‘So how did you get into this then?’
Just about every customer asks me this when they visit the workshop and look around. Today, LaserFlair is 5 years old, so it seems like the perfect time to tell you our story.
The R word
Redundancy. In a word, that’s what forced me to consider setting up my own business.
My background is chemistry, not art school as many customers assume. My first favourite job was with Akzo Nobel in large scale pharmaceutical manufacturing. There, I optimised customers’ processes in the lab and transferred them onto the plant, training the operators, liaising with Quality Control and Quality Assurance. I volunteered for redundancy when the workforce was halved in 2004.
My other favourite? New Product Development Manager at Curtis Fine Papers in Guardbridge, Fife. I was responsible for turning the sales teams’ ideas for new products into reality and we launched six new products in two years. But in August 2008, the credit crunch bit and the mill closed down.
A couple of short contract jobs and another redundancy later, my husband suggested that I should start my own business. I knew that manufacturing was what I wanted to be doing. But what? And how?
That year, I signed up for a couple of stained glass classes and loved it. One evening, I asked my teacher if she’d ever made a business out of it. Her answer was very interesting.
She had, but there were two problems. Firstly, she didn’t like any of the commissions she made. Secondly, she realised that if she charged for her time as well as materials, she would price herself out of the market. As a result, she didn’t enjoy it and wasn’t getting paid properly for doing something she loved. She gave it up and continued doing what she did love – making her own projects and teaching the skill.
Dipping a toe in the water
It was my husband that discovered laser cutting and it looked interesting. During my research, I stumbled across Jenny Smith‘s laser cutting taster classes. She’s an artist in Edinburgh and has a laser cutter that she uses it to generate her pieces. Her classes are attended by artists, crafters and teachers from schools and colleges that have bought machines. Jenny showed us how to create the artwork and use the machine. I could see the potential and I was hooked.
We moved to a house with an outbuilding that I could turn into a workshop and bought a laser cutting machine. The photo above shows a local farmer offloading it from the lorry into the workshop in its crate. It was a very tight squeeze!
Initially, I created a range of personalised gifts for new babies, weddings and birthdays that I sold on my website, but I soon started to get enquiries for contract manufacturing. This development suited me perfectly and was a good fit with my background of product development and project management. I couldn’t have planned it better myself!