Who Can Make Money Building Custom Furniture?

To succeed in business as a custom furnituremaker requires a rare combination of skills and talents. August 3, 2009

I am trying to make a little income on the side and eventually turn full time with my furniture making. I would like some advice from people who have been successful doing so all advice is welcome. Some have told me getting commissions first is key, others have said to start with galleries and others say crafts stores.

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor R:
This is a difficult question to answer. I've been able to acquire a few commissions. There is a gallery not too far away from me, but with their markup and sort of low advertising and traffic, I'm skeptical of their usefulness in my case. If you live in or around a tourist area, especially if your area has a craft tradition, there may be stores worth looking into. Really, it is a matter of networking and getting the word out - publicizing yourself in local papers, participating in a local guild, that sort of thing.

I was able to get one commission for a harvest table from a woman I met at an antique store. She was comparing tables in the shop and none seemed to quite fit her vision. I gave her my card and we chatted for a few minutes. Use some creativity and imagination and you can build a network of folks who know of you in your area, and they can begin referring you. But it does take some time.

From contributor J:
First off, in my experience, you are ice skating uphill trying to make money with furniture. Galleries, craft stores, and commission. There are two types of galleries I have come across. One place was like a real high end craft store. They showed some of my smaller veneer stuff and it didn't move. I wouldn't do anything more than give them something nice to show and let them do the rest. What I am saying is they need to be your partner and try to find you somewhat pre-qualified customers. Offer them a cut of course. If they are not excited about you don't bother with them. You are bringing them money. The other type of gallery I dealt with was a super high end - off the wall stuff for tens of thousands of dollars. They actively promote an artist to high society. If you can deliver at this level check it out.

In my experience craft stores are for candles - not expensive furniture. If anything I would rent a space (only if inexpensive) in a store located in an area with a median income of at least $50,000 per household. Make a few smaller pieces and see. Make clear you are available for commissions. When advertising trade work to women you have to be clear about everything. Don't assume they will assume because they will not. To get commissions you have to get at prospects.

From contributor J:

It seems people are saying it's tough all over when it comes furniture making. I think cabinetry is another matter. Seems a good piece of advice would be to spend your time there. Incidentally, don't tell a customer that you don't think they are going to do any better than your quality and price.