Just joined the forum because I read some responses to another question and you guys had informed answers.
I've been trying to build up my rustic furniture business with some good but mostly slow results. I'm in San Diego, but will likely be relocating to the south-east...wife has the real job.
I do tree slab coffee, kitchen and dining tables etc. Sold a couple to a store and got good reviews, but sales are super slow. The website does nothing for me, even with paid promotions with google.
We are just outside of San Diego in the country on a twisting road that some complain about.
I've done farmer markets and more artisan shows with few sales but lots of good comments, including ones suggesting our good prices.
Do others have slow sales?
Is living on a good/main road a must?
Do people want to build tables themselves (diy's) more than finished...I ask that because I get calls and sales for unfinished slabs more than finished tables.
It's a tough economy here like everywhere.
Since we get to move anywhere I was hoping for some advice, input and good old wisdom from other successful craftsmen.
I agree with Slabby. If people are asking for a certain product, that is a very good indicator of what people are willing to purchase. That is what it is all about. Making sales.
I have been down a road a certain direction with a product and customer input and sales had me move a different direction with it. Better than beating my head against the wall trying to sell people what they are not interested in. Now I sell the product on a regular basis, which means I make money off of the product.
Follow the money. If the money goes a different direction and you can follow it, DO IT!
As far as moving to the south-east, you will have to start your marketing all over again as you are in a completely new area. If you are selling slab furniture, you need to get into the high end art shows if you want to sell at shows. Farmers markets and such do not generate much, if any, income. Try contacting furniture gallerys, art gallerys and such to move your products.
As far as starting over we never really got going here anyway. I lost a good well paying job in 2010 and have been attempting a number of things since then. Furniture is familiar to me, plus I am a contractor by trade.
Yes farmer markets are very poor and so are artisan markets too. It's not just my products, because the other vendors are suffering from very poor sales as well.
I'm in a winery show in a million dollar area and the vendors are lucky to make a hundred bucks.
Slab sales have some interest, but I'm not sure how much. I really wonder if being located in the heart of a larger community would make a substantial difference or just a minor difference.
I'm not even sure rustic/slab furniture is even popular enough to make it work. People love it, but sales speak differently.
I really want to work out of my home...so we've been looking at properties with existing barns, shops and out buildings.
Its been 4 years without a steady income and we can't stay in San Diego, that's why we are looking to the south east. Not my wish list but reality is in control of much of this and I haven't been able to change it.
I just had a mid 5 figure table taken out of my casework and millwork contract and given to the furniture guy. His website shows from tree harvest to completion and promotes green. This table was about 5' x 13' for a coffee bar in a corporate office. Reclaimed lumber.
I think you need to focus on selling to designers that want green, reclaimed and or unusual.
I am sure there is money in the product as the other guy is getting paid more out of a different budget and has a slab they like.
For custom furniture makers, the general rule-of-thumb is, "If you can make it through the first 5 years, then you have a (slim) chance to make it through the next five years." If you are getting calls for unfinished slabs, sell unfinished slabs, with finishing as an added option, Very few small businesses can truly dictate what their market will be. Slab tables probably appeal to only a small percentage of the table-buying public, so maybe you would want to offer a wider range of designs. You could still offer the benfits of solid wood over factory-made furniture, and you can add your own unique designs to the equation.
On another note, if you are open to a closely related, but slightly different, type of woodworking, you might consider furniture repair and refinishing as your base business, with furniture-making as your secondary offering. While location, location, location is always a factor, it seems that quality refinishers can thrive in either city or rural settings. It is hard work, and it does require a body of knowledge. However,the initial investment for equipment and supplies is not a huge amount of dollars. As with any endeavor, basic business principles still are paramount for success, but such a business is easy to grow.
Need to focus on offering a variety to the designers. We do woodworking and upholstered pieces and have been in business for over 33 years. I think we have done one slab table so the demand would never carry a high end business here.
We have expanded our product line a lot. Frankly when we were doing shows we didn't even bring the furniture. We had pictures and posters of them, but sold small wood décor/accessories for $20.00 to $100.00 and some exotic stuff was even more.
The bowl was wet to show grain before we put the finish on.
I have read about Etsy, Amazon, Shopify, etc and for the time involved in shipping, fees associated with their services, time for packing, post office time and other misc. efforts we decided not to pursue them.
I have spoken to a number of people who have used Etsy and no one was happy with the profits after the original excitement wore off from making sales. I'm sure there are some success stories.
Market to designers. They are the ones who spec and furnish every beautiful vacation home, office or higher end anything. You need to become their "guy"!
Be very careful to work only with the very best most successful designers and at first take the approach of developing a good professional relationship with one designer. Show him or her that you can deliver on every promise, on price and on time. Impress the heck out of them and you will be busy beyond your wildest imagination. If after some time you find one designer can't fill your production calendar then very selectively find one more designer and repeat the process. Be very mindful of keeping all aspects of your first relationship at the same or higher level when you add designer number 2 because you do not want to lose number 1 while bringing in number 2!
Go slowly, be methodical and always over deliver, be innovative and most importantly enjoy the process!
I agree that you should pursue designers. Get your leads by browsing Houzz and find the ones that work in your style. Call them and make an appointment to take them to lunch, or just show up at their office. Maybe bring them a little something that you made, that they can keep. At the very least, you will learn a lot about what they do and don't sell.
Etsy is a waste of time, especially for larger items that are difficult to ship. People on Etsy are looking for bargains, and your competiton is working out of a chicken coop for $7/hour.
What people think of your product has to do with how you showcase it. If you sell it at flea markets, people will think it should be priced like secondhand furniture. Craft fairs are a step or three up, depending on how well juried and marketed they are. Doing them well takes a special talent for doing craft fairs well.
So does approaching designers. If you are that kind of person you will do well at it. If not, not so much. If the designers you approach already have someone doing what you do, or seldom have a call for it (and in the design business, it's their call) you won't get much work from them.
However, if you find the right person (one who likes you, has what you consider good taste, who sees what your work can do for a space) you will do well. Especially if you can help them grow and hit new customers.
Long story short, there is no magic answer. It depends a lot on finding the right approach for the way you work, then figuring out what the rules are for that type of sale.
It's been a while and I ended up getting a job . It's been over a year now and I still want to get a mill and try to make some slap furniture.
Now that I have a job I can kind of afford the mill without it being a big issue. Worst case scenario I buy it don't sell anything I can always sell the mill they retain their value fairly good so there won't be too much loss. At least with my own mill I'll be able to cut Specific to what I want and since my labor is basically free I'll be able to create some fairly good product and then we'll just have to see where it goes.
Monty— A lot of getting good money is about adding value. Sounds like you are doing this in two ways: by sawing your own, you add your judgement and make better selections; and by doing "special" pieces you take your work farther away from what just anybody can do.
It will be more fun and more profitable also. When you find your proper market you can go far. Great luck!
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