No leads, no sales #3: Who Are Our Customers?

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Blog entry by closetguy posted 01-21-2009 05:18 AM 1339 reads 0 times favorited 17 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 2: Finding a needle in a haystack Part 3 of No leads, no sales series no next part

So who is your customer? It’s easier to answer this question by first understanding your product. Our products are custom made. We take the wood from a tree, cut it, sand it, caress it, fuss over it, and produce a product of functionality, fascination, or just plain envy. We work hard to make our products perfect and we spend a lot of money on the best tools to ensure this perfection. So why should we not get appropriate compensation for our effort? Unfortunately, many people, though they may share our appreciation for fine, handcrafted products, don’t necessarily appreciate the price that goes along with it.

Let’s face it; no one needs anything we produce. We live at the beckon call of impulse buying. The things we produce contribute to home décor or functional conveniences. Fortunately, people want these things in their home and they buy them on a regular basis. Unfortunately, their purchasing decisions are driven more by price than quality. So why would a middle class family pay $1500 for your coffee table when they could buy a whole living room suite from Rooms to Go for the same price? They don’t, so why market to them?

My average custom closet is around $2000. The largest single master closet I have done was $12,000, and my largest single whole house job was around $20,000. It sounds crazy doesn’t it? But these customers were patting me on the back and telling me how happy they were with the job while writing me a final check. I even had a guy write me a check for over $8000 for a final payment on a $16,000 job, then hand me a $100 bill and tell me to take my wife out for dinner. These are customers who have significant disposable income and put a premium on home furnishings. They want to feel good when they walk into a nicely organized closet, but they also want to surround themselves with the trappings of success. They are also targets in my marketing crosshairs.

Many years ago my first foray into part time crafting didn’t go so well. I would make nice and interesting items and attempt to entice my friends to become customers. After all the oohs and aahs, no one offered to buy them. So like many weekend woodworkers with the dream of turning their hobby into something more, I decided that I could not sell anything and resigned myself to making presents for family members. The reason they didn’t sell was because I was marketing them to the wrong people. These were middle class blue collar guys. It’s not that they couldn’t afford it, but they just don’t covet items like this. They can buy a good size bottle of Jack Daniels for the price of my widget. They don’t entertain often, but when they do, they prefer to show off their big screen TV or new bass boat rather than impress friends with unique and expensive home furnishings. Had I shown my items to their wives, I probably would have had more luck.

Regardless of closets or craft shows, 98% of my customers are women. I know I’m stating the obvious, but it helps to not only know who your customers are, but also why they are your customers. In my world, most men view a closet as a necessary evil and home décor trinkets or kitchen accessories are traditionally relegated to the ladies. Call me a Neanderthal, but this is my daily reality. I can’t remember how many times a wife asked their husband what they thought about a closet design and the husband replied “Whatever you want honey”. Men just don’t get real excited about that part of the house. There are exceptions, but not that often.

The same holds true with craft shows. My wife and I attend shows all the time. I like to look, and she likes to buy. I can’t recall myself ever buying anything at a show, but my wife cannot leave a show empty handed. It’s just not in her nature. We don’t need anything she drags home, but she always finds something to display in one of our rooms, or something functional for the kitchen. This is the reason most everything I do in woodworking is targeted at women. They get emotional about closets, pantries, and laundry rooms. They love to buy handcrafted items, if not for themselves, but as gifts. My male customers get excited about garage storage cabinets and workbenches, but I still sell closets 10 to 1 over garage cabinets.

Our customers don’t shop at Wal-mart, especially not for the items we make. I hear a lot of woodworkers whining about how they can’t compete with Wal-mart or China-made furniture. I don’t understand this thinking. If Wal-mart didn’t exist, these customers still wouldn’t buy from us because they can’t justify our price points anyway. I can buy an end grain cutting board at Wal-mart for $25. So why do people keep buying my end grain cutting boards for $100 or more? It’s because my customers don’t shop for these types of items at Wal-mart. There are people who buy from Rooms to Go and people who buy Thomasville and Stickley. These opposite extremes serve two different types of customers. The people who buy Thomasville and Stickley furniture are our customers. They appreciate quality, and though price is always a consideration, it is not as important to them. This is the type of customer who will commission pieces to serve specific needs.

You can buy the components to build a custom closet from the borg for a fraction of what I charge. People do it all the time. So why do people pay four times more for my product? There are a number of reasons. They are not DIY’ers, they don’t have the skill, they are too confused about what they need, they are too busy and have no desire to mess with it, or they recognize the quality of this stuff is pretty cheap. The latter is the most mentioned by my customers who looked at the borg solution. They could tell immediately that the quality was far less than what I provide. In many cases people will pay more for perceived quality. This trait transcends all income levels.

There are wealthy people living in $200,000 homes and not so wealthy people living in $500,000 homes. This is reality, but in more cases than not, the exception. Most of my customers living in $200,000 homes generally have to think about my proposal for a few days. This is a huge purchase for them and it is 50/50 whether they will buy or not because they are more focused on the price, rather than the quality and convenience. With these customers, price gets in the way of the design and product, and the sales effort can quickly spin out of control. Many times the end result is no sale, a couple wasted hours, and a few dollars in gas. I close more sales when I get into the $300,000 and up range. The customer is more interested in the quality and gets real involved in the design process. These customers reach for their checkbook quicker, so this is where I focus my efforts.

I’m not saying that the middle class are not our customers. Everyone is a potential customer and the middle class represents the largest customer group for our products. However, your product and price point will determine who your customer really is and where you should focus your efforts. Taking the time to make this determination, will reduce your frustration and help you to be more successful.

-- I don't make mistakes, only design

17 comments so far

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 3735 days

#1 posted 01-21-2009 06:05 AM

I was thinking of a sales tag for a cutting board.
Price A) $25.00
Made in a third world country where the builder gets $0.25 and the importer gets $7.50 Walmart gets the rest.
Price B) $35.00
Made buy an American who pays taxes and supports the local economy
Price C) $95.00
If you had it built by a plumber or electrician
Price D) $155.00
Lets say you paid one of those guys that tells you how much your house is worth
Price E) $1,450.00
You hired a Lawer
Price F) $3,545.27
Hospital bill
Price G) $2,500,000.00
NBA Player or hip hop artist….
All except B will mess it up…yet B is out of work go figure!

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 3735 days

#2 posted 01-21-2009 06:10 AM

I had a guy at a crafts show tell me that 90% of his sales were to women whose friends had bought something from him before.

View miles125's profile


2180 posts in 3426 days

#3 posted 01-21-2009 02:12 PM

I’d add that the ability to produce a high quality woodwork product is about one half of whats needed to be successful.

The other half is working out how to woo people of a vastly different socio economic background from yourself. No easy task when your own friends and family think you’re arrogantly expensive, and your customers are often pretentious little twirps.

I guess if it was easy anybody could do it.

-- "The way to make a small fortune in woodworking- start with a large one"

View trifern's profile


8135 posts in 3187 days

#4 posted 01-21-2009 03:05 PM

Spot on! Thanks for sharing.

-- My favorite piece is my last one, my best piece is my next one.

View StevenAntonucci's profile


355 posts in 3358 days

#5 posted 01-21-2009 05:27 PM

Very good post.

-- Steven

View rhett's profile


734 posts in 3087 days

#6 posted 01-21-2009 05:50 PM

I would like to point out a big competitor for professional woodworkers. The person who gets some woodworking equipment and proceeds to undercut everyone else, just to make enough to buy new tools and support thier HOBBY.

-- Doubt kills more dreams than failure.

View Woodchuck1957's profile


944 posts in 3184 days

#7 posted 01-21-2009 05:53 PM

Your friends wives are probably not the best customers either, friends expect a deal like family does, and theres nothing wrong with that to a point. The problem is if you make something for them and give them the discount, if they talk about you, they will more than likely talk about your price also. Usually not a good combo.

View closetguy's profile


744 posts in 3312 days

#8 posted 01-21-2009 06:26 PM

Rhett, I have never experienced this as being a big problem. This is how a lot of “professional woodworkers” get started, by working at it part time. Yes, they will under cut by inappropriately charging less than it actually costs them. However, after a while they discover that they are not making money and either get their prices inline with the industry, or move on to other things. I have lost jobs to these people, but after a while, you never see them again. Some of their problem is poor quality of work, or less than good customer satisfaction and it affects referrals and repeat business to the point where they can’t sustain the business long term.

I have large woodworking shops complain about me. I am a one man show with low overhead and no employees. Of course I can do it for less, but I can’t do the volume they do. I tell them life’s a bitch, get over it. It amazes me how local cabinet companies get riled up because of a little friendly competition. Some of them can get downright nasty. It’s just business. But, I have a good relationship with a couple large shops because I outsource some of my work to them from time to time.

-- I don't make mistakes, only design

View Woodchuck1957's profile


944 posts in 3184 days

#9 posted 01-21-2009 10:12 PM

I’d have to agree with Rhett, it’s not as rosie as you’d like us all believe. Cutting boards are a craft item and people don’t take craft or hobby stuff seriously. I had a gal a couple years ago call me about makeing some custom frames for her, I gave her a price and then it got silent, then she says, you think it would cost that much huh ? I allways thought that hobbyists do it for free. I seriously doubt that your makeing much per hour makeing cutting boards. Don’t get me wrong, they are nice.

View SCOTSMAN's profile


5839 posts in 3005 days

#10 posted 01-21-2009 10:27 PM

Theres no money any more in high class woodworking . Far too many Ikeas fill the minds of the public with dreams of furniture that looks great and costs next to nothing, which is designed to last a few years and then chucked out with the garbage.They don’t want heirloom furniture that will be worth a hundred times the cost and still be around in a hundred years and much more.I had a neighbour ask me to make her a set of dining chairs she wanted to pay about twenty us dollars per chair I explained to her that I couldn’t buy the wood for that she still thinks I was trying to make on her offer. I just want to be left alone to make my own stuff and give it to my sons and friends for free,who eagerly suggest the kind of things that I should build them and I eventually do,to squeals of delight from them or their better halves well not quite squeels LOL but anyway don’t do this to even try to feed your families you will have a hard life.I still feel bad when I bought second hand-used equipment from guys who tried to make a living at cabinet making all of them were capable men but people at least here in the U K won’t pay for their stuff.I hope things are better where you are Alistair

-- excuse my typing as I have a form of parkinsons disease

View Woodchuck1957's profile


944 posts in 3184 days

#11 posted 01-22-2009 12:02 AM

Scotsman, thats EXACTLY why I’m not rushing out and buying a new cabinet saw, it wouldn’t pay for itself. The houseing trades are at a near stand still and very little furniture manufacturing is left in this country anymore, most people are straped in their expensive new homes, expensive vehicles, and toys. I’ve seen alot of new homes with lawn furniture and bean bag chairs in them because they can’t afford anything else, and or they just don’t care. Sure there maybe places in this country that are doing ok, but I think they are far and few. I know a guy in this town that is as good as anyone, he does some incredible work, even he is not busy all the time, and he certainly isn’t geting rich at it either. I think it’s all a big fantasy for alot of folks till reality finally kicks in.

View Zuki's profile


1404 posts in 3497 days

#12 posted 01-22-2009 01:34 AM

Another great post. really good reading.

-- BLOG -

View Woodchuck1957's profile


944 posts in 3184 days

#13 posted 01-22-2009 02:25 AM

Barry, in my neck of the woods, or prarie I guess, in about the last 10 years, antique stores and antique restoration bussinesses have been slowly dieing off, theres not many around anymore. I’ve noticed the art deco lookin stuff comeing back, not that I’m a big fan of it, I prefer the old stuff.

View woodcravings's profile


6 posts in 2849 days

#14 posted 01-22-2009 02:52 AM

Great to hear a professional’s story.

Sort of reminds me of when I shopped table saws at the big orange box, then shopped them at the local Woodcraft store. Those stores sell to completely different customers and Woodcraft isn’t going to sell anything if they market to the guy looking to spend $100 on a saw to rip some panelling for his DIY basement remodelling. People will spend thousands on a table saw, but it’s got to be high quality and you’ve got to market it to the right people.

As you mention, you’ve really got to consider the who the customer is and how they will likely spend their money.

Great post! Do you have a gallery of your closet work online?

-- Neal

View Woodchuck1957's profile


944 posts in 3184 days

#15 posted 01-22-2009 03:04 AM

Barry, I understood, I live in a home that was built in 1917, and about 20 years ago I started restoring furniture to fill it up, in the last 5 years I’ve slowed down, I still have some I’d like to restore yet, but I’m in no big hurry, the day will come.

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