How to Run a Successful Furniture Business
One of the most common emails I get on a regular basis is from other woodworkers looking for insight into starting their own woodworking business. Some are just starting out as beginner woodworkers, some are experienced craftsman looking to expand, some have great full-time jobs and want advice on how to quit and move into furniture making full-time. All are looking for the how to run a successful furniture business.
I wrote this article in hopes of sharing what helped me reach my goals and shed some light on a realistic understanding of starting a woodworking business. I by no means want to scare anyone away from woodworking but hope by reading and sharing this article, people will have a better grasp of all that goes into a successful woodworking business.
Many people ask about my own journey into furniture making as a guide for their own path, but keep in mind that like woodworking, there are many ways to be successful. If you want to find out more about how I got started you can watch this video or read this article. My recommendations will not work for everyone and are by no means the best way to do things. They are simply what I have found to work for me in my situation.
- Get Your Feet Wet
- Be Patient
- Success is Hard to Measure
- Don’t Quit Your Day Job
- Innovate Don’t Duplicate
- Know Your Market
- Say No
- Surround Yourself by People Better Than Yourself
- Keep Learning
Get Your Feet Wet
A woodworking company is made up of 2 major parts, making and selling. Both are essential for a company to be successful and both can be eased into. Start slow and don’t bite off more than you can chew. Get started making and selling things on a small scale. Maybe this is by making Christmas gifts for family members, selling at a local market or opening an Etsy store. Starting slow will help you gain insight into the process of sourcing materials, labor/time requirements, inventory and what products are popular and what is not and how to market yourself and products.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is a furniture company. Many financial pitfalls can be avoided by acquiring tools over a longer period of time instead of buying them all at once. Every person’s situation is different but if you are patient, take your time and can bootstrap your business without taking on debt, I would highly recommend it. I definitely do not have the nicest and biggest shop but I own all my tools, my shop, and my property. I was able to accomplish this by going slow and starting with the bare necessities.
Success is Hard to Measure
You’ll be happier if you clearly define your own definition of success. This may mean only making enough money to cover your woodworking hobby’s expenses or this may mean operating a large furniture company with several employees.
For me, success means working near my family, keeping things small and maintaining creative control to build unique, one-of-a-kind fine furniture. I always fear that the hustle of trying to pay bills will cause me to compromise the craft.
Don’t Quit Your Day Job
This is pretty straightforward… don’t quite your day job or career until you are sure that your business is viable. Furniture making can be volatile and the income can be unstable. Start woodworking nights and weekends, move to part-time and eventually full time. If you can start your business knowing that you won’t be financially stressed, you’ll be much happier.
Innovate Don’t Duplicate
I love Instagram and I love seeing what other woodworkers are making. Take the work of others as inspiration and a challenge. Unless you are building someone’s project as a learning experience, try to make the design your own. There is nothing wrong appropriating a good idea and making it your own. My good friend and mentor for seven years, Michael Colca, had the honor of having Sam Maloof out to his shop for a woodworking conference. Maloof was asked, “What do you think of all the people that copy your chair almost identically?” (I don’t know that anyone can quite pull off an exact copy). His response was that it didn’t bother him one bit. He took it as a form of flattery. But he said that you weren’t doing yourself any favors as a designer by simply duplicating others. Let this be an opportunity to showcase your own personal style and design aesthetic.
Know Your Market
Do your research and learn your market. I often ask myself the question, “Should the market define what I make or should I define what the market should want?” The correct answer is somewhere in between and is different for every person. To find out, talk to friends and family to see what furniture they would buy. Go to an open house and see how it is staged. Read home, design or woodworking magazines to learn what is popular. Get creative!
Having a successful furniture business depends on having a steady flow of work. Occasionally, this flow can get backed up and you’ll have to decide on making compromises or saying no. Just be friendly, honest and be okay with saying no.
Do What You Are Good At… and Also Love
It is inevitable that at some point in time you’ll have to make something you don’t like. Don’t drive yourself crazy by making things you hate just because you are good at it or because the money is good. Woodworking should be fun, even if it is your job. Experiment to learn what you enjoy and what you are good at. If you love making cutting boards, then do that and make the best cutting boards out there.
Surround Yourself by People Better Than Yourself
It is important to build a community around yourself and your business in order to support you in the areas of weakness. I still have questions about furniture making and often drive up to my mentor’s shop to get advice (Michael Colca Furniture). My friend and neighbor Curtis designed my logos and assists me with all things branding (Neighborhood Studios). Another friend, Austin, helped me get the YouTube channel up and running and handles all my marketing. I couldn’t do this without them.
Michael Colca keeping a watchful eye over his apprentice Philip Morley. Philip spent close to 7 years learning from and working for Michael at his studio in Driftwood,TX. He learned many advanced techniques and was able to incorporate his own designs into several of the pieces he built for Michael.
Nowadays, the resources for learning about woodworking are nearly endless. Between YouTube, magazines, books, Meetups, blogs, part-time and full-time classes, there are infinite ways to get started in woodworking and furniture making. This doesn’t just apply to beginners and is extremely important to professionals in growing their skillsets. Take time to learn the craft and its history. Educate yourself and try new things.