Smaller craftsman rant

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Forum topic by SteveMI posted 06-07-2010 04:55 PM 2070 views 2 times favorited 20 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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946 posts in 2716 days

06-07-2010 04:55 PM

Topic tags/keywords: consignment store front

One major hurdle I see for the smaller one person size shop, which I am, is having a store front presence. People may buy a cutting board, inexpensive box or under $20 item at a weekend show, but they prefer a stable store front for any substantial purchase. Like any contractor they want to know how to contact the person for warranty, customization, or delivery after putting down a deposit. A building with good location and parking is outside the budget of most smaller craftsman until established.

All of the consignment places I have found are not focused on original wood work, more interested in filling all of the floor space regardless of items, regardless of quality and not a destination in most cases for wood working customers. Craft places that rent space have you compete with too broad a selection of items and the resellers of catalog China goods. My impression of the booth situation is that the person isn’t really serious about being in business, even though I have had a booth in two places.

My idea would be a regional (100 mile) retail opportunity that focused on hand made wood type products. Owner would do the vetting to ensure it wasn’t just catalog resale and that the level of work was at a minimal level. Pricing could be kept up to account for the level of craftsmanship. Similar merchandise could be situated together rather than booth by booth. Prospective customers would then have a destination when interested in a higher craftsmanship item. Store would need to be consignment, but the focus of goods could make the split attractive to both the craftsman and store management. Special orders could be practical with the store keeping the deposit until delivery. This type of business could become a destination site that would attract people from a much wider area. (I have no interest in being “the” proprietor and the issues necessary for such a thing, just would like to be a user.)

Anybody know of a place or have a comment?


20 replies so far

View a1Jim's profile


115177 posts in 2999 days

#1 posted 06-07-2010 05:00 PM

I guess your not along Steve because I guess others don’t want to being a proprietor ether. Selling wood items can be very tough.

-- Custom furniture

View woodpeckerbill's profile


205 posts in 2695 days

#2 posted 06-07-2010 05:22 PM

Steve, I once heard of an older woodcraftsman telling a much younger one: any fool can make this stuff, but it takes a danged genius to sell it!
And after all these years it still rings true. That’s why I make it and my wife sells it. Now you know whos the fool and who’s the genius!!

View uffitze's profile


199 posts in 2377 days

#3 posted 06-07-2010 05:24 PM

I’m a little surprised that there aren’t more cooperative retail outlets. I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that the reason is first that very few of us want to personally invest the time and money necessary to make it work. And, if we are making a go of it without the store, we don’t need it, and if we do need the store, we don’t have the cash to get it going. So, it might be a chicken and egg thing.

I’ll also say that I’d be interested in joining/forming a wood artists coop when I get my ass moved back to WI.

View CharlieM1958's profile


16229 posts in 3640 days

#4 posted 06-07-2010 05:26 PM

It’s an interesting concept.

I guess the big question is whether there is a large enough market for this type of merchandise to support the expenses involved in operating a retail store. My gut instinct is that it might work in wealthy communities (Carmel, CA for example) where people have a lot of money to spend on luxuries, but probably not in your average working class town.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View SteveMI's profile


946 posts in 2716 days

#5 posted 06-07-2010 05:36 PM

Charlie – that is why I brought up the regional idea.

View uffitze's profile


199 posts in 2377 days

#6 posted 06-07-2010 05:50 PM

I have a problem with the idea that working class people can’t afford nice hand built furniture. If my neighbor can’t afford my work, then I have an inflated view of what my labor is worth.

Now, I will grant to you that there is an education hurdle here … folks need to know that what they are buying is a superior product to the mass produced crap that they can get for 10-50% less. But, I will also assert that folks are paying more attention to where their stuff comes from these days, and are willing to support their local economy.

So, what’s the best way to get over that education hurdle … have a public presence (I.e. a store), and press (articles in newspapers/magazines) doesn’t hurt either.

View Mike Talbot's profile

Mike Talbot

22 posts in 2608 days

#7 posted 06-07-2010 05:52 PM


I know a few state craft guilds have a shop or two setup to sell items. Check with your state guild and see what they have


View BillyJ's profile


622 posts in 2624 days

#8 posted 06-07-2010 05:52 PM

Steve, as I was reading this, I thought for a moment that you were going to open up such a site. I was ready to tell you that I would be interested in renting a spot.

As Jim and uffitze mentioned – being a proprietor and putting in the time to sell our work would cost too much (in time and money). I hate setting up at a show – I would rather be working with wood.

-- I've never seen a tree that I wouldn't like to repurpose into a project. I love the smell of wood in the morning - it smells like victory.

View ellen35's profile


2720 posts in 2854 days

#9 posted 06-07-2010 06:11 PM

I participated in an Artisan’s Gallery type store front a few years ago. It was a collossal disaster! There was such variability in workmanship that it was impossible to keep the place filled with vendors and keep the quality up. There was a proprietor who collected $100-$125/month from each of us and was supposed to do publicity etc. with a portion of that money. The long and the short of it was that as people started leaving, they had to fill the space and ended up with junk… and a few good booths. They started bringing in their own stuff (they advertized it as ‘American made’ but I have my doubts. As I was about to pull out, they announced they were closing. There was little foot traffic and really no sales to speak of. I had 1 good month in the summer and that was it. And this was on Cape Cod where there are plenty of tourists and buyers.

I guess I’m saying that there has to be a better way. Personally, I like the Artisan’s Fair venue as people are there to buy more than they are to brouse. I have gotten more orders via these (and I’ve only done 3 or 4 so far) than I thought I would.

If you come up with a better idea…


-- "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." Voltaire

View Puzzleman's profile


410 posts in 2366 days

#10 posted 06-07-2010 06:54 PM

I have tried the consignment route many years ago. Each of my items are made to order as they are personalized puzzles. I found that it didn’t well well at all. People not only want to buy woodworking, they want to buy from YOU.

What I do is meet and talk to people at shows and hand out my flyers. I have my website listed there and they
can see what I sell. they make orders from there or call me to set up the orders.


-- Jim Beachler, Chief Puzzler,

View Eagle1's profile


2066 posts in 2486 days

#11 posted 06-08-2010 12:19 PM

It takes a long time to really get your name out there. I always keep a couple of pens or another small item in my pocket. Usually a pen it seems to catch the eye. Yeaterday I went into my drugstore to pick up my medicine. Pretty much everone knows me there, it’s a small town. 3 or 4 people came up to me all of a sudden, and said I heard you do woodworking. 1 asked if I do signs, I told her that I can. I tolod her that if she kinda drew out what she wanted and what she wanted it to say I would make her one. She said she wanted it to look old. I told her if she had access to some old barn wood would do what she wanted. The otherones wanted pics. I need to get up my website. I told them I would let them know when it is up, I guess this is my weekend project.. So it seems word of mouth is starting to work for me..

-- Tim, Missouri ....Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what the heck happened

View rusticandy's profile


109 posts in 2951 days

#12 posted 06-08-2010 05:35 PM

You’re spot on in so many ways- you need to find an established venue that attracts tourist traffic and provides quality crafts. 50/50 is usuallly the split- but I always try to push it to 60/40- I do all consignment, and find that having things out there- gets me custom oroder About 50% of my orders are custom-with a 25% pay back ot the gallery.

You have to have work that is set apart- in terms of design and materials too- few folks out there are inlaying rock in wood- thats been my bread-n-butta. Make your stuff stand out- ask for critiques from anyone and everyone, swallow hard, and consider thier opinions.

I doubt I could make a living at it, but I figure I make $40/hr at least, when out in the shop- Once the stuff sells a year or so later-

I’ve had stuff in a total of 7 galleries now, and 4 of them shut down. I’ve been rejected by at least 6 others- and had a garage full of furniture. You have to be willing to roll with the changes.

Hope this helps- good luck-

-- rustic andy

View closetguy's profile


744 posts in 3314 days

#13 posted 06-08-2010 08:43 PM

The only place where I have seen this model work is in high traffic resort areas. We had one in Atlanta for a couple of years, then it folded. Arrowcraft and Ownby Woodcrafters in Gatlinburg, TN have been around for a long time and have a good selection of nice local wood crafts. I’m assuming they are doing well because of their longevity. I always enjoy visiting their stores when I am up there.

We also had some craft malls that sprung up a few years ago that gave you an 8×8 space that you decorated and stocked for a monthly fee and percentage of sales. They lasted about a year before biting the bullet. Most people didn’t know they were there because they didn’t advertise.

It takes a real desperate person to do consignment and I would not recommend it to anyone. All the downside is on you and here is why:

1. The store owner assumes no risk.
2. You have inventory tied up that can’t be sold anywhere else and no cash flow.
3. Since there is no risk or investment on the store owner, there is no incentive to promote your product or display it in a good location.
4. How do you recover your product if they go out of business?
5. What happens if something gets damaged or stolen?

If a store owner is not willing to buy your product at wholesale like everything else in the store, then that tells me they have no faith in your product. They get to stand back, close their eyes, and throw darts at a target knowing that if they miss, ‘oh well’ it didn’t cost them anything. In the mean time, you could have been out looking for wholesale accounts, selling retail online, or at craft shows.

Remember, the whole purpose of selling wholesale is because you are getting volume orders. You trade a high profit low volume model for a lower profit high volume model. If you do consignment, and they get 40-50% every time something sells, you are giving volume discounts on quantity one. I might as well just bend over.

The USA guys who are doing serious wholesale to stores across the country are going to wholesale shows to sell their products. It can cost upwards of $2000+ to do a show, but the attendees are owners of gift shops, boutiques, and resorts. You don’t sell anything at these shows. You write up orders and start filling them when you get back to your shop. If your products move well, then orders flow in on a regular basis. Of course, this can be rough on a one man shop. You can die from the workload or repetition.

-- I don't make mistakes, only design

View BroDave's profile


107 posts in 3236 days

#14 posted 06-08-2010 10:05 PM

”I have a problem with the idea that working class people can’t afford nice hand built furniture. If my neighbor can’t afford my work, then I have an inflated view of what my labor is worth.”

It sounds like you are shooting at the wrong target.
If your neighbor can’t afford it then he will buy something he can afford but I wouldn’t put in the time to build a quality piece and not get paid for it.
After all, it isn’t your fault your neighbor can’t afford your work no more than it’s Bently’s fault I can’t afford their cars.

-- .

View dbhost's profile


5590 posts in 2653 days

#15 posted 06-08-2010 10:24 PM

There are a few businesses that I know of that are set up kind of like you are talking about… on the Oregon Coast is the first one that came up in a Google search. Next would be the Myrtlewood Mystique Gallery in Philomath, Oregon. This was owned and run by a friends family back in the 1980s, since gone to new owners…

The Amish Barn in Spring Texas does something similar for Amish products.

You just need to look around. They are out there…

For what it’s worth, for the most part fine woodworking is an art, and simply put, quality art costs money, cheap imitation art is more affordable for the masses. If you are going to make a good go of making a living selling any sort of art, you need to make a name for yourself some how. Which means you need to promote, promote, promote… And some of your best promotion is word of mouth…

-- My workshop blog can be found at

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