Mahogany table, by Dave Richards
Woodworking, as in any business, requires that you have tools at your disposal that the other guys don’t have, in order to beat them to getting customer dollars. I’m not talking about a dedicated mortiser here, but “tools” outside of the shop, such as marketing, great designs, technical skills, contacts, and such. I’m blessed, in many respects, that I was able to bring a lot of great tools to this profession – a good eye for design, website savvy, a great mentor, creativity, and others. However, I do have a secret weapon – SketchUp, a CAD program, free from a company called Trimble (although Google created it).
For those of you somewhat familiar with SketchUp, please come back from running away from your computer while pulling your hair out and yelling hysterically, while I tell you why it’s my secret weapon, and how it gives me a leg up on the most of the rest of my competition…
In my view, successful marketing involves at least one major component: Vision. Vision is being able to get across an idea to a client, in this case woodworking concept. It’s not enough to say, “Yeah, I could build you this nice bookcase with dentil molding, a recessed cove, two arched cabinet doors, in cherry.” Does that sound really enticing to you, if you were the customer? You might be a great woodworker, but I’m sorry, that kind of description doesn’t get across the vision for this project that you have to the potential client. You need to bring excitement, and create a strong desire. Instead, what if you could show him a photo of the bookcase, customized to his specs? If you’re really good, show him a photo of said bookcase installed in his home! You could show him how awesome it would look, and would certainly go a lot farther in closing the sale. Well, with SketchUp, and a rendering software package (both free) you could actually make this happen.
This is the beauty and power, of Sketchup. Not only can you create dead-on mechanical drawings for the shop, and know for certain they will work, you can create photo-realistic renderings (turning a CAD file into what looks like an actual photo), with no software cost! Change the wood type, move pieces here or there, play with contrasting woods, find weak joint designs, or illogical designs – it’s easy with Sketchup.
Grand Mission Desk by Patrick Ashley
Ah, and there’s the catch – it’s easy for me, now. It sure wasn’t always easy. I actually quit trying to learn it once due to frustration, but thankfully, I picked it back up again and made myself learn it with a For Dummies book, YouTube videos, and help from forums. It wasn’t easy – but it was worth it. I’m a bit new to a rendering program for the SketchUp files, called Kerkythea, but am coming along quite well. The photo in this blog post of the side table, is not real – it exists only on hard drive. A mentor of mine, Dave Richards (a SketchUp authority) made this in SketchUp and rendered it in Kerkythea. You can see the beautifully stained mahogany, and even make out the top coat sheen – a semi-gloss, I’d say. He has the finished piece, and all the parts exploded.
With my Grand Mission Desk, I was able to produce similar results; had I really taken the time, I could have projected this rendering into a real photo, and fool you into thinking this was a real world desk that has been built. As it was, I was only using the rendering to present ideas to a client (he’s buying, by the way), and I wanted to keep the “set” low-key, focusing on the piece, obviously. I have the ability to show the client the desk at any angle he wants, change wood types or stains – everything is very malleable. Can you see how this could give me a tremendous leg-up on a guy that has just sketched something out on paper, or send a photo of a real desk with an addendum, “Just imagine it a little higher, with corbels under the top, and in cherry.”
Yeah, thought so!
So there you have my secret weapon. It’s a challenge to learn, yes, but I really am very happy that I did take the time and pains to do so.