Starting an Outdoor Furniture Manufacturing Business

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Review by sandhill posted 05-15-2010 06:22 AM 12926 views 3 times favorited 20 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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For as long as I can remember there have discussions here at Lumber Jocks about doing woodworking as a business or getting paid for the master pieces that come out of our shops. I know everyone that has enjoyed wood working or any other creative outlet has said to them self “How can I do this and make a living at it”? Well I ask the same question every time I am in the shop. I found what I consider about the most straight up and to the point, down and dirty “Here is how it’s done, but it’s not easy” book I have found to date. The author Matt Oppenheim talks about his journey from a week end worrier to owning a manufacturing business producing outdoor furniture and the eventual sale of the business. But mostly he points out his failures and successes and what you should consider that he did not. He speaks about the time frames for returns on your investment and things you can and should do before you quit your job and start the wheels of your manufacturing business and hire employees. Any one considering a career in woodworking as a business owner should get this book and use it to as part of developing your business plan. I am sending Matt a link to this review and in turn he can ad any comments he feels necessary to more elaborate on my interpretation of what he intended his book to offer. (Maybe he will join and become another resource, LOL)

Chapter 1
Chapter 2

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dennis mitchell

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#1 posted 05-15-2010 08:34 PM

How to turn from a week end worrier to a full time worrier. What a romantic idea. Good review.

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Jim Bertelson

4267 posts in 3612 days

#2 posted 05-16-2010 06:05 PM

I placed your review in the LJ BookList
It is under Woodworking – General Carpentry and General Furniture

Don’t think I will every try to turn woodworking into a business, but there are a lot of folks here on LJ’s that are in the woodworking business, or want to be.

-- Jim, Anchorage Alaska

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#3 posted 05-16-2010 07:23 PM

thanks for the review

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#4 posted 05-16-2010 11:59 PM

I started thinking about selling after I started running out of room and places to put everything. LOL
Thanks Guys

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Jim Bertelson

4267 posts in 3612 days

#5 posted 05-17-2010 02:15 AM

Running your own business sounds fine until you do it. I still run my own business after 26 years, with two partners. But it is my occupation, and I am a professional. But there is nothing easy about it, or fun.

My wife owned a yarn shop for seven years, until her partner moved out of state. She didn’t want to run the business alone, hated the employee issues, and she just couldn’t see accepting another partner. That was about 10 years ago that she quit. I still hear laments from her former customers about her leaving the trade. It was a great shop. One of those places people like to go to, good service, large inventory, teaching, great atmosphere….........but at a price, not monetary, to the owner.

Sherie has a sign on her desk to this day to remind her “The only thing more overrated than natural childbirth, is the joy of owning your own business.” Looked at it prominently displayed, today, after 10 years.

Definitely something to think twice about…...............

-- Jim, Anchorage Alaska

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#6 posted 05-17-2010 03:12 AM

I understand where your coming from Jim, Matt also points out owning your own business is not for everyone. For every business owner that hates it I know of two that love it and could not imagine doing any thing else.
I think it has to be an individual choice, If you want to do it, Do it! if it don’t work do something else but at least try or you will possibly have regrets and I think that’s worse than doing it and failing.

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Jim Bertelson

4267 posts in 3612 days

#7 posted 05-17-2010 04:35 AM

Right on sandhill. Like I said, I run my own business. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. For me, I woudn’t have it any other way. Just thinking about those that find it a burden they can’t handle.

My wife, I am sure, would never trade those years in the yarn shop for anything. She learned a lot, and still till this days uses what she learned, and cherishes the friendships she gained. She teaches, not for the money, and has great respect and admiration.

I was looking at a medical site yesterday and saw a physician wondering what to do, as an employee, in an abusive situation. I wanted to shout to him, try it on your own, but didn’t, for a lot of personal and professional reasons. It is much more comfortable on this hobby site, than on a professional site. New physicians are really reluctant to start up their own business.

I spent, literally, thousands of hours learning how to run a business, before we did it here in Anchorage. We have been highly successful. Medical business is much more complex than a woodworking business, for a myriad of reasons. I have two partners, and we have over 40 employees.

A lot of people will earn more money and be happier as an employee. It is hard to figure out who can make the move to ownership and be successful. Most small businesses go broke in a few years.

So there is a heavy responsibility when pushing someone to start his own business.

So I am reluctant.

If it is part time, or a side-line, not such a big deal.

Shucks, I am sure you know what I mean. Not much for absolutes in life, are there.

Thanks again for the great review, and the subsequent topic….........

Have a good one….......


-- Jim, Anchorage Alaska

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#8 posted 05-17-2010 01:52 PM

Jim B. summed up why I never would have a business with employees. Even with being the only person, it’s just not worth the headaches you get. Taxes (collecting and paying), liability insurance, collecting from customers, and the list goes on. If you are in a manufacturing business, add OSHA and the comparable state agency. Woodworking would also entail disposing of scrap wood, sawdust, paint and other finishes in accordance with state and federal laws. Your shop would be subject to inspection at any time the inspector called on you. I worked in sales for a custom cabinet shop for about 2-1/2 years. Paint rags, finish containers had to be disposed of in a certain way that cost so much per pound. You couldn’t just throw them in the dumpster. Now, retired and loving it!

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#9 posted 05-17-2010 04:29 PM

Hi. Thanks to Sandhill on a positive review of my book! I’ve never written a book before, so it took months of proofing from many good folks to make it readable!

Yes, I tried to escape the bowels of corporate America by starting my own business. I, like you all, love woodworking, so I wanted to try to earn a living from it. What seemed appealling about outdoor furniture was the concept of developing my products—-and a manufacturing process—that could be taught to hourly employees. With my employees building away at my products, I had time to go sell, develop new products, or even do custom projects.

For me, the biggest problem with custom woodwork is that is shackled me to my shop, which prevented me from drumming up more business. I think the biggest challenge for woodworking business owners is sales. We can all build stuff—-but gaining enough customers to feed your family is a difficult thing to do. With a manufacturing business, you are allowed some time to do this once your process is in place.

Regarding employees…I only had two, and they made $8 and $10 hour, so that wasn’t a big deal. I never had a problem with OSHA, and we sprayed latex instead of oil finishes, which is perfect for outdoor furniture, and keeps the fire marshall happy.

For anyone seriously considering this, please feel free to contact me with any questions. Although I don’t own the bsuiness anymore, I’m still passionate about it and love to help others find success. The website for the book is You can reach me through the “contact us” section of the site.

-- Oppenheim, Tennessee,

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#10 posted 05-17-2010 07:42 PM

Some business owners look at all the regulations as “Head aches” but you must consider that they are there for a reason. OSHA exists to ensure measures are in place to protect the worker. I have worked in some very unsafe environments that should not have been allowed to operate and they could not care less about the worker other then the produce. I have seen people loose eyes, fingers, and other body parts.

The regulations that are in place are for the most part are a minimum and no more then common sense but as any regulated system it gets carried away in red tape but if you just follow manufactures safety guidelines OSHA will not have a reason to bother you. As for the Taxes and record keeping one should put that into the budget to have someone that knows what there are doing take care of it.

My thoughts are: If you love woodworking and dislike the business end of it then go to work for an established shop doing the kind of woodworking you enjoy.

If you enjoy being a business person then open a business woodworking or any other type because running the business is what you will do most of and not work in the shop.

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dan abalos

106 posts in 3431 days

#11 posted 05-18-2010 04:08 AM

Hi All
Nice review sandhill. I actually have a small, read tiny, business and I love it. I also have a FT job that’s killing me but hey gotta feed the kids and pay the house note right? I’m trying to get into the bigger stuff like pergolas, arbors and outdoor stuff and yes it is tough to find new customers. I’ve been reading start a business books for months now and a good one to me is, forgot the title, duh. It’s about making a franchise model out of your potential business so you don’t have to spend your entire life in the shop or bakery or whatever it is you like to do. When my brain wakes up I’ll post the title. I’m going to get this book by Oppenheim and see where it takes me, hell I’m only 46, I figure by the time I get it going I’ll be retired:-)
One other thing I notice is a lot of the people who are in business say don’t go onto business, hmmmmm. Dan

-- Beer is the reason I exist on this earth, that and my family! (Aurora, IL) my blog:

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dan abalos

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#12 posted 05-18-2010 04:15 AM

Hey no offense to Jim B intended or implied. I just wonder sometimes. I would like to go into real estate as a salesman and most all of the agents I spoke to said don’t do it. Were they thinking more competition? I understand that running a good business is hard, hell I have four small kids and my own little run your household business with taxes, employee (wife), utilities, assocaition rules, mortgage, time limits, food costs, water costs, plumbing issues, repairs, landscape issues. It’s just bigger challenges and they pay you instead of you pay out. I’m off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oz….....uh oh flying monkeys
gotta go

-- Beer is the reason I exist on this earth, that and my family! (Aurora, IL) my blog:

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Jim Bertelson

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#13 posted 05-18-2010 04:45 AM

I am in an unusual town medically. Most of my competitors, fellow professionals, etc, run their own business. Some do well, some not. Actually most do well. But in Alaska, we are in a very isolated, almost anomalous situation.

I was actually reading someones lament who was a psychiatrist, in the lower 48, and wanted to tell him to try it on his own (I am an OB-GYN).

............but….......I had a number of physician friends go personally bankrupt in a medical business in Alaska, that I bailed out of in time.

It is not always easy. If you go into debt, and in the medical business, the expenses are so high, that to set up and run a significant business will require debt. Failure may result in personal bankruptcy. Even if you are a corporation, the banks will require you to sign on the debt as an individual. No easy out.

I really did not want to feel I was responsible for someones financial demise.

But this is far afield from the cottage businesses most of you are talking about. There, you are mostly looking at life style, stresses, and opportunity. Not financial calamity.

So nope, you are not treading on my toes, and nope it was not about competition….....I was talking about someone thousands of miles away. But you seemed to understand that.

Business ownership is many things to many people. The possibilities are endless….........and so are the risks, the failures, the heartaches, the successes, and the fortunes. But the average guy doesn’t make it.

I am not sure of the current statistics for small business, but I bet it is an average life of 3 to 4 years for a small business, with 80% ending in failure. I wonder if someone out there can tell me the real facts….......that’s just a hunch on my part…....

.......again, thanks sandhill for the review and the topic, and Oppenheim thanks for chiming in. This is a forever topic, that will affect of lot of LJ’s, thank you both for your efforts.

Alaska Jim

-- Jim, Anchorage Alaska

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#14 posted 05-18-2010 05:00 AM

Well put Jim I think you are close if not right on, the last I heard was 8 out of 10 failures in the first year but some other number with in the first 5 years., maybe half.

I have been doing something research for something else and stumbled onto an interesting possibility by accident. I found there is relatively no fear of competition & businesses will compete selling what you make “your products”.
I found out about this when hearing the buzz about how America has become a consumer nation and we are at the mercy of other nations. That got me thinking about manufacturing. I don’t know if my idea will work yet but if it does it may solve to some extent the the problem of wood worker verses business owner, I guess time will tell I hope to have it in place with in the next few months and give it a go.

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#15 posted 05-18-2010 09:09 PM

Ok, So I bought a copy. Pretty pricey but seems like a good read. I’ll let you know.

-- Father of two sons. Both Eagle Scouts.

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