Reconsider, Reconstruct and Renew Your Thinking

If you don’t believe you can you won’t

I am always interested in hearing people discuss issues surrounding furniture making and selling what you make. If you put your cell phones and computers away and stop listening to those who say it can’t be done you will likely do it just fine by just putting 8-10 hours of good work. Cell phones and computers save time in some realms but if you are a manual worker like me then they will more likely stunt your growth, stymie your skill building and stop you from delivery by keeping you from actually producing your stuff. That’s my view any way, for what it’s worth.

The fact that expensive furniture might only be for the rich and wealthy and no one will pay your prices is not the case. It’s all too easy to look for excuses early because it does take a few years to establish yourself working in your own business. Fact is people have to learn to trust you and that means establishing yourself with a good reputation. Handing over hard earned cash for a piece of furniture means your buyer must be able to see how you handle your work and your responsibilities. It can be hard in the beginning but soon they will get to know you.

I understand being strapped financially, furniture making in general is still a trade and most tradesmen and women are far from high earners. Though financially I might always have been considered a low to moderate earner compared to the ‘professional’ class of people who shower to go to work rather than when they get home, I never considered myself poor in any way because my work so enriched  and continues to enrich my life. Rich and not so rich, I have always enjoyed making their furniture. I have made many, many pieces as gifts, which somehow take supreme position in the hierarchy of reward. I think you would be surprised you naysayers in professional realms if I told you that people without much money will actually want to buy good work from you if your work exemplifies good design and quality workmanship.

Don’t be too quick to categorise people or judge them as not being able to afford your work. Attitude adjustment takes some work and it is not so much the customer but the maker. I decided 30 years ago to welcome everyone to spend time with me when they came to my workshop because I was a producing craftsman. The outcome was a relationship and a trust because I took time for them. I know, times money, it’s a matter of choices thst’s all. Believe it or not there are people on less than £25,000 a year single income who will save up, even for a year or years if needed, until they can afford to buy just one of your special pieces provided you have kept an openness in your heart and not closed them off. I meet snobby makers often enough who first look at the car they arrive in, what clothes they wear, how they talk and so on. I may have less time now than ever before, but when I made to sell, the most valuable asset I could offer customers was time to listen and understand their needs.

For richer or poorer I was always there and so was my work. I had customers that paid it out over several months and when they had given me half the price of the work I started making. They paid the balance out when I delivered. I do tend to get a little irritated by people saying quality hand made cannot compete with machine made. I tend not to argue with the individuals any more because they have made their minds up. The truth is machine made can’t compete with hand made in the same way IKEA and Walmart can’t compete with me by virtue of the reality that they CANNOT produce hand made and what that brings.

 

37 comments on “Reconsider, Reconstruct and Renew Your Thinking

  1. Years ago I worked in sales. Trainer said “ be very careful not to contract the most debilitating disease on the planet; negativity” He added “ people love to spread it and do so whenever they get the chance”
    Prejudging a client was a cardinal sin.

  2. I am one of those people that would rather spend a little extra for quality and longevity. I definitely don’t have a ton of extra money but I believe….. in the long, because of not having to replace a piece every few years ( which is all you will get out of things from Wal-Mart or other box stores) that at the end of the day you save. It seems like this is a “throw-away” world now. At least it seems like it where I am.
    With your guidance I’ll slowly make my own quality furniture.. .. and spread the love where I can with gifts. 🙂

    • Very much agree Brian. The ottamen, not sure if I spelled this correctly, is ready for the trash because the legs are screwed together rather than mortised and tenoned.

  3. I agree with you. I think it can be done. It doesn’t take much workspace. There are lots of clever ways one can get their name out. Local churches and communities are always happy to receive quality items for fund raising auctions. My town has street fairs two or three times a year.

    I think half of the battle in America is to control ones spending and live within ones means. Having no debt gives options and time to grow a business.

  4. I started in IT at a time when computers were taking over workplaces in a big way. Many people found the computers strange and alien, and very frustrating to use. Sometimes, the best service I could give was to simply listen while they vented. I never belittled or berated anyone. As a result, my users trusted me and I was actually able to help them.

    Sizing up a person’s ability to pay for a good piece of furniture or ability to use a computer comes down to the same thing: respecting the person. That, and acknowledging that a judgment might be wrong, or that the situation could be different a year later.

    There is an old story — whether true or an urban legend, I don’t know — about someone who called tech support because he was having trouble with some software on his computer. After several questions, tech support asked the user if he still had the receipt and box for the computer. The customer said he did. Tech support then instructed him to box up the computer and return it to where he bought it, “because you’re too stupid to own a computer!”

    The effect on a person would be quite similar if a craftsman were to say, “Go away! You’re wasting my time! You can’t afford what I build.” Even a cold shoulder could leave a person feeling the same way.

  5. Looks like the problem with images is still there in safari. I see you use webp format for some images and this could be the problem, because I see icons instead of image in this case.

  6. Just to add I too am noticing that several images do not load in Paul’s blog posts recently – in BOTH the Mail preview AND with Safari 11.0 under OS X 10.12.6.

      • Hi Paul. I’ve never been to England but was wondering how much people know about woodworking. For example, is it easy to get into conversations about the details of woodworking such as hand planes or other tools? In America, very few people care or would even have any idea what I was talking about if I started a conversation about raised panel planes.

  7. I would like to remind all that there is another unsung aspect of woodworking that is missed by many, if not all. That’s repairing and refurbishing furniture. Grandma’s old ” Chester drawers” is an important piece of family history. You taking the time to make it shine once again will immediately skyrocket your reputation. Your new pieces will gain respect.

  8. About a year ago, I realized I was talking a lot about ‘when I start selling’ and actually doing nothing about it. My wife challenged me to get on with things so I started off by opening a shop on Etsy. While getting the shop up and running, I spend my weekends and evenings making some stock to sell, took some photos and thought, “i’ll never happen”.
    Three days later, I had my first sale. By the end of the next week, my entire stock had gone and my shop was empty. I will never forget that buzz when I made my first sale; someone out there likes my work enough to part with their hard earned cash.
    I noticed another very important consequence of making items for sale; my levels of accuracy increased greatly and each piece was an improvement on the previous one. When people see the photos I took, they’ll often ask me if I will make something for them. It’s funny how things start to snowball once you take the plunge and stop listening to all those people who tell you why selling your work is a bad move.

    • Great experience Jon. I wish I had your tenacity. I tried what your doing and only experienced stress. Hope you continue to sell.

  9. Do you have any tips on getting started as a maker who sells? I’m finding that getting that first sale is rather difficult

  10. Ours is a small New England artists/craftsmen & beach town. In the tourist season the population increases from 15k to around 40k. During the season we also have fairs, markets & shows. Most tourists stand out because they dress like they just stepped off a yacht. Some of my favorite customers are the one’s who pay installments they seem value a craftsmen s efforts. Plus they wear jeans and local tee shirts.

  11. I probably missed it somewhere but is there a list of contact information (web sites or such) for craftsmen and craftswomen who subscribe to Paul’s Blog and who make fine furniture and sell to the public. Some of us may be interested in purchasing some of their products, especially someone in our local area. Just a thought.

  12. I sent for some 4 inch wide bun feet to go on a heavy old dresser .They arrived today .The feet are made on a machine but the large central screws pressed into them stick out the bottom 4.5mms . Where is the attention to detail when they can`t countersink them ? The screw has no slots and is banged in with a machine that leaves a dent . They will leave Several dents in the floor if I use them .

  13. Building something far exceeds the pleasure of thinking about building something. Sounds strange I guess, but your post is dead on. I began building small insignificant projects for customers 50 years ago. I never considered the child’s table and chair set for a doctors waiting room as insignificant, I put as much effort in the design and construction as I would if it had been a dining table for some high end buyer. Now 50 years from then the doctor has passed away, the office is now a business place for another professional, and that little 4-chair oak table and chairs has probably been sold to someone that I will never meet. And they will never know who built it. But I remember every joint, every detail and could probably build another today that would not vary much from the original. And that means so much to me.

    • Cool experience Dan. Interesting that your story is about an office because every time I go into offices the first thing I think about is how the furniture was made.

  14. I don’t have to sell what I make to make a living. I’m not thrilled with my every day job but I do what I have to do to pay bills, so woodworking for me is a hobby. I like to go to craft fairs, only 1 so far and I’m returning this Novemember, because I feel comfort and peace. I don’t really care if I sell anything or not. I just try to enjoy the event and hope people like or respect what I crafted. Don’t get me wrong, if someone wants to buy something or order something, of course I will always except cash; however, I don’t make what I make for money. Like right now I’m making a very beefy shop dresser and learning to master raised panels. My dresser will have a total of 6 raised panels. I’m finding that I only like to plane about a 1 inch bevel or a 1 and 1/4 inch bevel. I have trouble keeping the bevels level and looking the same if I go beyond these measurements. Then I like to make a rabbet in the back of the panel to fit them snugly. I tried beveling the back as well but like the rabbet better. Just a personal preference.

  15. Sorry, I need to write this. Showering before you go to work or after you work? I’ve taken 2 showers a day for my entire life regardless what I do.

    • That just means you are sterilizing yourself. 🙂 just kidding. It’s all personal preference. My father was an autobody mechanic so he showered at the end of the day to get the dirt off from a days work with hands. I’m sure it had nothing to do with the rest of the family showering in the morning before work/school. 🙂

      • I get it. Sometimes the blue collar thing gets a little much for me. I sweated my butt off working outside with my father in THE USA and always showered before we worked. Just couldn’t sit at breakfast at a diner with seal coat specs all over my arms because the shower the night before was not enough.

        • I understand, Anthony. When I lived in Texas I showered twice a day too. Living back here in the UK, after half my work life in Texas, and though I do still work physically hard, I have yet to break out a sweat in my 8 years back here. Even when I walk and run most evenings I still barely sweat.

  16. “Fact is people have to learn to trust you…”

    The bigger obstacle for me is that I must learn to trust myself. Will the finish I apply be durable? Will I be able to repair what I sell, whether a fault is mine or otherwise? If I do custom work, will I able to execute it? Execute it on time? Even harder, how do I deal with liability, tax law, etc.? I’d like to turn some spindle chairs, but I’ve repaired so many old spindle mortise and tenons that I wonder if that is perhaps a dumb business decision, especially if self-taught.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *