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.
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