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starting small funiture shop12/17
I'm retiring from my general construction business and have been building furniture for my grand kids. Everyone loves the small tables and chairs, stools and other things I make so naturally I'm thinking about trying to market these upscale (all hard wood) pieces.
I am thinking of retiring from my furniture business and starting a construction business.
I have been building dog houses and bird houses and am thinking of making them more upscale, large enough for humans to inhabit.
Other than the tools I already use, a chop saw and table saw, what else will I need? I was thinking a shovel and a cement mixer would be a good start. Maybe a paint roller or two, also.
Any ideas would be helpful.
The best tool that you can have for such an endeavor is a solid business plan. Start there, outsource everything, and see where your greatest profit potential lies. Sorry for the oblique answer, but this process will help you to answer your direct question as well. The business plan sets some theoretical parameters, outsourcing sets a baseline for costs, then you're free to look at construction questions specifically: "if I make this part in house, then I'll need a router at $ cost and $ benefit." Or something like that.
Tooling up for furniture making can be long term project. One person's ideal shop is not the same as the next person's. It mostly depends on what you're building and how you're building it, but in my experience a combination of high quality machinery and hand tools, emphasis on high quality, works best.
We're going to need pictures of the furniture before we can recommend machinery. Have you talked to your insurance company? I've heard manufacturing adolescent child furniture carries the highest liability than any other. Marketing is going to be a challenge. Have you looked at your competition at Toys-R-Us or online? Have you watched the video I'm linking below? I guess if you know a lot of rich Grandmas, go for it!
Reality 101, that video made me smile. So to the point!
The best advice I can give for success is make sure that your work is absolutely unique. Your business must have a monopoly on your product. Being a Windsor chairmaker or Arts and Craft cabinetmaker doesn't 'cut it' because the internet has changed the marketing playing field.
Yes, there are a couple of local people who will buy a small table to 'fit …' or … but you cannot compete with Ikea or offshore furniture businesses.
I left my corporate 'life' to make custom fitted benches, stools and chairs. Initially, I thought my business was going to be a local customer based business. Over the last 18 years I have customers from California to Maine, Alaska to Florida and locally, only about 1% of my business.
As for equipment, the best tool is your head. Power vs. Hand is a moot point and only comes to the fore when uniqueness vs large numbers of the same or similar parts are needed. Outsourcing is necessary for the parts you cannot make. If all you do is manage your suppliers then you are doing nothing different than before you retired.
A cabinetmaker told me, "As you get older, make lighter things." I have dropped about 20% of my designs from my offerings. Next year will have another 10% being dropped. Bigger complex designs have high profit margin but as each year goes by, moving them around the shop and studio becomes more difficult. I'm not one to hire as I hate managing people and correcting their mistakes.
Walt , great advice , I wholly agree especially about trying to make lighter things but sometimes they want heavy stuff .
D. Brown, yea, I have run into people wanting heavy rockers with mass, thinking strength. When I explain about strength being in the design and execution of the joints and 200+ year old Windsors they get the idea. Then I talk about a chair to them and if they are happy with all the chairs they bought from furniture stores … things change.
No one, we build furniture for, will get younger and they are going to live with the furniture for a very long time (other wise why pay for custom work) and hopefully a few more generations will also. Light and strong is where I think uniqueness beats Ikea.
I own a small cabinet shop myself and sell cabinets to local builders and people doing kitchen bath remodels. I have advertised for furniture in the phone book and on my web site with not much demand. If I understand you correctly this is a one man shop building things because you enjoy it not necessarily to provide a stable income. I would first start with a sample of something cool you can sell. For tools besides the obvious table saw, chop saw, and nailers, get high quality fences for each to make accurate and repeatable cuts for any angle. Large assortment of clamps, 15 inch planer, 3 hsp shaper, and a good palm router, bandsaw, drill press, dedicated mortiser, panel saw for sheet goods or table tops. Do some research at your local library on building jigs.
If you are going to be doing this to keep yourself occupied in retirement, then go for it, and have some fun. If you are planning on bringing in an income, you might want to think again. You will be forced to do projects that you don't really want to do for too little money. There is a very limited market for expensive handcrafted furniture. Sure, everyone loves those stools you made, but very few will actually shell out the cash to put them in their home. Most people with that kind of money to spend already have their furniture needs covered. They also have specific tastes. Your designs will most likely not fit with what they have going on. If you do find someone that has a need for a furniture piece, it will be because the factory made piece that they like is 3" too big for their space. They will want you to make them an exact copy, this includes the 14 step finishing process, and they want it for the same price. Good luck!
One man shops are great source for specific skill. One way for a sustainable income is not to compete with the big box store or the larger cabinet shop but rather sell products to the larger shops that are not economical for them to do in house such as inlays, scroll work, turnings, hand cut dovetails. Perfect these skills and sell them to every big shop and work as much or as little as you want.
Just thought I'd post a quick suggestion from my perspective. Maybe you might want to consider rather than setting up a shop blind, joining a cooperative, or small shop looking for a tenant. When I lived in Boston in the 80's, there were many small, good, productive and well equipped shops looking for guys like you to help pay the rent and contribute a machine or two.
Most of the shops that I was aware of myself, at that time were mostly composed of furniture guys and artists who showed stuff in galleries, but their bread and butter was one of a kind cases, built-ins, furniture, baby furniture, stuff for designers and architects...etc. I once worked as an apprentice for a guy in such a shop which had with a world class furniture restoration guy who did stuff for the Museum of Fine Art, Boston, along side a hobbyist turned professional and a few other various woodworkers that were the mainstay of the shop. At the same time there was even one home builder who had use of the shop here and there.
Sharing with your skills, machines, rent, jobs, ideas and friendships sure sounds a lot more manageable to me then trying to figure it out all on your own. If you are a friendly and experienced builder with good hands, I am sure you can find folks where you will be a welcome resource not just to help pay the rent directly but possibly as a source of jobs....being in the bus. as you are.
I'm sure you would find much of the help you are seeking now, in that kind of environment, learning as you go....contributing where you can. And If you find it doesn't quite work out for you, you haven't invested in machinery and resources that you have to unload and might lose money on.
Maybe some of the guys in your area on this board could help you find where such a shop would advertise.
Start there, outsource everything, and see where your greatest profit potential lies. Sorry for the oblique answer, but this process will help you to answer your direct question as well. The business plan sets some theoretical parameters, outsourcing sets a baseline for costs -
"would a cnc be useful" Can't tell w/o knowing more about what you intend to make and what volume. I'd hold off on that unless there is something that absolutely requires the CNC.
If you are going to be doing this to keep yourself occupied in retirement, then go for it, and have some fun. If you are planning on bringing in an income, you might want to think again. You will be forced to do projects that you don't really want to do for too little money. There is a very limited market for expensive handcrafted furniture. The best advice I can give for success is make sure that your work is absolutely unique. Your business must have a monopoly on your product. Being a Windsor chair-maker or Arts and Craft cabinetmaker doesn't 'cut it' because the internet has changed the marketing playing field.