OK, time to go to the brain trust with my situation. I own a small custom cabinet shop in the upper Mid-west. One full-timer (me), a part-time cabinet maker, part-time designer, and a part-time finisher. We only do residential, almost all remodel. Our work is top quality and we have a great reputation with a trail of very happy customers. Reviews of us on Houzz and Angieís List are great. Hereís our dilemma: I canít seem to attract the more profitable kitchen projects anymore. We get lots of odd work like one vanity, replacing doors and fronts, or something else thatís really unusual but small that a customer canít get anywhere else. Still have to meet with the customer several times, often do a stain match, and all the other leg work that goes with getting a job, but with much less profit. One problem and that little profit can disappear. Iíve tried outreach to local contractors, social media, hiring a professional to do a new website, establishing a presence on Houzz, joined a couple of networking groups, and recently did a direct mailer to a couple of target areas. Nothing produced any work of significance. I donít know if itís my execution of my marketing or something else that gives customers the wrong impression or what. With a limited budget for marketing, Iím finding Iím spending more and more time updating our Houzz site, updating our social media, and going to networking meetings and less time actually doing any direct income producing work. I donít expect there to be a silver bullet, but Iím wondering if anyone else similar to us has found a tactic thatís produced results.
Hi, sounds like you have your stuff together. I was in your shoes in semi rural area in the southeast. Nice small shop, skills, etc. All I was getting was $2500 or less. I tried everything. I came to the conclusion that the demographics of the area just didn't support another cabinetmaker. Also, try commercial maybe?
As you probably know, marketing is more about planting seeds for future work than getting a sale today.
I've had the same experience as you describe, and this is what I did--1. told contractors and architects that if I did the hard, picky stuff, I expected them to send me the more straight-forward profitable stuff (aka kitchens) as well. 2. stopped taking on unusual or small projects unless I could make money on them.
Looking at your website under "services," I see that you market for the very work you are not happy producing. At the least, I suggest taking that page off the site, and saying no to future inquiries.
Hey All, thanks for taking the time to help me out here. Chris, there is still plenty of activity here, enough to support our presence. Peoples preference for cabinet suppliers seems to have changed. Contractors are going with their building materials suppliers for stock or semi-custom cabinets. We lost a few jobs to designers selling stock cabinets because we couldn't do their project immediately. Erik, we have been taking the small stuff as loss leaders, establishing a relationship with the customer for future work. Planting that seed. Worked in the past, but now those bigger jobs are going other places. Have been dialing back on promoting that kind of work, but right now I have to take it because it's all we're getting. I have to be careful with pricing. If I price it to make much profit, we don't get those jobs either. As for our pictures, yes, I agree about the quality. Hired a semi-professional photographer to photograph recent jobs, but their skills seem to be more outdoor photography. Will be looking for someone with skills more tailored to our needs for the next shoots. I still have some options to try, but will continue to entertain any other ideas.
Pat, no, I don't believe this is the beginning of the end for custom cabinet building. I'm viewing our situation in isolation, although, changes in this business are occurring increasingly faster and more often. The challenge is trying to anticipate and adapt fast enough. Not getting any easier.
Is your problem getting enough incoming leads or is it in closing the sales on the leads you are currently getting? If you want to start new jobs every week and you're not getting several fresh job inquiries every week, you need to pick up that end of the game. No one sells every single inquiry that crosses their desk. On the other hand, no matter how poor you think your sales skills are, you should be closing at least 50% of your qualified leads. So, if you want a new job each week, you'll need at least 2 qualified leads per week. You'll likely have a number of off target inquiries or raw leads you'll need to eliminate before you can get down to which ones are qualified. Depending on how hard you qualify your inquiries (raw leads), you might need as many as 3-10 or more inquiries to get them whittled down to a qualified lead status.
Are you targeting selling directly to home owners for their remodeling projects, or are you targeting builders, remodeling contractors, designers (trade professionals) and the like? Marketing is very different for those two groups.
If you're going out for homeowner business, most people will only remodel a kitchen once or twice in their lifetimes. Therefore you need to constantly be looking for and marketing to get the next one lined up. And if you expect repeat business from a homeowner-type kitchen remodeling client, you need to constantly remind them you also offer other services, if you in fact do so. Do you do closet systems, vanity or mud room cabinetry, home theaters, home offices, bookcases and built ins? Pat's idea of monthly mailings or monthly e-newsletters to past clients would likely do that fairly well.
On the other hand, marketing as a supplier to the trade has the plus of one client doing many projects on a continuing basis, but you need to displace their current supplier. What can you offer (other than better pricing or terms) that would get their attention? Everyone will try to get trade business with lower pricing and/or better terms. What makes you a different and better choice? Building relationships is critical to your success if you wish to sell as a supplier to the trade. Constant reminders (Pat's monthly mailing idea) can work wonders when that trade prospect has a problem with their current supplier.
I'd suggest you get together with as many of the trade pros you want to reach as you can, buy them lunch, and learn about their businesses by asking them about their problems. If they have problems you can help them solve efficiently, and you can take them off their plate and you can make a profit solving their problems, you may have the beginnings of a long term mutually profitable relationship. Plan to invite 25 trade prospects to lunch (you buy) during the next few weeks. Don't present your company or solutions until you talk over the prospects problems. Offer your solutions to their problems, and only present the parts of your company's services that meet their needs. Don't tell them absolutely everything you do, just the parts that will help them solve their problems. If you do so, you won't get to number 25 before you get new business. Otherwise, if you are not a problem solver, you are just another vendor in their eyes who wants to replace a trusted, long term relationship they have with their current vendor. That's not an easy one to overcome.
Direct mailing to a "targeted area" on a one time basis isn't going to work. What do you do with unsolicited direct mail (a.k.a junk mail). It heads straight to the trash, right? You need to mail the same area over and over and over again on a fairly frequent basis to even begin to have some name recognition. Fairly frequent means weekly or monthly, not once or twice per year. You need to catch the prospect at the time they are considering doing a project where you could be a supplier. And on top of that, you need to be known to and trusted by them so you can even have a chance of being contacted when they are shopping. What do you think the odds are getting a sales message in a single shot in front of a prospect who will only be doing a kitchen remodel a couple of times in their life at exactly the moment they are in the market? At best, it's very long odds. Constant marketing over months/years in as many forms as you can imagine in targeted areas will yield results. One or two shots with direct mail then quitting is a waste of your time and money. If you rely on solely on unsolicited direct mail to prospects, you really need go big or go home.
Long and short, working directly with homeowners is constant and consistent hunting and marketing. Price your work so you can have and spend a big budget to constantly inform and remind prospects of what you do. Some of the big home improvement companies spend upwards of 20% of their gross sales on marketing and sales expenses. Working with trade professionals is constant and consistent relationship building, if you want more than one project from them. Either way, you are going to have marketing costs. Pick the one that works for you and stick with it.
Finally, hire the proper people so you can concentrate on bringing in the business while your people produce the products you sell. Or, when you have plenty of work and profits, hire the right sales and marketing people so you can run both sides of the business, if that is what you want to do. There are not enough hours in the week to do both sales and production with only part time help unless they are very, very good and can crank out what you sell with very little of your supervision and direction. And if you personally cannot find enough business with the targets you select, you either need to add more targets, more geography, more products or all three, Otherwise, you don't have a business. You have a hobby with some expensive machinery in a shop.
Focus on where you want to be, then set up detailed business plans on how you are going to get there, then execute your plan. Good luck.
Once up on a time I had a very small business. Just barely eking out a livening. Got tired of it, started keeping accurate records to determine where I made decent $. It was with the trades. Required effort to get known. Had to offer something that was not readily available. Turned out to be short run moldings to match work being done in commercial remodels. I didn't have a molder then. Did it all on a power fed shaper and hand ground knives. I wasn't set up well enough to compete in the kitchen business and didn't want to spend the time working with home owners. I currently only do commercial work, No advertising at all. Just have become known for the ability to do designs that most shops in the area can't or won't. Lots of curves!
We use Titebond in spite of the fact that it is subject to some creep. Spring back can be controlled by using the correct lamination thickness. Too thick & it springs outward. Too thin and it will pull inward to a tighter radius. In the past we had used plastic resin but it is so brittle if there is any place where there is a bit of glue line thickness that it wasn't worth it. When we need to do exterior work we use resorcinol. Great glue, totally unforgiving and no good for clear finished work. I've got some furniture at home that was made 30 years ago with bent laminations using Titebond, still fine.
If anyone is reading this that is new to lamination remember, your mileage may vary!
Notice in the glue up photo that there is a rigid form on one side and a slightly flexible form on the other. That allows for minor variations to be taken up & still get tight glue lines. Timing is critical, the glue must still be wet, everyplace, when the final clamping is done. We had 3 guys on the glue up in the photo. The layers are laid edge to edge and held together with some screws next to the edges. Glue is rolled on using a synthetic glue roller (not a paint roller.) Don't put too much glue on or it will cause problems by holding the work apart and may not allow the laminations to come together soon enough. Curves are our niche, we do them constantly.
Thanks for the detailed response. I found it informative and counter to what I would have expected regarding the plastic resin. However, I am not going to debate what I know from "theory" against your actual experience. I learned something important. Thank you!
And, 3 guys on the glue-up. That makes perfect sense with the relatively short open time of Titebond (as compared to the resins). The more I look at the photos, the more impressed I am.
Your website doesn't really SAY that you do full bore kitchen makeovers - with any compelling follow-through. It mentions it - on the home page. The photo gallery images of those projects should be on the project page - with lots of cool details (read: story) about the project: the 3D rendering, the before shot, the budget, the 'why' about what the clients wanted, a neat thumbnail of how certain design features were hammered out with the client. The questions they asked and your solutions.
Forget the social media. People do not spend 5K let alone xK based on 'buzz' ... unless the buzz sends them to something with some way to learn more and evaluate and dream.
Wonderful photos with zero story line does not captivate. We've all seen glorious portfolio sites go down in flames because they leave the folks that go to the site with "So ... and what?".
Bottom line: you have to surface what you want in a way so that your target client wants you. Your site skims the surface.
The good news: you have past projects that you can haul out the details on and script out some cool stories. Don't be stingy - be funny, be detailed, be INFORMATIVE.
Put some meat in your site - then point the social media stuff to it.
The image file sizes on your website are way to large 1 MB+ they need to be no larger the 150 KB, it took way to long to download to view the photos on your website.
The photography is fine, some of the images need to be brightened and contrast corrected and the perspective vertical lines need to be adjusted in photoshop, all it would take is 1-2 minutes per image. I hope you don't mind but I downloaded your island to give a before and after example.
Add a few testimonials on your front page from a customer who had a great experience with you and love the product you crafted for them. Branding and Marketing 101, to this day Branding experts say this is the best way to create a trust and connection with your customer.
Pat, I've used the fire hose thing in the past. Still have some of it. The limitation is how wide you can easily go. I still remember the first time I used hose, blew my form all to h---. Remember to use a regulator!
Maybe with a sheet metal plate around the both sides of the jig, Fire hose on the back side of the sheet metal. (no more that 30lb ?)The jigs would be particle board stacked up, i.e. not an open frame. Some sort of oven to kick the glue quicker. And some way to reduce the number of people to clamp it.
I agree with what Robert said about the photos. Although it is hard to get down to the 150KB and still surface a wide view photo.
You don't need to get Photoshop though. The windows 10 photo suite has editing features built in. Except - as far as I know - a resize feature - which is what you'll need to get lower KB images. A cool free desktop image tool is Irfanview. Crop, resize, basic color corrections and watermarking.
Like Robert said, you'll mostly fool with brightness and contrast. Max resize for featured photos to 1200 x 900 at 24BPP which gets you to about 428KB. 800 x 600 gets you to about 226KB. In JPG format. Designers love PNG images, but unless you need transparencies, the file size difference doesn't make that much viewing difference - so spare the content delivery system the overhead and use JPG's. BTW, your gallery software is scaling large images to 892 x 595 anyway.
While you are at it save your resized images (NEVER overwrite the original, you may need it full size later to cut out detailed partial images, zoom views, etc) with good file names. Like "custom-kitchen-island-Glenbeulah-WI.jpg" rather than "img-7634652.jpg" whatever.
If you want to get into photo edit a little deeper PS Elements is about $90 @ Sam's. The ability to create layers and do some distortion correction is nice. It will do most of the things full blown PS does much cheaper. Lots of online tutorials. If your camera shoots in RAW you don't need to worry about loosing the originals by edit.
Thanks for all the input everyone. Lots of valuable points presented and a rather nice diversion into Larry's curved cabinet work. I've been spending on lot more time on photos, which seemed to garner the most attention in this thread. Yet another skill in addition to cabinet making I find that I have to develop. In an indictment of our nations infrastructure, we have no access to high speed internet at the rural location where our business was started (24Kpbs dial-up or my smartphone hotspot is it), which sorely hampers my opportunities to promote our business on-line. Can't afford to move the business just to get better internet. Just have to budget time to go to a location with high speed to do what needs to be done.
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