Marketing a woodworking start-up

Some ideas for spreading the word about a new woodworking business. June 7, 2000

I'm starting up a part-time business and need ideas for marketing. I am hoping to develop this into a full-time business within about five years.

I have already made the investment in tools, got my tax license and taken care of all other associated startup issues. I have printed literature and business cards.

My work is mainly based on mid- to upper-end Shaker, Mission and early American furniture. I make tables, display cabinets, entertainment centers, office furniture and other miscellaneous items. My projects run between $100 to $2,500.

We recently moved to a town of 115,000, which is growing. From what I have heard from the few other woodworkers I have talked to, there is a good market here. However, we do not know many people yet, which hurts in the area of “word of mouth” work, in getting started.

I've won a few small jobs so far, but I want to be more aggressive with finding work. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated!

Forum Responses
I have located every free community bulletin board within a few miles of my shop, and I generate small posters on my computer by scanning in photos of my work and putting them together in a Microsoft Word document, then printing them out on standard paper. Then I hang them on these bulletin boards with a few business cards.

I stop by and check the boards once every week or two to put up new posters or cards and then forget about them for a couple more weeks. This does not take much time and it's very little money, and much more effective for us than newspapers.

Customers have let me know that being able to see photographs with the ad really caught their attention. I operate a small family wood shop with no outside employees and this has generated enough work for us, but might not work if you have employees and need to generate a lot of work. And this did not work overnight, but after keeping the posters up a while, a steady stream of calls started coming in.

I would focus on the mid-range price for a while. Sometimes we have to drink a lot of milk to get the cream. One thing we have done in the past that has worked well for us (especially in winter) is sponsor the weather report on the local radio station.

There are more poeple in the mid-range market so your slice can be bigger. Once some of your work gets out, the high-end stuff will come to you, especially if the work is better than what they've been used to.

I think you're in a good position here. I have found that, in some areas, customers stay with their current craftsman simply because there's no alternative.

There is a great book for businesses in your situation. "Guerilla Marketing" gives you hundreds of ideas on ways to spread the word without spending enourmous amounts of money. It has been around for awhile, so I am sure it is at your local library.

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Comment from contributor A:
Go talk to the local architects and decorators. Let these folks know what services you offer. Take samples or photos of your work. In the past, an architect would contact me to do a custom project like built-in bookcases, bars, mantels and in one case a series of six hand-carved doors.