Report #3: Starting a woodworking business (Long)


Recap: Starting a wood products manufacturing business. This is my third progress report. See www.sonomaproducts.com for samples of work. This years plan is to try and do $5-10k in sales via Art and Craft shows.
Craft Show: I attended my first "Juried" Fine Art and Craft Show. It was a 2 day event in the downtown streets of a local upscale community (Danville, CA). I had just under $1,000 in sales over the two days. Note: More than 70% of the business was via Visa\Mastercard. I'm really glad I got setup for that.
What Sold: Plant Stands http://www.sonomaproducts.com/Household/PF-Slim-PS.htm Wine Racks http://www.sonomaproducts.com/Culinary/WR-Cherry.htm Bird Houses Night Stand/Cabinets http://www.sonomaproducts.com/Furniture/PF-CS-SC.htm End Tables http://www.sonomaproducts.com/Furniture/JL-ET-WO.htm
I like to have a few full sized furniture pieces in the booth, along with stuff more likely to sell in a craft fair environment. It helps to grab attention and it can't hurt if they sell. Well, this being the first real legitimate show I've done I had lots of serious lookers at the higher end stuff. My biggest single sale was a pair of Mission Oak End Tables for $125 each. Material cost is about $50. Took about 12 hours to build and finish the pair. So I'm making about $10 an hour. I think I could build 4 pairs in about 20 hours.
My other big seller was the little faux finished nightstand sized cabinets. I bang them out of cheap Pine and do a sanded paint finish or crackle finish. I use antique (repro) glass knobs and have a big selection of colors they can choose from. People really like that and having them sitting out glittering in the sun was a bit of a draw too. I sold the cabinets for $65 each. Material cost is about $18. I built and finished 8 of them in 12 hours. I'm making about $30 an hour. I think I've nearly maxed the productivity on these although I could enhance finish time if I was spraying the paint vs. brushing.
I had sold at least one of these little cabinets at the two previous places I setup to sell and at this (legit) show I sold 5 of them.
These faux painted cabinets weren't my first choice of what to build and sell. I prefer the hand finished hardwood items but this is what's selling, so I'll do more of that for now. The Mission Oak really draws too. I could never compete with China in a commercial wholesale venture but I think the plan I have to offer Mission Oak kits might be a niche that will work.
Next big show isn't until late August but I may try some Adirondack chairs in a roadside stand in the local wine country on weekends.
BW
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wrote:

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BW,
    Thanks for sharing. As someone looking at doing something like this in future retirement (many years away, I'm afraid), sharing your experience is quite informative.
    Good luck in August, keep us informed of how things are going.
+--------------------------------------------------------------------------------+ If you're gonna be dumb, you better be tough +--------------------------------------------------------------------------------+
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It's interesting what sells isn't it? When it comes time to figure your hourly take don't forget to include the time it takes to sell the product. Good Luck, JG
"SonomaProducts.com" wrote:

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Good point.
In my current business mode, selling retail, I am just doing it to put sales on the books. I want to sell $10k this year, even if it costs me $15k to do it. Beinag the retailer is really kind of painful. I have only had a little experience with it via eBay and a few shows but I can already tell I don't like it.
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SonomaProducts.com says...

Your reports are very interesting. I would guess most of us have toyed with the idea of trying to make some money woodworking, but its a crowded field and most people want to pay Wal-Mart prices for everything, even when they would be better served by a better quality product. And I guess if all it took was a workshop and $10,000 worth of tools to make a comfortable living, everybody would be doing it. My sister has a craft store and I'm making some shelves to sell there. I'm looking at about $10/hour return at best unless I can find something to make that is cheap, easy and gets a decent price. As you know, you can have any number of hours of labor in something, but it is only worth what somebody is willing to pay for it. The factory made ones (probably Chinese) that she can buy from her catalogs are small, thin and have a finish that will probably rub off in your hands, but they usually tack on one of those CNC made made carvings or other cheap tricks to jazz them up. She also advised me that most people seem to want painted items right now, especially with faux aging (yuck). I'm surprised you can do eight of those little cabinets in 12 hours. The soles of your shoes must have been smoking. I doubt I could have done half that many.
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I'm lucky to be able to get 1x12x8' Pine at an OK price and it really helps in the production. I work in a commercial cabinet shop so I have lots o' production tools and I design all the work out of the pieces wherever I can.
The only glue up is for the tops that are 13-14 inches wide so. The cabinet sides are 11" so I just trim a 1/4" of the material and I'm done. I use some pocket screws to build the box and have a commercial pocket hole machine; real fast. I shoot nails in some parts too.The front of the cabinets are a face frame and the back is a frame and panel. Front screwed on with pocket screws from inside and the back is shot on with nails. Some units have a drawer like hole at the top but I don't make any drawers, just leave it as an opening in the face. I add a complete bottom to the drawer opening so it is esentially a cubby hole type arrangement. Loose shelf bottom and cubby bottom all essentially the same piece of wood.
I do have 100% focus while I produce. The shop is mostly empty of other souls while I work so I can maximize my production. For instance I pull an assembly table right up to the TS, stack up all the cabs and doors right there too as I fit the inset doors into the cabinets. It's amazing how fast I can run through the units and trim the doors to fit when things are so convienient.
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SonomaProducts.com says...

Things become a lot easier when everything isn't one of a kind. Starting to think about selling things made me start to appreciate that it would never be worth my time if I tried to make everything a unique masterpiece. That's OK if you are making things for yourself or family, but you cant do that if you plan to sell for a sane price. That may be obvious to most people, but I actually thought it might be worthwhile to do a different design every day. Now I'm learning the reality is that it has to become a routine, dull and repetitive job to be productive enough to bring the price down to what people want to pay. I doubt that I'll ever be as productive as you are. I'm not that motivated. But it seems if you can find enough of a market to make $30/hr, that would be as good as most day jobs, even if you did have to buy your own insurance and retirement plan.
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Thu, Jun 23, 2005, 1:19am (EDT-1) snipped-for-privacy@spamcast.net (HaxPlanx) spaketh: Things become a lot easier when everything isn't one of a kind. Starting to think about selling things made me start to appreciate that it would never be worth my time if I tried to make everything a unique masterpiece. That's OK if you are making things for yourself or family, but you cant do that if you plan to sell for a sane price. That may be obvious to most people, but I actually thought it might be worthwhile to do a different design every day. Now I'm learning the reality is that it has to become a routine, dull and repetitive job to be productive enough to bring the price down to what people want to pay. <snip>
Just checking on my last thread, and saw this. Some time ago read about a guy and his wife making kaleidoscopes for a living. They do make some one-of-a-kind that are pretty pricey - but few of those appeal to me, as far as looks go - but they apparently sell all they make, for some pretty good prices. BUT, that's only part of it. For about 3 months, they pump out mass-produced versions, all identical. Don't recall how many they make, but it's a bunch, and if I recall right, they go (or went at that time) at around $30 each. They cut identical pieces, maybe 100 at a time, then another piece, until they get all the pieces done for a batch. They then assemble and finish them, then start over. For 3 months. Then they (or he) spend the other 9 months designing and constructing pricey one-of-a-kind pieces for collectors - and sell all those. The mass-produced version covers their income, so the others are basically gravy. Personally, I would think that 3 months of intensive repeitive work would really get old very fast. On the other hand, knowing you'd only be doing it for 3 months, and then be able to basically goof-off the rest of the year, would probably make it very bearable. Now, all you have to do is find something that sells well, and consistently. I wouldn't give up my day job right away.
There's a guy around here that appears in town every once in awhile, on Saturdays, with a pickup truck loaded with birdhouses, and sells them out of his truck. Last I checked he was pricing at around $25-30 each, and, as far as I know, sells them all.
JOAT Reality is not mandatory, it's just an option.
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Your website looks great. What I notice is that the photos with a piece of furniture in a room setting give it a professional feel. The nicer the surroundings are, the more it adds to the perception of quality of the furniture. Little stuff like a rug that looks like it was just unrolled for the photo can distract the viewer from that perception.
Nice work.
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If you aren't doing it today, I would highly suggest a cellular based credit card terminal to electronically authorize cards. This will stop the use of fraudulent or stolen card numbers (As long as the theft has already been reported.). An alternative would be to use a laptop with credit card software and a cellular modem.
If you use credit card slips and deposit them at the bank, you will be out your money if a stolen or fraudulent card number is used.
I don't know many people frequent art shows with bad credit cards, but it seems to happen everywhere.
Brian Elfert
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Thanks for the suggestion. I do take the slips at the show and process them at home later. Currently, my CC payment processor has an automated 800 number that provides approval using numeric input of CC number, expiration date and amount. If I use this it covers me. I had intended to use it for anything over $100 but felt comfortable enough with the two folks that exceeded that amount. Probably not the wisest move on my part but I will be carfeul not to take too much risk.
My hope is to only do the shows this year as a stepping stone to bigger things; so I didn't invest $800-$1,000 to get a wireless CC processor.If I start getting burned I'll re-evaluate the decision. I really don't like being the retailer. It's not easy enough to scale it up and it's sort of a pain. So hopefully I'll transition to wholesale as per the business plan.
BW
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SonomaProducts.com wrote:

May I make a suggestion? Assuming you would want to make same, display a piece of *really* high end stuff. Something well into 4 figures or more. Maybe a knock your eyes out executive desk. Display a price tag on it and a nicely done hand out sheet explaining that such items are custom made to specs and begin at $X.00.
Now, you aren't likely to actually sell it at such a show but it lets people know you are capable of other things. And all kinds of people attend those shows...even those who base their personal image on how much they spend for something. Like a custom made desk.
-- dadiOH ____________________________
dadiOH's dandies v3.06... ...a help file of info about MP3s, recording from LP/cassette and tips & tricks on this and that. Get it at http://mysite.verizon.net/xico
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I'm thinking the same thing. I have a Cherry sofa table with an integrated wine rack that, once assembled and finished, will be about a $900 piece. I'll probaby use that as a piece to draw in the clients. That being said, I am not targeting to go into the custom build type business. However, this calendar year, I will take anything that can put sales through business. I'm trying to build up some history so the banks will give me serious consideration once I go for funding the next phase.
FYI, I have had at least a dozen people (probably more) take my card and swear they would contact me with some variation of a custom request. The few who's numbers I took are non-responsive when I call and the rest have never followed up. So I wouldn't bank on this as a very viable model without some serious sales follow-up; which is why I am going a different direction. I'd rathet sell to business that are buying on a regualar basis and get them to buy from me too.
BW
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SonomaProducts.com wrote:

I wouldn't either...every business needs bread & butter work. The high end stuff is just gravy (for a while, at least). Just keep in mind that in good times and bad there are people who are eager to spend money for something they perceive as superior but in bad times, low end, discretionary purchases dry up.
As far as follow up goes, I have mixed feelings: it *can* provide sales but generally it is better to plant an idea in a number of minds; that idea will disappear from most but in a few - a very few - it will stay there and fester until the person just can't live without the product. If it didn't, Rolls Royce would have gone belly up decades ago :)
-- dadiOH ____________________________
dadiOH's dandies v3.06... ...a help file of info about MP3s, recording from LP/cassette and tips & tricks on this and that. Get it at http://mysite.verizon.net/xico
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wrote:

I recently put some stuff on up on ebay and I had one woman contact me about a custom order, and she'd tracked down my webpage even though I hadn't quite gotten my act together yet and put a link to it from ebay (I assume she checked the links for my pictures and got it from there). At any rate, I ended up with a $100 order, and she offered some opinions on what specifically she didn't like about other designs which was just as valuable to me at this point as the order. So they are out there, and they're very worthwhile finding. I didn't hear from her until a week after the listings had ended either.
-Leuf
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