Advertising alternatives

What are the best-bang-for-buck advertising venues for woodworkers? November 7, 2000

Just wondering what has been the most successful and least successful adveritising methods that you all have encountered? More specifically in the case of the custom furniture shop selling directly to the end user.

Forum Responses
Most successful: word of mouth. Least succesful: yellow pages.

We have done well with our local radios stations. Sponsoring the weather during the winter. Have a few pieces made and on display, ready for delivery.

But word of mouth is best. It's like a big snow ball. Once it gets
rolling it's hard to stop it.

Once your reputation precedes you you'll be surprised where your clients come from.

The whole key to successful advertising is this: know your audience, and convey simple, clear messages through mediums which are most likely to reach that audience.

The negative comment about the yellow pages, in my experience, is generally true -- PROVIDED you are doing high-end, custom furniture and cabinetry. If you are doing custom kitchens, however, you may find some success there, and may even find success impossible without the yellow pages, depending on your market.

The crucial thing is the ability to put yourself in your potential customers' shoes, and ask yourself if the medium you are considering using is one they might pick up. If not, why would you bother?

The average wealthy client, for example, is not likely to entrust his or her new home theater to someone out of the yellow pages. Generally, they are not even going to let someone into their home that hasn't come highly recommended by a close friend, or at a minimum, by a trusted, other tradesperson.

That said, there are inexpensive advertising vehicles in almost every market that cater to the region's higher-end clientele. Think about local business newspapers, and specialized newspapers serving a readership with an ethnic or other commonality, in well-to-do regions. That commonality may even be the region itself. Who, for example, hasn't heard of Philadelphia's Main Line? There are several publications catering to denizens of the high-powered homes in this exclusive area.

Your goal with such targeted advertising should be to expose people to your portfolio, and you should be ready to provide references -- you'll do well, in fact, to volunteer them before they are requested.

And your ad needn't be high-cost. Even newspapers and regional magazines serving a specialized audience have classified sections devoted to trades, and those publications will often add a header with your speciality if they don't have one already, just to get your ad business.

One of the few ads I ever ran was in a paper with a large Main Line readership. I ran it in the classifieds, under custom woodworking (and yes, that was a header they created at no extra charge!). The ad cost less than 40 bucks a week, and read:

Custom is our Middle Name!
Noel Custom Woodworking. Your neighbors are our references. Call to arrange a personal review of our portfolio at no cost or obligation.

Then the phone number. I suddenly had more work on the Main Line than ever, and it got a whole new word-of-mouth thread (to use the Web vernacular) going, to boot.

I agree completely that word of mouth is best. But remember -- there are things you can do, inexpensively, to help the good word reach more people, more quickly.

Anthony Noel, forum technical advisor

A question was asked in reference to Anthony's post:
What did you do after you arrived at their home?

When I arrive at a prospect's home or business, whether they were referred by an ad or another customer, I begin with my portfolio. It's a simple manila folder with large prints of some of my work mounted to the inside, and additional, individual leaves (in matching manila) folded inside.

I try to show a cross-section of my work, not everything I've ever done (that can get to be, for the customer, like your feelings about your neighbor's endless slide show of vacation pictures). I also include a brief, handwritten description with each picture or set of pictures (a "set" never being more than two views). This description includes the customer's name, for example, "XYZ Company, Allentown, PA, corporate office in red oak solids and veneers," or "Smith residence, Philadelphia, maple sideboard."

Try to make what's included representative of different styles and clients, from commercial to residential. Let the prospect leaf through the folder, so they can set the pace. You only need to say something if they linger over a particular project, when you might want to do a little color commentary, or answer any questions they may have.

Don't be offended if they get halfway through, fold it up, and hand it back, anxious to begin describing what they want. You've hooked them, or at least convinced them you can handle it, so be happy about it, not disappointed that they didn't look at all your stuff.

Once I've measured for the project and taken careful notes about what the prospect wants, I tell them how I price my work, and that I'll provide drawings, a written proposal, and a detailed breakdown of the costs in a week or so (depending on how busy I am).

When to charge for drawings is a perpetual question, and we won't settle it here. But it is determined by many things, from the vibe you get to the extent of the project. I may catch some flak for this, but if my instincts tell me this person is sincere, I don't ask for an upfront payment to cover drawing. Once in a great while I've been sorry, but I can count the instances on one hand. But if I think they are just toying with the project, I always ask for something to cover the design time, in advance. However YOU work it, your goal is to be paid for your time at the drawing board, either in advance or as part of the total price. And whatever you do, NEVER leave unpaid-for drawings behind "so they can think about it." Translation: "We want to shop it around." Fine, but they have to pay for your time designing it.

My goal is three visits and two checks: one visit to get acquainted with both the client and the project, as described above; the second to propose the job and receive the downpayment; and the third to install, and leave with the balance. And that's generally how it works out.

Anthony Noel, forum technical advisor

I have a small high end shop. Over the years I have advertised in magazines, newspapers, and the yellow pages. I have printed expensive brochures and used direct mail. We had results from all, except the yellow pages, although the results came at a high cost.

A few years ago I began to print high quality color postcards of work in our portfolio. This is very inexpensive; 3000 copies is $347 (plus the cost of someone to lay it out one time) including shipping from Modern Postcard (800) 959-8365. Then we buy consumer lists from Info USA ( The lists are equally as cheap! We buy lists based on the consumers home value: $550,000 & up, and sometimes just base them on household income of over $200,000 a year. We have over 40,000 consumers meeting this criteria in our immediate area! I have a high school kid come in to label and stamp the cards, about 250 a week, give or take.

I get 1 job about every 1500 post cards. That 1 job is usually more than $50,000. Do the math. I have been working for several "postcard clients" now for three years and have done as much as $300,000 with one client over that time. We have the luxury of picking and choosing our work due to the postcards. Now imagine this in conjunction with word of mouth!

You already found it: WOODWEB, WOODWEB, WOODWEB. Our business has grown leaps and bounds because of WOODWEB.

Wake up you guys out there. This is a great resource for us all. Get more involved and watch you business grow. We did, WOODWEB is our No. 1 tool for marketing and research. Use it and watch your business and knowledge base grow before your eyes!