All vocations have a pecking order, every company has a hierarchy. There is the newbie, there is the master; there is the new sales associate, and the CEO. The world of selling woodworking is no different; there are little dogs, medium dogs and big dogs, to employ some canine metaphors. There are also advantages and disadvantages to each, just as each dog breed has theirs. I have a beagle, and unfortunately, not really sure what her advantages are!
The guy that sells small items at craft shows. This guy makes a bunch of cutting boards, children’s toys or planters, for example, and takes them to local and/or regional craft shows, setting up a booth, typically 12×12, and spending a whole weekend or more watching people, and trying to sell to them. This is typically a guy that doesn’t make a living off this venture, but may be retired, or is seeking supplemental income. He might enjoy going to different venues and chatting with potential customers and other artisans. He’d like to make a few extra bucks, but it’s not necessarily his primary motivation.
- You have to haul your product to a location, set up a booth in a decent location, display your wares, hope for good weather, pray you are in the right venue for your wares, and make enough to at least cover your expenses and then some.
- Typically, only lower price items do well, in the up to $30 range.
- Your customers are overwhelmingly women, and not both sexes.
- You might be assigned a bad booth location.
- If you’re just doing it for fun, some extra money, there’s no big pressure on you to make sales.
- You get to meet people, see what other artists are up to, make friends, learn how to market better.
- Can be very personally gratifying if you do a good amount of sales.
- You may not have a lot of money invested.
How to move up:
- Move to selling online, with a unique item. Use venues like Etsy, which is essentially a very nice craft show marketing largely to women. Your time might be better spent creating a unique piece at around the same price point your’e at now, but you’ll be able to market to tens of thousands more people, and not be sitting out in the hot sun at a bad show, trying to keep your canopy from flying away.
The guy that sells online, moderately priced goods. This fellow will typically be selling craft show type items, all the way up to larger pieces, like casework. He’s more serious about making money on woodworking. He believes he has a product people will want, and is trying to reach out to them. He probably has a website, and sells on Etsy, eBay, or other such fee for sale venues. He probably doesn’t do all that well, and is frustrated.
- He doesn’t have enough marketing savvy, not does he spend enough time doing so.
- Doen’t quite have the top level skills or product needed to distinguish himself from others.
- Is discouraged from lack of sales.
- Price is an issue for customers.
- Has a larger potential audience because of his lower priced goods.
- Isn’t locked into a certain genre or product line, because of his reputation.
How to move up:
- Develop your skills. If you’re going to move up to the top dog level, you’ll be going against the best of the best. You don’t deserve to be there unless you’ve earned it. If you stink at finishing (i still have a lot of room for improvement), take classes until you’ve mastered it.
- Make and build you’re own designs. Yes, maybe you can make one hell of a nice chest on chest, Windsor chair, or mission style clock – but so can’t a heck of a lot of other guys – and besides, it’ll be the millionth chest on chest, Windsor chair or mission style clock – a yawner. Nobody remembers the second person to walk on the moon. You have to be original AND good. You might have the voice of Sinatra, but the song writing skills of Justin Bieber, to use a metaphor.
- Marketing, baby. People can’t buy it if they don’t know about it. You’ve got a website – ok, but is a great one? Really? If it’s going to be your storefront, it’s worth spending some time and money on. I know you probably don’t want to get into web design, so either pay someone to do it, or get onto WordPress (which this site is using) and buy a nice template that says “classy” and has earth tones, and isn’t too flashy. WordPress is easy to use. Keep track of customers – their names, emails, what they bought – if they like your stuff, they are likely to buy from you again. Occasionally mail out a sale you have going on, send a little brochure, anything. You’ve got a customer, keep them.
- Up your prices. I know this goes against your woodworking DNA, but you’ve got to think bigger. You’re afraid to price too high, because people will balk at the price, and go elsewhere. Let them. They aren’t the customers you’re going to want anyway, if you’re going to move up. People might actually buy more, because they believe that your (clock, chair, chest) must be good, because it costs so much.
- Learn how to photograph. Why bother building great stuff, if you can’t photograph it nicely? I’m going to do a piece shortly on photography on the cheap – you won’t believe the results you can get.
The guy that sells to rich clients, and receives commissions. This woodworker has climbed to the top of the heap – he’s proven he’s very talented, and can command exorbitant prices for his work, and has clients coming after him for custom work; so much so, that he might be backed up months, if not a year or more. He has a reputation in the woodworking community, and may even teach classes, writes books, teach workshops, or be asked to write for a woodworking magazine.
- May be too old to feel up to making big pieces
- After reaching the pinnacle, finds no more challenge in it, and moves on to another art.
- Can pick and choose what he wants to do; he can accept or decline commissions.
- He commands top dollar for his work.
- Customers don’t typically care about price.
- He can spend less time on marketing, and more time producing.
- Enjoys the notoriety.
Further reading from my blog posts:
- Tips on How to Sell Your Woodworking, Part One
- Tips on How to Sell Your Woodworking, Part Two
- Etsy and You, The Woodworker
- The $7,000 Lamp
- How to Make it Big in Woodworking