Breaking Into a New Area

A woodworker who has just moved to a new town gets advice on marketing his business. June 29, 2008

I have relocated my shop to the Asheville NC area. For the past six months I have been advertising in the paper, have a large sign out front of my shop on a fairly busy road, mailed out fliers to local architects, designers, etc and I'm dying on the vine. Sure, I have landed a few jobs but the phone only seems to ring every two weeks or so.

I am just trying to find a way to build this business here in the new location. If anyone reads this and is local to the Asheville area, and need some help, please let me know. It just drives me crazy when I hear you guys talking about billing out 100k a year or more as I'm just looking for a small piece of the pie. Am I wasting my time?

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor B:
You're fighting two main issues: First, you are new to the area and not a lot of people know about you yet. This is a difficult hurdle. It can take years to build a client base. It seems to me you've tried some good advertising schemes, and perhaps you just have to keep at it. Maybe knock on a few trade-related doors. Even just walk onto jobsites looking for the general contractor. Asheville is a great little city and had a strong vacation development economy when I was there about a year ago.

Second, you're talking "custom" woodworking here. That means you have a limited market compared to off the shelf products. A very small percentage of the population is willing to spend what it takes to get true high quality custom work done. Most people are happy with Ikea.

Most of the guys I know who are in this business started young and built up slowly over the years. It's got to be tough to move into a new area and try to come on strongly enough to survive.

From contributor D:
I am guessing that the cabinet industry in NC is pretty well sewn-up, and it will take you a long time to break into that established network.

Change your tactics or your business will die before you can establish yourself. Maybe come up with a standard product you can offer at a good price as a "bread and butter" product between custom jobs?

Do you do any finishing? In general, it seems like there are way more cabinetry shops and not enough finishers out there. If you have finishing skills, maybe you could focus on that to pay the bills, giving you time to make contacts and grow the cabinet side at a more realistic rate.

From contributor J:
Here is a tried and true solution that only costs you a little time. Find out who the local building suppliers are. I'm not talking about the big box stores, although their commercial trade desk can be a good source of business. Go to the local building supplier and introduce yourself and tell them exactly what you want to do. Don't hem haw around the bush. Be specific.

For example, "I'm a cabinetmaker and Im new to the area." "I'm looking for some work." Leave them some cards and then stop every couple of days, even if its to buy a box of screws. Let these guys see you and they will help you out.

Contributor B also has a good solution. Get out to the job sites and meet the supers and the other trades. Another good source is your local countertop shop. Same thing - shoot straight with them and tell what you want. You will be very surprised at how quickly your schedule will fill up. Oh, and for now, quit spending your money on ads and yard signs.

From contributor T:
You might also keep an eye on the help wanted ads in your local paper or on Craigs list. Contractors recruit carpenters because they have a problem to solve. The ad they place is a big signal that they are in need of some extra talent. This would be an opportune time to offer up your shop's services.

From contributor H:
Contributor J is right about stopping by the smaller places. It does work. When new to an area its not what you know that counts at first its who you know.

Next, spend a few bucks and sponsor the local weather on the best radio station in your area. This time of year everyone waits to hear the weather report especially the morning one. Try it for a few weeks. The response will not be immediate but it works.

From contributor J:
Someone mentioned Craigs list. Place your free ad there, use Photobucket and the html code to link some photo's of your work on your ad. You can make an ad look like a mini webpage, plus place your webpage link on the Craigs list ad. Place it under skilled trade. I did this about 5 or 6 times a couple of weeks ago, then I got a call and now I've got a nice Vintage style paint grade kitchen to do. There are a ton of people that do the Craigs list thing. Best of all it's free! Hit all the areas within 50 miles or more.

Hit the road and start talking to builders, framers, home owners that just started construction of there homes. Often a do it yourselfer homeowner builder that is doing there own contracting will listen to a cabinet guy during the foundation to framing stage, after that they have a cabinetmaker.

I like the saying "you snooze you lose". And talk to the stone guys, you know the granite countertop, and tile shops, work out a referral thing - youre often there talking to a builder before they do. Hand out their cards, and get referrals from them also, and phone numbers of builders they like and the ones that pay up for work done. You help them get work, and they do the same.

Get out there and take your cell phone with you. You will find work plus a lot of rejection, but then again this is the trade where rejection is a part of the job. Don't sit around waiting for the phone to ring.

From contributor J:
Just in case it is overlooked here, when you talk to these guys, talk about their project or what they do, etc. Try not to brag about yourself or your skill set.

For example, what do you plan to put here? Obviously, it is a kitchen or bath or laundry. Just let them tell you what they are wanting and then you can make comparisons. I think you get my drift. I've said it before and I'll say it again - getting business is the easy part. Keeping it, well, that's another story.

From contributor T:
After looking at your website, it appears that your primary interest is in designing and crafting custom furniture. I would think their is an excellent market for your talents throughout the entire area. This is an excellent second-vacation home market.

I would suggest deciding between selling direct and selling through furniture galleries. There are examples of both that seem to be doing well up there. In order to keep your up front costs down, you may want to start with the galleries.

From contributor X:
The name of the game here is socialize. Advertise yourself, go out and visit with people, leave business cards everywhere, join clubs of which you have an interest in.

Leave a good impression of yourself and what you do to others. Advertise yourself in the local newspapers and radio stations. When people become familiar with your name the business will follow. When they come a knocking than your salesmanship has succeeded, always ask where they heard of you for future references.

From contributor W:
I still say you need a hook. You say your shop is on a busy street. What does your sign say? Do you have a road side sign that offers something special like a great deal on custom built tables?

If your signage is like your website it says "I am a woodworker" then there are a ton of other woodworkers and you are the new guy on the block. What do your brochures say? What are you offering that all the established guys are not? Why should I, as a potential customer stop by some new upstart shop when there are a lot of established guys hungry for work. You need a hook.