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Digging through the old DeCou Photo Archives, I came across this project.

I started out just posting the photos, just to get them loaded. I think about 15 months ago when I was first picking out projects to post up on the "new Lumberjocks" website, I skipped this one, thinking that I never wanted to publicize these for sale. I was "done" with this. I took them off my website quite a long time ago.

At first I just posted the photos. Then, the more memories and lessons I was reminded of by looking at the photos, and thinking through the process, I came up with a way to write up this project story in a way that might be helpful to other folks looking for projects and ways to sell their woodworking.

It is common for woodworking folks to ask me questions when we meet, and a few common ones are:
A) "Where did you learn this?"
B) "I hate my job, can I really make a living doing this?"
C) "Where can I sell my work?"
D) "What products should I try to sell?"
E) "How do I learn to market myself, I hate promotion and marketing?"
F) "Can you help me?"

So, as I thought about this posting over the night, I saw that it could be a way to share some of the things that I share with folks when I get these questions.

These principles are what I have learned about my work, and it doesn't necessarily apply to anyone else's thoughts, ideas, or success. Glean what you can, toss what you don't want.

So, here it goes….....
This project was my first try at several new things and I learned a lot.

I learned for the first time:
1) How to design a chair, learning what makes it comfortable, and not comfortable.

2) How to build a chair, and that they are complicated and time consuming, regardless of the style.

3) That building production ready templates is a long, expensive process, and before you do it, find a market for the product first. If they sell, make provisions for how to produce them below their market price.

4) That building multiple copies of a project is for some people, and "not" for others. It's not for me.

5) That selling a product in direct competition to Walmart and Harbor Freight is a nightmare, they set the market price, even if I set the quality. People waddle through the Garden Center, see an imported chair assembled by the Night Guy, and they see "$39.99". That price sits in their head, and anything higher than that is seen as "higher."

6) Non-woodworkers don't see what I see. They can't see that the wood is selected specifically for each part of the chair, that it is glued and screwed together, that the joinery is flawless and effective for daily wear, and that my chair will last, while another cheaper chair will not last. I learned that even after I showed prospective customers those points, this particular product wasn't valuable enough to carry my price.

7) After educating prospective customers as to the finer selling points, quality, integrity of the wood etc., they make better buying decisions, and choose the $49.99" at the Major Retailer, instead of the $29.99 chair. Unless, they just want yard art, and then the $29.99 one will work great for them. Who cares if it only lasts 3 seasons outside? They can go buy two new ones then. Eventhough I helped prospective customers see the difference in my product, it didn't carry them along to the $200 in value that I needed to show.

8) It was at this point that I started to learn that "Branding" was important to developing value for a customer. If it doesn't matter that "DeCou" made it, then I should pick another product. I learned that people will buy things I have made, because I made it, but not every product is worth that investment.

9) I learned that using an unhappy "model" for brochure photos doesn't help sell them. I should have taken another photo another day. She was right, "they are too expensive." Took me awhile to see that she is right. My wife is my best critic and supporter, all in one. I ask her for input, and she tells me the truth. Sometimes it is painful, but it is the truth. Other folks may not tell me the truth. I have learned to trust what she says, even if I don't like it, and stomp off in a "huff." When I ignore her input, I am on shaky ground.

10) Marketing Feedback: Learning to read people's faces and body language saying, "you want how much?" is an important aspect to selling woodworking items. Let's face it, not all of us woodworkers are marketing gurus, or even extroverted personalities, and it could be that we need that help from others. I shared a show booth one time with some friends. They had a great product, and so we shared the booth costs. By the end of the weekend, the husband was banished from the booth by the wife. He just couldn't say anything that didn't make a shopper upset, so she sent him out of the booth. She was great with people, while he was great with wood. She was the creative artist, he was the hardworking constructor of the idea. They needed each other, and they learned that by showing their work. They learned at the show to use those qualities in each other. I think this is probably one of the most important lessons about why folks need to "show" their work. The direct feedback you get about your product, and yourself, is invaluable. You don't need to pay a Focus Group, just set up at a flea market, and disappear into the crowd to listen to what people tell each other about your product. Whatever you hear, it is the truth to them. Don't try to discount it, ignore it, or argue with them, "They" are the customers, and they have an opinion, and it is always truth to them.

11) "When the Art doesn't speak for itself, the artist will"-Mark DeCou 1999

12 "When the Art doesn't speak for itself, the artist must"-Mark DeCou 2005

13) "Demand" sets prices, not input costs. The demand for the product drives the retail prices, and not how long it took me to build it. My input costs are meaningless to the price that people are willing to pay. They don't care whether I make $1.00 per hour, or $30.00. Well actually, some may care….and they will tell their friends about what a great deal they got at the flea market. Then, their friends might want one also at the same price…...it is a viscious circle.

I scoured books and magazines for about a year, and picked out what I liked best about each chair, and then incorporated all of those details into my chair. It is an original design, but it is based on many other examples of this style by other people. So, I can't claim it as my own design, eventhough I designed it.

I guess make that:

14) pick out items to build that haven't been "designed to death" by people that came along before me.

oh, and maybe this one as well:

15) don't build items for sale that guys look at and tell their wives, "I can build that, don't buy it."

oh, and this one:

16) seat bottom slats with a knot in the middle, break.

I learned a lot in this process.

17) I learned that I don't like building copies of anything. I started out by making the prototype, and then making some copies of it. I built 6 before I burned out on it. What I discovered after this revelation, is that my unique functional-art work I would later discover had value because, they weren't any copies. People liked the idea of buying a one-of-a-kind item.

18) Selling high priced, labor intensive products that can be purchased other places at much lower prices is difficult. Eventhough they were comfortable, the best I sat in, people just didn't care that much for that aspect of this chair. What I learned is that people weren't looking to "Sit" in their chair, only to have it "sitting" in the yard for decoration. They were viewed more as a landscaping item then a piece of furniture. So, I tried to sell the copies I made, but ended up using them for gifts to family members. My prices were so high, that people just laughed, or nearly slapped me when I quoted this work. Afterall, there is a lot of hard work and time in these chairs, especially if they are primed and painted. (notice I repeated this point for emphasis). If someone asks you to follow them to a furniture store to quote a piece of furniture they saw on sale, but didn't like a tiny detail of, run the other way.

So, I guess I had better add this one to make sure I remember it;

19) When a product is sold at a major department store, even if it is inferior in quality, it is hard to sell examples at a higher price, even to friends, despite the high quality. (note, this is repeated again, another way to make sure it is noticed)

20) Since this project "bust", I learned that I need to pick out niche products. I'm not a factory, nor want to be one. I'm not a manager either, so hiring employees to manage is out of the question. So, I must turn to "Functional-art" pieces.

21) I learned to look for project ideas that require my unique abilities to do the work, require unique tools, and need lots of tedious time consuming steps to build. These principles make the item more complicated than most folks will want to tackle on a Saturday "project day." I have never shown a piece of my "fuctional-art" furniture pieces and heard a man tell his wife, "I could build that." They whisper other things, like, "that costs more than our trip to Hawaii last year….."

22) "Believing" in the value and quality of my product is important to me…..maybe more important than customers care about, for this type of project.

Once I brought these lessons to my business plan and was willing to change my direction, people started buying things….....although they often still give me that look, "You want how much?" It is funny, people don't think much about spending $10,000 going to Hawaii to play golf. But paying that much for a piece of furniture that their friends with love, and their grandkids will fight over, that's a different story. For the few that it matters to, those are the customers. Just having the right "address" doesn't make someone the right customer. Some of my best clients have been people that didn't have that much money. They just loved art, and wanted it bad enough to sacrifice other things to get it. It is to those people that I try to sell my work now. Recently, a guy in his 3rd week of a woodworking business told me that his plan was to build heirloom quality pieces, but build them cheap enough to sell to the average person. I hope he reads this list, I discovered over the past years that those two thoughts are diametrically opposing forces of nature.

23) It is interesting though, I was trying to sell these chairs in the $250-$350 range, and I couldn't sell them. I was convinced that it was just too high priced, and I couldn't see how to reduce the labor costs. I thought then that people were just "cheap." What I learned is that most people are economically sensitive, until they really want something. Then, the credit card is whipped out quickly. The ones that really want something are the folks that I make as customers. Although, I don't take credit cards. I also learned that I only need 4-5 customers a year, and over a lifetime, maybe only a hundred. That revelation changed my business plan considerably. Years later, I have sold pieces that cost more than good used cars, sometimes more than two good used cars, and definitely more than all four of my used cars put together. So it isn't just that people didn't want to spend the "money" on the Adirondack Chairs, it was that they didn't want "a chair for the yard" badly enough, to spend much money on it. They could easily see the quality was better than the Harbor Freight chair for $29.00, but most couldn't see paying 10 times more, despite the quality, just for a landscaping piece.

24) I learned that it is probably better for my business plan to offer a class where I teach how to build these chairs, while giving out copies of the patterns in the process. This is the type of project, where a lot of folks expressed a desire to learn how to do woodworking, and to then build their own copies of my chair. Since I had been trying to protect my design, and sell the "product", I declined the offers to sell "teaching" to people on "how" to build the chair. I'm now playing with the concept of how to market and provide teaching sessions on various projects, and this is one that I think might work in that regard. Even if the chairs themselves don't sell well, they would be a hard enough introductory woodworking product for folks to learn lessons in working wood, and for me to recover some of the "costs" of learning. Also, I wouldn't care if they decided to make lots of copies of the chair, even for sale, I don't want to do that. Maybe I should charge a royalty…..........

25) Sometimes the "lesson" is worth the investment, and I think in this case, that is true for me.

So, eventhough the whole project concept of selling lots of copies of these chairs was a "bust," despite how comfortable chairs were, in my remembering the "pain", there is some wisdom here for others to grasp that might be worth my efforts.

Someday I plan to make a couple more of these chairs for our yard. I don't take much time to sit in the yard now anyway, too much work to do…......Maybe if I built the arms to hold a keyboard, I could use the Adirondack at the computer….........
(hmmm, note to self,"ask wife if making an Adirondack Desk chair is a good product".........na, don't waste the breath…...she already thinks I'm crazy….....)

See, these Lessons are "Free" to you, but came at my "cost" and so I hope they are helpful.

Thanks for looking,
Mark DeCou www.decoustudio.com

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Want to See More of my Furniture Work?:
If you go to my Mark DeCou Website you will find that I have not updated my website in quite some time. I realize that I need to invest in improving my website, but until that is accomplished, here are some more Lumberjocks related lilnks with updated postings of my furniture work, sorted into categories. Thanks for your interest in my work, and your patience with my website.

Arts and Crafts, Mission Style Related Projects:
  1. Arts & Crafts Entry Table; with Carved Oak Leaves
  2. Arts & Crafts Orchid Stand w/ Wine Bottle Storage
  3. Arts & Crafts Style Morris Inspired Chairs
  4. Arts & Crafts Display Top Coffee Table
  5. Arts & Crafts Style Inspired End Table Set
  6. Arts & Crafts Style Inspired Prairie Couch
  7. Table Lamps
  8. Arts & Crafts Carved Entertainment Center
  9. Mission Entertainment Center

Church & Worship-Art Related Projects:
  1. Carved Communion Table
  2. Carved Roll Top Sound Equipment Cabinet
  3. Fancy Church Side Altars
  4. Processional Cross
  5. Fancy Speaker's Lectern
  6. Church Hymn Number Board
  7. Communion Chalice (Cup) and Paten

Art-Furniture Related Projects:
  1. Sam Maloof Inspired Walnut Rocker
  2. Original Art Carved Tilt Front Desk, inspired by Birger Sandzen
  3. Natural Edge; Nakashima Inspired Coffee Table
  4. Decoratively Painted Box End Tables
  5. Birch China Cabinet for Cut Glass Collection

Rustic, Western, Cedar Log, and Cowboy Related Projects:
  1. Naughty (Knotty) Refined Rustic White Oak & Black Walnut China Hutch
  2. A Kansa Indian and Buffalo Accent Art-Chair
  3. Refined Rustic Dining Chairs
  4. Refined Rustic Dining Table
  5. Cowboy-Western Style Suitcase/Luggage Support Racks
  6. Fun With Cedar Logs #1; Sitting Stool
  7. Fun With Cedar Logs #2; Coat/Hat/Spur Rack
  8. Fun With Cedar Logs #3; Western Style Hat/Coat Rack
  9. Fun With Cedar Logs #4; Entryway Stool

Outdoor Furniture Related:
  1. Kennebunkport Style Adirondack Chair
  2. Outdoor Garden Wedding Arbor
  3. Outdoor Project: Cedar Wood Double Settee

(This text, and photos are protected by copyright, all rights reserved, M.A. DeCou 8-1-2007)

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Comments

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Mark, this is an awesome story, thank you for sharing these points. I'm so glad I stumbled upon this, I think it will give myself and many other beginners some great direction.
 

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It's been awhile since I read this, and I had forgotten what I wrote really.
Nothing to change.

A few more summary points to add maybe:
My opinion is to think "niche", make things that are hard to find somewhere else.
Look for items that you have an interest in, and pick something complicated and time consuming.
Most folks don't have the patience for time consuming details, so if you pick something like that to be known for, you'll have fewer competitors.
Anything made in a factory is not something to consider copying, especially foreign factories.
Do the best work you can do on everything you touch.
Learn to sell your capabilities, not a product.
People buy "stories" not just "products".
People will find unique ways to use your capabilities and will ask you for something they want/need.
Work on commissions, and avoid carrying inventory costs.
Stay out of debt, make do, repurpose, do without, pay with cash, or trade for what you need.
Tell your Story, the true stuff, nothing faked, or "imaged", everyone will find out the truth anyway, might as well make it consistent with what you tell.
Connect with people in a way that displays your heart toward them.
Always give more than people expect.
Never give up, never give up, never give up, never, never never never, give up.
(for better advice, read my summary of Sam Maloof's lecture in 2006 - in the "Forums")

thanks,
Mark
 

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Mark,

I just came across this posting, even though you posted it a long time ago. I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to articulate your business wisdom. I've had similar revaluations over the years, but would have been unable to so eloquently explain them the way you did. Thank you, good luck & God's blessings in your work.
 

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Are you selling the plans for this chair? Something so well thought out and designed deserves to live on, even if you are "done" with making these!
 
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