Marketing Tips for the One-Man Cabinet Shop

Advice on getting your name in front of potential buyers, including builder, designers, and architects. June 30, 2008

I'm a one man cabinet shop, and I need to increase sales, ideally in the direction of kitchens though I've never been in the position to choose.

To date I've done some advertising, most recently online (Google, Superpages, etc). I get a fair amount of traffic to my site from this, with an occasional sale. Additionally I have several local builders who I get a fair amount of work from, as well as the occasional repeat customer.

Many past posts on the subject suggest approaching architects, designers, and builders. I'm considering this, and I guess at this point my question is which of these three groups should I go after? I don't know enough about the dynamics of the process to know who is actually calling the shots - recommending/selecting the cabinetmaker.

People are typically very pleased with the work I do, but I'm horrendous at getting the word out there. So far it hasn't been an issue, but it's quickly moving up to be my top constraint, to the point where I'm concerned. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor M:
I typically work for all three. Architects will be the hardest to hook up with. Designers always come up with crazy ideas that are hard to make money at. Builders are the easiest to work for but they want everything done for nothing.

I normally bid most of my jobs through the local construction association. (architectural millwork). My biggest problem is juggling the jobs that I didn't expect to get or the contractor that doesn't tell you until you get a purchase order three weeks before they need the cabinets.

From contributor H:
I got training in how to sell stuff from a local Community Development Corporation. These are non-profit local groups that help small businesses make money. If you believe in the product you're selling, you're most of the way there. It sounds like you could use some technical help. You can find a CDC through a chamber of commerce, the Small Business Administration, or a community college. Marketing 101 says it all.

From contributor P:
I've all but quit doing cabinet work for homeowners, just too many headaches and my health has been very erratic the past six months making deadlines very difficult.

I have a small shop, me and 1-5 part-time guys who come in when needed. I lucked into a decorator/designer that I'm building a couple of small lines of furniture for and another that I'm doing a small run of tables for and another that I'm trying to finish some work for. The first one I met through a Historical Society meeting and that led to the second. I've met a couple more that I've done cabinets for through antique dealers, they just picked up my card off a little display I have in a few shops.

I've also made some good contacts going to home shows and talking to decorators and interior architects that are set-up with booths. I recently began offering furniture repair and have done several pieces for decorators and I believe I'll be doing some fabrication work from these contacts.

From contributor J:
If Craigslist is popular in your area place an ad there under skilled trade. Get some photos and a link to your website. I got a good kitchen lead after only about five or six postings. The customer was an out of towner that just bought an older home that will be remodeled. They where die hard Craigslist users and the other responders were tire kickers and just wanted a solid cherry computer desk for basically nothing. It's free so the price is right!

From contributor T:
The marketing approach could vary a little depending on what portion of the market you feel most comfortable in. Can you please post your website and then explain about where you do you think you fit into the market best. For example, do you make an inexpensive line, a high-end, expensive product line, or etc?

From contributor V:
When I was a one man shop it was in a metro area. This is what helped me the most. At that time I ended up with more remodeling work than new construction but I placed an ad in a community newspaper in the back section of the business listings. That alone pretty much kept me busy and for about $40 a month it was a good deal. You just have to run every month. It does make a difference.

The second thing was getting in to the yellow pages of whatever phone book is available there. That will also bring in a lot. Back then I didn’t deal with contractors. Now I do more with them than remodeling. But we just go out to job sites and we make phone calls and so far we’re doing well.

From contributor N:
I am a big fan of blogging to reach a larger customer base. Highlight some of your recent jobs and do a case study on some of your larger projects. Good pictures can only help your cause. If you have an area of special expertise, try writing a couple articles and submitting. Add your website to as many free resource lists/guides as possible and become an active source of information on related forums.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the responses. I should have mentioned that I do high end residential cabinets. I recently did put an ad in Craigslist but it’s too soon to know if it will generate anything.

I like the idea of targeting the architects, designers, and builders as they have a greater chance of repeat business. I think I may send out e-mails to local, reputable builders, followed up with phone calls to introduce myself and let them know what I offer.

From contributor N:
Don't forget the #1 rule of posting on Craigslist – keep posting! Post different versions of your ad in different sections of the site. Maybe rotate a few different versions so you can have a different ad up each day. Get into the groove of it and make it a part of every workday. Maybe check the e-mails in the morning and repost on Craigslist. Whatever you choose to do be consistent with it.

From contributor T:
I think that the electronic media ideas are ok and certainly easy to do. However, I would recommend a more "face to face" approach with the architects and builders. I think that you will have more success if they get to know the person behind the email.