After being a geologist for the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) for nearly 30 years, Mike Schulte knows rocks. Dealing primarily with Wyoming jade, Schulte coupled his passion for rocks with his entrepreneurial spirit and started Jade Putters, LLC., a Wyoming-based business focusing on custom golf products created from jade.
A long-time member of Wyoming First Products, an organization that markets wares specifically made in Wyoming, Schulte was asked to help with a convention that aimed to educate people about the many types of rock in Wyoming that could be used for dimensional stone building material.
My Epilog equipment essentially is my business.Mike Schulte
"There were several laser manufacturers showing off their products at the convention," Schulte said. "I had one of them scan my wife's picture, along with my driver's license photo and add our anniversary date so I could give it as a present. The engraving came out really well and I immediately knew that this application was something cool that few had probably seen done," he continued. "When I showed it to my wife and said this would make a great 'after retirement' business, she actually nodded her head yes, even after all of the other ideas that I've had in the past."
Schulte was aware of laser engraving technologies on the market, since he regularly had names and logos engraved into jade for his existing business, but he "never knew they could do the detailed photographs so well."
Since Schulte already had Jade Putters up and running, he thought he could easily incorporate a photo engraving business under the same corporation, so after returning from the convention he began the research process to find the best equipment to fit his needs. Unsatisfied with systems he initially encountered, Schulte expanded his search for laser system manufacturers and found Epilog.
"Epilog is 'just down the street', about a hundred miles or so from where I live, so I called the company and made an appointment with their distributor, Ken Crowe. Ken gave me a tour of the Epilog facility, demonstrated several lasers, and was just very helpful in explaining everything," Schulte said. "I knew then that having the plant so close in proximity was going to be a great advantage, so I decided to go with Epilog."
With new equipment at the ready, Schulte added his new business, Picture It In Stone, to his list of projects. Though he plans to retire from the WYDOT in a few years, he's sure his two businesses will throw him all the work he can handle. "I hate to call it 'work' though, since I have so much fun doing it," he says. Schulte tells us that memorials are his top-selling item. "I do a lot of pet memorials for customers and have found that people will consistently spend money on their pets – they're almost like children to a lot of people. Of course I've engraved a good amount of non-pet photographs," Schulte said, "most of them are designed to be mounted on a headstone or some other type of monument."
While memorial plaques, for people or pets, make up a large part of his business, Schulte tells us he is most proud of his military-themed creations. "Whether it is a memorial, recognition or retirement plaque, you can never say enough about those that devote their lives to the service of our country," he said.
Photo engraving, while an extremely popular application, can take some time to master. Schulte tells us he's perfected the craft by utilizing photo processing software and gaining industry insights from other laser users in online forums. "I've become really good at laser engraving photographs and that will be the main focus of my business in years to come. I've learned that with photo engraving, you need a picture with a lot of contrast," Schulte said. "It can be done without additional software, but it really makes things a whole lot easier, and there's a lot of software out there that works well. As for other support outlets, the members of Engraving, Etc. have helped me immensely and are a great resource to have," he said. "Just to be able to ask a question and have an answer within hours, if not minutes, is worth the price of admission."
Whether he is engraving memorial photos or custom awards, Mike Schulte certainly possesses the creativity, ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit needed to start a successful laser business. At the heart of it all is the system that allows him to meet the demands of his customers. "My Epilog equipment essentially is my business."