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Forum topic by RussellAP posted 03-07-2014 07:36 PM 4440 views 0 times favorited 59 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View RussellAP's profile


3105 posts in 2852 days

03-07-2014 07:36 PM

I think I’ll stop giving detailed estimates. From now on I’m going to ball park it on the spot to see if I’m dealing with someone who’s dreaming or buying. I waste so much time and email and phone calls on these folks, it’s enough to take the creative energy right out of me.

What do you guys do when you have first contact with a potential customer on the phone, or email and they want…say…a table 4.5’ x 30” and a bench out of oak?

I was beginning to think that my people skills were bad or something, but then I realized that my estimate was honest and no one could undercut my price because it was so low. These people must be discouraged by something else. Maybe a general lack of money in the country even for those living in large homes who you’d think could glum $2k out of petty cash.

Or maybe there are just a lot of dreamers out there who don’t consider how long it takes me to work up an estimate.

-- A positive attitude will take you much further than positive thinking ever will.

59 replies so far

View Joseph Jossem's profile

Joseph Jossem

492 posts in 2834 days

#1 posted 03-07-2014 07:41 PM

i did the same thing while back i broke it down for customers usually.i remember this 1 guy asked if i could minus the labor and shop costs hahahaa what a donkey!

View mahdee's profile


4291 posts in 2333 days

#2 posted 03-07-2014 07:46 PM

Hi there,
I have done some finishing work with estimates. A lot of time I offer to hire the person who wants the job done. “If you can be my helper on the site, I’ll charge you 1/3 less.” As far as building things such as furniture, I make them and put a price on them, if the demand for it is out there, it will sell, if not; then they turn into gifts or become part of the home decor.


View RussellAP's profile


3105 posts in 2852 days

#3 posted 03-07-2014 07:53 PM

mrjinx007, I do have some stuff out for sale, but nothing is happening with them. I actively go after people who want something custom built. It’s an incredible challenge for me to do this because you just never know what you’re getting into. So I think as a pre-qualifier to a sale, I’ll tell them what’s involved right off the bat and weed out those who can’t afford it. I wonder what a client would say if I told them the if they have to ask about price, they can’t afford it. lol

-- A positive attitude will take you much further than positive thinking ever will.

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 4213 days

#4 posted 03-07-2014 08:07 PM

Most people want a ballpark quote and unless they’ve had
custom work done before and paid market value for it,
they’ll often have sticker shock and will need some time
to think it over.

In the end they do one of four things: hire you,
hire somebody else, try to do it themselves, or
they don’t get the work done.

View RussellAP's profile


3105 posts in 2852 days

#5 posted 03-07-2014 08:08 PM

Loren, this business requires we learn a lot more than woodworking.

-- A positive attitude will take you much further than positive thinking ever will.

View Mark Davisson's profile

Mark Davisson

598 posts in 3883 days

#6 posted 03-07-2014 08:11 PM

This is a subject that interests me a lot; the value we place on our own time (or thing) vs the value placed on our time (or thing) by others. I don’t claim to understand much about it, but I do understand there is often quite a difference between the two. I also understand that the term “hand crafted” means much more to most craftsmen than it does to most customers.

-- I'm selfless because it feels so good!

View mahdee's profile


4291 posts in 2333 days

#7 posted 03-07-2014 08:16 PM

Very true. I think most folks (except those who shop at Tiffany) can’t relate to what a fine furniture is worth and its possible value down the road. If someone calls me requesting a table with certain specifications, my first question would be where did you see it or do you have a picture of it. If they saw it at Wal-mart, or the picture came from Hobby Lobby, then it is obvious they want a price lower than that. If they know their stuff, then a rough break down of material, labor and whatever else is involved can be obtained in less than an hour for $20 upon excepting the bid offer.


View DrDirt's profile


4600 posts in 4308 days

#8 posted 03-07-2014 08:21 PM

You can tie it to a retail costing.

There are a lot of folks that assume as a solo person, you are magically less expensive than Ashley furniture – doing tables for 299 with 4 chairs.
For a strategy -
ESPECIALLY if you are talking to some of the women… You can reference your estimates against say Pottery Barn.
seems EVERYBODY has a pottery barn catalog:

things like this bed below: – I think I can come in really close to their price (849 with handling)for a painted piece of furniture. So you can say “I am a little more than Pottery Barn/Eddie Bauer Home/Ethan Allen etc. so that they have a frame of reference in their heads… and not just a raw number you just gave them… You can bet they will go LOOK UP the pottery barn item,... I would tell them that mine is going to be better quality at the same price and I will personally deliver it.

their dining tables are 1500-2900 dollars, but I think it will help if you can give them a frame of reference for what they will get, and lessen the shock—because they can/will verify whether it is a good deal..

-- “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Mark Twain

View mahdee's profile


4291 posts in 2333 days

#9 posted 03-07-2014 08:28 PM

Very true; and you can’t call Pottery and custom order products; maybe you can. Never heard of Pottery barn.


View longgone's profile


5688 posts in 3874 days

#10 posted 03-07-2014 08:36 PM

This is why I so much enjoy creating work and doing shows. When I go to a show it is WSYWIG “What You See is What You Get” and I stay clear from the ever so increasing competitive marketplace. that is seen almost everywhere. I do custom commissions also but if a person doesn’t like my price or my required 50% deposit then I am not concerned because what I create and build is not competing with Walmart or pottery at some barn.

View Monte Pittman's profile

Monte Pittman

30476 posts in 2903 days

#11 posted 03-07-2014 08:48 PM

I prefer doing custom work. In the beginning, I had trouble finding customers. But part of the problem was that I was looking in the wrong place. Since I have improved which shows I go to, getting people willing to pay hasn’t been a problem. I also have increased my prices every January and haven’t scared them off yet. So maybe look at better shows.

-- Nature created it, I just assemble it.

View thechipcarver's profile


225 posts in 2144 days

#12 posted 03-07-2014 08:59 PM

It’s sad how the world has become. I found that today, people would rather go to a big box store, pay 1/4 of the price for something that only last 1-2 years. Just to turn around and buy it again. People don’t want to spend more money on a good, quality piece that is going to last 20+ years.

It has become a desposable world.

When my Grandfather past away a couple of years ago, the family went through his garage. We found parts of for motors, tools and odd and ends of all kinds of things. Because back then you did not just throw something away and buy a new one. You repaired it yourself. You could buy parts to do that. In todays world you can’t.

This is the same with furnature and such.

P.S. On the things you have already made and can’t sell, increase the price. I read that in an article and did not believe it. I am a chip carver, I make things on a much smaller scale. But I remember one year I had made these cross ornaments. Took them around to many shows, the price $3. Did not sell a single one. After reading that article, I tried it at the next show. Middle of July, I sold everyone of those ornaments for $5. Wierd but it worked.

-- While teaching a class, a gentlemen once asked me: "When chip carving an intricate design, what do you do when you are almost finished and the wood breaks off?" I replied "Cover the kids ears."

View FellingStudio's profile


93 posts in 2248 days

#13 posted 03-07-2014 09:04 PM

Customer qualification is an important skill. We probably shouldn’t really be interested in a customer who would otherwise be purchasing an item at Pottery Barn, Ikea, or any number of other “big” corporate sources. So, it is important to be able to do things to gauge the customer’s budget. Ways to do this are to take a site visit to see what other types of furniture the customer has. (Tells you quality, style to design too, and should give you an idea to the customer’s overall wealth.) Also, ask what they do for a living, how they found you, where they live, what style of piece they are looking for. The answers to these questions are going to be important for a number of reasons, but for the purposes of this discussion, they will help you qualify that the customer is legit, knows what they are asking for, and can afford the piece.

If you get the answers that you are looking for, then you can give a ballpark figure and start work on designing a piece for the customer.

You can also employ a third party in the form of an interior designer or a gallery to qualify customers for you.

Of course, it’s also important to understand your position in the market. My thoughts here are primarily pointed at an aspiring fine furniture maker. Cabinet makers are probably going to think about customers in a fairly similar light, but if you are primarily selling Adirondack chairs or cutting boards, you are probably not going to be too concerned with qualifying customers. Rather, you will just make your product and market it.

-- Jesse Felling -

View Furnitude's profile


380 posts in 4072 days

#14 posted 03-07-2014 09:10 PM

Just a little story. I have a friend who is a pro and got a call from someone interested in a rocking chair. They talked about style and materials, etc. My friend makes stuff at the level of thousands of dollars for a custom rocking chair. The prospective customer said she wanted him to beat the price she would pay at Cracker Barrel, which was $99. He was too nice to hang up on her.

-- Mitch, Also blog at

View DrDirt's profile


4600 posts in 4308 days

#15 posted 03-07-2014 09:22 PM

Felling – agree in principal, but unfortunately not everyone that owns a table saw is actually producing products that are truly “Better” than some of the big box stuff.

I know I never went for a 1000 dollar kids bed (twin size painted)...because it is a kids bed. But that price is pretty close to what the individualized/custom maker could do it for.

Hit the nail on the head that you have to figure out what they are really looking for. Perhaps even asking them if they have a target/budget in mind.

I also have in our guest room an Ikea queen size bed for the last 18 years that my wife and I used before we were home owners- so it can be dangerous to generalize too much that everything from a store is particle board shit that would only last 1 year, and everyone who owns a tablesaw is Sam maloof turning out something that will be sold at Sotheby’s in a hundred years – or be on antiques roadshow.

You have to know your market, and where on a big continuum – ones own skills actualy are. And whether you represent a ‘Risk’ to the customer. If you want 5K for a table with 2500 up front for materials, on a ‘promise’ that you will make something they will love, with no history/portfolio to show them… that is a tough sell.

One has to choose a guide for themselves – but for example Russ made a nice table and was pricing it to clear 700 bucks.

This is what is for sale for 700 bucks – - I would say FAR FAR less craftsmanship that what Russ made above. I would expect no trouble making money at this.

-- “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Mark Twain

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