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Marketing and choosing your niche in woodworking

by Loren
posted 988 days ago


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52 replies

52 replies so far

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Dallas

2869 posts in 1118 days


#1 posted 988 days ago

Good points Loren.
Although I was in the building trades many years ago, and my dad tried to teach me custom cabinet work and custom wood work decades ago, I have just recently returned to wood working as a method to enhance my meager income.
I haven’t found my niche` yet, although I’ve gotten a few commissions for small items such as cutting boards, portable writing desks, worry boxes etc.
I find myself torn between wanting to do the custom furniture stuff like the portable writing desks and boxes because they are easier for me to visualize in my mind than cutting boards and band saw boxes and toys.

My preference would be to sell this stuff online rather than at craft fairs or flea markets, but it seems that getting the name out online is a slow process unless you use something like Etsy, which isn’t high on my list.

Rereading this, I see I’ve rambled somewhat. I know what I want to say but I don’t know how to say it. The bottom line seems to be that I’ll have to do what the market or the demographics require rather than what I want to do.
If I were in good physical shape, I’d probably go back in to custom interiors in houses. As it is, I pick up work rebuilding/repairing interiors in RV’s because I manage a campground. The problem with RV work is that the normal customer doesn’t want to pay for decent material, they also want it to look like the cookie cutter particle board crap that came in it in the first place….. highly unsatisfying to me, if for no other reason than it’s hard to take pride in something you know is going to be torn up or fall apart within the next five years because of the movement of the frame the piece is connected to.

-- Improvise.... Adapt...... Overcome!

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andy6601

76 posts in 1099 days


#2 posted 987 days ago

Good topic Loren,
First I want to say that as humans we like to catigorize things not just furniture, but everything and I think that is just how we are wired.

Second, marketing, marketing, marketing if you are doing this for $$$.
Right now I have been doing a lot of refinishing and repair work, I WANT to move back to building furniture and this is not my day job actually its my night job, when I have time. I am doing what is currently in demand for me. I enjoy refinishing but, after you do 4 pieces in a row I am growing a little tired of it. That being said you need to be flexible but have a niche or something that you are known for.

Third, I think as a “furniture maker” you have to pick a style and go with it, myself I can not make a high boy today and crank out some modern studio furniture the next, you can not be all things to everyone. So find a style and go.

Forth, I honesly think that people like the idea of custom furniture but are either intimidated by it, think that is way too expensive, or really just don’t have a clue. They get their pottery barn magizines and go this is what I want! Can you build it for half that price? I guess I really do not have much of an answer but this is just my observation of people. Lastly cabinets are a commidity so is furniture anymore and I have to agree with you when a cabinet shop tries to build furniture it is a losing propostion, the reason I say this is when I think of cabinets that is what I think of kitchen, bathroom, etc boxes with doors and drawers that is it. Maybe there are some shops out there that do both but I would think that it would be very hard.

Lastly I feel the ideal place to be is when you are doing something you enjoy and are able to have people pay you for that, or at the very least can do it at a profit and do what you like on the side and not starve to death. I also feel that in this economy people are willing to go outside of their comfort zones to get work because of how scarce it is, but if you do a bad job or really flub something up bad news travels faster than good news and may hurt you in the long run.

So my advice is pick something stick with it and the worst that happens is you fail, then pick something else eventaully you will find something.

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cabs4less

235 posts in 1393 days


#3 posted 987 days ago

Great read! I have owned and ran a cabinet shop for a few years now and tried to sell custom furniture at the same time and I agree it is bad way to go. I found myself disappointed in the quality of my cabinets ( not saying i cut any corners but a pocket screw compared to mortise and tenon is wimpy) and disappointed in my profits from furniture. I could build a kitchen in the same amount of time as armoire and make way more money. I still build kitchens and furniture but mainly now its what you were saying its modest architectural jobs. The economy is the main reason I primarly build furniture now people are just to broke to remodel kitchens in my area. I accept custom orders but I have found that building certain pieces and selling them on ebay is better for me than waiting on an order. It doesnt always pay off some designs just dont sell or take time to sell but after a awhile one can somewhat get a feel for sells and what doesnt. SOMEWHAT

-- As Best I Can

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SalvageCraft

274 posts in 1157 days


#4 posted 986 days ago

I’m hearing some good stuff here, mainly backing up what I’ve suspected as I’ve been working to get my own woodworking business off the ground.
-Build yourself a niche and steer way clear of the commodities trap.
-Build things you like to build, and build them on spec rather than custom orders; put together a distinct product line.
-Market the !$@& out of your stuff!

These are all really good things for me to hear people with more experience agree on. Any other lessons you’ve picked up that would be really useful to a beginner?

-- Jesse --

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a1Jim

112014 posts in 2208 days


#5 posted 986 days ago

I have been in the furniture business for almost 25 years and I have had to do lots of work I would rather not do including working as a contractor. I agree in part with Loren in that if I were to start over I would specialize . I feel there’s more involved than just specializing in a particular product, It also involves how talented you are, what kind of market place your in and how unique your product is and all said and done it involves some luck as to what contacts you make and who your clients are. In today’s market I see major woodworking talents struggling to make a living so I don’t know that any of the normal rules of our woodworking business rules are really in play the same as they would be in a better market.

-- http://artisticwoodstudio.com Custom furniture

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SalvageCraft

274 posts in 1157 days


#6 posted 986 days ago

Oh, I’ve got a few things to offer on marketing though. Has anyone here ever heard of the ‘funnel’?
Basically, all of your marketing tactics are a way to funnel the best clients directly to you. You start off with an outline of your target market, identifying who you are trying to reach, and come up with a series of qualifications for your optimum client; let’s say it’s “people that need boxes”. The next level could be “people that need boxes and can pay X amount for them”, then it’s “people who need boxes and can pay X amount and like the way I make boxes”... And so on, from the most general to the most specific qualifications. The qualifiers can be whatever you want, depending on what your business is all about, or you can develop a specific funnel for each particular product you offer.
So, once you’ve outlined however many steps of qualifiers you can think of for your product or service, you brainstorm ways to get those perfect clients from the top of the funnel to the bottom: your happy client.
My handyman business for example could have “people who need home repairs” at the top level of the funnel. I then identify specific ways of reaching these people with the goal getting them to see my name and get them to visit my website. I do this through flyering, business cards, craigslist ads, and of course word of mouth. The next step is “people who need home repairs and can afford my rates”. I post my rates openly on my website. My site also explains a bit of what type of work I do and how I go about it, policies, blah blah blah… Basically, if people like what they see there, they prequalify themselves as good clients before I even get a phone call (the next step of my funnel). When they do call, I can go into any further details and usually either already have the job or tell them it’s not my cup of tea without having to waste time on bad leads, or wasted time and gas on estimates for lost bids, etc. Many times people have already decided to hire me before we’ve even talked.
Now that I’m done bragging about how great my marketing is… My point is I think that much of the reason that it can be difficult to find business is that it’s easy to put too much energy into leads and clients that aren’t your ideal customers.
Well it’s late and I may have rambled incoherently here, so I suppose I’ll just hit the sack and see what happens tomorrow!

-- Jesse --

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Loren

7422 posts in 2279 days


#7 posted 986 days ago

Succeeding in any kind of artisan work is challenging. Chippendale and Sheridan had serious business problems despite making furniture for the wealthiest titled clients (problems come when you can’t turn down the Duke’s commission because he’s an influential client, but you know he doesn’t pay his bills).

If you’re competing on bargain prices, relatively speaking, the work isn’t hard to get. The problem with that is you have to keep an eagle eye on your own costs and that the clients will resist price increases later and references will be to other clients looking for bargains.

There’s still a fair amount of high-end money out there if you are capable of the execution the work demands and selling the jobs, but I’ve talked with other custom wood guys who agree the “sales cycle” has become really extended, so closing the deals is taking more and more time. The other end of it is the rush jobs, but more often than not the client is asking for a rush and a competitive price, so the only place to make it up in is a quality reduction, which is not always simple to do in a smaller shop lacking the heavy equipment to do lower-grade but decently functional work quickly; a lacquer booth for example.

I’m keeping and eye on this thread. I’ll comment later.

-- http://lawoodworking.com

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SalvageCraft

274 posts in 1157 days


#8 posted 985 days ago

Boy, the title of this thread is “marketing and finding a niche”, not “there’s a hole in the bucket!”. Agreed, the economy is in the tanks and it’s a different game out there than it used to was, but as a young’un with all my naïveté and ambition, I see nothing but opportunity. If jobs are harder to get, that just means do more effective marketing, right? Reach more potential clients and streamline your sales process however you can. Filter out the folks that aren’t ready to commit and focus more time on identifying who is. A lot of people are still out there who want what you have to offer, but they just don’t know how to find you. Make it easy for them. Start an Etsy shop, make a Facebook page, post in lots of DIY forums, etc… Make sure all these links are easily identifiable between the different sites you use to boost your online presence. This helps google find you. Blog about your work on typepad or blogger or wordpress. If you are doing good work, people will notice. The Internet is big. It’s one of the reasons that the game is changing so much.
This past black Friday (and cyber Monday) surpassed last years sales by like 14% or something. People are still spending money, just in new ways…
Of course it will take time to put all this together. I’ve barely completed most of these steps myself! However, I strongly believe that diligence will win out.

...maybe I just needed to rant…

-- Jesse --

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a1Jim

112014 posts in 2208 days


#9 posted 985 days ago

Some good suggestions but The whole world does not evolve around just the internet. I’ve played the game of shipping product across country and I’m not going there any more. If your selling bird houses or oven rack pushers it’s not a problem but shipping a piece of full size furniture is to much of a hassle for a one man operation. I’m glad there’s people out there that art still optimistic. I say go for it guy’s and more power to you. I’ve read lot’s of books and taken classes on marketing and find it very interesting but theory is one thing and reality is another. I found that my local market is just to small to build a large clientele in the price range necessarily to make custom furniture profitable . That’s one of many things to consider when staring your woodworking business . You have to be willing to switch gears when you find your heading in the wrong direction and marketing does not solve all of those problems.

-- http://artisticwoodstudio.com Custom furniture

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SalvageCraft

274 posts in 1157 days


#10 posted 985 days ago

I agree the whole world is not the Internet and shipping a high oh is probably never aworthwhile plan. So what works for you now, a1Jim? Do you make more money selling pieces or teaching? I’d like to hear more about what IS working for people! What specific choices have you made that have benefitted your business while making you more fulfilled?

-- Jesse --

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a1Jim

112014 posts in 2208 days


#11 posted 985 days ago

Jesse
I do a little of every thing. I take cabinet jobs but only the ones that people are willing to pay for custom cabinets along with custom wood shop work, a small amount of furniture repair, I teach adult woodworking for my local community collage and from my shop ,that’s more of an advertisement than a large profit center and I own a contracting business that I do residential and commercial remodeling and woodworking for places like our VA hospital,post office and some custom homes.
All of these different avenues are necessary because my market place is so small . The town I live has less the 1200 people and the next largest town has a little under 20,000 population. I feel that places that have larger populations also has more competition . I think this is where local marketing pays off best when you have the population that has enough disposable income to buy custom furniture, then all you have to do is convince them your the one to do the work for them. This is a category I’ve never had a problem with. You easiest way to convince them is to do quality work.

-- http://artisticwoodstudio.com Custom furniture

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Loren

7422 posts in 2279 days


#12 posted 985 days ago

I actually work as a freelance writer in direct marketing. Funnels, lead generation, list building and segmentation – I know a lot about it. In terms of client acquisition for custom millwork, such methods are most appropriate, in my opinion, for getting your toe in the door with architects, interior designers, and furniture dealers. If you’re set up to deal with the requirements of working with architects and designers, there is money to be made there but plenty of B.S. too and you have to have the tools and the skills to execute and install demanding designs.

That said, if you get the mailing address of anyone who expresses the slightest interest in your woodworking skill and mail them a postcard promoting your abilities and mail seasonal follow-ups, you would have a viable list of “friendly” people who would buy or refer others to you withing 6-24 months.

-- http://lawoodworking.com

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SalvageCraft

274 posts in 1157 days


#13 posted 974 days ago

Sound like you really do have multiple profit centers going on Jim! Good work!
I’m currently in the position where I haven’t done enough work to have built a reputation on, although the work that I have done has brought in some leads. I’ve also got this issue where the pieces are on a deadline to get out of the shop, and I haven’t been giving myself the time or space to photograph them properly before delivery. That said, I do have a few pics of odds and ends on my facebook page here: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150268443531736&set=a.10150252692536736.327253.710846735&type=3&theater
It’s kind of a catch-22 right now between feeling like I need a good portfolio to get more commissions, but needing more commissions to build my portfolio. Shop improvements go hand in hand with that: I need to rebuild a few racks and tables in my shop to boost turnout time on my projects, but I need to be making enough $ for shop work to invest the time in shop improvements. All that said, I do feel I am slowly creeping along toward my goal of being mainly a woodworker who does some odd jobs on the side :)
Back to the marketing topic – has anyone here checked out Kickstarter.com? I’m planning to use it as a platform to take preorders on a new line of work I’m putting together. Having definite numbers to look at before investing a lot of time into production and shop improvements seems like a god way to go. I’ll just need to put some time into marketing my kickstarter campaign first, lol!

-- Jesse --

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SalvageCraft

274 posts in 1157 days


#14 posted 974 days ago

Weird. I just tried to use that facebook link and only the one pic came up… I best try to fix that! What’s worse s I gave that link out to a couple people recently, thinking it was the full album! I got to work on my marketing…

-- Jesse --

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Tennessee

1447 posts in 1146 days


#15 posted 956 days ago

Nobody has put anything here for over two weeks, so I’ll stick something in.
There’s a lot of people posted here who are in my mind fighting a huge wall of competitors. For me, I took on a very common product in wood, and spent some real time improving it, and created a sort of niche. Then I started marketing, and more marketing, and more…
Sales were slow at first, but as my product got out there, now I get hits fairly often. Not enough to live on yet, but certainly way more than I thought.
I am a disciple of Ron Popiel. Nobody really needs a Kitchen Magician or an oven with no temperature control on it, and yet the man sold millions of them, because no one else at the time had one out there.
Improve on an existing product is the cry of Continuous Improvement people. They are dead right on.

What do you build? How can you make it unique and interesting and what people would pay attention to this “improvement”? You do that, and find them, and you will blossom like the spring lilies.

Paul

-- Paul, Tennessee, http://www.tsunamiguitars.com

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cloakie1

204 posts in 1186 days


#16 posted 956 days ago

i am working for an outfit that builds gates and what i have noticed over the years is that the styles of gates we make work in trends depending on what the economic situation is at the time.if the building industry is booming then we sell modern contempory styles where as like the current times where builders are finding it tough and people are putting more effort into renovating old house hence we sell traditional styles.custom work or anything to do with architechs is money lost, while i love the custom work and the challenges that go with it, we still have to work to a deadline so as loren has said earlier something has to give and it is the quality.
we also recognised that in order to stay in the game and move forward we had to appeal to a greater market place so rather the diversify into other things we concentrated on how we could make a product that is top quality but very cheap and out of the best material.so we designed a range of gates that we could mass produce and keep to standard sizes. we achieved it and now we have blown the competion clean out of the water in the cheap range and we make good money at it.
we also moved into aliminium, and again we specialised into a product that no one else is doing and we can make them look like traditional style or ultra modern. point being is we can no offer whatever the market demands be it top end (and people with money are paying top prices) alternative or a budjet product.
the problem as i see it with woodworking for a living is that you are governed by who ever sells cheap stuff that looks cheap…eg asian products. people want quality but can’t regonise it or won’t pay for it.
that’s why i work for someone else…they can do the stressing and i can enjoy the job!!
just my thoughts and obsevations.

-- just get stuck in and have a go!!!

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Puzzleman

330 posts in 1575 days


#17 posted 956 days ago

Paul, I agree with you. Like you, I found a niche looking for high quality work and cracked into it. Then Marketing, marketing and more marketing has allowed me to this full time and even bring on some part time help.

The main thing is to never stop trying to sell, keep on marketing and keep looking for new ideas. And keep on marketing.

-- Jim Beachler, Chief Puzzler, http://www.hollowwoodworks.com

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William1

1 post in 682 days


#18 posted 682 days ago

I was so impressed with the quality of talk here on the forum that I just joined. Thanks everyone for your informative and well thought out responses to the Topic started here by Loren.
I am a renovation contractor focusing In a variety of areas that I do on my own. I have been looking for ways to start a niche business that I can do from my shop on our property. You have given me lots of ideas and I look forward to learning more from all of you.
Thanks again. William.

-- William, Comox Valley,B.C, http://www.byrnell.ca

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Tennessee

1447 posts in 1146 days


#19 posted 682 days ago

Saw that this thread was once again up on the top – have a story to relay.
Went this weekend to a large apple festival in Ellijay, GA., where they feature over four hundred vendors. In one row, I first met this guy doing cutting boards. To be honest, his work was so-so, nice woods and all, but the surfaces were not level, no drain rout, pretty basic. I talked to him a while, told him about lumberjocks, and asked him if he had a spiralhead planer to clean up the surface of the boards. No, and his edge wood boards were the ones with the hills and valleys in them, I think he was using a belt sander to smooth them. To be honest, I was not impressed, although I told him they were nice. And he had customers- a lot of them.

Then I went up the row a ways, and here was a guy selling…cutting boards! Same domestic woods, looked a lot alike from a distance, but this person had drain routs, the surfaces were just perfect, edges well done, just superior work. And his prices I thought were not bad. (I had not looked at the pricing of the first person). I talked with the second gentleman, and he said he could not, and would not try to compete with the pricing of the “guy down the line.” We parted and I looked back at the first guy’s booth to see that he was selling his 18” square end cutting boards, 1.5” thick, for $20. Whoh! I told my wife, I cound not cut the wood for that, less alone finish it, put up a booth, market, none of it! And people obviously were buying him like crazy, whereas the second, much more talented guy was just standing there with $55 a board. Not selling anything.

Then I went to another woodworking booth, two guys making all kinds of tables and chests, and they had a sea trunk that was marked at $350. Nice looking, ambrosia maple and other light hardwoods, and I opened the lid to get a bunch of splinters in my fingertips. They had used a Kreg jig to attach the staves on the curved top, and never sanded nor plugged the Kreg holes. I let the lid down, and stood there for minute picking oak and maple splinters out of my hand, and told my wife that was really a rookie mistake. One guy, I know he heard me, gave me a nasty look, so I flicked a splinter his way! He got the point…

But my real point is somehow, quality has, in some part, finally gone out of style. Many have reflected on how people want things cheaper, quicker, etc. It would seem that our throwaway society has finally moved into the custom woodworking area, at least from what I see now and then at fairs and festivals. Boy, if I had a tent with my name on it, I’d want the absolute best I could offer, like the high priced cutting board guy. But then, I guess I’d starve.

-- Paul, Tennessee, http://www.tsunamiguitars.com

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a1Jim

112014 posts in 2208 days


#20 posted 682 days ago

Having just read this thread again the same thought occurred to me Paul . Many many of our members talk about how the guy down the street that sells his wares for less than the material or the giant retailers selling knock down furniture for less than I can buy the hardware and material for.This explains the many calls I get from folks that want to know if I can build them a piece of furniture for less than Walmart sells it. I think that cheep is king unless you have an established clientele like Thoms Moser,or some of the other well established artisans names. Unless the shopper is specifically shopping quality then the low quality product will be the winner in the market place for a large percentage of the who cares generation, as long as it’s cheep.

-- http://artisticwoodstudio.com Custom furniture

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Tennessee

1447 posts in 1146 days


#21 posted 681 days ago

Jim, I agree totally. People always want to try and chiesel down my guitar pricing. I lose a few, but better than giving it away.

-- Paul, Tennessee, http://www.tsunamiguitars.com

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Grandpa

3094 posts in 1307 days


#22 posted 681 days ago

Jim, it is sad, but, I think you are correct. Few people care about quality anymore. It is more like they want to know if you can make an MDF or particle board product that doesn’t fall apart because the last MDF product they bought did fall apart. Beyond that they don’t care. Our nation cares about very little these days and look at the mess we are into now.

View Loren's profile

Loren

7422 posts in 2279 days


#23 posted 681 days ago

It takes discipline with your marketing to get in front of the
people who will pay for quality. The more elements
you bring into your work which sets it apart from what
other vendors are selling, the closer you get to removing
price objections.

The reason the guy with the nicer cutting boards can’t
sell them and the other guy can is not only because the
other guy’s boards are cheaper… it’s also because the
low barrier to entry in making cutting boards and the
generally uninformed consumers.

In guitars, for example, a guy like Grit Laskin operates in a
world of his own because his skill with design and inlay
is at a true mastery level. Nobody else does what he
does aesthetically with guitars and the buyers are there.

Billl Cumpiano serves a specialty market making Cuatros,
Tres guitars, and other uncommon variants at a concert
quality level. He’s respected as a 6 string builder of course,
but so are hundreds of other hand builders… and the
market for handmade standard guitars is crowded.

-- http://lawoodworking.com

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jap

1226 posts in 685 days


#24 posted 681 days ago

Interesting Thread.

-- Joel

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huff

2799 posts in 1916 days


#25 posted 681 days ago

This has to be one of the most interesting threads I’ve read in a long time. I just saw it for the first time and took the time to read what everyone has posted so far. Thanks Loren.

I just retired this past March after 27 years of custom woodworking. I started as a one man shop, willing to build about anything if I could make at least a dollar. Marketing, marketing and more marketing is so true. I tried very hard not to give my work away when selling in the beginning. I found if you gave one person a great deal, they can’t wait to tell a friend, but the only problen with that is they expect the same deal. My niche when I first started were Home Entertainment Centers. This was before the flat screen tv’s and everyone was trying to put their tv in the corner of their family rooms or bedrooms and there were very few mass produced corner entertainment centers at that time and they where pretty much designed for one size fits all.

It gave me a chance to design custom corner entertaiment centers, for any size tv a customer wanted, style furniture, choice of woods and features. The market lasted long enough for me to establish my reputation and build a customer base for future jobs and referrals. I built everything from home offices, bookcases, built-ins, kitchens, vanities and a variety of furniture ( I never really built anything on spec.) I worked with a few designers and a couple design centers over the years, but never with a contractor.

Marketing and reaching the clients I wanted and needed, I’ve built and delivered furniture and cabinets in 13 states, mostly east of the Mississippi. Hard way to build a business, but if they were willing to pay for me to build and deliver their project, I was willing to do it.

Trying to educate a customer on quality and putting value to it was always a full time job and I had to realize not everyone was willing to buy what I built.

-- John @ http://www.thehuffordfurnituregroup.com

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Puzzleman

330 posts in 1575 days


#26 posted 680 days ago

There are people who care about quality out there. But I think one of their concerns is how long will you be around to back up their purchase or how can they find you.

People will pay the extra money for quality but you have to be able to let them know how to find you in 2 years if they have an issue. Most people sign their work but fail to put contact info on it. It is great if I know your name but how do I get in touch with you.

Part of marketing is making sure that your customer or potential customer can always find you. This is why I put my company name, phone number and website on every piece that I do. I point this out to customers when they are trying to decide on a purchase. Makes them feel more confident about purchasing from me.

-- Jim Beachler, Chief Puzzler, http://www.hollowwoodworks.com

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huff

2799 posts in 1916 days


#27 posted 680 days ago

Jim, You’re so right about that. People are sometimes afraid to deal with the new guy on the block. They want to deal with someone that’s been around for a while and looks and acts like they will be around for a long time. I always made sure my customers or potential customers had good contact information.

When I moved my business location, I made sure I sent out a postcard with all my new information on it. As part of my marketing, I did a couple Home Shows a year to display my work and was amazed how many people would commit that they had seen me the year before or two years previous and would finally schedule an appointment.

I’ve always handed out business cards like they were candy and many, many times would have someone contact me 2 years later to have something built.

You have to keep your name out there in front of the buying public in as many ways as possible. Business cards, flyers, post cards, signs, web-site, blogs, facebook, (in our town, Merchant Circle), being a sponsor, donating to a good cause, business groups and organizations, and just talking to people in general.

I spent my first 16 years in business in a very small town, so as a local business man, stayed very active in the town. Served on the board of directors of the local Chamber of Commerce, served on the Town Zoning Commission, helped with the town events each year (Christmas parade, 4th of July town picnic, Main Street Music Fest, etc.) I did a lot of networking with the other businesses in town and we all worked together to promote each other. I’ve never spent much money on paper advertising over the years, but spent plenty of time promoting myself and my business through any way possible.

Heck, sitting around waiting to get a haircut at my local barber shop was always a good way to get to know people and let them know what I did for a living. You just never know where that next customer will come from.

Trust me, I did a lot of target marketing over the years, but I spent just as much time, if not more just being friendly and talking to people in general.

It doesn’t matter what type woodworking we do, what products or services we’re selling, the most important thing to remember is; we’re all in the people business! Enjoy life, enjoy your woodworking and enjoy people in general!

-- John @ http://www.thehuffordfurnituregroup.com

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lathman

29 posts in 670 days


#28 posted 670 days ago

ater 27 years of making my living as a professional custom cabinetmaker (24 as a shop owner with 30+ employees) i made the break 5 years ago….at 53 i was “retired”......i now consider myself a creative freelancer, making what i want, then trying to figure out how to make a few bucks along the way….willing to try anything as long as one person can lift it! am enjoying life and woodworking more than ever before…. marketing is an ongoing challenge that i enjoy…and trying to come up with “new” ideas is also refreshing…..not rich but have plenty….oh and i just signed up for lumberjocks!

www.skramstadlathart.weebly.com
www.skramstadprimitives.weebly.com

-- "just crazy enough to try"

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RussellAP

2950 posts in 918 days


#29 posted 670 days ago

I didn’t really expect to make a lot of money woodworking, but I though if I stick with it, it will improve and it has. It’s simply a case of building momentum and sticking with it.
I started off making Adirondack chairs but found that people want what they want and expect you to be able to do it. So I entertain all offers and try desperately to swallow my fears of inadequacy and just do it.
It’s not as hard to tackle a project for a client who wants something you’ve never built before. But I find that focusing on building it creates new possibilities and abilities in me. I think I could become addicted to surprising myself like that.

-- A positive attitude will take you much further than positive thinking ever will.

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404 - Not Found

2544 posts in 1600 days


#30 posted 670 days ago

This is an interesting read and I’ve been following it since it was started.
Obviously things are tough out there at the moment, in this little country (Ireland), where the housing market is still in freefall, nobody is moving house and changing things. Nobody is getting bank loans for home improvements either.
That’s a huge chunk of my clientèle from 5 years ago gone. I don’t think we will see a return to the dizzy days of the Celtic Tiger economy for twenty years, by which time, I will be about ready to hang up my tape measure and pencil.
There’s still money in this country. For every person who lost out on a property deal, someone gained big. But the winners are holding the purse strings tight. Those who didn’t do well from the property bubble, now have no money by the time their over-inflated 40 yr mortgage is paid every month, and only very few people have had a pay rise in the last 4 years.
So it’s not surprising everyone wants cheap. Hell, I want cheap too, but at least when it comes to furnishing my own home, I don’t have to pay for labour. But I really do believe that another factor comes into play when people are looking for furniture, and that is simply that very few people want a piece made that they will have to live with forever – and it’s definitely a generation thing. With the exception of just one person, my biggest, most involved jobs have all been for older couples (55+). It’s not surprising really though, I have two kids and a mortgage and there’s frequently more sawdust than money in my pockets.
Buy cheap, change it in ten years time. MDF and knockdown fittings all the way. The death of the heirloom quality market.
So I’m in a quandary. I’m trying to get a website up, but to be honest, I don’t know if it is just a waste of time and more false hope and expense. Do I target this at those older people and resign myself to making what older folk want (the mahogany generation with mouldings on everything) or do I keep on making things the way I want to make them but for a market that doesn’t exist?

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john

2293 posts in 3013 days


#31 posted 670 days ago

There is lots of money to be made in woodworking but not necessary in furniture building . In the past i had people tell me there is no money in building birdhouses but they were quickly proven wrong . :-)

-- John in Belgrave (Website) http://www.extremebirdhouse.com , http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=112698715866

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lathman

29 posts in 670 days


#32 posted 670 days ago

for me the most important thing is to enjoy what i am doing…..making what i want to make…trying to come up with things people aren’t used to seeing….....then market the heck out of it till it sells…....i supply pieces to 5 stores currently….have my stuff on 4 online shops…..do shows both summer and fall….4 websites…...and occasionally i get a sale…...but life is good!

-- "just crazy enough to try"

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mloy365

433 posts in 1761 days


#33 posted 670 days ago

@renners: it is all about the niche. But more importantly, it is about being happy. If you have a hard time getting to sleep at night because you can’t wait to go to work; that is worth everything and then some.

Do you know what the two kinds of people are in this world?

-- Mike - Northern Upper Michigan

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Loren

7422 posts in 2279 days


#34 posted 670 days ago

Part of the responsibility you have to yourself if you want
to make money at it is to apply the same creative energy
and determination to finding what you can make and sell
as you do to learning how to do woodworking, which is
not an easy skill to become expert in.

Becoming very competent at executing casework designs
is one path and the one I recommend to the person able
to do the lifting because the work is in demand, but
being a cabinet maker is not as much fun as making
guitars or boxes and other fine things… it is, however,
once you get a lot of factors figured out and going in
your favor, an area in which profit can be pretty good
in relation to the equipment investment and other costs –
and growth is “bootstrap-able” and financially safe if
you are shrewd and consider your business decisions
accurately.

The thing is (read “The E-Myth” by Michael Gerber) is
most people who gravitate to a trade as a way of making
a business are also more attracted to doing the trade
than they are to learning and practicing new and unfamiliar
skills in, for example, sales and marketing. The reality is
that at a certain point you can and probably should hire
semi-skilled help pretty early on and focus on selling the
work more than producing the work. This is a tough pill
to swallow for introverts et al who find refuge in working
with their hands and anxiety in working with people and
with selling, but to achieve a growing and stable business
we all must recognize that talent can be hired and
fabrication skill is not that rare.

What makes you happy matters of course, but if you truly
want to only make sawdust and sell the goods as an
afterthought you sell yourself short…. because if you are
clever enough to be an effective woodworker you
are probably clever enough to do well in a business of it
too if you apply yourself well.

-- http://lawoodworking.com

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Jerry

2181 posts in 2178 days


#35 posted 670 days ago

Well Loren, you managed to open an intereating topic. It has been fun reading. I always look forward to reading your post regarding these informative topics.

OK, so i dont like marketing or sales all that much. I do love it when i close a sale though and i enjoy building beautiful projects. I dont really have any real wisdom to offer as i am sort of feeling my way through this all. I do marketing and sales myself, just not real fond of it. I do feel we have been extremely blessed. Right now we are in feast period, but just a month ago we were going throu gh famine. This year we have been fortunate and have thrived. I want to say some of it is luck. Like being in San Antonio has helped since the building trades are staying regular. For one reason or other we went the custom cabinet route. At this time we get our business from our web site, walk ins and referrals. I just closed 5 jobs in the past month, 3 came from web site leads, 1 from referral and 1 from walk in. I just pray our upcoming third year is even better then this past year.

-- Jerry Nettrour, San Antonio, www.topqualitycabinets.net

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Jerry

2181 posts in 2178 days


#36 posted 670 days ago

Oh yeah, and i like the idea of hiring competant labor but it is tricky. The first half of the year our shop had 5 full timers including me and my wife. After the summer i laid off 2 guys and my wife, keeping my best guy and myself. I even let my last guy stay home for a week and we all took time off. Now we are faced with having to hire, BUT…... I will need to hire smart. I would have to find the guy who works hard and does excellent work. This is hard to find. And, if i dont sell adequately, the shop staff will quickly work me out of work. So it is tricky and a hit of a juggling act to ensure your staff is efficient and maintains high quality while maintaining adequate sales.

Something i have considered, hire a part time sales person on commission. A good sales person could likely keep us busy.

-- Jerry Nettrour, San Antonio, www.topqualitycabinets.net

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Loren

7422 posts in 2279 days


#37 posted 670 days ago

With labor, for example, an issue can be errors in cross-cutting
and panel processing. In most small shops these operations are done
on more than one machine, so mismatched scales can be
a problem than can be addressed by going to digital scales
and/or fixed flip stops for common cuts. In some 32mm
shops panels are only crosscut in 32mm increments and
of course face frames are eliminated. Cases are unambiguously
drilled for dowels or confirmats so labor cannot assemble
boxes incorrectly.

The thinking on this has already been done by intelligent
people. Machinery costs to set up a “dolt-proof” operation
can be substantial though, so you do the best you can
do within your tolerance for debt. A skilled installer may
be a better money maker than a guy in the shop cutting
out parts and screwing some up… and a better stop system
may allow one guy to bust out more consistent panel
cuts than two guys splitting the job and doing everything
else, like sanding, too. Put the help on the sanding and
optimize your speed of part production and you may find
you can depend on labor more (less skilled) and cut parts
and joints yourself without having to trust in skilled help.

... and skilled help of course wants a steady job and if your
needs fluctuate then there’s the problem variable of
always training new guys to work with your setup.

-- http://lawoodworking.com

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Moron

4666 posts in 2525 days


#38 posted 670 days ago

for every thousand woodworkers

theres one rich one

who got it right

I wonder how many of those who made it rich ?

who I will meet in heaven ?

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

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Moron

4666 posts in 2525 days


#39 posted 670 days ago

Loren

It is entirely possible to assemble the impossible to assemble cabinet wrong

wrong

Never doubt the stupidity of men

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

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Loren

7422 posts in 2279 days


#40 posted 670 days ago

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Moron

4666 posts in 2525 days


#41 posted 670 days ago

If I were ever to hire a man or woman, I often get the best feeling from those who have the least to say : ))

making a living at this trade, imho………… is difficult, if not hopeless. Dont believe me then check out the stats, do your own stats. Watch the never evolving listings in the yellow pages and over the years go and visit the listings that stay “listed”

Go visit the ones that survive. Check their tools and the mood and never ending swinging door of the employees that come and go. The odd time you might you find a shop that sticks around and check out those who work there for the last 20 years, 10 or even five. See if they take the bus home, or if they rent or if their wife is still part of the picture.

The reality of owning and running a craft and hobby that pays the odd dime can turn ugly when reality meets your bank account and the only thing that separates one from the other is pure passion but know that not all wives and husbands should be expected to tolerate what some think is a God given right.

Talk is cheap

Divorce is expensive

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

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lathman

29 posts in 670 days


#42 posted 670 days ago

employees…..30+ at on point…. been there done it….now if i can’t do it myself…..i don’t do it!....and if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands**

-- "just crazy enough to try"

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jap

1226 posts in 685 days


#43 posted 670 days ago

I wrote this for English this a couple weeks ago, thought you guys might be interested.

Mass-Produced Miseries

Everybody has sat on a wiggly chair, put another book on a sagging shelf, seen the telltale brown color of particle board gleaming from a dented table, brought home a furnishing that did not match, and thrown out several pieces of furniture; most likely all of this happened with mass-produced furniture. It starts from a designer who does not know much about the materials and types of construction and end with a deceitful salesperson telling nonsense to make a sale. In between, store owners just wanting to make money, factory workers repeating the same operation continuously, packers trying to force the item into the smallest box possible, shippers hopping nobody noticed when they dropped the package, play their part, because none of them care about the product or costumer. But people keep buying mass-produced furniture, using it, trashing it, and then buying it again. People should realize that doing so uses up more time shopping, waste money in the long run, and they never get a beautifully furnished home.

Factory made furniture almost never completely fulfills what the buyer looks for. Too big or too small, too dark or too light, too modern or too rustic, too plain or too fancy, and many others, furniture designers could never get every variable correct. Even if they did get it right for one person, it would undoubtedly be wrong for another. Generally, people tend to settle with buying a piece of furniture not quite what they wanted, because they could not find what they desired at a furniture store. They end up unsatisfied and every time they walk by that item, they partly regret their purchase. Sadly, this occurs more often than not because of the consumer’s apathy toward looking outside the retail store and finding a craftsman who custom builds and cares about quality, the product, and the customer.

Quality, everyone wants it and everyone looks for it. However, to most manufacturers the quality of the products does not seem important to the manufacture. They just use marketing tactics to convince shoppers that they build with quality, but they only build to look like quality. Furniture makers use veneered particleboard or stained cheap wood on almost all their mass-produced furniture. It looks pretty when you buy it, but a after a little use, every dent will shine out because the wood underneath does not match. Also, most of the joints they use in their furniture end up loosening with time and starting to wiggle long before they should, not only creating unstable furniture, but this could potently threaten the safety of a child who enjoy climbing on furniture. If a shopper wants to buy quality furniture, then ruling out mass-produced furniture helps eliminate countless mistakes.

When companies create furniture, they worry about how to build it efficiently, not just about the greatness of the final product. They have to worry about having as little waste as possible. Raw materials determine the dimensions of the product. If the product looks best when eight and a half feet long, but they can only obtain the raw material eight feet or ten feet long, they would not hesitate to take of six inches off the length and hope that the proportions still look good. Rather than buying the ten feet long piece and wasting the extra to get a better looking project, because the added cost to buying a longer piece may cause it to be unprofitable. Likewise, they design their furniture around the capability of the machines, because any handwork increases the cost. Sadly no one who mass-produces furniture has the final product at the forefront of their designing.

Although anyone can buy mass-produced furniture easily for a cheap price, “you get what you pay for” as the old saying goes. Cheap furniture equates cheaply made furniture that will not last and will end up filling the landfills. Furniture with loose joints, sharp corners, veneered surfaces, and ugly proportions. Not anything people can proudly own for the rest their life. However, since buyer keep buying them, makers keep making the same junky furniture. If the money comes in, they will not change their approach. Hopefully, someday people will stop buying such furniture and force the creators to make their mass-produced furniture better.

By: J. A. Priddle

-- Joel

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404 - Not Found

2544 posts in 1600 days


#44 posted 670 days ago

I keep seeing the adverts on telly for ‘Oak Furnitureland’. Everything is made from SOLID oak. But that SOLID oak is made of tiny lollypop stick sized pieces of SOLID oak, finger jointed in China and end glued to give a SOLID piece of oak that looks like a patchwork quilt.
Oak Furnitureland is a big operation, their stuff isn’t cheap to buy. So when they have their half price sale after Christmas, all those lucky punters will be beaming about the bargain coffee table, or chest of drawers or sideboard they just picked up in the sale, thinking what a great store and great product they just got.
They should be made to change their tag line from “The home of oak furniture” to “The home of overpriced garbage that we still make money on even when there’s 50% off”.

But then again, nobody is forcing anyone to buy anything. If a consumer doesn’t care that his piece of furniture is made of iddy biddy little bits of firewood, why should a manufacturer?

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jap

1226 posts in 685 days


#45 posted 670 days ago

^ and that’s where educating the consumer comes in…

-- Joel

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huff

2799 posts in 1916 days


#46 posted 670 days ago

Over the years I’ve seen a lot of “professional” cabinet shops and “custom woodworkers” fall in the same rut as mass manufacturers. Most of us probably started our woodworking businesses more for the passion of woodworking then just using woodworking as a vehicle to make money. After we’ve been in business for a little while, we soon realized it takes a real balance of business sense and desire to do woodworking to make a living at it.

So many woodworkers start with passion, but soon realize passion alone may not be enough. I started my business over 27 years ago on that and it didn’t take me long to realize I was going to have to decide what direction I wanted to take my business and if I could be happy doing it. Was I going to focus on how fast, how cheap and how many projects I could build in a year and it be more about how much money I made or was I going to focus strictly on quality and service and work hard to find a market and realize I may not be able to make as much money doing so. There’s a lot of compromises along the way, whichever way I decided to go, but I had to be happy and proud of what I was making or I might just as well go get a “job” and a “real paycheck’! I had a number of “jobs” before I started my own business and for me, just getting a paycheck was not enough.

I held to my principles and yes; I was a starving artist at times, but I’ve alway enjoyed my woodworking and proud to put my name on what I’ve built. Not every day was a bed of roses, but then again, life in general isn’t and if that’s what we go into business for ourselves for, then I think most will be dissappointed.

Woodworking is not that different then a lot of other careers that start from passion or desire. Not everyone is going to be a hugh sucess in this field…......but then again, what do each of us expect or demand from our business to be considered a hugh success.

Regrets? None! Good times thru bad times, I’ve meant and worked for a lot of wonderful people, built a lot of fun projects, enjoyed my woodworking and learned something new on every project.

Now I’m retired (not really, just my business) and I’m enjoying doing more projects around the house and doing a special project now and then.

-- John @ http://www.thehuffordfurnituregroup.com

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huff

2799 posts in 1916 days


#47 posted 669 days ago

Jerry,

Hiring talented woodworkers and then trying to keep them busy or even keep them on the pay roll when things slow down is always a problem. Most hard working talented woodworkers either want to own their own business, or if you can hire one, they like to use you for a stepping stone to land a bigger and better job. (always looking). Can’t really blame them, it’s just the way it is.

I found that instead of hiring an employee when I had too much work, I would hire a shop. What I mean by that is; I looked at one or two man woodworking shops in about a 50 mile radius of my shop and I would do some background checks on what kind of work they did (quality), what their market niche was or at least what they built the most of, etc. That is nothing more then knowing your competition and if I felt they qualified, I would approach then to see if they would be interested in taking on an extra job now and then.

To make a long story short; I found a lot of them where quite responsive to the idea. After I sold a project and I had more work then I could handle to stay on my time line, I would take the drawings of a project to one of them and show them what was required; time line, materials, hardware, quality and if there were certain building techniques that they needed to do to meet our standards and what I could pay them to build it.

In the late 90’s, I had 5 different shops that would build for me at different times. It’s a trial and error thing to start with (about the same as hiring an employee), but if you didn’t like their work or you didn’t have extra work, they weren’t on my payroll. You’re not supplying a building, tools, insurance, taxes,benifits,vacations and most importantly, I didn’t have to lay anyone off when things slowed down.

I won’t go into all the details on how I paid them and how I picked which shop to sub some work out to, but will say it worked well. You have to manage everything, but I had to do that with employees.

I would love to take credit for coming up with the idea myself, but actually one of my employees (he was retired from IBM) gave me the idea after he saw how IBM quit manufacturing almost all their own products and subed it out to other companies.

I also had a very talented woodworker that worked for me for a few years, left and went out on his own. Even though he was very talented, he struggled with marketing and sales, so I would sub some work to him now and then just to try to help him out. Since I already knew his talents and he knew how I like things built, that was the first and also the easiest to set up to start with. He always appreciated the extra jobs and even though he didn’t get paid as much per project, he didn’t have any time invest in the marketing, selling, designing, finishing and installation. I took care of all that.

After I moved my business to South Carolina and went back to being totally a one man operation, I actually worked the other side of that senario. I approached a local design center that did high end custom cabinetry, but ordered their cabinets from a company in the mid west. Their designers would come to me if they came up with a design that either they couldn’t order from the company or something that was more furniture then cabinetry and I would get to build it for them. They brought me the drawings, I would build it and simply give them a call and they would send their truck and crew to pick it up to deliver and install. I actually did the finishing for them, but I will have to admit, it was some of the easiest money I ever made in woodworking. BTW; In my case, they actually let me bid the job, so I decided what I would get paid to do it. Didn’t get every job, but I would guess probably 75-80% Not bad for never having to leave the shop.

-- John @ http://www.thehuffordfurnituregroup.com

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gumper

7 posts in 957 days


#48 posted 669 days ago

I experimented with making living doing something I am passionate about. I took leave from a boring but fruitful job to work with a high end joiner. I found out that I have the skills to do it, but the demands left the passion in the dust.

I left the boring but fruitful job, for more fruitful, non-boring self-employment in another trade, that I am not passionate about.

I haven’t regained the virgin passion for woodworking since. I still luv it, but it’s not the same. While I learned a lot and the experience gave me confidence in my abilities, I feel raped of something that was excessively special in my life.

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Jerry

2181 posts in 2178 days


#49 posted 669 days ago

Hello John, it is good to hear from you. I do appreciate the advice and I might have to look into outsourcing some more. I have looked at the outsourcing from time to time. I have considered outsourcing doors but truthfully I enjoy building doors. We just added a second and third shaper, both PM 3 hp.

Hiring brings so many potential issues. Training is a big thing, in some cases it can take 6 months or more for a person to come up to speed. And mistakes can be very costly. Such as running the door lip too deep on the door. Or drilling hinge holes too far in from the edge on all of the doors.

I would just love outsourcing installations, I hate installing myself. We do not have any mobile units set up. We always have to make a list and try not to forget any tools when loading the morning before an installation. Always a headache. And outsourcing the finish would be great also :) We are getting fairly good at the finish work though and I love finish work much more than installation.

It is possible we might be able to get through this work load without hiring, which to me would be good.

Thanks for the advice.

-- Jerry Nettrour, San Antonio, www.topqualitycabinets.net

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huff

2799 posts in 1916 days


#50 posted 669 days ago

Hey Jerry,

I know what you mean about installations. I never outsourced installations, but I sure thought about it many times over the years. Never really enjoyed that part of the job, but the only reason I kept doing it was the fact that I was pretty good of getting follow-up work from the installation. Loved the PR part of it.

I’m always interested in how you’re doing and glad to hear from you, even if it is just on the forums.

Hey, I forgot to mention the last time; I’ve been to your web-site and it looks great. You’re really putting the professional touch to everything. Keep up the great work.

-- John @ http://www.thehuffordfurnituregroup.com

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