Report #1: Starting a woodworking business


This is the first report of my quest to start a woodworking business.
Background: I've been at this a few years but this year I am taking it seriously. I have a multi-year plan to transition from my current career into a manufacturing business of wood products.
Plan For This Year: I have started to execute phase 1, the Artisan Circuit. I have put in applications for 8 juried craft/art/wine/food festivals. I've only heard back from one so far(the biggest) and I have been accepted. It has over 100,000 attendees. I also plan on attending flea markets, doing road-side stands and "may" try to get some products into the retail channel.
First Experience: I attended one juried show that was being held just across the street from my home. It was a Country Folk Art related show. It was not the best audience for my work and very poorly attended, maybe 2,000 over 2 days. It cost me $400 to exhibit in a 10 x 10. I sold $187 worth of items. I had about $3,500 of inventory on hand. (Case work, Mission furniture, wineracks, shelves, plant stands, cutting boards, mirrors, birdhouses, etc.) See pics Booth:
http://www.sonomaproducts.com/Graphics/Pic0.jpg
Case:
http://www.sonomaproducts.com/Graphics/Pic1.jpg
Case:
http://www.sonomaproducts.com/Graphics/Pic2.jpg
Shelves:
http://www.sonomaproducts.com/Graphics/Pic4.jpg
I don't consider it a failure. It was a great learning experience, I tried out my booth structure and validated my work. Many many positive comments. I also have a possible sale of a butcher block top kitchen island for $475 if I am willing to make one in Oak (I had a Pine one at the show). Then the show would be about break even.
Next Step: I am preparing for a day at the near by Flea Market; a huge, permanent venue that only costs $40 for a 20x20 spot. I'll add in some larger and different items to my inventory such as Adirondack chairs, garden items, etc.
Summary: I'll give more details over time. One last point is my production facility. I have struck a deal with a local cabinet shop. I have full access to the shop evenings and weekends. I pay $250 a month rent and $50 a month for supplies (sandpaper, screws, glue, etc.) If I have a big production run of items I'll supply my own screws, etc and I also always bring in all my own lumber, hardware (hinges, knobs, etc.).
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SonomaProducts writes:

facility. I have struck a deal with a local cabinet shop. I have full access to the shop evenings and weekends. I pay $250 a month rent and $50 a month for supplies (sandpaper, screws, glue, etc.) If I have a big production run of items I'll supply my own screws, etc and I also always bring in all my own lumber, hardware (hinges, knobs, etc.).<<
Good luck. It's a tough hoe to row, but it can be done.
Suggestion: next time you post pix, don't posterize the damned things...and make them a shade smaller for those of us with dial-up service. I can't tell a thing about the detail in your work.
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Charlie Self wrote: [snip]

These showed up maybe 3/4 screen size for me.
Josie
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SonomaProducts.com wrote:

Thank you...

Have you seen a psychiatrist -- yet? Just kidding....

That would be manufacturing... Whole different game with different rules. There it would depend on your ability to create designs that are "easy" to assemble with repeatable results. Whole different skill set -- more like engineering.

Pictures look good here. Can't really see the "close-up" quality of the work. Presume it's OK.

Isn't that a little cheap for custom work? Can you really make money on that?

If your work quality is what it seems to be this is inappropriate -- IMO. "But - one never knows -- do one?"

Good luck!
I for one really appreciate you sharing. Thank you again!
--
Will
Occasional Techno-geek
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Manufacturing: Yes, I design all of the labor out of my designs. Lots of fixtures and common sized parts and hardware. One reason I am doing Artisan work first is I don't have all of the automation equipment yet for high production, although I just ordered a Woodmaster planer/molder that will be used mostly for gang ripping.
Quality: Admittadly varies depending on the product. Birdhouses and Pine wine racks are banged without even covering the nail/staple holes. Furniture is top notch.
Price: When I sell direct to consumers I price between wholesale and retail. I can sell this for $375 wholesale and still make reasonable profit. Its not custom work really. I offer this in several species jut don't carry inventory. If I build her one in Oak, I'll likely build two more at the same time. I buy the legs wholesale, all straight cuts, pocket screws, clamp rack for glued up top + wide belt sander, sprayed finish, standard setups for building drawers, yada yada.
Flea Market: Yeah a little low brow audience. Worth a try I think for sucha low cost. There are many furniture vendors with permanent locations at this market and it really draws quite a good cross section when the weather is good. Plus I'll add in my garden stuff which is fast and chead. I have these Adirondack chairs that I bang out in no time. Make them from $1bf pine, sprayed with exterior latex.
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Furniture is top notch.<
You can't sell birdhouses, pine crap and top notch furniture in the same booth. You need to niche market a specific item. Go after the upper end of the market and stay far away from the flea markets.

This is the wrong attitude to have if you want to succeed in the woodworking business.
--
Rumpty

Radial Arm Saw Forum: http://forums.delphiforums.com/woodbutcher/start
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Rumpty wrote:

Which one? High end? Custom? low end?
Maybe... But it would make him competitive with cheap imports and there might be a _lot_ of business there.
Maybe he sees something others don't always see.
I am beginning to think there is a market for anything. :-)
Cheap burger joints sell lots of meals.
Mid range restaurants sell a lot fewer at higher margin and so on -- up the chain.
I did not _like_ the answer, but it was a _good answer_ and I suspect an honest answer.
Good enough for me...

--
Will
Occasional Techno-geek
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wrote:

I think you have the right attitude about doing whatever it takes. I've seen some good woodworkers fail at their own business because they are so stubborn about doing just one thing. You may enjoy building high-end chairs but if you only sell one chair a month how can you eat? When a person is starting out it seems to me the most important thing is to keep the saws running. Sooner or later you find your niche and your customers. Hopefully that involves doing the type of work that pleases you and that earns you a decent living. When that happens, you then have the ability to be selective and turn down the jobs that don't fit into your niche. In the meantime you might end up doing or building some things that you would rather not mess with. In time, it will pay off.
Good luck and keep after it!
Mike O.
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Thanks for sharing your experiences, I'll be watching this thread for furthur updates with great interest. Marketing is one of the weaker areas for most artisans, and current info is hard to come by.
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You said: "try to get some products into the retail channel"
All of your products eventually get into the retail channel (unless you expect to sell tables and benches to the Pentagon). If you can't sell it now at retail, how can you expand?
You are in an extremely competitive field (not just U.S., also from overseas)
Be careful how much money you have at risk. Keep it to a minimum.
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