Selling Services to Builders or Other Shops

How does a small solo woodworker approach builders or larger shops to get extra work? July 3, 2006

I've read a lot of really great information on this forum for the small shop guy. I've also read some good tips on talking to other shops or builders to get business. I have thoughts/questions on this.

What would you, as a builder or cabinet shop owner, be looking for from a small, one-man shop that approached you for business? I'm guessing that proof of quality of work would be one thing and proof of reliability would be another.

I have a small shop, (cabinet saw, festool saw and sanders, bandsaw, jointer, planer, legacy mill, pocket hole machine) and build cabinets primarily and furniture occasionally. I'm part time now and looking to grow the business. Most of what I've done is word of mouth, but because I've been part time, I've not done much to create a backlog. I'm thinking of approaching builders/cabinet shop owners first - what do I say to you guys?

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor B:
I posted an ad in the services section of a local paper. I am also a part-timer for now and I have as much business as I can currently handle. If it works for you then you get to keep all the profits rather than some builder who will want you to build cabinets for nothing.

From contributor H:
Years ago when I was out and approaching builders I went to the ones who had a long standing in business. In the process I ended up with only a few builders as clients. But I have found that the small builder (2-4 homes per year) have been the best for me.

And all you need is a couple of these guys along with your walk in work to be backlogged. As far as advertising I have in the past sponsored the weather on the local radio for a few weeks in winter. Everyone listens for the weather in winter. It’s good to grow but careful what you ask for. As a one man operation two nice jobs is all you may need. And an ad in the service directory is also money well spent in the beginning.

From contributor D:
I have a cabinet shop also and I build about 3 spec houses a year. I have a network of contractors that I use and it has taken me a long time to find quality dependable people that I can work with, for that reason I try to stick with those people. However, when someone comes on my job to ask for contract work I look to see if you have a professional appearance (Truck with signs, shirt with company name good communication skills etc).

Also I would like to see a sample of your work, a rough idea as to your price and any references as to your reliability. Then if someone were to drop out of my network, which they do, I would give you a chance. But you have to be persistent. Just because you call on a contractor one time doesn’t mean you will get his work. Ii takes time - some contractors will be jerks others will be nice but when they need someone they will try the person who has worked hard to get his work

From contributor G:
Sounds like you are all tooled up and have experience. I install cabinets. I have 3 custom shops I stay current with, and I also approached all the local kitchen showrooms. Word of mouth and a few solid contacts keep me busy all year long. There are architectural millwork and fixture type companies that need field installation. Some don't like to leave the comfort of the shop, but I got over it and really enjoy seeing all the different locations. Driving can be a hassle, and I don't really enjoy the setup/breakdown all that much, but it pays.