My somewhat successful method of sales

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Forum topic by Tennessee posted 11-13-2013 07:54 PM 2375 views 3 times favorited 15 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2893 posts in 2717 days

11-13-2013 07:54 PM

For those of us past the gift stage, we always struggle on the best method of sales for our particular personal need. It really is a personal choice, since some people are much more aggressive than others, some build items that are so unique they demand a niche, some do more common items where competition is fierce, and some actually try to make a living out of woodworking.

In this economy, and with my age, I started four years ago with a website and a FB page. That was it. And at that time, guitars were my only product. But being who I am, after about three years, guitars began to bore me a little, I had all this cool wood, and I started into other things.

I will qualify all of this by adding I never have made a profit on my guitars, nor on any other product I produce. I do have a tax license, and pay all applicable state, federal and local taxes, but my yearly costs in material, tools, insurance, etc., puts me far into the hole every year. So let’s just say I like woodworking, and having people like my work, and leave that part dead…

So, my method!
My website used to be in the top 10,000 on the planet a couple years back, but not changing it regularly, little promotion, and me kind of getting tired of always having to change pictures, text, layouts, etc., caused it to dwindle.
Facebook. Oooh, don’t we all love FB. I have come to hate it, truth be told. Most people on FB are there for the hidden identity social interaction, or to exhibit their lives to others, not to buy things. But to be honest, over the four years I’ve been on FB, I’ve actually sold a couple guitars, and I mean just a couple. I also sold I think one jewelry box. And you get hooted at if you don’t post pictures of every step you take. Phooey on that. Now I post occasionally, and the heck with it. Last week I posted pictures of a body I am building for a fellow who wants to assemble his own guitar and got three new likes. Huh? Put up a new guitar or jewelry box and I get a few nice comments, but almost never, ever get a sale…

Fairs and festivals. Won’t do them. Period… I’ve visited too many, and talked to too many woodworkers who find themselves pinned to a cheap tent with hundreds, if not thousands of hours of their labors showing proudly, and walk away with maybe $1000 when it’s all done and over with, or maybe just $100. Too much of a crap shoot. That is not worth three days of 12-14 hours a day to me.

Rental spaces in antique malls, and indoor markets open usually on weekends. Worse. The only people making money there is the building owner. I rented a space in an upscale antique/handmade craft mall for two months. We did sell items, but after two months, we realized we were going to come in dead even. Within $5 of what we started with, save a couple of nice items were now gone. His rent and commissions burned up all my profit, and I kept getting phone calls with people offering me less than sticker. Sheesh!

Etsy. I have no experience with this or eBay, since I got a Paypal account cleaned a few years back. It does look good for some, and may be an outlet for you, just not for me. I just won’t do Paypal, and the list seems to be slowly growing of people who get burned on Paypal as sellers.

That leaves Galleries and Museums who showcase artists. Not that easy to get into, and you have to have a fair amount of talent to enter. I got into my local museum/gallery, and to be honest, this fits me just fine.
I pay no rent. I do pay 35% of my asking price to the museum when they sell something, but I can adjust my pricing up to cover about 70% of that 35%. They showcase it, pay the employees to monitor the gallery, entertain the customers, answer the questions, handle the credit cards, money, and if they have a question of me, I get a nice e-mail or phone call. No tent at a festival or Paypal required. I get a nice check every month, and simply have to make more stuff for them to put into the museum. So far, it is working.
I do have to perform one show a year, which is this weekend. I set up on the 14th, showcase for all 500+ members that evening until 8PM, and show my wares to the public on Friday and Saturday, 10AM to 5PM. They are indoors, provide me with a meal all three days, bathrooms, even a sub person to sit at my booth if I need to step away for a few moments. They also provide me with electricity, tables, chairs, and I simply bring my stuff, tablecloths, a banner if I want, and explain my wares. I can also promote myself and give out business cards and take orders that do not have to go through the museum. If someone buys a shown item on the spot, I write a receipt, (three-part), give one to the customer for a receipt, one goes to the museum whom they pay, (I handle no money), and one for me so I remember what I sold. When the show is over the museum gives me a check minus their 35%, and for the next 12 months I go back to the gallery scenario.

Since my main goal is to not make money to live on woodworking, but to have people enjoy my work, this is something I can live with. And you never know when you might meet that person who changes your life…

-- Tsunami Guitars and Custom Woodworking, Cleveland, TN

15 replies so far

View joeyinsouthaustin's profile


1294 posts in 2275 days

#1 posted 11-13-2013 08:05 PM

Congrats.. Since most small businesses whose intentions it is to make money… don’t for the fist five years on average.. sounds like you are doing well. As long as you stick with high craftsmanship and pride in your work, and audience you are going places. Especially in the arts setting, which I have experienced, word of mouth does spread, and it spreads at a slow pace, with a longevity you don’t get in some of the other markets. This is my feed back, if that is what you are looking for. Mark your objects well. They will generate sales for you for years, and as it seems you have figured out, mark them in a way that takes them to your website. I agree trying to keep your website in the 10000 is a waste of time, and FB as well, but when someone walks into there friends house and falls in love with some of your work, they need to be able to find you on the web and find out where to order or contact for commission. Your goal may not be to make money, but it seems like you may be on that path. I suppose there are ways to get off that path if it starts to be a problem… but usually on the path you are heading you don’t have to make more, or hire employees. You just make people wait longer and raise your prices.

-- Who is John Galt?

View Tennessee's profile


2893 posts in 2717 days

#2 posted 11-13-2013 08:13 PM

Good advice, Joey. I do mark well, and with my odd name, (Tsunami Guitars and Custom Woodworking), simply typing in Tsunami Guitars on Google gives me a lot of hits. I do list my jewelry boxes on the website, but have to include the clocks, a recent addition.
Thanks for the feedback! Like to hear what others have found successful!

-- Tsunami Guitars and Custom Woodworking, Cleveland, TN

View Jim Finn's profile

Jim Finn

2687 posts in 3124 days

#3 posted 11-14-2013 01:29 AM

I sell well at one day street fairs and festivals. Two day shows are not productive in sales on the second day, in my experience. Most of my sales are in the $20 and less items. With these sales I mainly have a self funding hobby but most years I do make a small profit. I have been doing this for seven years and have only sold at five different venues, all less than an hour from home.

-- No PHD just a DD214 Website>

View robert triplett's profile

robert triplett

1566 posts in 3307 days

#4 posted 11-14-2013 01:40 AM

Great post on the same level of selling that i find myself at. I am not doing many shows because the overall income to me is about half of the sales generated. I have had items in galleries and need to find some with your level of percentage to artist. most out here want 50% and some monthly ‘rent’. I enjoy making things, but don’t rely on the income. I quit Facebook after a short time. Not that social! I do like the satisfaction of making something on commission that I know someone will enjoy for a long time. I don’t mark my work, but may change that. Enjoy seeing your work.

-- Robert, so much inspiration here, and now time to work!!!

View Tennessee's profile


2893 posts in 2717 days

#5 posted 11-14-2013 01:31 PM

Thanks, Robert. Jim, unfortunately I don’t specialize in items that low in price. I’d be interested in what kinds of things you can make money with that price point.

-- Tsunami Guitars and Custom Woodworking, Cleveland, TN

View RockyTopScott's profile


1186 posts in 3681 days

#6 posted 11-14-2013 01:43 PM

Hey Paul, I am in Chattanooga. Where is it you will be showing?

-- “When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.” ― Thomas Sowell

View Monte Pittman's profile

Monte Pittman

30061 posts in 2540 days

#7 posted 11-14-2013 01:54 PM

I have quit most small shows. No money in them. I have some lower cost items, but what I want to feature is my furniture. That’s too hard to set up and non productive at small shows. I have 2 large shows that last 10 days each and put a lot of people past the booth in that 10 days. In my 10 day shows I will make $10,000-$15,000 in sales and orders. I have had only one small show that I broke $1000 on. The rest of the time I have a couple small furniture Stores that show my items. I am working on a deal with a very well known Store locally to sell my items. It features my kind of products and everyone in this area goes there for them. However, if I go with them, I must stop all other local business and sell only through them locally. Balancing act. I would rather build and not do the shows, but my big shows are profitable. So we will see.

-- Nature created it, I just assemble it.

View a1Jim's profile


117328 posts in 3779 days

#8 posted 11-14-2013 02:45 PM

You make some unquie items and nice looking guitars but excuse me for saying this Paul,but you said you don’t make a profit, If I don’t build anything or use any material I can make the same amount of profit . I don’t see the point of marketing your product and yourself if your not profitable,unless you just want the notoriety of being a well know woodworker and guitar maker. Thank you for sharing what works for you re the marketing you products.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 3850 days

#9 posted 11-14-2013 04:03 PM

These days Google image search is getting to be a big thing.

I just got a call about a storage bench from a lady on the
other side of the country. I had the bench photographed
well and it zipped to the top of Google’s image results.

If you want to to that with a guitar or furniture piece, when
you title the image emphasize its special features. Making
items that do more than one thing is slightly gimmicky
(reversable clothing for example) but somehow seductive.
In my case the item is both a “dock box” and a not too
bad bench.

I’m planning to get more into veneering and marquetry
and the reason is solely to make the work more proprietary
so clients literally cannot shop around on knocking off
my designs. There are other ways to get paid what you’re
worth, but going into a difficult to copy position with your
skills, designs and equipment is one of them. A luthier
who advised me when I was starting out now has a main
focus in his proprietary pickups which have a kind of
rockabilly sound.

View Jim Finn's profile

Jim Finn

2687 posts in 3124 days

#10 posted 11-14-2013 11:55 PM

Paul; I sell at craft fairs so I make “crafty” stuff. I mass produce (I like doing that) cedar boxes with inlaid maple images. I also make oak and maple boxes with walnut inlays. I sell them for $20 with about $3 in materials and can make them in about an hour and ten minutes each. That is, making 15-20 at a time. Different images on each of the hinged lids. I also make rubber band shooters from scraps, free, wood or MDF, and can make four per hour and sell them for $5 each, easily. I stack cut signs of sports teams etc. and sell them for $5 each. I can make about 3 per hour with less than fifty cents of materials. I offer small plaques and some intarsia, but they do not sell as well as my boxes and guns do. I have the plaques and intarsia priced at $10-$99. I make decorative and functional fireplace bellows but they are slow to move even at $25. I no longer make cedar, round top, trunks because the most I could get for them was $125…not enough. I have tried a lot of other things (vases, and banks) but none sell as well as the boxes. Toys are, by far, the easiest to sell @ $5 on up and one can make $ on them but the liability insurance on toys is too high to suit me so I no longer make any but the rubber band shooters. I have been selling these items for about seven years now. I spend about 35 hours a week in my workshop. Life is good.

-- No PHD just a DD214 Website>

View Puzzleman's profile


417 posts in 3146 days

#11 posted 11-15-2013 04:53 PM

I’m with Monte that I do only 12 large shows a year. And my goal is to make a profit as this is my living. Can’t see why anyone would go to any trouble and be proud that they don’t make a profit. I agree with a1 Jim that I can break even sitting on the couch watching the football game.

I don’t do any shows unless I can make a minimum of 5k for the show. I sell many products in the price range of $5 – $200. I don’t do any shows over 4 days long. Of my shows, I have a few that will do over 10k in just 3 – 4 days. That is fun, selling that much. I believe that you need a wide assortment of products and price points as it is like fishing. You never know what bait is going to catch what fish. So I have many different baits for many different people. I also get many hits on my website and calls that were from people that I talk to at the shows. This leads to even more sales.

I have been able to cut back on my shows as I have increased my wholesale sales to the point that they just about cover all of my shop costs. Still do some wholesale shows as I keep trying to increase my wholesale accounts.

-- Jim Beachler, Chief Puzzler,

View rustfever's profile


760 posts in 3512 days

#12 posted 11-15-2013 05:12 PM

I have worked at my primary business [Winery Construction] for nearly 40 years. For 40 years I fought day and nite, tooth and nail, to earn a living and make a profit.

I am done. I don’t want to worry about plans, sales, employees, sub contractors, inspectors or worrying about making a profit. I have retired.

I have returned to my love, discovering beauty in nature and, specifically, in wood. I have re-supplied my personal wood shop with good quality tools, and I will let only a few selected people enter. I love it when my grandsons show up and want me to teach them a new skill or help them create a special item for a special person.

I never sell anything. I do, however often donate to worthy causes, or give gifts to special people, friends and family.

I am now having more enjoyment than I ever expected. My pleasure is almost sinful!

-- Rustfever, Central California

View ralbuck's profile


5416 posts in 2469 days

#13 posted 11-15-2013 05:31 PM

I have been making things from wood for 65 years or so. Started making just wind vanes around the farm before I wqas in grade school.

I have always done it more for me than trying to make money!

I have a website on weebly that does VERY LITTLE, I do some on Craig’slist and occasionally get a sale there.
I think the sawdust is much better entertainment than any tv show and couch sitting can be!

A church handcrafted show is taking some of my things on consignment this weekend; I will see how that goes.

I have given many things away over the years and will continue to do so!

Claire Schiebe started a now INTERNATIONAL magazine “Toy Farmer” because he loved the hobby not to make money! It is now a great and viable magazine. It has international readership and the corporate headquarters are 2 milles from the nearest paved road in rural SE North Dakota! The readers are on every continent except Antarctica!
Not bad for started as a hobby! Here is that link!

I have been associated with them for about 10 years now and am very proud of them!

-- Wood rescue is good for the environment and me! just rjR

View pashley's profile


1044 posts in 3920 days

#14 posted 12-12-2013 03:06 AM

If you want to make serious money – as in, big ticket items – you have to go where people who have money are spending it.

Do people who have money go to craft shows, fairs, festivals? Generally no – with some exceptions. You’re a chef with filet mignon at McDonalds.

You want my Cliff’s notes -On Etsy, sell things $500 and under – preferably smaller stuff because of shipping – that are geared toward home decoration, that women would buy. Big-ticket items, try CustomMade, and only go after the higher-end items. People that have money have enough to have it custom made; they don’t care so much about price as getting what they want.

Shops and galleries get what, 50%? Total rip off. And don’t forget, more and more, people are shopping online.

Regarding Paypal – I’d be interested on how you got burned. Did you send them the product and then expect them to pay you? It should be half down, half on delivery. Always send stuff with a signature required.

-- Have a blessed day!

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 3850 days

#15 posted 12-12-2013 03:44 AM

Having sold and marketed information products online, built
websites, become rather proficient in search engine
marketing… then got burned out and gone back to
building tangible things, I can say for sure that getting
traffic to buy something like handmade furniture on
the web is a less-effective approach for the labor involved
in driving that traffic.

If you build things and build them well, focus on your
market. It could be local because your things are
heavy and awkward to ship. If you make puzzles or
boxes or chess sets or something like that, focus
on gift shows and wholesaling arrangements.

Definitely get a website up, but don’t bother engaging
a lot of effort in promoting that site online unless
you have a passion for writing as well and wish to do
forum marketing or blogging about subjects related
to what you make. If you love chess and make fine
chess sets, I am sure there’s a match there, but for
a lot of artisan specialities if your goal is to sell work
(as opposed to driving blog traffic with a how-to site
you monetize with affiliate links), your best and surest
way to sell your work is with things like postcards you
give to anyone you meet who expresses interest.
The postcard both has a nice picture of your superior
work on it and a link to your site and other contact
information. These cards will get stuck in books, under
blotters, on bulletin boards and refrigerators and many
will be thrown away or forgotten, but they are far
more memorable than a business card.

In the end a big of part of why people buy handmade
goods is in order to get an ego-flush from telling other
people about the object and who made it. The best
way to do this is to become a celebrity within your niche,
but that can be difficult and doesn’t suit everybody.

The far easier way to do it is to make sure most of
the people you meet know what you do and have
a postcard to hold on to.

You’ll get way more useful internet traffic that way,
if your goal is to sell your handmade product.

People will check out your site for sure. You can
even build an email list to notify about new products
or shows you’ll be attending…. but mostly that
site is going to give local people who already are disposed
to buy from you something to peruse and and images
to dream on and present a constant presence of
attainable specialness, so they may one day pick up
the phone and ask you to make something
special for them

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