Starting a one-man shop

Advice on planning a new cabinet business. January 28, 2002

Frustrated with the limited number of opportunities to design and build as a woodworker, I am starting a one-man shop. I will build custom furniture marketed at young professionals who want something unique but not absurdly priced. I have a small with all the tools I currently need for my designs, and this will be a part-time venture at first. Can anyone give me advice on how to really hit the ground running?

Forum Responses
My business is primarily cabinetry. Most of my clientele are designers and contractors, so the marketing is a little different. It is very good you can start part time, as it takes time to generate name recognition and word-of-mouth business (which is what will really make your venture succeed).

Put together a portfolio with some good quality photographs of your work (look into printing some 3x5 business cards with a few photos of your work on them). Yellow page and newspaper advertising most likely won't be effective, especially if you have no showroom. Put together a list of designers, decorators, maybe architects or art galleries, then try to set up meetings with them to show your work. If you can't meet with them, see if you can send them your card. Find good suppliers to deal with (even some large lumber companies will service you if you go about it the right way) and always represent yourself as a business when dealing with them. Subscribe to trade publications like CWB and Woodshop News--these can be very informative. Research artisan fairs in your area and consider renting a booth at one.

I strongly recommend getting your pricing down before you leap - something rarely done. Build a few typical pieces and track the time for all steps and costs. These can either be for yourself or future spec pieces, but get the numbers, go through pricing formulas and see if you're in the ballpark for something to sell before even mentioning the idea of business to people. What if you can't build things fast enough to make any money?

Also, don't take on any large projects initially - in can be a nightmare in cash flow, etc.

Yes--get your pricing down. You must know what it costs you to make pieces, and then you can decide how you can afford to charge. One thing you learn quickly in any custom manufacturing business: Few people share your concept of what is a "good" price. Something else you learn quickly: Drop your preconceived notions, charge what it costs you to make the piece (plus a tidy profit) and your market will find you.