My furniture business (Stephen Mines Custom, No. Hollywood, CA,) did routinely build totally custom furniture, but the mainstay that paid the bills and made the business a financial success was a LINE of custom furniture. Yeah, I know, sounds like a contradiction, but really wasn’t. Averaging round 30-40 pieces (Country French, English, Early American) my catalog allowed the customer or their designer/decorator to order to their specific dimensions, distress preference (including none) and finsih as well as, in some cases, material/species. They could look at showroom samples, fall in love, and then order to fit their den/bedroom/dining room, etc spaces. I had a formula for pricing: (L + W + H X $ amount = Retail Price. Each salesperson in each showroom had a handheld calculator with the formula list)..they could quote prices for custom size(s) on the spot, never letting the sale op grow cold. This maketing approach was aimed at freeing my time. . . the constant interruption for figuring quotes (and then losing the sales opportunity due to the time lag between the request and the quote!) It was ‘build the fire while the customer is in the store’, and fan the flames by allowing the customer(s) to visit their order in progress, in the shop It wasn’t just salesmanship…it was showmanship (could have cast a blockbuster major motion picture at any given time with my customers!) I reckoned, like Henry Ford, that I could stockpile popular size parts (aprons, stretchers, etc) so my shop was always busy/active building inventory even without sales. And the inventory was UNassembled, didn’t take much space. I didn’t do case work, only real furniture, but chairs (even windsors) were often ordered in custom seat sizes and back heights. In the country French line we’d carve initials in the front apron salute, an option constantly requested. It helped that I was selling out of the Pacific Design Center in West L.A. and that our customers were the Beverly Hills/Bel Air/Malibu crowd. It constantly amazed me that an order would be sized 1” different than the mean/floor sample size, (at a nearly outrageous “custom” premium) to ensure the customer that the pieces were built just for them. Ka Ching! Point is it worked wonderfully. Interchangeable parts, prepared ahead of time AND marketing with a four to six week delivery guarantee did for my business what the assembly line did for Henry Ford. And these parts were bench made, individually crafted and assembled by my crew of skilled makers. I’ve often wondered why others didn’t use this stratagy.
-- Stephen Mines (Saltmines@aol.com)