Creative Marketing Drives Sales at Little Rock's Laser Tools Inc.

by Luke Jones  on Monday, Jun. 24, 2013 12:00 am  

Billy Goodnight is part of the crew of machinists working for Laser Tools in Little Rock. The company is one of several laser manufacturers in Arkansas and primarily serves industrial clients. (Photo by Jason Burt)

To survive in the ever-evolving, multibillion-dollar laser industry, small manufacturers like Laser Tools Inc. of Little Rock need to get creative to grow sales.

Founder and owner Joe Wortsmith started Laser Tools in Little Rock in 1992. In the last decade worldwide laser sales have risen from $5 billion to $8 billion, with a brief dip in the last few years due to the recession. Laser Tools sells between $1.5 million and $2 million in products each year.

Laser Tools builds its lasers for industrial, commercial, mining, aerospace and surveying projects. Its products are certified for use in coal mining and other dangerous settings.

Being marketed to industrial companies, Laser Tools’ products tend to be heavy-duty. One laser that Wortsmith demonstrated was used in digging underwater passages for construction projects like the Panama Canal, and it can be dropped 10 feet onto solid concrete without being damaged.

Specific types of products involve high-intensity green light lasers, 90-degree beam benders, tri-beam prism systems, beam spreaders and other parts. All of these are used for practices like leveling, alignment, calibrating and so forth. They are designed and constructed in-house at the Laser Tools machine shop in Little Rock.

Laser Tools’ client base, Wortsmith said, provides a margin healthy enough for the company to maintain 10 to 15 employees comfortably, and the company actually added a few positions this year.

One Frontier? Space

Nicolas Mayerhoeffer, Laser Tools’ head of marketing, said one of his goals is to increase the company’s sales to $5 million or higher within the next several years. One of his challenges is that growth in the industries the company supplies is fairly slow. According to Laser Focus World, a publication that reports on the photonics industry, the types of clients Laser Tools serve make up about a quarter of the total industry. In 2011, sales in that area worldwide were $2.78 billion and rose to $2.94 billion in 2012. They are expected to stay at about $3 billion this year.

Mayerhoeffer said the company will need to start looking at other markets where revenue has greater growth potential.

“As a marketing person, I have to find other means of using our tools,” Mayerhoeffer said, noting that using lasers in secure data relays for the space industry is one possibility.

“As far as new industries go, space is a big one,” he said. “NASA has a big project — and not only NASA, but a lot of private companies — with mining asteroids, and of course, they want to have lasers for distance and measurements. That’s something Laser Tools, we hope, can have an impact on.”

Mayerhoeffer also has the task of continuing to market the company to potential clients in its existing markets, which he said is not very easy.



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