At my seminar on Sales Systems for Small Shops during AWFS Fair in July, one stalwart soul named Paul stayed to ask, “How do I get into the cabinet industry?”

The recent economy might have prompted many of us to hit him with the 2 x 4 of obviousness while screaming “Run Away! Run Away!” but Paul is a determined woodworker. He had checked into a few recent jobs and felt he could compete. Paul explained that he wanted to run his own shop and had invested the time to come to seminars, walk the trade show and learn all he could. He felt that his current employer gave him a J.O.B. (Just Over Broke), but not a future.

So I stopped writing his name on the 2 x 4 and started asking questions: Where would he manufacture? How sophisticated was his fabrication knowledge? What machinery did he have? How many jobs had he sold? What was his profit?

After several questions it became obvious that Paul had the same problem many established shops have — lots of knowledge, plenty of machinery, but no sales. Woodworkers as a whole are the same as many craftspeople. We focus on the craft and forget we are running a business. I feel that it is more profitable to be a business person who runs a woodworking shop than a woodworker who has a business.

For Paul, my advice was to not quit his J.O.B yet. Instead, start looking for a part-time job in the woodworking industry and focus his attention on sales. Learn how to sell cabinets at a Big Box store, lumberyard or even on his own before investing more in machinery. Once he learned how the business worked, why people bought cabinets, who were the main suppliers, and what the average margins were, then he could start his own shop.

Remember, that nothing starts until you have an order, so get the order first, then the business can begin.

Pulling Eases Product SalesPulling Marketing Strings
When selling your product it is always easier to have Pull Through than Push Through marketing. Pull Through creates demand and then fills it. Push Through shoves product into the market and hopes someone wants to buy it.

Two of the kings of Pull Through marketing in the woodworking industry are Rev-A-Shelf and Hera Lighting. Both focus on getting their products into the hands of kitchen designers, showrooms, architects and interior designers. They both spend marketing dollars on trade shows for more than just woodworkers, but also on the people specifying the product.

On a recent visit to a medium kitchen manufacturer in Illinois, I found a brochure specifically developed by one of the above companies just to help the kitchen manufacturer sell the products to their dealers. The brochure created demand at the dealer level, pulling the products through the kitchen manufacturer.

(A quick disclaimer here: As an independent rep, I do represent Hera and Rev-A-Shelf, but my opinion is we all have a lot to learn from their example.)

What can we as woodworking manufacturers do to Pull the String instead of Push it? Find ways to link or add our products in conjunction with anyone that may have an influence on the final buyer or specifier.

We could contact the local interior design stores and put mini-showrooms in their space. We could offer to build them organizing racks to show off our closet systems. If you make doors and windows, you could tie in with a window blind franchise and create a joint brochure. If you build hope chests, you could make a demo unit for the local bridal shop. If you make sheds, you could build a shed on the local landscaper’s garden center with a sign including your contact information.

Get your product in front of the line where prospects can pull it through instead of having it pushed on them and your sales will increase. 

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