Rising tides of the improved economy may not lift all boats. Some have hit the shoals during what’s been a rough couple of years. But custom woodworkers have gotten creative to stay afloat. We’ve talked to a number of owners who’ve tried serving new markets — for example, former commercial-only shops adding residential kitchen and bath work, even becoming dealers for national cabinetry and home storage (aka closets) lines.

Some woodworkers have moved into basic remodeling and repair to keep busy. Others have added cabinet refacing and rebuilding — services that in sunnier times might have seemed outside the core business focus. Mankato (MN) CabinetCraft (see p. 22), for example, announced in November that it is adding cabinet refinishing and refacing options to its list of product services.

Van Nuys, CA-based I&E Cabinets, which provides custom cabinetry services in the Los Angeles area, also offers not only refacing, but any type of remodeling process — kitchen, bath, garage, office, or commercial space.

Some woodworkers have taken on projects for big-box home improvement stores, or other national networks, working for companies like Richmond, VA-based National Restorations, a furniture and cabinet restoration company that coordinates repairs to furniture and cabinets under insurance company claims.

One of the fastest growing segments of the economy — health care — is a good area to set your sights. Institutional and laboratory projects will be demanding lots of quotes, and the scale of projects will run from the largest projects to strip-mall surgi-centers. Changing demographics and the national health care program will see more consumers in medical centers in coming years. So an effort is being made to create a home-like feel with warm tones and soft edges, say component suppliers also serving this market.

As columnist Rick Hill continuously reminds woodworkers, it’s important to position your firm for such opportunities. River Oak Cabinetry, Aurora, IL, did that when it turned last month’s holiday dry spell into a marketing event, staging an “accessorize your home for the seasons” promotion that brought in prospects and helps keep their name and expertise top-of-mind.

Perhaps it’s counter intuitive, but the popularity of woodworking among millions of hobbyists also provides “teachable moments” for professional woodworkers to reach customers, while coaching and training amateurs all over the country. (The National Woodworking Shows series is one example.) When consumers see what goes into great cabinetry and furniture building, they are more appreciative customers, and more willing to spend for excellence.

Neil Sher, owner of custom furniture maker WoodSmyths of Chicago, uses this tack as he reaches out to serious amateurs with evening and weekend classes in woodworking basics. Trained as an industrial educator, Sher wrote a carefully thought-out curriculum — with an emphasis on safety as one of its underpinnings — from which he teaches the basics of wood furniture and crafts to students. In the course of their education, students’ appreciation of the art and skill of custom wood furniture production grows. And no doubt, sales develop when Sher’s admiring proteges order some of his finely wrought work when the training session series conclude.

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