Marketing for Furniture Makers
Word of mouth is the only way I've been building custom furniture for 30 years and 100% of my business every year comes from referrals. You must understand who your client is and learn how to become comfortable for them to be around. I'm assuming your target client base is relatively wealthy people and so you have to learn how to be the trusted and don't underestimate that for one minute, provider of your particular service. You must be trusted at all times and you must be safe for them to be involved with. You have to remember that everybody is trying to get a piece of them and they are highly protective and in many cases have multiple gatekeepers who will see right through you if you are making a cold call boasting about your skills or sending a flyer. You can only get to them through their peers or family and the only way to do that is to be a safe and discrete source. Be reliable, prompt, clean and dressed well but still appropriately for your station. Do not assume you are an equal but make sure they understand you are the expert and can solve their need. This one may sound odd but don't be the cheapest in your pricing, be the best and charge accordingly but do not over charge, ever!
As an example, I have a client I've done work for for almost 25 years. I've built all the furniture now in use in their Aspen Colorado home and a great deal of that in their Chicago home. We are business friends and trusted provider at this juncture and I have attended many family functions and have been invited to their home in Colorado on four occasions but I have never walked into any of their homes through the front door! I am a trusted provider and I am at times a confidant and the family sees me as someone who is very close, but I am not their social equal and so I enter their homes through the staff entrances along with all the other great folks they rely on.
Wealthy people very often share their sources with their peers and so they will often insist on introducing me to their friends or business associates because it makes them feel good and because they enjoy knowing that their friends will also be served well. I have also at times found that I've had to walk away from a nice piece of business due to a feud between a client and a prospective client in order to preserve the existing relationship! Interestingly this happens rarely and has always resulted in a commission or outright purchase of equal or greater value so it all works out in the end.
So be patient, you might try marketing through places like the Fine Furniture Shows put on by Carla Little or the online group called CustomMade.com both are monitored by people looking for custom work and I guess pour yourself into knowing and understanding your perfect client's needs. Maybe most importantly be the absolute best you can possibly be and never ever never compromise yourself or them!
From contributor M:
However, if invited I have been known to come in the front door - only if I'm not in my steel-toes of course. But you're right. If you are liked/respected enough to make it into a client's home for a social visit, you can easily become the life of the party. They always say "I want to introduce you to the guy that made this piece/cabinet/room possible." Those are the best ones - the ones that truly respect the craftsmanship you provide and are willing to tell others about it. Of course there is the question: do you sell what you make or make what you sell? Figuring out what a potentially lucrative client's style is my game. You can usually figure it out at the first meeting in their home. I usually do a quick Sketch-up drawing of what they described, based on other items in their home, and see if they bite. Most of the time, I'm dead on, but watch out for the nitpickers. They will have you drafting until your brain hurts. You will learn who they are in time - avoid them. They're not the ones who refer.
You are right about the nit pickers and learning how to see them coming! The drafting till your brain hurts made me laugh out loud because I just had one of those sessions this this past month! New referral never had a stick of custom furniture made and I think suffering from some anxiety due to peer pressure the poor woman just couldn't come to terms with what she wanted. So after attempting to draw as she talked for way too long (for both of us) I suggested that since she really loved the work I'd done for the referring client that she let me take what I'd learned and go back to my shop and develop 3 designs for her to choose from. Well she jumped on that so fast I'm still not sure who was most relieved her or me! A week later I deliver the three designs and she sees exactly what she wanted on day one but couldn't express, and the decision is made in 30 seconds. We completed a contract and she is now examining the finished wood samples to determine which of two wood species will be used. Next week I'll learn her choice and put her job on my schedule!
Interestingly she has already introduced me to a friend of hers and had apparently explained our design impass and how we'd found a way to solve it and how amazed and thrilled she was to see finished drawings of just exactly what was in her mind! I dearly love my work and my clients and feel extremely fortunate to have been able to develop strong bonds with so many of them over the years. It's all good and I wouldn't trade it for all the gold in Fort Knox! Of course it sure helps having clients who have a bit of that gold in the family!
From contributor M:
Same here. Iíve been there at that exact moment. I have learned to avoid those folks though. Not worth the hassle, unless you swat one out of the park. Sometimes though, you sit at the computer or drafting desk trying to discern what someone wants for hours. Frustration is not the right word. That word does not exist in our language. Thank god I have good hair genes because I'd been bald a long, long time ago.
From contributor X:
Advertise - set aside a monetary sum each month for advertisements. Promote yourself, your business, donate your time to worthy events, join clubs, etc. This is all in the line of advertising. People have to know that you are around and what you do. Run a constant ad in your local paper, a small ad will do. Get out of the shop and go visit every business in your area. Be outgoing. Pass out or post business cards to everyone you meet. Do this regularly and watch your results. I've started numerous businesses in various areas this way and have found that there is a lot of free advertising available. Just look at all the new friends that you will meet who will help promote you and your business.
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