Friday, March 1, 2013

Refinish, Repairing & Re-Purposing Furniture

It's seems to be the latest craze in the furniture world today; taking old furniture and finding a new purpose for it.  Over the past few years I'm seen a drastic change in how we look at old furniture, it used to be we either repaired and refinished an old piece of furniture or simply got rid of it.

Now I'm seeing new life brought back to furniture by not only doing a little repair or some creative refinishing, but re-purposing it completely.  Take an old night stand for example, with a little imagination, simple modifications and some fresh paint and hardware and you can have a very unique Vanity!

Now grant you, I've seen some pretty crude interpretations of furniture re-purposing, but then again, I've seen some really great ideas.  Pinterest is a fun place to search and find ideas.  That's how I got involved in all of this.

I no longer design and custom build furniture and cabinetry.............well, not as a business anyway.  With a small work shop here at home and time on my hands, I thought it would be fun to take my years of experience as a designer and builder and see what I could do with a couple of old pieces of furniture.

My first challenge I set for myself was to find "FREE" furniture to start with. (Since this is suppose to be more of a hobby). 

My second challenge was to repair, refinish and even re-purpose this piece of furniture for as little as possible.

My third and biggest challenge was to reprogram myself from designing and building new furniture to working with old worn-out furniture that you may want to change it's purpose totally.  I spent years building a reputation of building high-end furniture and cabinetry.  I sold to a very small targeted clientele base  and very seldom was any of my work "painted", other then some cabinetry now and then.

What a switch; from high-end custom to "shabby sheik" or "cottage cute" or whatever else they're calling simple painted, refurbished furniture. I'm not sure where this is going, but let's get started.

When we acquired this property about a year ago, there was a bunch of furniture in the house and even upstairs in the garage.  Well, we got rid of most of the furniture ( before I came up with this brain storm of mine), but there was one old desk upstairs in the garage for whatever reason I decided to keep.  I've been looking at this thing for almost a year now and kept wondering why I kept it?

This desk is probably from the 50's or 60's, made of oak, (but painted black), dirty, dinged up and downright ugly.........but there was something about the design that made it a little interesting to me, so I guess that's why I kept it.   So I've finally decided to make this my first project!

As you can see, nothing fancy or spectacular, but I thought it had good "bones".  Solid as a rock, (other then some veneer peeling off the drawer fronts.

Re-purposing was not part of my game plan for this particular piece; a desk is a desk and I really like the overall size of this one.  Not a huge desk, in fact the top is approx. 24" x 44", which gives you a nice work surface but small enough that this desk could be used in many applications.  For a teenager in their bedroom, a small home office or simply having a desk in a great room or bonus room.  Small enough to go to collage or maybe even an office for a small business.

Since this desk was painted black from the factory and it's make out of oak, I knew I would not be able to strip it and get all the paint out of the open grain of the oak.  There was no need to even go there, so what could be some other options?

Well, I decided to keep it black, but I wanted it to stand out a little more than simply putting a fresh coat of paint on it and besides, I had to deal with this peeling veneer on the drawer fronts.

A couple design features I really like about this desk is the curved edges, the unique single leg on the one end that supports the open shelf and top.  I also liked how the desk top looks like a slab mounted on top of a frame that supported it.  Even though the drawers where actually an overlay type drawer front, it gives the appearance of being inset drawers,because of the rails being proud between the drawers.  Somehow I wanted to accent all this and still keep the desk black.

I really didn't take pictures during the transformation of this desk, so I'll briefly tell you what I did before I show the final results.  I started by getting rid of those huge drawer knobs that looked more like hub caps for a 1950 Desoto!.

The desk itself I simply sanded.  I did not try to get every little ding or dent out, but wanted to make sure I had a good surface for the fresh coat of paint to adhere to.  The drawers required a little more work.  The drawers didn't open or close very well, but that can be expected from older furniture especially when they use wood on wood slides.  After a little trimming and sanding, the drawers fit and worked perfectly.

Since the veneer on the drawers fronts was already peeling and some was missing, I decided to remove all the veneer from the drawer fronts.  Once that was removed, I filled any and all voids with a wood filler and sanded smooth.

I removed the desk top ( the very top slab), and painted the rest of the desk with a fresh coat of black paint.(Satin).  Since the desk had a little more of a modern or contemporary flair to it, I didn't want to go with a flat back and high gloss as far as I was concerned would have been all wrong.

After scrounging around my shop for a while, I found a couple pieces of veneer left over from previous projects ( benefit of being a furniture and cabinet builder for 27 years).  I had some curly maple and another piece of cherry.  I had enough of either one to do what I wanted to do with the desk, so it was a tough decision which to use............but I decided that cherry is the perfect combination to use with black.  A lot of today's contemporary furniture will incorporate cherry with black.

How about a black desk with a cherry top and cherry drawer fronts?  So here's what it turned out looking like after a little veneering and some clear finish on the cherry.  Added new hardware and finished!

No re-purposing, but I did bring some new life to an old desk.  Since I already had the veneer and some left over clear finish, my total cash outlay for this project was less then $18.00. 

I'm already working on my next project........................this is fun!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Marketing; a few more suggestions.

     In the last few post I've talked about a number of ways you can market and sell your products as a small woodworking business.  Today I would like to cover a few more and spend a little time talking about how to plan or put into use some of the marketing ideas that might work best for you and your type business.

     Let's talk a little about Galleries and/or consignment shops as a possible way to market your products. The biggest advantage of using a venue like this to market your products is; it's a way to have your products on display in a retail atmosphere without having to own or operate a store yourself.  You do not have to deal with a building, overhead, how to staff it and all the other details involved in operating a retail store. Someone else deals with all that expense and headache and does all the selling for you also.

     The downside of having your items in a gallery or consignment shop is the amount of commission you will end up paying when the item is sold.  They can be pretty steep; anywhere from 30 to 60%, which makes it a little harder to see much profit in it for you after all is said and done, but don't give up the ship yet.  If you take into consideration how much time you would have to invest, the amount of money you would have to spend and considering someone else is selling your products while you are still in the shop building, then the 30 to 60% is not really that bad.

     This is one of the problems related to a small woodworking business; some times we fail to realize what it truly cost to design, build, finish and "market & sell" or products.  It's the cost of doing business.

     What's the difference between a gallery and consignment shop?   In some cases it can be pretty hard to distinguish between the two.  Let's start with Galleries; most galleries that would be of interest to the typical woodworker is something like an  "Art Gallery" or "Arts & Craft Gallery"..  You would have to check out different galleries to see if what they sell and the customer base they try to target would work for your type woodworking.  A gallery is usually a little more "picky" about who they allow to display in their place.  A gallery is usually looking for more unique type items to have in their store, so you need to realize that not every gallery will want to have your woodworking in their location.  Now don't get me wrong, not every gallery is so "upscale" that they will all snub their noses at you, because there are a lot of places that call themselves a gallery, but really more of a basic consignment shop and I'll cover that in a couple minutes.

     As an example; I love building band saw boxes and I've designed some pretty unique ones over the years,so I decided I would try to find a couple galleries to display some of my boxes in.  I talked to a number of galleries before I found one that showed interest, but that was a little skeptical interest to say the least.  They had never displayed anything like that before, so was willing to give my work a try, but only a few to start with.  They allowed me to put 6  boxes in their gallery to start with and they said they would give it a couple months to see how their customers would react.   I really wanted to display in this gallery because they where well known in the area and promoted a number of different artist.

     At the end of the first month, I received a commission check for three boxes they had sold, with a little note attached to the check that they would like me to restock to replace the three that had sold, but also I could bring more if I wanted.   It was a win win for everyone, but it still came with some draw backs.  One of their stipulations was; I had to sign a non-compete clause that they had exclusive rights to display and sell my boxes within a 50 mile radius and I could not have any of my work in another location within that radius of their gallery.  So........even though they did a great job of selling my work, they also tied my hands when it came to having my work in other locations in the area.  Every gallery is different, so make sure you understand everything that will be required of you before you job to a chance to have some of your work on display.

     Consignment shops in general are usually not as picky about having you display at their location.  They work on the same premise as a gallery.  You put your inventory in their location, but they do not pay for it until it's sold.  They take their commission and send you the balance.  The reason a consignment shop is not as particular as say most galleries is they are targeting and selling to a totally different customer base.  A consignment shop is targeting more for the masses and the gallery is a much more targeted customer base.

     Some consignment shops will display your items randomly throughout their store, or some you can actually rent a booth or space within the store and display strictly your items, depending on the size of the store and how they like to operate.  Some consignment shops make their money more on selling booth space then the actual merchandise, so you have to be a little careful.  Some could care less whether "you" sell anything during the month or not, you still have to pay a monthly booth fee and that can be pretty expensive (especially if you're not selling anything during the month).

     There's a lot more to galleries and consignment shops and you have to realize each and everyone will operate differently.  Check each and everyone out, see what their location is like, what kind of traffic they have on a weekly bases, what kind of merchandise is displayed and sold, what type customer may frequent their location and would your type woodworking be able to be sold in a location like that.  Make sure you understand all their terms before you sign up for anything.   It's also a good idea to talk to some of the other artist or vendors that may have displays at that location and see what their experience has been like.

     One more thing to consider when trying to decide if a gallery or consignment shop might work for you is the distance that may be involved in finding a gallery or consignment shop.  It's not that hard to have inventory in a shop that's a 100+ miles away, but you will still have to consider how often you may have to visit their location to either check on your display or restock.....and if you're going to be that far away, make sure it's a place of business that's well established and trusted. 

     I had a gallery close and go out of business and conveniently forgot to tell any of the artist.  I was lucky and was told by a friend about the closing and was able to get my inventory back by going to the sheriff's office with all my documentation of what was there on consignment.

     Selling Wholesale; one more way to sell your product.  You may want to consider selling your product as a wholesaler.  That's basically finding a retail store or chain to carry your product and you sell to them in volume.  Usually selling wholesale requires you to be able to produce and supply larger quantities of inventory at a time and being able to sell it at a much reduced rate.  Usually when a retail store buys their inventory wholesale, they want to be able to double the cost for a retail price, another words, if the retail value of a product is $100 they expect to be able to buy it for approx. $50.00.


    As you can see, there are many ways to market and sell your woodworking projects if you're willing to put the time in effort into marketing.  There are many more ways to market but for now, let's just sum up what we have already talked about and how to decide which type marketing might work best for you.

     I'm going to list a few things you need to consider when trying to determine the best marketing strategy for you. 
  • What's your marketing budget?  One of the first things you have to realize when it comes to selling your woodworking, marketing will need to be a large part of your overall business.  You will find out that you need to spend almost as much time marketing as the actual time in building your product. You just can't pick one form of marketing and only do it one time and expect to have everlasting sales. Business doesn't work that way and especially when it comes to selling your woodworking.
  • What do you build and want to sell?  Your type of woodworking may play a role in how you market or where you market your product.
  •  How many of each item do you expect to sell or need to sell to have a profitable business? I would guess you would need to sell a lot more $20.00 items then if you were selling $5,000.00 pieces.
  •  Who is your Customer?  Do you have a product and price point that can be sold to the mass majority of buyers or do you have to target your market more closely?    You really need to understand who will be your customer base so you will know the best way to reach them.
  •  Can you sell enough locally or do you need to sell world-wide?  Do you live in an area that can support your type woodworking within a reasonable distance, or will you need to reach out further to find your customer base and if so, how far?
  • Can you ship your product easily? It's obvious you can ship a small object pretty easily and in-expensively, but if you're selling large items like furniture or cabinetry, shipping or delivery is something you will need to consider.
  • Can your product be sold simply from a picture?  Certain items and certain price points can be sold pretty easily from a brief description and a picture, but the more details and higher the price the harder it will be to sell strictly from a picture.
  • Can you sell your product better yourself?  Again, some products pretty much sell themselves, but others will require someone to actually describe and sell a product.  Would you rather do that selling yourself or leave it up to someone else?
  • Would you consider selling Wholesale?  
  • Would you consider selling @ shows?
  • Would you consider Galleries or Consignment Shops?
As you can see, one type marketing may not work for some type of woodworking, so you have to figure out what is best for your line of products and like I've said before, never rely on only one source of marketing to generate your sales.

Word of mouth advertising can be one of the best forms of marketing, but it takes a long time to build a customer base to be able to depend on that (and that alone will not support a business).  The more types of marketing you can incorporate into your business, the more sales you will be able to create and if one slows down the other forms of marketing helps to maintain constant sales.

 Company name, Logo, Company sign, business cards, brochures, rack cards, flyers, ads, internet ( web-site, blogs, face book, pinterest or online stores), retail stores, shows, galleries, consignment shops and  wholesale just to mention a few.

 Market, market, market and you will see your sales grow.



Thursday, February 14, 2013

Marketing; How to market and sell @ shows

     I probably have more experience in this area as any when it comes to marketing and selling.  I have always felt the best way to market my type of woodworking was through direct selling and that would be doing Home Shows or someplace I could have a display and talk to the prospective customer face to face.
     There was no way for me to have a retail store for my furniture.  Didn't see how I could build and sell that much furniture each month to afford to pay to have a store and hire employee's to run it while I was building. Besides, when you are designing and building custom furniture and high end cabinetry, I would rather be talking to the customer myself and not relying on someone else to know what I could design and build and sell.
     Even though I started off as a very shy and bashful type guy, I realized that was one of my weaknesses when it came to business so I worked very hard for years to overcome that and make selling one of my strengths.
      I would like to talk about actually selling at a show, whether it be something like a large Home & Garden show or a small outdoor craft show, you need to approach each with the same professional effort if you expect to get the results you are looking for.

     Pick the right show for your type of woodworking!  If you've never had a display at a show before, then I would suggest you attend a couple before actually trying to set up and sell at one.  Try to pick a show that you think would attract the type customer that would be interested in your woodworking. There are thousands of shows all over the country during the year, so pick a couple and attend.  You may have to drive a little to get to some of the decent shows, but so do prospective customers.  The better the show the further the Vendors and customers will travel to attend. 

     The reason I suggest you go to a show or two before you actually try selling at one is simply to go and learn.  Walk through the show at least three times.  The first time you walk through the show take notice of each booth (not what they are selling, but their booth in general).  Pay attention to what catches your eye, what you may like about their booth or don't like about it.  Does it look professional, does it draw you to it or did you just walk by it without paying it much attention.  Would you like to have a booth like that or do you think you could do better.  After a while, you will begin to realize that it only takes you about 7 seconds to walk by a booth and within that time, you decide whether you like what you saw or didn't.  I'll talk about that a little more later on.  When you have walked the entire show, take a break and think about each of the booths that really caught your eye and why.

     Now it's time to walk through the show again; this time I want you to pay attention to what they are selling and again if it catches your eye and why.  Is it simply because it's something you might be interested in or does it have something to do with the way things are displayed.  Is it easy to stop and look at things without feeling trapped or in the way, where the sales people friendly and inviting or did you find some that seemed like they really weren't interested in being there and you were actually bothering them while they talked on their cell phone or was reading a book or eating.    When you have walked the entire show for the second time, take a break and think about each of the booths again and see if any of the ones that caught your attention the first time where some of the same ones that caught your attention again.

    Now let's walk through that same show for a third time and this time watch the crowd.  How are they reacting to the different booths and are they paying attention to the same booths that might of caught your attention on the first or second time through?  Take a break, I'm sure you're tired by now, but if you paid attention, you will probably see that some of the booths will attract more people then others and if you pay real close attention, you will probably realize that it's not just one thing that attracts people to a booth or display, but many things.

     Everything you did while going through the show was done consciously, but when the average shopper is walking through a show, everything they do is more sub-consciously.  They're not really thinking about it, they are just reacting to what they see and how they feel and that's what you have to understand if you want to have a successful show when it comes time for you to sell at one.
     Now you're ready to do your first show; like I said before, make sure you pick a show that best fits your products and the customers that will attend.  Make sure you have a professional way of displaying your work.  If you are doing an outdoor show, make sure you prepare for all types of weather.  Make sure you have a good way of securing things in your display and protecting everything from the elements,.  Will you need electricity?  Don't wait to the last minute to go and set up at a show.  That's the best way to forget something or end up with a display that looks incomplete or unprofessional.

     I would recommend that you actually set your display up at home before you ever go to the show itself. Get used to setting it up and taking it down at home first, it's easier to work out all the details of setting up at home instead of waiting the last minute at the show.  Make sure you have a professional way to display your products, that you have all the sales materials you need; business cards, brochures, sales tax chart, payment methods, cash drawer and change and enough inventory to have a very successful show.  It's always better to have too much inventory then run out before the show is over.

     So here are a few tips to keep in mind when working a show.  These simple tips can make or break a show for you and you may not even realize it.

     Tip#1: It's called the 7 second rule!  I mentioned it earlier.  That's approximately the length of time it takes someone to walk past your booth or display.  That's all the time you have to catch their eye, create interest or curiosity and give someone a reason to stop at your booth.  I've said it many times before and I'll say it again; you only get one chance for a first impression and in this case about 7 seconds at the most.

     How do you catch their eye, create interest or curiosity and give them a reason to stop at your booth?  Whenever I do a show, I always go as early as possible to set up so I have plenty of time to critique my booth after I have it set up and before a show starts.  Once my booth is set up I will always walk the isles in every direction approaching my booth to see how it looks from a customer's perspective.  If it looks cluttered or something is hidden from one direction, I will try to change my display to maximize my exposure for those 7 seconds it takes to walk past my booth.  Critique yourself and your booth.  Make sure the prospective customer sees what you want them to see when they walk up to your booth.

     Tip #2  Make sure you have a professional looking sign made for your booth or display.  Most shows that have booths will supply a generic cardboard sign for each exhibitor.  You should never use that sign, it automatically puts you in the same class as the other exhibitors and that's the last thing you want to do.  You want to stand out, not blend.
     This is the sign hanging in my shop, but it's also the sign I use at every show and I built it for that purpose.  I built this sign from scrapes I had lying around the shop, so as you can see, you can make a very professional looking sign without spending a fortune.  Once I had the sign built and finished, I took it to a professional sign company to have the lettering done (vinyl letters).  It didn't cost that much and I would much rather have a sign like this representing my company then a generic cardboard sign that looks like everyone else.  Heck, I even wired the sign for lights with a dimmer switch to create the exact look I want for it to stand out.

          When I'm set up at a show, nobody has a problem figuring out who I am.  If you look at my sign though, you will see there is no address or phone number on it.  Wondering why?  Remember earlier when I said you have approximately 7 seconds to catch their eye, create interest or "curiosity" and give someone a reason to stop at your booth?  Why put all your information on the sign?  They can't take it with them.
      My sign is very professional looking; it really stands out and catches your eye.  Every show I will have a number of people stop just to ask where I'm from or where my business is located:  Bingo; curiosity and I just happen to have a business card or brochure to hand them with all the information on it, but more importantly, I'm now in a conversation with them.   Starting a conversation with someone at a show is sometimes the hardest thing to do, especially if you're not real comfortable with sales.

Tip#3:  Whatever you're selling, make sure you have professional looking displays.  I know, you're getting tired of hearing professional this and professional that, but hey, if you want to have a successful show and a successful woodworking business, then you need to look and act like one.  Do not take your wobbly old card table and throw a kitchen table cloth on it and call that a display.  Cinder blocks and 2 x 10's are just as bad.  Look, you're a woodworker, you should be able to build something special to showcase your products.  That's all part of marketing!      Make that first impression count!

Tip#4:   Never leave your booth or display unattended.  If no one is working your booth, that means you're closed, so why bother doing a show.

Tip#5:  Never ever stand in your booth with your arms folded across your chest:  Nothing says "I'm bored, don't bother me" faster then standing there with your arms folded.  Sitting there and reading a book waiting for someone to stop by has the same affect.  Remember Tip#1?

Tip#6:  Cell phones; leave them turned off and out of sight.  Don't flatter yourself thinking you're looking important or you're closing deals on the phone while standing in your booth.  If that is the case, then you might as well go out in the parking lot and conduct business, because you're ignoring the ones that are in front of you. ( that 7 second rule)!   Texting is even worse!

Tip#7:  No eating in your booth or display.  It's a proven fact that most people will continue walking by if they see you eating because they don't want to bother you.  Nothing will destroy your first impression in less then 7 seconds then a mouth full of food, or some mayonnaise smeared on the corner of your mouth, except maybe standing there with your arms folded across your chest or reading a book, or talking on your cell phone.  If you ever have any doubts about whether you should or shouldn't do something at a show, always refer back to chance to make a first impression and less then 7 seconds to get it done!

Tip #8:  Never start taking your booth down before the show is over.  Again; nothing will destroy your image faster then acting like you can't wait to get away from there.  I've closed some great deals the last five minutes of the show or even after closing.  If you're in that big of a hurry to get away, then maybe you shouldn't do a show in the first place.

     The last bit of advice I would like to leave you with about shows and this also goes along with selling in general.  Take the time to critique yourself after the show or after a sale (especially if you didn't get the sale).

     If you had a very successful show; ask yourself why?  Not every show is going to be successful, and not every bad show is your fault, but don't be afraid to ask yourself if there was something you could have done better or different that might of made a difference.  You may not be able to control the weather or the time of the year the show is held, but if it's something you did or didn't do, then you can change that if you're willing to be honest with yourself.

     And you shouldn't rate a show strictly by how many items you sold.  Not only are you selling at a show, but you should be laying a solid foundation for future sales.  How many people did you talk to? How did they respond to you and your product?  Did you pass out all your business cards and brochures? 

     My wife could always tell how successful a show was for me by how horse my voice was when I got home from a show.   The more people you talk to, the more business cards and brochures you hand out, the better chance for a sale or future sale.    I've had many people call 2 years later and talk to me about a project, simply from talking to me at a show and handing them one of my business cards.

   Go to a show to have fun, enjoy the crowd and get involved with the people. Selling has a lot to do with Attitude and attitude's are contagious.............Is yours one that you would want others to have?



Friday, February 8, 2013

Marketing; internet con't

     I probably got a little carried away yesterday when talking about a web-site for your business and having it done by a professional, but it is something I'm pretty passionate about.  Not for all the same reasons I'm so passionate about business cards, but I feel these are two areas that either get overlooked, taken for granted or we want to cut corners on.

     How much should we spend on marketing?  Maybe I should have covered this in the very first segment on marketing, but I feel you will better understand the cost of marketing now that we've talked about a few of the different ways to market you and your business and I'm sure you've already had a few doubts about what I've mentioned so far.  I'm referring to having your business cards done professionally, having a web-site done professionally and that all cost MONEY! 

You're right; marketing can be very expensive, but it is a necessary evil if you want to generate sales for your business.  You should probably plan on spending about 8% of your gross revenue on marketing.  Another words, if you do  $100,000 in sales for the years, you should be spending somewhere in the neighborhood of $ 8,000 a year in advertising/marketing.  

     The biggest problem with most small business is we have to spend the money on marketing before we get any money from sales and that's why most small business want to cut corners on their marketing from the very get go.  They don't have the up-front money to put into marketing so they start off by trying to do everything for themselves.  There's nothing wrong with that, but you need to understand that sometimes that can give you a very unprofessional look and that can turn a lot of prospective customers away from the start........and most of them will never give you a second chance for a first impression.

     Only you can decide how much time, effort and money you are willing to put into marketing, but all those factors will play into whether you are successful with your marketing or not.    Now with all that being said, I would like to talk a little more about a web-site for your business.

     Yesterday I gave you a number of reasons why you may not want to build a web-site for yourself and spend the money to have a professional do it for you.  I'm afraid I gave you the wrong impression that you should "never" consider doing a web-site for yourself and that's not what I was trying to convey. 

     I just wanted you to understand the difference of doing a web-site yourself and having a web developer help you with a web-site and what to expect as results of each.  If you are only going to use your web-site as a place to direct people yourself to go to get information about your business and maybe use it as a portfolio of some of your work, then doing a web-site yourself may work out fine (and save you some money).  But if you are trying to get people to find you on the internet by simply searching for a product and not knowing you even exist and you would like to generate sales from your site, then you will not have much luck unless you really know what you're doing building a web-site from the inside out!. The inner workings of a site is what makes it work, not just a pretty home page.

     There are a number of different ways on the internet to get your name out there to the general public other then just a web-site.  Using Facebook, Pintrest, Esty, Craigslist, Custom Make,, Merchant Circle, on line yellow pages and a slew of others are all ways for you to market on the internet.  Some are free and some there will be fee's involved if you sell anything, but each and everyone is well worth checking out to see if they could work for you.

     I would like to mention Merchant Circle again because I believe there are a lot of woodworkers that's not familiar with it and it is a great source to link with other business. Merchant Circle is a great way to link with other business all across the country that may be either related to your business or may be trying to target the same customer base.  Through Merchant Circle I'm linked with Real Estate Companies all across the country (almost every state) plus numerous other businesses.  The more links you have the more ways people can be directed to your site.  There's a lot more to Merchant Circle then that, so it's well worth checking out.

     One last thing I would like to comment on concerning  marketing and selling on line.  It's a great way to reach thousands of people but please remember the basic fundamentals when selling, whether on line or in person.  In person, a satisfied customer will usually tell 20 friends about you, but an unsatisfied customer will usually tell 200 people that they are unhappy with you, your product or your service.   With that being said, an unsatisfied customer on the internet can tell "thousands" of people with a simple click of a mouse. 

     There will always be Pros and Cons to marketing and selling on line; as long as you are aware of that you should be fine.  In my next segment, I will be talking about direct selling and the Pros and Cons of that type of marketing.



Thursday, February 7, 2013

Marketing 3; choosing a direction.

     I've covered some of the very basics in marketing up till now and even though you may think what we've talked about so far has little to do with marketing, it is very important to lay a good foundation to build the rest of your marketing on.

     Marketing can actually direct prospective customer in one direction or another and it's good to understand why you may choose one form of marketing over another and why you may want to direct a customer one way or another. It all boils down to selling and how we want to go about it. We use marketing to let people know about us and what we do, but more importantly to get someone to buy from us.  The different directions I'm talking about in marketing refers to where and how you would like that customer to purchase your products.

     How you market depends largely on how you want to sell your product.  Do you want to be the one actually doing the selling or would you rather have someone else do the selling for you?  I've meet a lot of woodworkers over the years that love to woodwork, but hate having to deal with the selling part.  They're not comfortable selling or dealing with people and would rather have someone else do it for them.  If that's the case for you, then you need to focus your marketing on directing customers to somewhere other then to you.   What I mean by that is, you may be more interested in marketing through the internet like an on-line store or having your products in a gallery or consignment shop so they do the actual selling to the consumer instead of you.  You may use your web-site for selling or finding a retail store that you could sell wholesale to and again, let them worry about selling to the general public.

     The other direction in marketing is directing a customer directly to you so you do the actual selling.  Maybe to your place of business, or a show that you display at or an exhibit you have. The one thing I would stress though, is you do not try to rely on only one source of marketing to create all the sales for your business.   The more ways you can find to market yourself and your product the better chance of creating sales.

     In this segment let's talk about different ways you can market using the internet.

Web-site:  A web-site for your company can be a valuable tool for marketing in a number of ways, but one of the first questions you should ask yourself about having a web-site is what do "you" expect from it and how do you want it to work for you?  Do you want to create sales directly from your web-site or use it more for your "411" information center for your business? 

    How do you create a Web-site? Unfortunately there's a huge misconception when it comes to creating a web-site.  We've been lead to believe that anyone can build their own web-site, and even though that is very true, what most fail to realize is it's not that easy to build an effective web-site.  There's a Hugh difference between a good looking site and an effective site that actually works for you.
     I'd like to use myself for an example to explain the difference.  When I first started my business, my son suggested that I get a web-site for the business.  Not knowing a thing about the internet, I was not interested in trying to build a site myself and I wasn't convinced enough of the value of a web-site to spend the money to have one done by a professional.   My son had a friend that had built a few different web-sites for herself and some other friends and she said she would be willing to do one for me.  I gave her all my information, some pictures and the basic idea of what I wanted and away she went.  A few weeks later she had a web-site up and going for me.   I was impressed!  It was an awesome looking site.  I was so proud of it and couldn't wait to show it everyone.

     I used that site for a few years and even though it never generated any business for me, it was a great place to send people to get information for my business.  One day I had a professional web developer talk to me about my site and took me behind the scenes to show me why my site wasn't generating any traffic.

     That's right; "behind the scenes"!.  I had no idea what was involved in developing a web-site that actually works.  Coding, optimization, key words, submitting to search engines, links, site report card, validation and the list went on and on.  Another words, I had a great looking web-site on the surface, but other than that, it didn't do a thing when it came to being found on the world wide web.
     The first thing the web-developer did for me so I could better understand what was happening(or should I say, "Not Happening") to my site was she set up a stat-counter so I could track the traffic that was finding my site and how they found it.   Very interesting, I found that I had virtually no traffic each month coming to my site other then the direct referrals I was doing by handing out my business cards with my web address on it or giving my web address to someone directly, which meant, I had already talked to the prospective customer before they ever went to my site, so what was the purpose of having the site?

     After a few months of following my traffic stats, I decided to talk to the developer again to see what I needed to do to improve traffic to my site.  For people that I didn't know be able to find my site without me giving them my address personally.   I let her design and build a new web-site for me (to start totally over) and when she was finished, the site looked great, but didn't see that big of a difference from the appearance of my original web-site.  The she took me behind the scenes again and showed me the difference between the two sites.

     Here's a few interesting facts I found out about my previous site and new site;  When the developer first finished designing my new site with all the information, pictures and coding complete, she did a site report card on it.  She printed that off for me before she made any changes and then showed me the final report card when she was totally done with the site.   On the first report card for the new site, it showed a number of "warnings" and a few "errors".  Most of which were simple coding errors that was simple to correct, but here is the huge difference between having a professional doing your site and you trying to do it yourself. My original site had a ton of warnings and errors and pictures not optimized, which made load times too long and of course none of this was every corrected.   If you do not find those errors and warnings and correct them, then your site is not right and the more problems there are with your site, the less chance you have of a search engine finding or recognizing you, they will just skip your site.

     It goes a lot deeper then that, but I'm not a developer and I can't tell you all the internal workings of a site and how sites are rated, but all you have to think about is the millions and millions of web-sites out there competing for placement on the first couple pages of any search and why would a site with a bunch of "errors" and "warnings" even be recognized or placed.
     The developer took me step by step through each process and helped me understand why a site can get traffic and others don't.  She warned me that it would take time to gain placement, but be patient and watch it grow.  We set-up another stat counter for my site and it was amazing to watch it grow from a few hits a month to thousands of hits per month.  Never had to pay for hits, but we did have to keep the site current and it is a never ending job.

     One more tid-bit of information I found working with my web-site over the years.  Never, ever let anything lapse.  You will be starting all over again.

     After all that being said, it really boils down to one thing, don't try to build you own web-site unless all you want it for is to show it to a few close friends and yourself.  If you decide to have someone professional do it for you, then you have to realize it is like any other business (maybe even worse) and that is you should always get references first and don't be afraid to ask questions.  If they don't want to take the time to explain how things work and what they do, them maybe you need to find someone else to help you with your web-site.

     A web-site can be a valuable marketing tool or simply a pretty picture mixed in with millions and millions of other sites.  Only you can decide what will work best for you.





Thursday, January 31, 2013

Marketing, step 2

     The other day I talked a little about doing marketing for your woodworking business and we started with the very basics.  Like I said before, a lot of us wouldn't really consider the name of our business as part of marketing, but it really can have an effect ( positive or negative) on how the general public may view your company and if they may or may not do business with you. 
     The next thing to consider when marketing is your company sign.  If you have a business, you should have a business sign.  Even if you are working from your garage or a shop in the back yard, you should have a sign to show you are a business.  The size of the sign is not near as important as how professional it looks.  Again, this is one of the very first impressions someone will have of you and your business and as the old saying goes; "you never get a second chance for a first impression"
   Another place that is very important to remember about your company sign is if you ever do a show/exhibit and have your work on display, in fact, any place you have your work on display should have some sort of professional company sign.   For almost 20 years I would have a display at the Southern Ideal Home Shows in Raleigh, NC.  They would have a 3 day show in the spring and another in the fall.  With over 300 vendors displaying their goods and somewhere between 20,000 to 30,000 prospective customers coming through in 3 days, you better be able to stand out in the crowd and I found my company sign was a major part of my display.  We will talk about doing shows and having an exhibit later in another segment.

     I'll use my sign again as an example.  I actually built this sign from scrapes I had laying around the shop. Once I built the sign, I took it to a professional sign company and had them do the lettering.  The sign always hangs on the back wall of my shop and I would also use it for my company sign whenever I did a show.  Very inexpensive to make, but very effective when I had a display at the home shows. 

     Let's put this in perspective;  I was a one man shop located in a small rural town of about 1,500 people (mostly a farming community) and I wanted to build and sell high end custom made furniture and cabinetry. Marketing was very important to me!  I had to figure out how I could reach the clientele that would be interested in having a custom piece of furniture built and for them to have enough confidence in me and my company to do so. I knew it was going to be very important for me to set a professional image for my company if I ever expected to be able to make a living doing my woodworking. 

     I realize that not everyone will be building custom built furniture, but it doesn't matter what type woodworking you're doing and trying to sell, but it does matter for you to look professional.  If you're a woodworker, you should be able to show some of your talents in your company sign, which is your first impression you are giving your prospective customer.

     Your next marketing tool is Business Cards!  I put that in BOLD for a reason.  This has to be one of the most effective (or least effective) marketing tools you can have and often the most overlooked or taken for granted!  When marketing you need to take advantage of every opportunity to get your name in front of people and give them a reason to buy from you.  I can't think of a better way then a business card.

     Here I go again with cutesy and crafty.  Be careful and stay away from it as much as possible.  Remember, a business card is used to introduce yourself and your company and hopefully interest someone in doing business with you. It is also very much a part of that "First Impression" they will have of you and your company, It's not to entertain them!  It too needs to be very professional, which brings me to what I feel can be the biggest problem with business cards and why they may not be as effective as you may think.  

     Do Not make your own cards!  Before you get all bent out of shape with me, I've been guilty of doing it too, but it is one of the biggest marketing mistakes we can make.  I don't care how good we are or how creative we can be, making our own business cards look exactly like that........Home Made!
Whenever someone hands me a home made business card, the only thing I can think of is going to a car dealership and have the new salesman hand me a business card with his name either hand written in or his name printed on some generic card and he tells me he hasn't gotten his regular business cards back from the printer yet.   That's right, a hand made business card gives the impression you're either brand new in business or "temporary" and either way, it doesn't give me a lot of confidence that you know what you're doing or that you may even be here next month!   Have you ever heard the expression; "Fly by night company"?  I'm not saying that every home made business card gives that impression, but why take that chance. 

     Time and effort should be taken when designing and having a business cards printed.  The more professional your business card is the more effective marketing tool it can be for you.   Today with places like Vista Print, you can have 250-500 business cards printed that look and feel very professional for just a few dollars.  Look at it this way, since a business card can be like a little salesman for you, would you rather have 250 professional salesman working for you or 250 jack-leg wanna-bee's?   I consider myself pretty creative and professional when it comes to a lot of things, but I know when it time to turn certain things over to the professional in their fields.  I could build a professional looking sign, but when it came to the lettering, I knew if I really wanted it to be totally professional, I needed to let someone else do the lettering.  Business cards are the same.

     Once you have your business cards printed the best advice I can give you then is hand them out like candy.  They won't do you any good in your pocket or in your desk drawer.  Don't waste your time trying to pr-qualify someone if they deserve to have one of your cards or whether you think they may keep it or throw it away.   I can find a million excuses to hand someone my business card and it may have nothing to do with my business at the time, but I still want them to have one of my cards.   Write a note or a phone # on the back on my card, draw out some directions for someone,  write the name of a good restaurant, or mechanic, anything for an excuse for them to take one of my business cards.  You will be shocked how many times one of those cards will get you a response later on down the road. 

     I've handed out business cards at shows and have someone call me 2-3 years later and ask me about my work. Never take your business cards for granted and always look at your business cards as one of the most effective marketing tools you'll ever have.  The more you hand out, the more "little" salesman you have working for you, 24/7.

     If I was only allowed one marketing tool for my business, I would want that to be a business card!




Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Marketing, when and where

     There is so much to marketing, I think I'll do a running series on it for the next couple months.  Not every day or every posting, but mix it in with some of the other topics along the way.  My mind races when I think about marketing for a small business like woodworking and it's really hard to decide where to start.

     It's one thing when we do woodworking as a hobby, but we're talking another ball game all together when it comes to actually making a living at woodworking.  Today I would like to start at the very beginning; deciding you would like to sell your woodworking projects and how do we let people know we even exist.

     First things first; if you are going to sell your products, then you are considered a business and you have to treat it as such.  I'm not going into getting your business liscense and everything that is involved with doing it legally, but once you have all that done, how do you let people know what you do and you have projects to sell?  We're talking about marketing today.

     So, let's start by talking about your business name.  What does my company name have to do with marketing and selling my product you ask?  Simple; that's the very first recognition anyone will have that you even exist in the market place.  Your business name will be what they see on your company sign, your business cards, your letter head and anything else that has to do with your company.   Too many times we don't put enough thought into what we decide to call our company.  We either want something clever, cutesy or we have to somehow have our name incorporated in it.   Nothing wrong with any of that, but we do need to be careful how we present our company to the general public and how they may view our company.  Another words, what you or I may think to be clever or cutesy may not be that clever or cutesy to someone else, especially the buying public.

     One thing to consider when trying to name your company is to look at what you build and want to sell and who might be interested in buying your product.   Let me try to explain; if you are building craft type items, then you would be selling to a totally different market then if you were building high-end custom furniture, so a company name that may be cutesy or crafty and work well for marketing to a customer base that's looking for that type product would not be such a good name for a high end custom woodworking business.

     I can give you an example by simply using the name of my company, The Hufford Furniture Group.  Yes, I'm one of those that wanted my name incorporated in the business name, but I carried it a little further and decided to add "Group" to the company name and why would I do that?   It sounded like a great idea at the time, I had two sons I thought would be coming into the business with me in the future and as the company grew with family members it just seemed natural to call it the Hufford Furniture Group ( I didn't think the Hufford Furniture "Gang" sounded that professional).   Like I said, it seemed to be a great idea at the time, but I realized over the years what a mixed reaction I got from talking with my customers and other businesses about what their perception of my company was based on the name.

     It worked to my advantage some of the time but others got the wrong impression and it was almost a turn off for them.  Some customers, designers, contractors or other businesses like to deal with bigger companies and rarely have anything to do with a small shop or one man shop, so in those incidences it worked to my advantage because when they saw The Hufford Furniture Group, they thought I must be some large company and at least they would check me out and what I did.   That also worked in the opposite at times when people would ask me if my "manufacturing facilities" were here in the United States or overseas? Sometimes they were intimidated thinking about dealing with a large company.  What?..........I'm a one man shop!   Yep, that's right, my sons decided not to be part of the business and I was simply a one man shop.   There were many times I had to explain that one!

     By the time I realized that my company name could be confusing or giving people the wrong impression I had been using it for a few years and decided I would rather live with it and explain then start all over again with a new name for my company.    So you can see that a company name can play a part in marketing.  Whatever you decide on, make it professional.  Try to make it so people will become familar with it, that it becomes natural for them to think of or remember.

     A lot of companies use a tag line below their company name to basically tell about the business in a nutshell, again, I'll use mine as an example.

  Custom Designed & Built Furniture 
     That's the first step in marketing.  Everything from here pertaining to marketing should relate to your company name and logo and the more you can get that in the public eye, the better chance you have of recognition.  One thing I haven't mentioned so far that also plays into wisely choosing your company name, and tag line would be your logo.   That might not be the right word for it, but what I'm talking about is the look, the style of lettering (Font) that you choose to use in conjunction with your company name and tag line or logo.  Once you decide on the overall look of your business logo then that should be used in everything that pertains to your company.  The sign on your business, your business cards, letterhead, invoices, etc.   The more continuity you have the easier it is for a prospective customer to recognize you and your company.
    Your company name can play an important role in marketing you and your company, so don't overlook it or take it for granted.  My next area I want to cover in marketing are some of the most basic things you can do, but again, I find a lot of woodworkers either don't think much about it or just take it for granted and they lose out on some simple but effective marketing.    We'll cover that in my next series.