Maybe it’s time for a little tough love for woodshop owners.
After covering the woodworking industry and custom woodworking businesses in particular for 25 years, I’ve found there are a few constants that keep small shops from growing and help perpetuate the starving artist image that some woodworkers can’t seem to shake.
I’ll be talking about “Seven Ways Woodworkers Can Improve Their Businesses” as part of the Wood Pro Expo, which runs for two days, October 19-20 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. My talk is the keynote address opening the show on October 19.
I’m a perennial optimist, so I don’t want to come off too negative, but I do get frustrated when I hear woodworkers who are convinced that they can’t prosper in their chosen profession without somehow sacrificing creativity or scruples. Maybe they just need a kick in the pants or an opportunity to see potential success from a different angle.
Not too long ago, I remember meeting a woodworking educator, who shall remain nameless. He freely admitted that he wasn’t really successful running a cabinet shop, so he became a full-time woodworking college teacher. While he surely inspires his students to higher levels of craftsmanship, he sets the complete opposite tone when it comes to business. He said he tells his students that it’s not realistic to expect to make more than $30,000 a year as a custom woodworker.
That talk makes me want to scream and race to introduce his misdirected students to the many success stories I know that break that mold. There’s Keith Morgan of Bespoke, who just won the Veneer Tech Craftsman’s Challenge for a million-dollar home office project he did. I don’t know Keith’s annual income, but I assure you it’s a lot more than $30,000, and he cuts no corners in his craftsmanship. Heck, garden-variety custom cabinet shop owners across the country should be doing six-figure incomes if they just play their business cards correctly.
That’s the whole secret and what I want to talk about at Wood Pro Expo. What I’ve learned with my own business ventures and those of hundreds of shops I’ve visited over the years is this truism. You can be a spectacular woodworker and a lousy business person, and you will indeed starve. However, you can be a good business person and just an average woodworker, and you will likely prosper.
The trick is to treat business as just part of your craft. It’s one more tool you need to learn how to use, the same as any other tool in the shop. Just as you can’t expect to get maximum performance out of a machine you haven’t learned to operate correctly, you can’t expect to achieve ultimate success as a woodworking business if you don’t learn business skills or hire people who have those skills.
Come to Wood Pro Expo in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. And let’s talk about making money as well as sawdust. See you there if you are ready for a little tough love!