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Forum topic by gdickey76 posted 1838 days ago 1828 views 4 times favorited 30 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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gdickey76

16 posts in 1912 days


1838 days ago

Hey guys,
I plan on getting back into my shop in the next few months, and start building furniture. I know the economy sucks now, but what is your advice on starting a buisiness building custom furniture? I am gonna start part time for sure… Not quitting my day job. My shop is at home, and overhead is very low.
Any advice?


30 replies so far

View Sam Yerardi's profile

Sam Yerardi

244 posts in 2520 days


#1 posted 1838 days ago

i’m going the same route. Engineer by day, woodworker by night & weekends. I’m doing custom cabinetry and remodeling as well to get my foot in the door. Building furniture is a tough business but a lot of people make a good living at it. I would suggest trying to find some niche that no one else is doing. Decide if you are going to try to sell locally or market via the internet. Both have pros/cons. Good Luck!!!

-- Sam

View Roper's profile

Roper

1357 posts in 2337 days


#2 posted 1838 days ago

i just started doing the farmers markets and am about to start the internet route. so far so good.

-- Roper - Master of sawdust- www.roperwoodturning.com

View reggiek's profile

reggiek

2240 posts in 1894 days


#3 posted 1838 days ago

I say go for it. Hand made items are always in demand if you sell em for a reasonable price. I have folks offering to buy my stuff now and then…(most of the time I think they are just being polite?). I have sold several bowls and vessels that I turn on the lathe…as they are one of a kind…

I don’t do it for a living…or I probably would starve to death….but an occasional sale helps me support this high priced habit of mine…(buying bowl blanks is almost like going to the local crack dealer)...If you don’t plan on doing it as a “business” you don’t have to go through all the tax and bookkeeping problems necessary for a small business (there are also zoning regulations, local taxes and local licensing for doing business’ out of the home to consider)....If you just sell a project now and then they are just called casual sales…you can also use some of the auction sites to see if you have a demand for the item….

Good luck in your endeavor

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

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Hyperhutch

63 posts in 1874 days


#4 posted 1838 days ago

When asked what one piece of advice he would give to woodworkers trying to go into business Sam Maloof said, “Don’t go into debt.” With your shop already at your home I don’t think that’s an issue, but it’s interesting to hear such a successful woodworker’s view.

I am in a similar situation as you. I work at a woodworking supply store, and it seems that people who target the high end market eventually do well if their pieces are top notch, but it takes much longer to start making real money. Those who stick to the smaller, higher demand pieces seem to be able to make money faster, but reach an income ceiling and end up having to dedicate so much time to keeping up with smaller projects that finding time to make the one-of-a-kind custom pieces becomes difficult. I suppose it depends on your vision for your work/business.

In any case, I would suggest not turning down any jobs. It gets your name spread faster, even if it’s stuff you aren’t so enthusiastic about.

Other than that, plan on working some really long hours at times.

Hutch

P.S. I would actually tend to not look for a niche that no one else is doing. In fact, I would say find what people are buying (contemporary and arts and crafts for example), but make your designs unique and interesting within the popular styles. If what you make looks like everyone else’s, it may be a more difficult start-up, and if what you make is too far off the beaten path people may say, “It’s made really well and it’s interesting, but I can’t see it in my home.”

P.P.S. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but the furniture repair business in my area is really strong right now.

-- I hope the volume of shavings one creates is directly related to the probablility of one's success, cuz if so I've got it made!!

View rhett's profile

rhett

697 posts in 2291 days


#5 posted 1838 days ago

Don’t underprice your work just to get jobs.
A happy customer tells 1 person while an unhappy customer will tell 10. Dont let anything, but the best, leave your shop.
Don’t do work for anyone until both parties agree on the price.
Most important, don’t quit your day job.

-- http://planeandsimpleblog.wordpress.com/

View gdickey76's profile

gdickey76

16 posts in 1912 days


#6 posted 1836 days ago

Hmmm. Thanks for all the advice guys. I will be moving back to Houston so I dont have to worry about zoning and all that stuff. I will be working out of my house, so overhead is minimal other than electricity. I will NOT go into debt for any of this either. Everything I get I pay cash for. The economy there seems to be better than a lot of the country. I just need to learn how to “break in” to to the market there. I know a few decorators but Im not sure how to market my stuff. My brother is gonna help me set up a website to get me going, but what works for you guys? Im guessing most of my stuff will sell in the Texas area, but im open to anything really.
Glen

View a1Jim's profile

a1Jim

112008 posts in 2201 days


#7 posted 1836 days ago

Hey Glen
I’ve been in custom furniture and woodworking for 20 plus years(just a beginner compared to many)My advise my seem a negative approach to what you want but I suggest you enjoy woodworking as a hobby and don’t loose your freedom of choice concerning what you want to make,how you make it and how fast you make it.
I know all woodworkers want to do woodworking full time and in time you and others may be able to, but it takes a long time(in most cases ) to turn a profit. Most woodworkers don’t make big money. Unless your Thomas Moser. Norm,or five or six other names I can think of, you will still have to make money else were.
I can think of a dozen well know woodworkers who all have to support them selves with DVDs, schools,books or selling some non woodworking products, These guys are some of the most talented woodworkers on the planet with great POD cast, fantastic furniture and reputations that go back to the 70s. All said in done if it’s your passion you have to got for it Just because you won’t be happy unless you try. Then I say Enjoy the trip and hills and valleys.

-- http://artisticwoodstudio.com Custom furniture

View davidroberts's profile

davidroberts

1002 posts in 2110 days


#8 posted 1836 days ago

while the internet is a great selling tool, it is only one tool in your toolbag. it is expensive to get your website to come up early on a search engine. plus web design, photography, etc. the web is not a panacea. you may want to consider crafts shows, consignment shops, building for a specialized group such as as church, state fairs, contacts with interior designers, architects, word of mouth, etc. I’m just saying you could be waiting a long time to make a sale just using the internet.

-- God is great, wood is good. Let us thank Him for wood......and old hand tools.

View huff's profile

huff

2795 posts in 1909 days


#9 posted 1835 days ago

Glen,
I think a1Jim says it best. I’ve also been in Custom Furniture and Woodworking for over 20 years (also a beginner). I love what I do and it’s the passion that keeps me going, not the big bucks! lol. Business or Hobby…....just enjoy. Best of luck.

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

View Waldschrat's profile

Waldschrat

505 posts in 2060 days


#10 posted 1835 days ago

First of all I wish you good luck! I want to start my own business when I am done with everything that I have here going on. Jim has a great point, especially in these times if you already have an employer, and I think it is very clever as well that you hang on to your normal job. But you will never know unless you try, and if you have good products and a good rep, you should do well.

The only advice that I can give, that has not already been touched upon, (and you can take it or leave it) is even though you are doing part time, still make calculations for material, properly log, even if not if its officially your business, (just for your self) all your hours and overhead costs (machines use tons of electricity) maintence, sharpening, glue, and what not… but most importantly be sure to calculate out what your hourly rate is compared to your costs and see if its worth it. You already said your overhead costs are low, because you work out of your own shop. Just remember even if it is your free time and normally would not be earning money, as soon as you want to earn money from your time, you have to see if it would not just be easier hiring on for weekends or evenings in a shop that needs help on bigger contracts… and thats also a way you can learn future customers/ learn the market better. (although I think stealing customers is not what I mean by this, that would not be fair play in my opinion).

well good luck again!

-- Nicholas, Cabinet/Furniture Maker, Blue Hill, Maine

View gdickey76's profile

gdickey76

16 posts in 1912 days


#11 posted 1834 days ago

Thanks guys, I will heed your advice. I wont quit my day job, but I really have an urge to try it at least part time. Im sure just a project a month would be fine to start. Not looking to get wealthy by any means, but as long as Im comfortable, and its what I have loved for many years. Ill give it a try, part time, and see how it goes.
And the advertising stuff is a lot to think about. My brother is descent with that, as he has his own buisiness too. He always has advice on internet stuff.

Thanks ,
Glen

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8768 posts in 2724 days


#12 posted 1834 days ago

I just came across this post and I have been sharing here for another guy. You might check out the info I have shared because most of it would be the same for you.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana, http://americancraftsmanworkshop.com

View Eric M. Saperstein's profile

Eric M. Saperstein

753 posts in 1872 days


#13 posted 1827 days ago

Everyone else is already touching on this …. stay in both worlds. I’ve found that I’m a walking anomaly – so the world I’m in doesn’t necessarily fit to everyone but it does provide some good examples of what works and what does not. You have to evaluate your skills, time, other obligations, finances, etc. Every situation is unique – but the general facts of life and business apply in almost all situations.

I’ve remained in the IT world – which is entirely unstable. Took the shop over from my father around the end of the Y2K boom, that was the time frame that was great “Hey I may leave!” ... “Um don’t do that here’s another $10,000” ... then the tech crash hit and things toned down a lot.

I survived the 2002-2003 wave of layoffs and ultimately now have two full time jobs. At least – for the moment as more layoffs are pending and have been going on for over a year now. The duel income allows flexibility in both aspects of life.

I can – and have – reminded the corporate bosses that I can pay the mortgage w/o them so if you want to keep someone that can accomplish just about anything cut the crap and don’t tick me off. I won’t quit – I’ll make you fire me … and boy will I have fun doing it. Not to sound like I’m completely insane, I’ve been quite friendly with the immediate management for the duration but everyone knows work is work and this happens. Also the subtle hint that I can sell one or two pieces of furniture and leapfrog above their salary range … that usually ends most issues quickly – so far I’m still there.

On the other vantage – we take projects we want to do. If it came down to paying the mortgage – I turn away at least equal to what I bring in, probably twice as much work we turn away as what we do. We take projects that are up to par for our reputation, and we pass on those where the customer seems unreasonable, the project is not profitable, etc.

A stable W2 pays the bills without interruption. Work in a small business is not entirely steady even when it is … people go away and don’t pay you for two weeks longer than you thought and you may miss a payment on something. It’s great to sell $50,000 dining sets – but there is no profit until the final payment, so if you are not careful about setting milestone payments to keep you floating one “GREAT” job can actually put you under.

You need small and large projects in most shops to float – small ones turn over and give you constant cash flow. Larger ones are great for “hey cool there’s another $20,000 in my account.” ... Projects like this do not happen until you have a reputation, if you’re just starting you are several years out at best from seeing this kind of return. Most of us spent lifetimes trying to get to this level, very few make it consistently. We’ve had no jobs of this nature to date in 2009 … it’s a very touchy market.

Decorators – designers – those folks are starving right now. I have portfolios out (my timing totally sucked) around the world to the best design firms in existence. It’s great they have had time to go through our work, and wonderful that they’ve BS’ed on the phone with me for an hour, but appreciation for talent does not pay the bills.

The web is your best friend to market – but it’s not easy to build a truly successful website and the rules of SEO are changing about monthly now. Building a site that draws traffic, newsletters, blogs, etc … if not for a sleep disorder I’d be SOL. (Seriously …) It’s a lot of work on top of what you have to actually do in the shop.

Hiring someone to build a big website is expensive – learning to do it yourself is your best bet for the long term but it will take you time. What I’ve put into marketing our little studio amounts to I’d guess a $250,000 website. It takes time and content – YOU have to build the content with photos and text anyway so why not just learn to put that into web format?

The fastest track – www.custommade.com will bring you the best return. This site is by far and leaps and bounds the best return for the costs, average about $180 to join it, and it’s well organized and established. Ted – the original owner knew the search engine game quite well. The new president is Michael Salguero, he’s doing a lot of back end improvements, many just came online in July. Looking good so far – if I knew the site was for sale I may have put in a bid to buy it out before Mike came in.

You can try www.servicemagic.com – we have gotten a few descent restoration jobs from them. If you do, do yourself a favor and call me first to discuss how to handle them. They are a multi-million $ work in progress that has potential, if they behave properly. I’m working with their senior management closely now to try and push some improvements. If you’re interested, as I said call me – I’ll review the details with you.

www.todl.com – if you want designer access this is it – not cheap, but there is no higher venue out there for a designer’s spec database. I’ve pulled over 2,500 designer leads from them in the past 10 months. Like I said though, the ROI is not in yet. I’m investing now in what given the current economy I do not expect to see a return on until maybe 2010/11. Talk to Bernadette Bumpers if you contact them, she can review your options.

I’m babbling a lot of analogies and information here – and it’s one guys view of the world. Do what you have to do for yourself, not for anyone else … do what’s right for you!

- Eric

-- Eric M. Saperstein, Master Craftsman www.artisansofthevalley.com

View mmh's profile

mmh

3381 posts in 2346 days


#14 posted 1825 days ago

There’s some great advice here and coming from people who are seasoned really gives a lot of credibility and insight.

I’m not a furniture maker but have spoken to several who are surviving these hard times. Some have been doing the juried craft show circuit and that’s hurting too. They’ve had to be more selective in the shows to get the right traffic, as Christmas is not good for their large items that homeowners purchase for themselves as opposed to gift giving.

As an outsider on the furniture market (I have helped make a few pieces such as dining table, TV table, etc.), I am giving advice as a consumer and person who admires wood. I would think that if you start small to keep your expenses down and sales up, design and make a style of tables (coffee table, side table, hall table) that would suit the average homeowner who does not have a lot of room, or a lot of money for a substantial piece of furniture. A modern, sleek look would appeal to me and maybe many others. Simple and elegant. Add some nicely figured woods to accent, but don’t overwhelm the piece. This will keep your lumber costs down too.

Try to find local mills that have the figured woods and may not even want them for mass production, so will be willing to sell them for a reasonable price. Also try to find local sawyers who scavenge fallen or cut trees to save the wood from being shredded into mulch or buried in landfills. I have found several whom I have acquired some very rare and beautiful hardwoods such as figured Almond, Texas Ebony, etc..

While you’re in Oregon, look for sources and if possible, stock up on some choice Claro Black Walnut, as the figuring is beautiful and not to be found down south or east.

If you know some prime shops or designers who can get your item veiwed, you may be able to barter or consign a few pieces to advertise. Be aware that consignments can also tie up your inventory without cash flow, so you’ll want to balance this into your plan. A small ad with a quality photo of your work placed in the right publication may be a good investment. Direct sales are always better than wholesale, but can be fewer. Get to know some of the shop keepers and designers who can help word of mouth sales. Ask them about what they would suggest is a hot selling item and ask what they are looking for. What is the customer looking for and the price range they can afford? Strive for a style that works and then you can expand your portfolio and show more diversity.

I make canes, and only canes, so I am trying to focus on the population who uses them and can afford a fancier, custom made one. The age range varies, as do the reasons they need one. So far I have gotten good referrals from physicians and other health care specialists, but I have to constantly hone my marketing strategies to keep costs minimal, as one can spend thousands on advertising and not reach the right clientele.

I hope you find some of this helpful. Good luck and I look forward to seeing your projects.

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

View NicoleSpag's profile

NicoleSpag

45 posts in 2701 days


#15 posted 1825 days ago

Hey Glen,

I’m not sure if your local woodworking guild does this but in Phoenix any of the local craftsmen can list themselves on the guild woodworking website. Marc has gotten a number of calls from people looking for a custom woodworker and they have found him via the AZ guild. Be sure the guild leaders also know you are accepting work and build relationship with other local woodworkers. If they get a call for a job they can’t do, they might pass it on to you if you built that trust and relationship (something I hear Marc do all the time with other local woodworkers here in PHX)

good luck!
Nicole

-- Visit us at http://thewoodwhisperer.com

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