Author Topic: Just wondering how a new furniture maker is suppose to survive or get business?  (Read 19291 times)

FREDDY

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Come one Come all.....

Your opinion is welcome.

So here I am a furniture maker trying all he can do to make a living in woodworking.  I am graduate of a furniture making school.  A school known as FIM.  The education was priceless and well worth it.  Yet you can't learn everything.  I was  informed how hard surviving  can really be, yet who really knows how hard it is going to be without going out into the real world.  Now I have gotten commissions and commissions are slowly being offered, but what is being offered are these jobs that everyone else says "NO WAY!!" or "HOW IN THE WORLD DO YOU THINK I CAN MAKE MONEY ON THAT".  I also get the OH let me help the young kid out.  Well these people want a Seymour Repro for pennies.  So thanks but no thanks.  Or should I rethink that offer and take it.  Should I take because, it will look good in the portfolio.  I just don't know.  Nine out of ten it sure isn't worth it.  If you really break it down it is probably more profitable working at a customer value store. 

 I know what some are saying work is work.  Yet one great craftsmen told me that "You start making money once you start saying NO".  I know the economy is awful and I should take the work I can get, but is it really worth it?  Many furniture makers have informed me that I am so far ahead than they were at age twenty-six (26).  Yet the times have changed and everything cost so much more.  Some who know me say I am lucky and I would agree.  Yet all the youngsters or newest graduates  always ask how is business Freddy? So what do I tell them?  Everyone tells me to always say business is great and I am so busy, because you want to make yourself sound good, but give me a break.  I guess I am asking the question that everyone wants to know, but already knows the answer.  The answer is????? Drum roll please and that is  just keep working hard and see where life will lead you. 
Yet your input and experiences would be greatly appreciated not just for me but for all the newbees.   

Thanks,

Freddy Roman
One who is trying to continue the craft of Cabinet/Chair Maker

rococojo

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Hi Freddy, it’s never easy, but we think we can, and we try, that is it, there is no easy answer to making money.
 An old saying in life is? If it ant hearting, it ant working? That is plain rubbish.
 No one will help you up better than yourself Freddy, just do the best you can in life, and never weaken, you competitors. Will be waiting to see you fall, that’s a fact.
 Another old saying? Pick yourself up, Dust yourself down, and Start all over again. (This comes from personal experience) Hopefully the rewards will follow.

have a nice day, rococojo

klkirkman

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Freddy,

It seems that you have hit upon the difference between a craftsperson and a businessperson.

I entered an occupation which is now largely defunct in this country, and had to endure many hours of wondering why the customers were not lining up at the door before realizing that there was a very weak connection between how much I loved my profession, and how good I was at it, and a booming business  if the economic role of what I did was not solid.

It seems to me that being a good woodworker, or what to charge, is NOT the issue you face , the issue you are tackling is : are there, and if so how do I connect with, persons who value my skill enought to pay what you would like to receive to undertake the kind of projects I like to execute.

I know you are unlikely to want to hear this, but my experience teaches me that a business plan is next in order for you  to have any chance to move ahead, or decide not to.
Karl

FREDDY

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Well I must say thank you for the responses.  Finally, a few fellows who are not scared to give me their input.  A business plan is in order and I sure am not going to give up.  I love this craft!! It is just interesting that no one really informs you on the business side of furniture making.  I am one who is always being ask how? How to do you do this or how do you do that? Well I can't really help because I am in the mix of it myself.  The one thing I do tell them is be prepared to struggle before you can succeed.  Never give up and look forward to what future has entailed upon you, me and all of us.  Well I look forward for  more responses, because I really do think this is a great subject.  Hopefully, this forum may help others.  I guess now the question is who or what can help me set up a really good business plan.  So many things so little time.  Off to races and hopefully I won't be first and/or last because if your first you may have missed something and if your last you sure did miss something.  Thank you.

Freddy Roman
Apprentice of the craft. 

klkirkman

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Freddy,
With full knowledge that one cannot describe  how to make a business plan in a short post, let me at least offer the following.
Making a business plan consists of constructing a hypothesis regarding a number of alternative targets for your services, estimating as best you can how many such customers are likely to exist, and laying out the probable income and expense stream for each alternative, and the marketing activities necessary to get that alternative functioning.
For the most promising of the alternatives identified, you make a step-by-step plan of how to pursue it, a schedule, and a target cash flow: buy a tool next week, run an advertisement every month, generate positive cash flow after about ten units, sell ten units by month seven, etc etc.
Since all of this is guesswork to some extent, the proof of the plan is in the execution; you start out taking the steps and measuring progress against your schedule and cash flow from each alternative - yes, you had better have more than one. This feedback is used to tweak the plan, or to decide that the alternative is not likely to work out.
I hope this helps.
Karl
Karl

MikeWenzloff

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Freddy,

You may be able to get the Small Business Association to provide guidance as regards drafting a business plan. If you have never made one, having an already successful business person raises issues the plan should cover that you may never think about is one of the ways they can help.

As to the actual making and selling of stuff I can only offer this trite advice. One needs to decide whether they plan to position themselves from the beginning as a "Phyfe" or the anonymous country maker. While I made decent high-value commissions from time to time, my bread and butter came from good sturdy furniture made for my local market. Things like decent tables, wall cupboards, medicine cabinets, 4-6 drawer chests, period screen doors--even inexpensive items like plant tables for people's porches.

I live in town where Arts & Craft furniture fit into the period of the majority of the homes. That and slightly earlier and later. Many of the residents are not well to do folk, but do have the discretionary funds to purchase a bit better furniture than they can get at discount elsewhere.

There were some who came to me needing simple furniture with not a lot of money. They got items scaled back from what I would have preferred to make.

Point is, I viewed myself not much different from the country cabinet maker from the end of the 1800s who made far more utilitarian items than the fancy things for the wealthy.

I do not know where you live nor whether there is a community culture that admires having certain of life's accouterments fit the general period of their homes as I do. Or if there is one near you. If you do, that is but one avenue to consider.

One more thing about screen doors, porch furniture, replacement period windows and doors. In our town there are also many late era Vics. We live in one. Many homes had long time back lost their original screen doors only to be replaced sometime in the past with aluminum doors. Whenever I would make a replacement--the local historical society and even the home owners often had pictures of the originals--neighbors would often order them. Same with porch furniture, which tended to tables, benches and the like. Replacement sash windows made as per the originals were an occasional source of revenue. Point is, these items were easily viewed by neighbors of the customers. Often enough these items led to other sales for the interiors.

My best wishes to you.

Take care, Mike

Rick Yochim

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Freddy,

Excellent advice from both Karl and Mike. Doing what you do takes courage and perserverance and I envy you that you will be able to succeed doing what we all here love to do.

From a purely business perspective, I would follow up what Mike said about contacting the SBA and using the tools and guidance they offer.  Also, the SBA funds (in part) Small Business Development Centers all over the country who's sole reason for being is to assist small buiness owners like you with all aspects of running profitable small businesses. If there is one close to you, I'd suggest making an appointment with them to meet with a counselor who will help you write your business plan.  They also have periodic matchmaking events and will help you with advice on marketing, business insurance, taxes and so forth.  And as our government just loves to give away free money, if there is a grant out there to be had, they will help you write the grant proposal.

One other thing.  And forgive me if I'm being a bit obtuse here, but have you asked and answered yourself is this a business or a hobby?  If's it's a bsuiness then run it as a business. Invest time and effort in good customer relationships and sound business pracctices, even if it means spending a lot of time doing that at the expense doing other, perhaps more fun things. I know of one very prominant period furniture builder here who has many, many repeat cusotmers because he has nurtured those relationships over the years. He takes a lot of calls in the shop that take him away from his bench and his tools; but it's those long- time customers who are helping him stay afloat in these tough times.

Well, hope this helps. Good luck to you!

Rick Yochim             


msiemsen

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Another resource is SCORE which is an acronym for something ending in retired executives. They are partnered with the SBA here is a link to their site so you can find someone in your area. I believe this is a mentoring type of program.http://www.score.org/index.html. Welcome businessman woodworker!
Be frugal, stay out of debt, make a plan. Find out ways to get out in public and do demonstrations and show off pieces of your work.
Mike
Mike Siemsen
Green Lake Clock Company
There are II kinds of people in the world. Those that can read roman numerals and those that can't

dkeller_nc

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"Well these people want a Seymour Repro for pennies.  So thanks but no thanks.  Or should I rethink that offer and take it.  Should I take because, it will look good in the portfolio."

Freddy - I'm not a professional woodworker, but I sell most of what I make.  My take on your question is no, don't get into the habit of getting orders on 95% of the inquiries you get.  You will work far too cheaply if that's the case.  Remember that most of the population has been re-educated to think that furniture is very cheap by the "big box stores".  The truth is that very cheap furniture is very cheap indeed, and good to superb furniture costs money, sometimes a lot of money.

There are individuals out there that know this and want heirlooms, not curb furniture.  But they are in the definite minority, so to be successful making high-end items, you're going to have to put a lot of effort into marketing.  Assuming your cabinetmaking skills are there (and it sounds like it from your post), this is probably the #1 challenge you face until you've a 10 year customer list and you stay booked by word of mouth. 

Some ideas on that marketing - a well put together website is absolutely required, both because your customers will expect it, and it's the most cost effective advertising you can do.  But that will probably not be enough.  Advertising in magazines that cater to a professional and well-off crowd is, in my opinion, the next most cost effective marketing.  Generally, those magazines have titles like "The Magazine Antiques", "Southern Living", "Architectural Digest", etc...  Finally, show appearances are very helpful - most that go this route don't sell anything from their display at the show, but they give out lots of business cards and make contacts this way.

Consider submitting your work to galleries in woodworking magazines (and, of course, to the SAPFM website!).  It's free, and while most subscribers aren't going to be your customers, it gets your name out there, and interior designers often get Fine Woodworking as a means for their clients to select what style of furniture they'd like.

Finally, I'd suggest getting the Woodworking Magazine back-issue with an interview by Christian Becksvoort.  I think it was published in 2004, and you can see the indexes for previous years on the website.  Christian has been making shaker-inspired pieces his entire career, and he has some very good observations on doing this for a living in that article.
Period Furniture & Carving as a hobby - about 20 years woodworking

Antiquity Period Designs, Ltd.

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Freddy,

I have been making period furniture as a business since 1985.  If you are just out of school and trying to go solo it is a big mistake.  Contacting the SBA and SCORE is okay but it will not bring customers to your door.  The only thing that will is "time"!  It took me almost 10 years before I had a steady flow of customers and this was in a good economy and having a store front.  They say it takes the small business 5 years to get establisted and this is in a good economy.  Advertising in magazines is a waste of money, don't do it.  Exposure to the public is the best, like a store front.  Doing a show is okay, if you can afford the high rent/fee, but don't expect people to come to a show with thousand of dollars in their pocket to spend on furniture.  They may pick up a card and contact you later.  I speak from 23 year of experience of doing this.  This is the worst time in our economy to start up a furniture making business.  But don't give up and don't give up your day job either.

Dennis Bork
Antiquity Period Designs, Ltd.

P.S. I just wrote my first order for 2010 delivery.  But, it is because I have been known in the community for 23 years.
Professional period furniture maker since 1985.  Received a B.S. degree in physics then apprenticed and worked as a wood patternmaker for 12 years. Retired Dec. 2018.

klkirkman

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Freddy,

 I have one additional thought about an aspect of business that is often overlooked;  you MUST make a commitment from the outset to treat estimating very seriously - notice I did not say bidding or pricing;  I said estimating.
There are a number of reasons for this, some less obvious than others.

 I found that when I was running a 10 man wood shop in a competitive business, having well thought out methods for estimating labor and materials helped me underdstand two important things that go beyond giving a potential customer a quote:

1. They showed me places in production where we were wasting time and money all out of proportion to the value added to the products , and
2. They permitted me to offer alternative proposals when asked to bid that sometimes were very attractive to the customer who had no insight of his own into what was cheap and what was expensive to build.

You need both good methods for estimating, and also careful records of return costs to validate and update your methods. Only when you can be very sure about what your costs are can you begin to think about sharpening your pencil on bids.  You night be amazed at how helpful the historic records on labor hours from old rate books for furniture makers of two hundred years , some of which are published by SAPFM, may be.  Those guys worked awfully hard for a days pay compared to todays standards, but the productivity improvements we have at hand can get back some of the difference, and in any event comparisons between different pieces can help.

Karl
Karl

shayes2791

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II am not a professional woodworker, but spoke to many in my neck of the woods.  They echo many of the comments so far.  Most have said that you won't get rich.  One of the prominent ones said he made more money and enjoyed it more when he had a 1-2 man operation.  He said now most of his time is spent getting the business and running the business.  He rarely gets to make anything anymore since his employees do that.  He also said that you could sell a piece for $15,000 and make very little on it with time and materials. 

Many have diversified into things they didn't originally think of that pay their bills or make them more money than making the actual furniture like teaching classes, writing articles or books, selling plans they worked up, refinishing repairing antiques, doing more architectural stuff like moldings, built-ins, and kitchen cabinets, and making specialized niche markets stuff like handsaws, chisels, and planes.  I was even told by small antique stores that they sell the Pine crafty stuff like shelves and cupboards because they are cheap and they can't keep them in stock.  The even offered me a proposition.  Bottom line is you might end up doing things you don't like most of the time and less time doing what you enjoy until your name is out there.

Antiquity Period Designs, Ltd.

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If I sell a piece for $15,000 I will make a lot of money on it even after materials.  And I use more hand tools than machinery.  It's all relative and depends on how you run your business.

Dernnis Bork
Antiquity Period Designs, Ltd.
Professional period furniture maker since 1985.  Received a B.S. degree in physics then apprenticed and worked as a wood patternmaker for 12 years. Retired Dec. 2018.

shayes2791

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I guess it would depend on overhead and salaries paid to employees and the like.  I also don't know if there is alot of research time and time with the client?  I didn't get into details with him on the subject since I doubt I would ever be able to do it at any level.

rococojo

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Re: Just wondering how a new furniture maker is suppose to survive or get busin
« Reply #14 on: November 21, 2008, 07:48:02 PM »
Hi Freddy,
I have been making as a professional period furniture maker since 1968.  It sounds like you are a young man, trying hard to survive. So I’m looking back? I’m thinking it took me almost 2 years before I had a steady flow of customers, But I was not starting in today’s unsure economy. Some say it takes the small business 5 years to get established but that's more likely in a good economy.  Advertising in magazines is a waste of money.  Exposure at furniture shows/open to the general public works the best, like (in England): "The Great Yorkshire show", Or " The Woodworking Show". To get free entry, join a club that as a charity status, other wise you will encore high rents, but don't expect people to come to a show loaded with thousand of dollars to spend on furniture. Most are just browsing; (I find small furniture sells well? So consider premaking a few small pieces, they may pick up a card and contact you later on. As you interested there attention, I speak from buzzz years of experience  doing this.  There is never a good or bad time to start up any business. You have to work hard at it, That’s it?
Hope this helps you

Rococojo
« Last Edit: November 27, 2008, 05:14:13 PM by rococojo »