Challenges of Running a Woodworking Business

By Jared Patchin | Posted: 04/02/2013 10:33AM

 

J Alexander Fine Woodworking Jared Patchin Last time I left off talking about the history of my company, I was about two years into running J. Alexander Fine Woodworking. I was slowly developing some relationships with interior designers, honing my woodworking and business skills, mostly through mistakes made and lessons learned, gaining confidence in myself as a woodworker and a businessman, but it was incredibly slow going.

In November of 2009 I tackled a project that illustrates that point quite well. I had an interior designer call me, one that we had worked with through Shutter Crafts, and ask if we built cabinets and if I would like to bid on a kitchen remodel. My answer was immediately “YES!” to both inquiries, even though I had very little experience in building and installing cabinetry. I won the bid, which was the largest job I had done at that time, and, as you can see, the final product turned out just fine. There were two things that resulted from that job. One, I gained a new, repeat interior design client, whom I still work with today, and two, I learned that no matter what, I can figure out how to get the job done. There have been so many jobs that I have taken on that included skills and techniques that were foreign to me and that I had to figure out as I went. Thankfully, rather than paralyzing me with fear, it excited me and forced me to get much better, much quicker.

Early in 2010, fresh off that kitchen remodel, I decided to stop focusing on furniture exclusively, and expand into cabinetry. As discussed in previous blog entries, that included me pulling building permits in my area, and beginning a cold call marathon. It was one of these calls that lead to me winning the bid for an entire house of cabinets for a home builder who has turned out to be one of my top two accounts. Not only does he supply us with steady work, but we do all of his work without having to bid against other shops, which is my ultimate goal with any wholesale account. On top of that, we have developed a great working friendship over the past 2.5 years.

April 2011 was a landmark month that still stands out in my mind to this day. Just by happenstance, I scheduled myself four appointments on the same day, and when the dust settled, I had won three of the four jobs, which represented over $50,000 worth of work. Just like the first kitchen job I ever completed, this was a huge confidence builder. It showed me that I can sell both myself and my company’s product successfully, and it was the moment when I actually started to believe that J. Alexander Fine Woodworking might actually be a viable business!

Fresh off that day in April, along with some newly developed contacts sending us work, I was quickly downing in work. This was my first experience with one of the more frustrating aspects of running a small business; the feast or famine cycle of sales. It was around this time that I made the incredibly scary decision to hire my first employee. I entered the prospect of hiring an employee with eyes wide open, since I have observed my father over the past 20 years as he has employed as many as 8 people at a time. I sent the word throughout my small network of contacts, and within a month or so, I became an employer.

Training a new employee, who had no woodworking experience whatsoever, and trying to keep up with the ever increasing demand for our work, led to the summer of 2011 being a complete blur. One day began to blend into another, since my life consisted almost entirely of working and sleeping. I also got to experience first-hand the life of a small business owner as my wife and sons left with my parents on a summer vacation to Yellowstone National Park without me. That summer, I was learning the hard way, that if you don’t purposefully manage, guide, and direct your business, the ebbs and flows of the market will throw you all over the place.

 


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About the Author

Jared Patchin J Alexander Fine Woodworking Network

Jared Patchin

Jared Patchin started woodworking professionally in 2008 when he set-up J.Alexander Fine Woodworking in Boise, ID, where he builds custom crafted furniture and cabinetry. He started building furniture at the age of seven when his father bought Shutter Crafts. He has developed his craft since then, moving from making wooden swords for himself and his friends to building some of the finest furniture and cabinetry available. He lives in Boise, Idaho with his wife and two young sons, who have taken over the sword making side of things.

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