Marketing Historic Preservation Work

Architectural woodwork pros discuss how a specialist in historic preservation and restoration can find and develop good job leads. September 8, 2007

I am a preservation carpenter in the Boston area and I am wondering if anyone has exhibited in the Fine Furnishings Show. Mainly I'm not sure if my work would fit in. As a preservation carpenter I am often making and restoring windows/doors and other architectural elements. I would like to use the show to showcase the shop side of my business with the hope of doing more shop work and spending less time on ladders. I had e-mailed the FFS with the same question a week ago but have yet to get a response.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor S:
Do some internet research and find who the architects are that draw specifications for historical restoration work and direct mail them instead. The costs of setting up a show compared to contact you will make for such a specific niche will be very low. In your marketing materials, put down that you fabricate only. This way all you have to do is visit the site once to confirm details and do all the work in the shop. There are plenty of carpenters who can do the install instead of you. If you do it right they will list you as an "authorized fabricator" on the CAD drawings; this way you have potential to bid the project no matter who the builder is.

From contributor A:
I visited the show once and exhibited once. I found that most of the exhibits were "studio" type of items, as compared to historical reproductions or traditional designs. Although I had interest during the show, none of the contacts evolved into any real work. I have since looked for shows that are specifically for traditional styles. I would think that you would be successful at a home show type of event. At these, people are usually looking for specific home related items and with the growing interest in restoration of old homes, you should make some good contacts.

From contributor W:
Contributor S's advice is sound. At the end of the day, you probably get paid more to produce product than drive to and from jobsites. I will suggest maximizing the return on your time by focusing your efforts in a few ways...

1. Decide (if you haven't already) exactly what types of products you want to produce. Most of us will choose those items with the biggest return on our time (largest profit) as long as there is ample market for them.

2. Identify individuals and companies empowered to specify providers of your unique product (i.e. architects, designers, etc.). In essence, get them to be your predominant sales force. Most, if they are truly interested, are more than glad to specify someone that will always make their life easier.

3. Create an effective means to reach out to those professionals and establish a legitimate relationship with them as a trusted supplier. There are many ways to do this, but my favorite is the "Lunch and Learn" approach as long as you keep the presentation to about an hour and make sure it addresses topics of real value to the client.

Once you begin to become the vendor of choice, you just make sure you always perform. The continued referrals and preferred terms will come.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for your thoughts. I was in our local home show this past fall but being the end of October, it really wasn't the best timing. I have yet to see any calls, and I had plenty of interest at the show. My best marketing has been to get the historic district maps from the town and cross reference the maps with the town assessor's page, allowing me to very specifically target historical homes of interest. Out of the 1000 or so cards sent, I had 10 responses, all of which resulted in income. I started my company 6 years ago. I am a one man show. I had an employee but he left of his own accord before I could recoup his costs. I intend to stay a one man show. Some of the work I am getting is starting to be a bit much. My marketing to this point has been for ground up restorations and custom work. My thoughts are to start marketing a shop division to open one door without completely closing the current door just yet. I am to the point where I have enough portfolio pictures from the shop and will be adding a few more over the summer. I am currently booked until the fall, which buys me the time to market the shop side of things. I would probably install most of what I would be making. I would assume that I would figure my shop rate for the install time since the shop would still be incurring overhead?