like a lot of guys here - custom furniture really gets me going. unfortunately, or fortunately, i'm seasoned enough to understand that this is a very hard game to get into and i would be hard pressed to make this happen as my primary source of income. luckily, my business is concentrated in other markets and i'm looking to get into this on a limited basis with the addition of a very key employee. that key employee is a very proficient artist, with experience in design as well as glass, metal, and wood turning (all things i cannot do). in addition, he is a semi-accomplished cabinet maker.
i'm looking to turn him loose to develop this side of the business, which will keep him interested in work as well as provide both of us with additional income. anyways, i'm looking for ideas or sources to sell spec furniture/pieces and/or thoughts on to how to develop this business.
etsy, and houzz are my best guesses
we are working along the same path as you, and feel that getting the exposure from one of those sites and linking back to an effective website with purchasing options is really the only way to make it work, but i would also be interested to hear other opinions (less the defeatists!!)
My opinion doesnt come from one of experience but rather one who has been dipping a toe in these waters for quite some time in preparation for something similar (without the additional employee).
My feeling is to be willing and able to adjust your offering to something that of course is #1 appealing to more of the average consumer as opposed to just the high end market and #2 refine a base line offering into something you can reasonably mass produce on your own (reduce cost). Of course none of this is new information but I think there is a small market emerging that is willing to pay for something a bit more interesting and more quality but is not at the level of a three board coffee table that some nim nod wants 3K for. I see these all the time, a live edge slab, through tenon leg on one end with a couple wedges and a blind mortised leg on the other end. A coat of finish and they are asking 3K. Insanity.
The last gallery we were at my GF saw one and no lie said "hey, that table looks like one of the slabs we tossed in the burn pile at your saw mill last week".
I think the market is changing (for the better) if your well positioned and able to be dynamic/flexible. I think people are tired of paying a lot of money for imported crap that falls apart but they arent going to pay 2-3x to get away from it (and that isnt want it would cost for something better either).
There is only one dedicated furniture maker around me but he is doing relatively well with a fixed offering. I think if you are going to go for one off art pieces your market will be limited unless you knock one out of the park (in which case you may lose your guy).
I guess my feeling is to bring it down a notch (if you havent already) and have a production offering and perhaps a more limited high/art line (sounds like your guy may have that capacity). Find some good outlets and either drive there, buy a ticket, and pitch your line to them. You'll become a salesman for a while.
Most custom furniture is ordered by interior designers who have the high end customer base we need to access. Getting one to switch from a vendor they trust is difficult through any type of media. If we do custom work for the same group of designers over the last 33 years their clients will often brag about us to their friends and neighbors who, in turn, will push us to their builder or designer.
We do email photos and call on new designers and eventually we do pick up new clients from our competitors. Our people do both wood and fine upholstered pieces and that is a definite advantage. It is not an easy egg to crack and requires fine detail for the prices we need to command. Good luck.
i guess i'm mostly thinking of specialty retail locations where could display a couple of pieces and see how things go. i know the "jumping in with both feet" approach would have us put together a website with seo work, social media, etc. but i'm pretty sure my new guy doesn't have these skills and i, frankly, don't have the time to do these things. maybe we could get some stuff on houzz and use that as our main page (place to point traffic to). i'll have to investigate it more but can you sell directly off of houzz (not complete an order but list pieces for sale)?
mark b - we're thinking alike. i love to be able to do some limited run stuff where we could gain some production value, only build things we like to, and when bored, change up our offerings. i might need to think of smaller stuff (racks, hanging bookcases, coffee tables, etc.) to be able to fit that market's budget.
I joined an artist group 2 years ago, and we have open studios on the first Friday of every month. We get around 250-300 people come through on that night. I sell wood turnings these days, but there are also 2 others in my venue that sell furniture. One of them also sells through Artful Home catalog. Years ago, I also juried into a local fine arts show. In those days the booth was only $150. I didn't care if I sold that weekend, because that was some really cheap advertising in front of thousands. I won best in craft one year, so the $750 prize was a nice bonus! When I made furniture, I got most of my work from interior designers and church restoration companies. You also might consider doing a piece for a designer show home. Don't know if that would work well, but you get to meet all the designers and show your work. Etsy is not a place to sell fine studio furniture. Earrings yes, furniture no!
If this message gets through listen: Furniture is for flakes
Nobody can compete with our old communist enemy China
The only reason any of us have work is China doesn't send estimators for custom jobs. This is a fact!
there is a market! maybe you were not good enough to crack it ?
no you cannot compete with China
and maybe not Indonesia
or north Africa
all of whome export lower priced furniture of one quality or another
so we should just give up and abandon a strong tradition in North American furniture making,
And I'm British and still admire the Iconic furniture produced in the past and present Americas.
We have managed to make fine custom furniture for the last 33 years and there is definitely a market although a small one now. We see the Indonesian and Chinese junk and the top end clients hate the stuff. It is not built properly to last. We just reupholstered a home full of our furniture we made 30 years ago and the frames were as good as new. We compete with Dakota Jackson, Holly Hunt, Rosetti etc.
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