Note: This article appears in the September 2019 issue of A&E magazine. To ensure that you can access this and other industry-focused pieces, be sure to subscribe today!
Life often doesn’t pause to let us catch our breath or decide how it should go. Its ebbs and flows often affect everything we do in unplanned ways. Nowhere are life’s “little” challenges felt more strongly than in a small business.
DeWayne Acree is all too familiar with life’s idiosyncrasies. As the owner of The Laser Place LLC, an online business that produces personalized and specialty gift products such as ornaments, he knows a little something about dealing with a curveball head-on. He has experienced everything from serving as a Medical Service Corps officer in the Army Reserve to being a husband and father and running a veteran-owned business, but to his credit, and perseverance, none of the challenges have derailed him or his family.
To tell any story, plot twists and all, you have to start at the beginning. Though it goes by The Laser Place today, that wasn’t always the business name, nor has the family always been in their current Augusta, Georgia location for the entire duration of its existence.
To really hear Acree tell it, it all started from his military service. “I was a Medical Service Corps officer in the Army Reserve, and I was called to active duty in 2003 in preparation of deployment to Iraq,” he begins, but as life would have it, he did not end up deploying, and thankfully was able to be around when his third child, Caleb, was born. “I was overjoyed that I was able to see my son born… and I thought of those men and women deployed who weren’t able to be with their children,” he reminisces. “This was how I came up with idea of making wooden puzzles, and beyond that, I wanted to make some type of personalized wooden puzzle.”
Originally dubbed You Name It LLC, the company was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 2005. When the family made the move to Augusta in 2010, they decided a new name was needed to better encompass what they did, and in 2013, The Laser Place became the official moniker.
Today, it’s run as a veteran-owned business, and is purely family-based, with all the kids pitching in. “I think it is important to recognize all veterans for their service,” Acree asserts. “Because of the way the business began and my military background, I try to still have the military as some of our focus.” For example, the shop sees a significant amount of business creating ornaments, plaques, and other products for different military units. “We have sent ornaments all over the world to different military units, and I am humbled that we get that chance to serve and continue to be connected with the Armed Forces that way,” he adds.
The Laser Place sees a significant amount of business selling customized ornaments, plaques, and other products for different branches of the military. (All images courtesy DeWayne Acree)
Ebbs and Flows
Like many other mom-and-pop personalization shops around the nation, Acree gets all of his help from his family, with each member playing a crucial role in the business. “My oldest daughter does design work. The others help with a variety of things such as sanding, staining, tying ribbons, packaging, and readying the shipments,” he lists. “We have had a couple of big jobs with short turnaround times, and when it’s ‘all hands on deck,’ we pull together and work like a well-oiled machine.”
“All of our products and experiences are special and that is how we are able to connect with our customers,” daughter Gabrielle adds. “We understand the importance of being unique and that is why we try to make products that exemplify that.”
Growing up in the business means that many of life’s memories revolve around it, explains daughter Lillian and son Caleb. “I have been able to see the business grow and develop as I have grown older and started helping out more,” Lillian explains, with Caleb adding that his love for the laser has grown simply out of watching his dad work with wood.
Not to be forgotten is youngest son Isaiah, who is also an important cog to the puzzle. “One of my first memories of the laser was an order from Kiwanis,” he recalls. “For (that order) and other big orders my main job was to count and box the products.”
Overseeing all of this is the matriarch of the family, Jodi, who has experienced some challenging life encounters herself. In their first year in Augusta, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and thus began a long battle of focus on her health. “We knew that she would need extensive time to recover and get to what would become the new ‘normal,’” Acree notes.
But in a true testament to human spirit and strength, Jodi has battled hard and continues to support the business, mainly overseeing quality control and handling bulk ordering. “I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that she is that voice of reason at times,” Acree laughs. “We have had ideas that seem like good ones at the time, but she provides a different point of view.”
For Jodi, it’s all a part of the adventure. “It has been a truly amazing journey from the start of the business in Indiana to now,” she feels. “DeWayne is very good at the monetary and business aspect of our projects, whereas I can offer a fresh set of ideas concerning the artistic aspects of the operation. That is what makes his business so special to us as a family — everyone is involved.”
Jodi (left) oversees quality control and bulk orders while daughter Gabrielle lends a hand to the design work.
The Story Isn't Over
As the business continues to grow and change, Acree notes that someday a storefront is a possibility. But for now, they make good use of online options such as their own website (www.thelaserplace.net), Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and even platforms such as Etsy. But wouldn’t you know it, that has all changed from what it used to be as well.
“In the start, we would market our products at craft shows, holiday bazaars, and school events,” Acree says. “This caused us to travel a lot in the beginning years. After we moved and my wife’s illness, someone recommended that we check out Etsy.” Ultimately, it’s a balance between multiple platforms and finding the right recipe that works for their business.
And just like life throws challenges and changes their way, the Acree family has a few surprises of their own to return the favor. “We know we will have the opportunity to grow outside of this being a family business,” Acree believes. “I’m just happy we have made this journey as a family. The lessons that our children learn from this experience are not taught in any classes; they’re life lessons about honoring our promises, being cost conscious, sharing our gifts, showing charity to others, and being humble.”
Jodi and Dewayne making specialized Christmas ornaments. The business started out selling at various hobby and craft shows but now utilizes online platforms such as Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Etsy, and its own site.