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A Cut Above
A Cut Above

Demonstrations can increase sales of the new generation of die-cutting machines and supplies

Not so long ago, die cutting machines were only popular with scrapbookers, card-makers and adventurous stampers. The large pieces of equipment required serious customer know-how to make them work; they cut paper and card stock into fairly basic shapes, they were loud and they were limited.

But advances in technology have brought forth a new generation of electronic machines that use computer software and have capabilities far beyond what could be done previously, allowing users to go from idea to results in just seconds.

Machines such as the Silhouette Cameo, Silhouette Portrait and Cricut Explore Air can cut vinyl, fabric and even clay, and they are being used by whole new categories of artists - from home decor specialist and jewelry makers to clothing designers and beyond.

Educate the customer

Dale Pistilli, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Cricut, says that many potential customers aren't aware of the increased capabilities of these new machines - yet - but the best way for retailers to demonstrate all they can do starts with getting them out of the box.

"With the new electronic cutting machines, seeing is believing," says Pistilli. "It's fascinating for consumers to watch a cutting machine doing a complex cut for the first time."

Cricut launched the Explore Air in 2015, featuring its wireless execution in the iOS environment as its most basic upgrade, technology that will also be available for Android operating systems in the spring of 2016. Users can place the machines anywhere and work from a mobile library of cloud-based apps.

"Previous versions involved having to download and install the apps onto the machine, so all of your work was tied to a specific machine," says Pistilli. Now users can instead download the apps onto their laptops or smartphones and "design any time, anywhere, even while waiting for your kids to finish baseball practice," he says.

Users can also set the depth, pressure and speed of the cut using software rather than making mechanical adjustments to the machine itself, as older models required. Explore Air enables crafters to complete a wide range of DIY projects. "We're seeing crafters use the machines to design adhesive-backed vinyl phrases to put on walls, decorate pillows, make T-shirts - nearly endless capabilities in all kinds of textures and materials," Pistilli says.

The next generation of die cutters also requires a smaller financial commitment, says Conrad Walsh, director of marketing for Silhouette. There's no longer a need to invest in multiple dies, or even multiple cartridges. In fact, the industry has moved beyond the term die cutting to electronic cutting because the machines now connect to a Mac or PC and access software and the Internet.

"It's really opened up the possibilities," Walsh says. "Through our online marketplace, you can find 85,000 designs and search by theme and category. You can also cut out any font on your computer and create your own designs."

Cricut did its research in crafters' studios to create its free online software project tutorials. "We found that people wanted more of an iTunes experience to select images from our entire collection, rather than buying and managing cartridges," says Pistilli. "We found they wanted design software that would help them visualize projects before they started cutting. Finally, they wanted to be able to see beautiful projects and then make them."

Easier to use, less expensive to buy

The elimination of dies and cartridges means users can expand their capabilities for less money, while reducing clutter in their craft area. For example, customers can choose one specific detailed butterfly for their project instead of investing in an entire spring-themed cartridge.

The devices are also quicker to use, because there's no need to change out equipment. They are lighter weight and look sleeker, and they're quieter - a bonus for late-night crafters with families.

"They're much more up to date," says Walsh. "They belong not just on a crafter's or scrapbooker's desk. We're seeing our machines in offices, libraries and schools. Our vision is that they'll become so commonplace that most people will have them at home next to their computer and printer."

The new breed of machines are, in essence, three-dimensional printers, helpful in both hobby and business settings. "It's amazing what people are doing with these machines," Walsh says. "I met a woman who feeds sheets of polymer clay into her machine and creates custom jewelry. If you're a stamper, you can cut a custom stamp. If you sew, you can cut fabric."

Manufacturers are enhancing their support and resources for these machines by creating YouTube channels, websites and project idea blogs, and even including QR codes on the machines' boxes, meaning customers can view videos right from the display floor. They're also creating new static displays which, combined with materials such as vinyl, cardstock and iron-on, gives customers an idea of their versatility and value, Pistilli says.

Still, the companies say that the best way for craft retailers to draw in consumers and increase sales is to give them the opportunity to see the machines at work, cutting complex shapes out of a variety of materials for a wide array of projects, from classic scrapbooking to creating wall art, apparel and more. An Internet connection and trained staff member leading a demonstration, class or store event can translate into big increases in interest and sales.

"A demonstration is really the best way to get people behind what we're doing," Walsh says. "When they can see it in motion and see the detail and how intricate it is - even if they can see it in a video, they're sold. For retailers looking to do it well, that is hands-down the best way."

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