My current client base is interior designers and small architects who also act as general contractors. I do built-in cabinetry and furniture. The work that I am supplied with now is fairly steady, and 80 percent built-ins, but I would prefer to do furniture, as I am getting older, and humping built-ins into place is taking its physical toll. I work alone, and would prefer to continue doing so. I have been doing cabinetry and furniture for 30 years, four years as my own business. Design of these items is not an issue, as I do the detailing of the projects I currently get from sometimes rather abstract sketches supplied by my clients. Hopefully, those of you who have made a similar transition will reply about the shift in client base required, marketing changes, attitude adjustment, etc.
(Business and Management Forum)
By furniture, I presume you mean free-standing items such as tables, chairs, etc. If so, then the most important attribute you need to specialise in such items is to not need to make any money.
If you actually need to make money, then stick with the built-in stuff. Very few people actually need furniture built, especially to order. Why would they? The vast majority of people select their furniture from stores that have a large choice on display. If they are rich, they go to rich people's stores.
In every case, the store owners source their stock from wherever the labour and every other cost is low - i.e. third world countries.
I have thought of placing these in commissioned galleries, but don't know if that is the marketing approach I want to take. I suppose that would generate traffic and viewing of my work, but I have not heard of many positive experiences from those who exhibit through galleries.
I don't think customers buy $5,000 items through the internet, unless they are familiar with the product or its maker. I had thought of approaching several of the designers that I do work for, but the resulting conversation and sales pitch may be awkward, given the relationship I currently have with these people. I don't believe I can do all furniture all the time, but in trying to make a substantial shift in type of workload, I wonder how to market that which I would like to produce.
I have thought of taking one of these items and visiting every designer in town, and may still do that. I just don't know how to approach the sales of such items. My practical side tells me much what contributor J said, but I want to know if anybody is doing this and how it is working for them, what obstacles they have come up against, and if it is a pipe dream or a possibility that can be accomplished with some effort. I suppose, as a worst case scenario, I will have a well-furnished house.
Here in NC, with the flood of furniture available, it is difficult to find good clients, much less clients who understand and appreciate the costs involved with hand crafted work. Now, if you were perhaps in a large metropolitan area... the "eastern corridor" of NY, MA, CT, or San Fran, Chicago, etc., then it might be different.
I think one of the keys in making such a transition is in just how you are perceived by your past and future clients. A cabinetmaker who dabbles in furniture, or a furniture maker who dabbles in cabinets.
You have one large thing going for you and that is years of past (I'm assuming happy) clients. They are the ones I would go back to first with the "new" you. I would also continue to work the interior designers and architects.
Also, you need to build a portfolio of both past and present work. Very seldom does the client have a clear conception of a given piece that they want. We strongly encourage ours to browse catalogs, the internet, etc. to find pieces that, while not exactly what they want, might have a certain detail, base, leg, apron, etc. that they find pleasing.
I, probably along with the majority like me, wish I could say that all I did was furniture. However, not being Sam Maloof or Jere Osgood, and living where I do, that is really not practical. So we still get our share of yet another cabinet, yet another paint grade bookshelf, etc. However, these do pay the bills and we price them such that we do not even try to compete with commercial stuff. Many is the @#$#@ white corner unit that leads to a dining table, so we keep on doing them.
I recently posted an item in the Finishing Forum looking for tips on finishing a "surfboard" shaped form for an ad campaign for a company. We would never take anything like this one... except... the request came from the president who has given us several furniture commissions in the past.
Going back to my original statement about perception... It might be interesting to go back to your previous cabinet clients and ask them if they were aware you made furniture also. You might be surprised to find many of them saying "Oh, really? I didn't know that."
If I was making furniture as a professional furniture maker, I would get a product liability insurance policy. Maybe if you had some designers that really pushed your stuff, and a complete line and a thick catalog to give the designers…
Comment from contributor J:
I grew up as a cabinet maker's son and enjoyed the business immensely however, with the housing glut of the early 80's I pursued other avenues of income. The most work I ever received and contracted was from antique refinishers and restorers. They seem to have quality in mind and ask you to do some of the most unusual works of art. The challenge was always working from a picture or designing what I thought they wanted. The higher end pieces were made of black walnut or white oak lumber. I still have a desire to return to the industry, only in the custom made furniture or my own line of furniture.