Custom Woodworking Success Drivers: Skills, Sales & Love of Wood

By Rich Christianson | Posted: 08/25/2013 9:09AM


Craftsmanship, salesmanship, and a whole lot of love for wood are all fundamentally important requirements for building a successful career as a custom woodworker. But which of these trumps all others for creating, sustaining and growing a custom woodworking business?

To find out, we recently polled the Woodworking Network audience, asking, "What is the most important attribute of being a successful professional custom woodworker?"

"Solid marketing/sales skills" received 32% of the 88 responses. followed by "Other," 23%; and "Passion for wood as a material," 22%. "Willingness to work ridiculous hours," 13%, and "Great design skills, 10%, also garnered support.

"It hasn't been until the last 5-6 years for me the most important attribute has become a love for the people involved in it all. This is for everyone on our in house team, clients, suppliers, contractors, etc. They are the reason we do what we do." - Will Fuller

I was not too surprised to see marketing and sales top the list of poll votes. We know from our numerous readership studies and daily interaction with custom woodworkers that a great many of them honed their fabrication skills in a family garage or basement. As word-of-mouth referrals built up, they branched out into a dedicated wood shop and ultimately hired employees, invested in more productive woodworking equipment and took on the multi-faceted, sometimes headache-inducing challenges of running a business.

Custom Woodworkers Talk About Success Drivers
As Michael Komala of Aquashicola, PA, put it, "'Successful' is being the key word here, marketing & sales skills trump all the other options. Yes, all the other options are indeed necessary to some degree, and my personal feelings as a passionate wood worker probably get in the way in making my business successful more often than not. A constant flow of paying clients equals a successful business."

Komala was one of half a dozen custom woodworkers to back their poll selection with a comment on Another, Roger Muller of Indianapolis, IN, could not confine his choice to one of the above. "I have found in observing and being in a number of businesses there are 3 essential areas (and very few people are good in more than 2 of them): 1. The technical aspects (tools, woods, etc.), 2. The artistic (i.e. design) and 3. business (marketing, sales, record keeping etc.). In one course the instructor said "Identify which one you are weakest at and outsource it."

Jeff Stanway of Somerset, WI, also proffered a list of three keys: "Positive attitude. Willingness to learn all aspects of the trade. Strong work ethic. I'd hire anyone that carries these three traits."

Several other custom woodworkers chimed in on Woodworking Network's Facebook account, including this insightful posting by Will Fuller of Houston, TX. "My comment is based on the assumption that anyone that want's to be a successful professional custom woodworker has a certain amount of passion and skill or they typically would have little interest in he craft. I have 36 years in the industry and have seen many talented and passionate woodworkers that never managed to be very successful. This is making another assumption that at least generally, success is defined as producing enough rewards to satisfy the investment made. It hasn't been until the last 5-6 years for me the most important attribute has become a love for the people involved in it all. This is for everyone on our in house team, clients, suppliers, contractors, etc. They are the reason we do what we do. When I care more about them than projects or even profits, our success at all levels abounds beyond our wildest dreams."

Click here to view the Woodworking Network "Custom Woodworker Success" poll results.

Even more important, take a moment to not only respond to our poll, but to engage in the conversation that is developing.

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About the Author

Rich Christianson

Rich Christianson is Associate Publisher and Editor at Large of Woodworking Network. During his 25+ years covering the wood products industry, Rich has toured hundreds of manufacturing plants throughout North America, Europe and Asia. His reporting has covered everything from the state of the industry and impact of wood imports to technology and environmental issues. In his current capacity he is responsible for editing the daily Woodworking Network Update newsletter and coordinating events including the annual Cabinets & Closets Conference & Expo and Canada’s biennial Woodworking Machinery & Supply Expo. He can be contacted at or follow him on Google+.

Read more of Rich Christianson's blogs.

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