Is Making Custom Moulding a Viable Business?

Can you make money doing short runs of custom mouldings? Experienced shop owners share business tips. March 26, 2009

I have been in the cabinet business off and on for the past 16 years. I am considering getting a Weinig moulder and producing all types of moulding to sell. Have you found that you can make decent money making moulding? I would be offering straight and curved moulding. I called one of the main competitors in my area and got some prices on their moulding. I really don't see how I can't compete with their prices.

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor R:
Back when I was in NH, I bought a Woodmaster and began doing short run custom moldings. I had something of a head start because my first customer was the stair company I worked for. They supplied the wood and I made moldings out of it. Typically, they needed 11/16" square cove moldings for where the tread meets the riser. In paint grade or red oak, they could buy it for less than they could buy the wood, but had to buy 2,500 lineal feet from the big mills.

I could make any other species they needed for $0.40 per lineal foot (again, they supplied the wood). I could easily run 200 feet in an hour working out of my home shop. That's a shop rate of $90.00 per hour.

I quickly bought a Veil knife grinder to be able to make my own knives, and soon was supplying them and others with a variety of moldings.

The big selling points, in my opinion, are being able to economically produce short runs and do very quick turnarounds. Customers will pay a premium for that. I used to sell to a business on Long Island that only did short runs with 24 hour turnarounds. His customers were contractors who ran short on moldings at the end of a job. He charged top dollar and got it because he turned things around quick.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. I am going to look into the idea of short runs as well. I have also been wondering about trying to get my foot in the door with contractors that would use larger volumes of higher end types of moulding. It seems like I should be able to compete with a couple of well known suppliers of moulding in the Atlanta area. I just have to get known. I was wondering about having a catalog printed up and sending it to the builders and seeing if I could get some response from that. I would be willing to put forth the investment, if there is decent money to be made off of it.

From contributor M:
There is money to be made in the moulding business. A Weinig moulder is a great machine to start with, but is just one part of the equation, so please look at the big picture. Not knowing your setup, you need sufficient dust collection, the ability to rip material efficiently, and a way to handle the waste. All of which can be dealt with, but these things can't be overlooked.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. Thank goodness, I already have a big Torit dust collector in place and running. I also already have a Newman 24" gang ripsaw in place and running. So the other thing I would have to deal with would be waste.

Do you already have a moulding business? And, if so, how did you get your first contacts (customers)?

From contributor A:
Call up your lumber distributor. They may in fact run mouldings. We found that it was far more cost effective to contract with our lumber distributor, who has 5 brand new Weinig moulders, than make our own. We still have the ability to do small runs with shapers, Woodmaster, and a W&Hussey. We concentrate on the complicated curved stuff and let somebody else run the linear footage. At the end of the day if you can buy a custom moulding for $2 a foot and sell it for $3.50 a foot for a few phone calls and faxes, that is making real money.

From contributor D:
I make short run moulding with a Mikron moulder as well as radius work. If I sell a job that is, say, more than 4k feet, I sub it out to a larger mill. I also run short runs for this mill and their radius work.

This is my sales pitch to the average lumberyard... I walk in holding a small sample of a moulding that I know they won't have. I ask "can you have 200 ft of this made for me?" They say that they can't have such a short order made. I say well, you can now, and I hand them my catalog. Works every time.

From contributor B:
I had a moulding business for 18 years. Take note of what contributor M said. I blew dust into a 45' long trailer and could fill it in one or two weeks when doing big crowns.

The mills may charge .10 to .15 cents per lf to run mouldings for you at 5000 lf, so there is merit in having them do some runs, but I enjoyed doing the work myself.

Don't forget flooring and flooring supplies like nosing and reducers strips. My last couple years were 40% flooring with a large percentage commercial white oak plank. Also I had most of the poplar blanks ripped at the mill. (Only had a straight line.) It takes as long to rip material (sometimes longer) as it does to run through the moulder.

We were a two man shop and averaged 2000 lf per day. The machine can produce 1800 lf per hour at 30 ft per minute but there are setups, ripping, knife grinding, material moving, deliveries coming in and going out, order taking, pricing, etc. I enjoyed my 18 years and did make money.

From contributor M:
I have a moulding/millwork business which consists of three moulders and everything to go with it. It started with an old Stetson Ross four head push machine many years ago, but it was a good start. It sounds like you have a head start to get into the moulding business, assuming you want "into" the business. What I mean is that you are not a cabinet shop making a few sticks for yourself to save money and to sell outright on occasion. Husseys, Mikrons, Woodmasters, in my opinion, are hobby machines for straight stock (great for radius work). A Weinig coupled with a good saw, profile grinder, planer, and eventually a resaw, will put you smack in the thick of things and you can run with the big dogs.

I don't think your target market is competing with the big supply houses on commodity profiles, but rather the custom clients whether they be contractors, cabinet shops, or happy homeowners (also look at the lumber suppliers, as they don't all have their own moulders). For my business we typically can't compete in the flooring market unless it is something really special, but we do mill a fair amount of people's own material to flooring. If you go to any mill, big or small, they charge plenty for custom runs. You just need to have good quality and decent delivery times and that work will come.

I do also caution you to charge for what you do, meaning look at your true cost, wood waste factors, etc., because you can be eaten alive being the low bidder. The only part of the equation that is negotiable is your profit and that is the smallest portion of the product cost.

From contributor N:
I checked into this a while back. I discovered that there is money running the bigger profile mouldings. The smaller stuff such as 2 1/4" colonial casing is a losing proposition. I could buy it at the local yard cheaper than I could buy the material to make it.

From contributor M:
Size doesn't matter - I don't care what you hear on TV. We have run miles of colonial, just in hickory, cherry, maple, walnut, etc. That's what a custom shop does, and it makes money.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor H:
I run a molding woodworking business. The total cost to be efficient is quite high. Items needed are a molder with axial constant, sufficient dust collection system, quality profile grinder with diamond and regular aluminum oxide wheels, numerous arbors, set up stand with arbors, knife steel, a place for the molder not to rust and of course a way to dispose of the huge amount of sawdust, sufficient electric power, a straight line ripsaw with laser, scale that weighs in 10ths of a gram (mine hundredths), lots of lighting and a planer to begin with.

Shortcuts will catch up with you fast however money is to be made with this operation but only if done correctly. Ours does 60% of our profits. Learn about all the ins and outs before buying a molder. I have spent $175,000 just to produce moldings so keep that in mind when starting. We have a two person shop!