So how are we dealing with the new economy?

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Forum topic by dennis mitchell posted 11-05-2008 05:54 AM 3808 views 1 time favorited 69 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 4548 days

11-05-2008 05:54 AM

Topic tags/keywords: pros economy question

I’m scratching my head in this new reality. Hoping I don’t end up having to put on the orange vest and work for the enemy. What are you fellow pros doing to survive. I could feel it coming, just because we only need so many houses, but it sure seems worse than even grouchy old pessimist me expected. A while back I started building kitchens just because it was more labor intensive. Even though I made less money. That seems to have come to a halt. Which in many ways might be a blessing. Creation comes out of destruction. I have a chance to reinvent myself. So maybe my country does to. I’ve checked out Ebay and Esty…only a few seem to be making a living. I’ve followed a few fellow LumberJocks craft sales experiences. They did better than me, but I really want to make a living at this thing. Woodworking has given me a great life. I’d really hate to stop. I’ve always treated furniture as a passion, maybe I’ll have better success if I treat it like a business. So what doors open in a recession? I’d like to hear about changes you are making for your woodworking career.

69 replies so far

View Bill's profile


2579 posts in 4395 days

#1 posted 11-05-2008 06:11 AM

A good question Dennis. Business has faded for me as well. So, like you I am thinking of how to re-invent myself as well. I am thinking of moving to Galveston, to help rebuild the area and maybe make some money in the process. They will be rebuilding for several years, so it will be work for many people for some time.

It will be interesting to hear what the rest of the community is going to do.

-- Bill, Turlock California,

View closetguy's profile


744 posts in 4126 days

#2 posted 11-05-2008 06:26 AM

I can relate to your dilemma. I’ve done casework and closets for a living for 7 years. My business was growing 30% a year and life was good. This year it is off 60%. That’s a tough pill to swallow. The only thing that is helping me keep my head above water is repeat business from my large customer base. I have also taken on jobs this year that I would normally turn down. I had a past customer call and ask me if I could build a 12×14 shed with attic in his back yard. I got it done, but I never want to do something like that again. I’m still doing closets, but not as many and not as large. Work just comes sporatic right now. I also have endcap displays in three Lowes stores and I haven’t had a lead in the past four months.

This is the reason I started doing craft shows. I have this fully equipped shop and lots of time on my hands, so I started building stuff and going to shows. This is has potential, but I don’t think it could ever replace the cash flow that I was getting from my closet business.

I have an Etsy store, but have only sold three things this year. Sales though my web site were starting to increase, then they dropped off to nothing, but people are still buying at shows. The ones that survive all this will be known as master dog-paddlers….

-- I don't make mistakes, only design

View Dan'um Style's profile

Dan'um Style

14179 posts in 4217 days

#3 posted 11-05-2008 06:34 AM

I’m selling alot less, but staying very busy building up inventory. Granted, woodworking is a glorified hobby.

-- keeping myself entertained ... Humor and fun lubricate the brain

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 4196 days

#4 posted 11-05-2008 02:48 PM

In our case, both the saddle shop and wood shop just stopped getting calls around the first of May. I have over $20,000 in inventory at The Cabin Company and Flynn’s Saddle Shop in Boise. Nothing has sold while I was in Wyoming all summer and fall. I will be going in to talk to these people in the next couple of days. I think small things are still moving a little. Maybe there is something I can do for the winter. At this point, I see little hope of reviving either shop to full time work. I don’t feel like investing anymore time or capitol into the business at this time. There are better craftsmen than myself who are working at the local stop-and-rob to get by. Since I’m approaching 62, I see little hope of any really good employment either. So far, I’ve managed to stay busy and productive but as the economy worsens, it will become increasingly difficult for we older hands to compete for scarce jobs. Maybe Obama can turn it around but I think it will be a long uphill battle. Good luck everyone.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View snowdog's profile


1166 posts in 4216 days

#5 posted 11-05-2008 03:09 PM

Back when in the 80 when the market crashed “black Monday” I was making great money in construction, everything dried up. I decided to try something new. I went into computers, I started at the bottom in an electronics store, assistance manager. 1.5 years later I was contracted to Lotus Development, from there I went to IBM and now am looking at a relatively good retirement at 50 years old by making a few good job moves. It took me 18 years to get here from that bad “Monday” but it was a fun ride. Yeah a lot of it was pretty hard but I am here now. You may have to try new things, you can always go back to construction but you may find that wood working is a lot more fun when you do it for fun and not for a living. I am not sure I believe that last line :) I still miss the construction sites and comradery of the crew. It is not as enjoyable talking to a bunch of stuffed shirts at white collar job as it was in the old days of construction but the pay is a hell of a lot better and there are a few good people at work, it is not all bad. of construction but the pay is a hell of a lot better and there are a few good people at work, it is not all bad.

Good luck and as the song says “the best oppertunities are the ones tha tnever kniock”.

-- "so much to learn and so little time"..

View Bob #2's profile

Bob #2

3810 posts in 4255 days

#6 posted 11-05-2008 03:20 PM

For me, as an observer of this craft I think that North Americans must stop importing goods for the landfills.

Life over the last 40 years has become increasingly superficial with the primary goal of pure opulence rather than a focus on quality.
When I came out of school folks saved up for a down payment of 10% of their homes and took on 25 year mortgages.
Today they “were” able to grab the reins of a house 2-3 times the size and get a 55 year mortgage.

Moreover, they could fill it up with offshore crap on payments too.
The half life of almost everything has been cut at least in half.
In short, we have all become consummate consumers.

Moreover is this mindboggling “sense of entitlement”.

This coming back to reality now upon us is growing to be painfully and protracted.
It means deciding not to buy crap because it’s cheap or the box stores give you no choice.
It will involve personal resolve to say no and stick to it.

Making a living during the adjustment means taking on some of the smaller neighbourhood tasks instead of doing what you like in the shop.

In 40 years of business here I have never had a single offer to clear my snow from the sidewalks. Same at home. Yet clearing the walks probably pays better than carpentry or cabinetmaking.

Your next machine purchase may have to be a snowblower and a trailer but it’s a small price to pay for your independence.

Go Figure?


-- A mind, like a home, is furnished by its owner

View odie's profile


1691 posts in 4074 days

#7 posted 11-05-2008 04:15 PM

I being a realist, made my living with Ma Bell for thirty years. Towards the end with them I was saving close to 20% of everything I made so I could become an independent woodworker. I now sell my “art” at arts and crafts shows. I have seen this economy affect my sales for the last 5 years. It didn’t just start the other day.

“Forgive them for they know not what they do”, you say as you watch a union loyalist hide his “buy American” sign in the trunk of his car while in Walmart. I’m afraid this can only get worse with our new government wanting to punish success and hard work. I think anything American can only get more expensive as business tries to keep up with new taxes and regulations.

The American people have spoken. I just wish they hadn’t spoken so loudly for me. It will be my goal not to give this new government one more penny than I have to. This is not something I’m used to doing. Being one that has lost 1/3 of his net worth in the market (it will come back), I don’t wish to support the spending machine in Washington. So for this reason, I’ve decided to do a little less with my “art”.

Because remember, I did plan for this retirement. Now I think I might just live it.

-- Odie, Confucius say, "He who laughs at one's self is BUTT of joke". (my funny blog)

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6866 posts in 4213 days

#8 posted 11-05-2008 05:08 PM

Hi guys;

I get emails from professional woodworkers on a regular basis, asking for advice on how to survive in these economic conditions. Some are giving up after thirty plus years, which is a very hard thing for anyone to do.
The emotional stress this creates is overwhelming, as it not only removes them from something they love and often is the only thing they know, it implants the feeling of failure.

Unfortunately I am not a business whiz so I really don’t have any answers to give them. More often than not, it’s a failure not so much on their parts, but a failure of the leaders of this country who make some of the dumbest decisions possible. There is an obvious lack of common sense in the decisions made, and no apparent conscience regarding the outcome it has on the average person.

For example, when they decided to double the minimum credit card payment, they pretty much signed a death warrant for many families. In an economic climate that was already very difficult, they added the final straw to the burden. People already in a tough financial spot, were thrown to the wolves. This is not to say that frivolous spending, or spending beyond your means is a good financial plan, but the fact remains the timing of such a move was horrible.

When the cost of living is going up in every area possible, and people are stretched to the limit, they decided to add to the load. How creative! How anyone could view this as a good move is beyond me. This single act closed many businesses, since their customer base no longer had the disposable income they once did.

It’s scary to think these people are supposed to be intelligent, and capable of making decisions based on the good of the country.

Consider President Bush’s comments when being interviewed at the Olympic Games just a few months ago. When questioned whether it was a good time to make comments criticizing China’s Humanitarian Policies, considering America’s problems, his response was, “First off, America has no problems”. HELLO, are you paying attention, or are you so far removed from the citizens you represent, that you really don’t know.

It’s not a matter of the business owners suddenly forgetting how to run a business, it’s a matter of the effects caused by changes made by our elected officials, which in turn changes the ability of being able to run a business.

Two months ago large cabinet shop near me had a two year backlog of work in the commercial sector, in addition to a healthy mix of high end custom work for residences. They were demanding overtime, (politely), from their workers in an attempt to keep up with the workload. Now, just two months later, they’re laying off their people. They didn’t “forget” how they got so successful, they simply had the rug pulled out from under them. Orders were being canceled faster than they were coming in.

Now they are caught in a position of having grown to meet demand, which means incurring a very large overhead. Much of this overhead is required to operate a business within the law. Now the income is gone, but the overhead remains. They have to decide if they should continue maintaining this overhead, which permits them to continue being in business, but eats away at their capital, or give up. If they stick it out, but the economy doesn’t revive quickly enough, they’ll be bankrupted. Or they could close up shop and save what capital they have. Great choice. And this is after at least twenty years of being in business, and having a nationally recognized name.

When General Motors stock is at it’s lowest point since 1951, how can a small business owner expect to survive. We don’t have the financial expertise, or the business management teams, or any of the other tools these large companies have at their disposal.

Unfortunately, as the Three Stooges used to say, we’re all “victims of circumstance”.

As my friend Tom Angle pointed out maybe the incoming President can revive the economy, but it will take some time to see any results coming from even the best plans and efforts.

Well, thanks for letting me vent!


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View Peter Oxley's profile

Peter Oxley

1426 posts in 4108 days

#9 posted 11-05-2008 05:17 PM

Dennis – this is a question that I think all pros and semi-pros are pondering right now. I’ll throw in my thoughts. These are ideas, not answers, so you may want to take this with a grain of salt!

I had a boss once who often said, “Build for the masses, eat with the classes. Build for the classes, eat with the masses.” Now he basically lives on his huge catamaran in the Mediteranian. I don’t think that “build for the masses” means make things everyone needs. I think it means make things everyone can afford. A lot of people will spend up to about $100 on impulse. Is there something you can make five or 10 a day and sell for under $100? Or make 50 a day and sell for under $20? Some guys build several hundered tops a day. Some guys make a living at wine balancers and back scratchers. Maybe it’s not what feeds your soul, but maybe it will keep you in woodworking until times are better.

Another thing that I’m looking at closely is other hobbies and crafts. People will spend a lot of money on their hobby, even when times are tight. The catamaran guy was working 9-5 in his metal shop, until he started making gun safes – not everyone needs a safe, but people who have guns will spend money on them. So what items do other crafts and hobbies use that are built out of wood? Or better, what niche isn’t being filled that could be filled with a wood item?

How about gift-type items? ‘Tis the season! You build beautiful furniture … maybe you could scale it down to beautiful jewelry boxes?

Like I said … they are ideas, not answers.

-- -- --

View Kindlingmaker's profile


2658 posts in 3760 days

#10 posted 11-05-2008 05:17 PM

Still working and punching a timeclock I feel that I am standing on top of a flag pole on one foot and the wind is blowing something fierce… Even though good wood is very expensive where I live I can take refuge in the shop and breathe as I work the wood. Outside the shop door the world seems crazy but inside there is the wood, my hands and a natural connection to time past and hopes for the future. Woodworking is something personal and it also needs to be passed along to others so even if we have to break braches of a tree while we are straving we need to keep moving forward and learn the wood.

(Maybe my next project should be a soap box.)

-- Never board, always knotty, lots of growth rings

View ShopCat's profile


51 posts in 3813 days

#11 posted 11-06-2008 12:47 AM

I been through this a few times in other industries, and have ridden the bear up and down here since the ‘70’s. My father and father-in-law have been doing it here since the ‘20’s. They beat financial caution into me through my entire lifetime, and those lessons have always stood me well. I could have retired last year from IT work, but hung on because I knew I would end up doing air cover for my kids, who are just now graduating from college. There’s lots of things I would rather be doing, but I was taught to not turn up my nose at a steady paycheck. Any steady paycheck.

My daughter is a newly minted lawyer, and the very small firm she just joined is already seeing a definite downturn. In the oil bust in Colorado in the ‘80’s a lot of lawyers ended up doing Para-legal work. A bunch of Geologists and Mineral Landsmen I know ended up working for the IRS. Believe it or not, nothing I have seen, including major national recessions in the U.S. and Europe came close to what we went through here ‘85 – ‘95. So far this still seems mild compared to weekly newspaper lists of thousands of repo-ed homes and neighbors loading U-hauls in the middle of the night and disappearing.

I guess my question is what are the alternatives? The people of the U.S. built up a LOT of personal debt besides mortgage payments. It could be a long time before that all gets worked down.
Financially, we could be at this for a long time. I have been getting business vibes for a while that nationally this looks a lot like the ‘70’s. If you recall we had lousy job growth, double digit inflation, and nobody made much money doing anything. The economists and financial types couldn’t find the way out then either.

I would suggest that you all not be too finicky but suspect you also already knew that.

-- ShopCat

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 4548 days

#12 posted 11-06-2008 02:07 AM

Thanks for the input. I really expect to see some hard times coming up. I’m just glad I didn’t invest in a lot of expansion and expensive tools. Hopefully people will begin to value craftsmanship again. Hopefully we can learn to live with in our means. Then again I was listening to the radio and they where talking about creating a whole bunch of incentives to get the construction industry rolling again. I guess we will never learn. Houses are shelter not investments. I think the best thing for America is if house prices fell and we let them fall. Maybe then my kids could afford a house with out getting a 65 year mortgage. If rent wasn’t so high then maybe the local hardware store could compete with the big orange box. How much of the cost of a hamburger is the fact that the store sits on a half million dollar lot? It seems to me every time the government fixes something the small guy gets screwed. I was checking the small business bureau web site and they consider a manufacturing out fit with 499 employees to be a small business. Then again we voted in the same congressmen and senators one more time! We change presidents from a big business to a big government and then back again and keep expecting different results. I guess I’ll stop ranting for a while. I just hate to see my “craft” suffer and more important I hope my fellow craftsmen can survive and enjoy the time off.

View ShopCat's profile


51 posts in 3813 days

#13 posted 11-06-2008 06:07 AM

Therein lies an interesting saga. I have pondered those issues for a lifetime, and in the process read many books. To store the books required shelves, and one very efficient way of building shelves is to create built-ins.

Now, after many books, and many built-ins I have concluded all the built-ins I created +twenty years ago were done all wrong. So far as book storage goes, I actually have a few empty shelves, so rebuilding the shelves will not solve a storage problem. None the less… there are many times when the more woodworking I do, the less happy I am.

I’m not sure that man was totally intended to be happy.

-- ShopCat

View Moron's profile


5032 posts in 4127 days

#14 posted 11-06-2008 06:19 AM

life will never change

for 5 thousand years men and women have seen mountains and climbed them. When they climb up the mountain they get naked due to inclemant climate or twisted boss with whipand everybody climbing up, if they climb high enough, gets naked due to twisted boss and when you are at the bottom and looking up you see nothing but @$$h0/$ and when you reach the summit and look down you see nothing but smiling faces?????

we need a purge and thus this financial meltdown, for those who bought a house and couldnt afford it, for those who gave the loan to those who couldnt afford it…..........its like seperating the wheat from the chaff… was bound to happen

I think if folks live within their means and finally realize that they really arent that special, that they might not deserve a car, a meal, and/or the simple pleasures we all take for granted, that some one out there really wants what we have and works harder for it, longer for it, that capitilism is a double edged sword and that we are not exclusive to it…...........

the world is changing

be thankful for that!

Three cheers for Obama

He isnt afraid

Nor am I

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

View mmh's profile


3677 posts in 3956 days

#15 posted 11-06-2008 07:27 AM

We have been lead to believe that we can have it NOW and pay for it LATER and do it all over again. Well, the hole in this concept finally gave to a big tear in the fabric and many who have foolishly believed they could have all the newest, latest, bigest, nicest stuff to be had on their tiny paycheck are in a big MUCK. The banks marketed the endless lines of credit that gave a false sense of worth to those who didn’t have a clue. But can we really blame them for our own stupidity if we know we only have a certain income but we keep buying more to enjoy it NOW!? I don’t wish to see any family lose their home to foreclosure, but didn’t you really think that it was a little risky buying all that house, all that car, all those gizmos that were a bit too expensive? Do the math, it’s not that hard: $$$ – $$$$$ = not enough $$.

We actually under bought in our home, as it was a fixer-upper and not real large, but not real small, just right for a starter home. We were both hesitant in getting more house than we could handle in payments, although a bigger, fancier one would be delightful to live in, the mortage could have been twice or thrice what we are paying now. We were even looking to purchase farmland to have more freedom and luxury of spacious bounderies. Our hesitation to buy something too far to commute to actually has saved us. We both worked downtown DC and needed to commute within a reasonable distance from work to home as the jobs pay better in the city, so you pay the price of commuting. Because we settled for a comfortable home and have been fixing it up ourselves gradually as finances allow, we have been able to stay within our means. Of course one always drools about the bigger and better, but I’m quite happy with what I have and will keep fixing up my little castle.

-- "They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night." ~ Edgar Allan Poe

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