The Greek philosopher Heraclitus is credited with coining the phrase “Change is the only constant.” That was way back around 500 BC, but it certainly seems to apply in 2010, especially when it comes to woodworking businesses.

I don’t know any shop that is doing everything the same way they did even five years ago. And the current economic pressures have done even more to accelerate the pace of change. On the production side, the dramatic rise of computer automation continues apace. The shop that doesn’t at least use a computer in the office is rare indeed today, and the number of shops adopting full automated production has grown exponentially. With the current economic pressure to cut costs and raise productivity, who isn’t considering automated alternatives?

Changes off the shop floor

But new technology in the shop is just the beginning. The whole nature of how woodworking products are conceived and sold is in flux. Here again the rise of technology plays a key role.
Whereas the old custom shop did business in the local neighborhood, the new woodworking business sees wider horizons. Internet access broadens potential reach and new communication tools make longer distance jobs more viable. Of course, the fact that business may be none too good back in the old neighborhood certainly adds to the pressure to stretch the bounds of business.

On the consumer side, more communication changes their expectations. Instead of wanting a kitchen like Susie down the street has, they want one like they saw on HGTV. And they want more than just pencil sketches to show you can make their dream happen.

Marketing, what marketing?

We’ve had survey after survey telling us that most custom shops rely almost entirely on word of mouth to promote their business. Unfortunately, those mouths have been far too silent lately. That means that as much as they hate it, most shop owners are finding they must also dust off their marketer hats, get out of the shop and sell. Or at least hire somebody who can sell.

Many an excellent craftsman who couldn’t successfully market work has fallen by the wayside as more successful marketers run on by. This is a tough realization for shop owners who know wood and tools but are sorely lacking in sales expertise.

Rising to the challenge

So, how has your business changed? How have you met the challenges of this economy? Have you downsized staff, cut costs and still tried to boost efficiency? How did you do that? Did you learn to sell or hire somebody who already can? Or is the marketing challenge still one that frustrates you regularly?

We’re launching a webinar series that plans to address some of these nuts and bolts of change. We’re starting with targeted programs on competitive pricing and marketing, but that’s just the beginning.

We want to hear from business owners who have met these challenges, but we also want to hear from people who are still frustrated and looking for help? What’s the help you need? What are your questions? Share your story and maybe we can come up with answers together. Contact me at wsampson@wattnet.net.

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.