Odd Client Question (longish?)

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Hi All, So in the past several months I have started turning my wood and metal working hobbies into the way I make my money. It feels good to be working for myself, making clients happy, and learning more and more about small business ownership. I was wondering if anyone has any advice on how to avoid a somewhat common problem I seem to running into.
So I was contacted by a prospective client, wants to have a custom bed designed. Looks at my portfolio and decides I am the guy to do it, though I don't think he looked at anyone else's. We schedule a design meeting and I ask him to bring some images, sketches etc of beds that he either likes or doesn't like so we have a jump off place. He doesn't do this, fine we talk some anyways. Seems he likes an idea I am currently working on for another client, though wants to look at some more mass produced beds to have a better sense of how to tweak my design. Fine. I quote him the very large window of 600-1000 for something like the headboard and footboard I am working on currently.
A couple weeks goes by. He emails me and says he went to go look at some beds, and found one at a local scandanavian design place that he likes the idea of, and wants to combine my project with one from that store. Says they have them for 600, so he wants to spend no more than that. This is when I start to contemplate dropping him. I want the commision, but only so much. I email back, as diplomatically as I can saying, I would love to work more on the design but that I can't and don't want to compete with the mass made products. That I will use higher quality materials, it will be made in town, to his specifications etc. He replys saying that he can afford 600, and could make 800 work. I say well lets go ahead and get together, look at what he has in mind, let me come up with something, and see if it can come in around that amount. I don't like designing with this hard ceiling, as it frequently means I take the job for less than I would normally want, but I like the work.
Today he emails me, asks if I can carve. Now all the other designs even mentioned have been very clean, very modern, nothing even remotely carved. Says he went to a furniture store, found a 2" thick 4 poster, carved bed, and was wondering if I could replicate with some modifications. Now I came to furniture through sculpture, and I can infact carve. But no way in hell I am going to carve a full size bed, for less than 800.
What should I do in this situation? Is there some way to avoid this situation entirely? Does anyone ever ask for a retainer after the first meeting? An odd question, but I started feeling like nothing was going to come of this guy from the first meeting.
Any advice at all?
Thanks Andrew
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Tattooed and Dusty asks:

Best bet: Goodbye, Mr. Chips. In today's world, 800 bucks is not a decent week's pay, and you won't come close to clearing 800 on the bed, with materials, labor, etc. Kiss him off. Politely, in case he ever hits the lottery and wants a bed.
Charlie Self "I think we agree, the past is over." George W. Bush
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Thanks Charlie, it's where I am leaning, but wanted to get some other thoughts first.
A
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If you have to severely compromise and feel that you're not going to make a fair wage on the construction, then I think you should turn the job down. Quote this person a price that you feel comfortable with, not what he bargains you down to. Explain that the quality of your work and the time you'd have to spend on his bed demands that you'd have to charge him $XXX. If he doesn't like it then don't take the job. If he wants carving, then charge him accordingly. It sounds like you're just starting out. If you take a job just to get a client, but break even or lose money, it's going to leave a very sour taste in your mouth and your woodworking will suffer for it.
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Work up what YOU think is a fair estimate. Stick to it. When i give an estimate to someone, it's pretty much the bottom line price. And it's not out of the question to turn someone down for not wanting to meet my wages in the same way that they can turn me down for not fitting into their budget. Also beware of the customers who are willing to spend tons of money on materials, but little on labor. --dave
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It is apparent he cannot, or will not, afford custom furniture.
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Do you know of any other custom furniture makers who will meet his price? If you do then you are being unreasonable. If the only competition at that price however can be found in Wal-mart or Ikea, then you shouldn't worry. You will never compete with their prices and you shouldn't for the simple reason that your work is of a much higher quality. (If it isn't you should probably look for a new line of work, but it doesn't sound as if that is the case)
Besides, $1,000 is in my opinion a very reasonable price for a solid wood bed with a decent finish.
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Come to think of it, $1k is pretty darned inexpensive for a custom bed.
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Tue, Feb 8, 2005, 5:59am (EST-3) snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com (A.M.Wood) exclaims: Come to think of it, $1k is pretty darned inexpensive for a custom bed.
Maybe when it come to being paid for making one. But, in my world, that would be way the Hell too expensive to pay out for one, on my income.
Which is one reason I am looking for ideas to make my own.
JOAT Intellectual brilliance is no guarantee against being dead wrong. - David Fasold
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There's nothing wrong in telling him that you cannot do it for $800. Don't feel ashamed for quoting a higher price, even if it quotes you out of the work.
I used to do web development on the side, and I'd quote some ridiculous price on a simple website when I didn't really want the work (just not enough time to do it, etc.). I worked with the same pool of clients all the time, and I did not want to turn down work outright.
Remember, it's your time, and it's your right to quote anything you want. It's a free country, and they can take their business elsewhere if they please.
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Larry Bud responds:

For sure. Tell him to check sites such as Mike Maxwell's (maxwellfurniture.com) where a spindle bed goes for over $1700 and a four poster is over $3000. And those are semi-production, at least in that Mike has had the templates made up for some time now. One-off designs normally cost considerably more.
Charlie Self "I think we agree, the past is over." George W. Bush
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Or check here
http://www.io.com/~colca/Home_Furniture/_Beds/Owens_Bed/owens_bed.html
and
http://www.io.com/~colca/Home_Furniture/_Casework/Dresser/dresser.html
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Andrew,
I'm a headhunter when I'm not woodworking and deal mostly with sales people. One Sales Manager gave me a piece of advice that really stuck with me.
Don't ever be afraid to lose a sale.
If you let that creep into a negotiation, you've had it.
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When I first meet with a prospective client, I make sure that they know what custom furniture means. When we talk about ballpark pricing, I tell them that a good starting point is to go look at a Very High End furniture store (Ethan allen is the bottom end of what I consider High end), and add about 10%-25% to their prices. I also make sure to explain that the product that they'll get from me is custom made, with real wood (there are a couple of places I use ply like drawer bottoms, but very few), and that they can expect to pass the items I make on to their grandkids. If someone is asking about kitchen cabinets (for some reason a lot of people think that furniture makers are cabinetmakers), I tell them that they should go talk to a cabinet shop (I have a couple that I refer people to), and that if they can't do what you want, come back and see me, but realize that you'll be getting furniture quality cabinets, which is going to be expensive, andis overkill because you're probably going to want to re-do the kitchen in 20 years or so.... (I hate doing kitchens, but will do them if folks want to pay my rates). Its been about 8-10 years since I had a client that caem back after the first meeting, then later balked at the price. I'd rather drop a client fast if they are going to end up not closing a deal anyway. When someone comes in and says "I saw something I like at (insert store name here) for $XXXX and I think you should be able to make it for about the same price, beacue I only want to change a couple of minor details", its time to have a short (15 minute max) discussion about what a heirloom quality custome made piece of furniture really is, compared to Sears or some other mass market furniture store. Send them to Thos Moser's furniture store (they have a web site too), and tell them to use *it* as a starting point for what custom furniture costs....
Its not worth wasting time on customers that just aren't going to pan out. If they're looking for a "deal", they've got the wrong idea about custom work.....
--JD

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Oh yeah, and $800 is way too little for a bed. a fairly simple twin bed using one of my existing designs starts at about $2,000 in my shop,and goes up from there. --JD

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T&D, Seems the client doesn't unserstand the concept of custom made furniture, of working with a craftsman, or the expense invloved. He did not show up with sketches at the first meeting, then looked around and set a ceiling, then comes back with a carving request. My own reaction would have been, as you did, to diplomatically explain that you get what you pay for. The carving request, hmm, give him a realistic quote, a time frame, and forget about it. Sticker shock can be put to work for you.

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when i'm designing a stained glass panel, anything beyond the initial talks and napkin sketches is subject to a design fee that gets applied to the panel cost if purchased, and is non-refundable. if they balk at this after deciding to go with you in the first place, then you really don't want them as a customer.
regards, charlie cave creek, az http://glassartists.org/chaniarts

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wrote: <snip>

Quoting my hero at http://www.wonderfulwood.com /
What we don't do:
Wonderful Wood does not beat the price of knock down particle board furniture at Kmart. We do not make things in lots of 10,000 for next to nothing (I don't want to make 10,000 of anything, except maybe dollars). If someone is already making what you want, chances are we can't beat their price. If you really want one, go get it before they run out.
Instead we offer:
Personal attention
High quality craftsmanship
attention to detail you won't get in a factory built piece
finally, and most important, customer satisfaction
mac
Please remove splinters before emailing
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Snip

Been there and done that. For what it is worth, I NEVER give a price until I have designed the piece. Yes some times I do a lot of work for nothing but most of the time I sell the job. Once the customer has as much time vested in the design as you do he normally does not want to choose something else. Basically my CAD drawings are the customer designs that I have modified so that it will work. If the customer demands a price up front I simply tell them "Ball Park X amount give or take 60%". If they start getting that crazy look in their face at that point we part ways and don't waist any more of each others time. If they start comparing pricing to a store's pricing I quickly suggest that they go to the store and buy that item.
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On 7 Feb 2005 23:11:31 -0800, the inscrutable "Tattooed and Dusty"

This it all too common for self-employed people in all lines of work.

Big DANGER flag #1!

Yeah, most clients want you to drop your first quoted price after adding new design items. <sigh> If you need the work and want to stay busy, that's an option. But _if_ you accept work like this, I'd suggest getting the -full- amount up front, after you've done the design signoff and have his signature on the contract and design papers. And always get at least half the money as a non-refundable downpayment (wood/hardware costs, design time, etc.)

Big DANGER flag #2! You have 2 choices:
1) Run away! (best choice) or 2) ask $2,450 for the bed. (He'll run away.)

Trust your instincts.

Thank him for thinking of your but gracefully decline. This guy would never pay the full amount to you, finding fault with this or that until you just gave the thing to him. Clients like this flew in directly from Hell and we don't need them.
-------------------------------------------- Proud (occasional) maker of Hungarian Paper Towels. http://www.diversify.com Comprehensive Website Design =====================================================
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