved line. Because I ordered the product through my school, I was given a generous 55% discount and a free subscription to their prime service. All in all, the entire order came just shy of $160 and took about two weeks from the time of order to the date of arrival.

The Ponoko order arrived in large sheets of wood which looked like jigsaw puzzles. After removing the paper backing, the pieces lifted out easily. It was a satisfying experience seeing the design on the screen become real and tangible objects. It is most likely the closest thing we have to the replicator on Star Trek. The parts were exactly as I designed them down to the most minute detail. Aside from some light sanding on a few pieces, the majority of the project fit together seamlessly.


The electromagnetic marble releaser (or EMR) was the most challenging of all the builds due to its technical nature. The EMR uses a momentary switch to trigger an electromagnet and a slide switch to enable an LED indicator. Maximizing its usefulness, the device can fit on either a slanted straight track or vertically on a base stand. As expected, the EMR takes out the human element of releasing the marble and produces a much more consistent release.

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Moving forward, I can only hope to think of and create more laser cut projects for class. No longer do custom solutions need to be haphazardly put together with cardboard and tape; they can instead made with laser precision. If any fellow teachers are interested in learning more or acquiring these designs for your class, please email me at mjacques@prsd.org 


#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?


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.