Marketability of Small Wood Craft Items

      Suggestions for a small start-up woodworker about simple items that might sell well. March 28, 2015

Question (WOODWEB Member)

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I'm a recently re-located Brit. My new workshop at home in California is coming on a treat but I donít know the market yet. What would be your choice for a low cost to make but worthwhile first product? Tips I've had (from some of the nicest guys I've ever met have so far included chopping boards and cheese boards made from claro walnut, wenge, maple and etc. but I'm thinking I should get a few more ideas.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor C:
Breadboxes - they're going to want bread with the cheese. Wine racks - your customers are going to be thirsty after all that bread and cheese. Market these products through your local vineyards. All of these places have tasting rooms and these products would make a good memento of their visit.

From contributor C:
One more thought. Spend a little money and get some branding irons made with the logo of the vineyard you want to pitch. Ship the samples free to the vineyard so they have a chance to get some local feedback before having to commit to purchase. Give them an incentive to purchase quickly.

From the original questioner

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That's a good suggestion, thanks for that!

From contributor M:
Cutting boards and some of the other items mentioned fall into the craft category. There are so many part timers and hobbyists making them that it can be hard to make money off them as a professional. Now I know some of you guys have built successful businesses off this stuff, but if you have professional woodworking skills, there are other areas where you can apply that talent with a greater barrier to entry. In other words you don't see surgeons at the local clinic taking blood samples. Now the cutting boards and other similar wood products I do manufacture are not something the average amateur could even replicate since I involve heavy use of my CNC equipment.

From the original questioner

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Good point Contributor M. What do you find that you sell most of? I mean in terms of sales volume, not necessarily profitability?

From Contributor B:
I would agree with Contributor M about the boards. We often make small runs but only out of scrap to use it up. No scrap, no boards. The products like this I see around at art centers, craft shows, and retail outlets, are either very high priced and very complex (likely wonít sell many) or very low priced from hobby guys who donít look at all towards their shops profitability. Many times they are made from all purchased-for-that-project wood which blows my mind. To buy expensive materials, purple heart, and other exotics, solely to cut up into thin strips for cutting boards just seems like it would make it impossible to be profitable. Adding in more complexity like hand holds, feet, and so on would seem to only be profitable in a production environment. A lot goes into making them and the materials need to be very inexpensive in my opinion.

Itís understood what youíre looking for, and Iím sure you know what Iím talking about, but its highly doubtful any internet forum is going to provide you with the magic bullet. Your likely going to get suggestions for craft/art show items and then your left to peddle them in hopes you made what people want. I would get out and beat the pavement for a couple weeks. Stop in at every shop you can find, ask around, ask them for a product they are not seeing available to them or one they think may fly if it were a bit less expensive and see if you can re-work the idea. Things like that.

Itís been my experience that many retailers are very interested in working with a small shop to manufacture items but the key is of course you both have to be able to make money. Most in the custom wood market are accustomed to craft show and retail sales where they get nearly all the money. They have an extremely hard time wrapping their head around selling wholesale and taking $0.60 on the dollar in trade for avoiding all that goes along with retail (sale tax, retail hours, bantering with fussy customers, returns, and so on). To me itís a very worthwhile trade as I'm more than happy to stay in my shop making work as opposed to dealing with some snooty husband or fussy housewife who think they can walk into my booth/shop and haggle on price or ask for discounts, color changes, special orders that they donít want to pay more for and so on. When the product is delivered to the retailer Iím done. Youíre looking for the same thing we all are.

From contributor M:
Don't make anything. Take your portfolio and yourself and go shopping. When you come across an opportunity in a shop that you like, talk to the proprietor about filling it. This is a very small market, limited by the logistics of finding and servicing the needs of shops that sell anything other than developing world products. Alternatively, meet the designers, architects, and specifiers in your area: it seems that the folks who are actually paying money for wood products are paying to have it made. If it's already built, then it will eventually be available at a reduced price.

From Contributor G

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Yeah, you really have to know your market and that's the secret. If anybody knows it, they will not tell. If you are suggesting that you will sell cheese boards at crafts fairs, or local retail stores, you have to be thinking price point. How much will a casual shopper be willing to pay for an eye catching, unique, hand crafted work of beautiful artistry. Think starving artist hotel art" paintings that sell for $60. The stretched canvas and frame alone are more expensive. If you are looking to sell at price points of $20, $30, $40 you will need to excel at volume. Have you seen what you can buy at pottery barn and Ikea at these same prices? Are you paying California taxes and California cost of living expenses? Can you compete on price with a global world market? Now, forget about the price point selling and consider selling your service. If you run into a dentist at a holiday party, can you feed his need for a one of a kind chopping board for his morning juice habit? Do you have the sales ability to hook him on a $250 project? Can you do that four times a week, twice a month or six times a year? You will find your sweet spot in the market, but you need to pound the pavement in order to do so.

From contributor R:
I joined an artist group here that has open studio walks on the first Friday of each month. My main showing is my woodturning, but the jewelry is the bread and butter. Not a big investment in machinery either - a bandsaw, drill press, and my lathes. You can also use some pretty rare woods, because you use such small pieces.

From the original questioner

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That's really interesting! Are you in LA Contributor R?

From contributor C:
To the original questioner: How much money are you hoping to generate each month from this endeavor?

From the original questioner

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Sadly market forces, my product placement, target market, USP and pricing amongst other things will dictate that. For new enterprises, the national average is seven years to gain financial stability so you and I know I'd need a crystal ball but my necessary assumption allows for five or so sales month, one yielding somewhere between $50 to $350 of profit and growing from there. My business model expects almost $800 on average per month by the end of the fourth quarter. I am however very aware that rarely do projections from business planing translate to actual fact in the end. I expect my product offerings, routes to market and other contributing factors will adapt this year but that's what makes this interesting, don't you think?

From contributor R:
I'm in Peoria, IL. Not a mecca of artists for sure, but our art scene is widely growing from these First Friday open artistís studios. We average around 200 people a month coming through on that night.

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