It used to be that small shops were at a huge disadvantage in competing against larger operations, but technology and smart business practices are leveling the playing field. And in some cases, nimble small enterprises can actually outdo bigger operations because they can more easily meet custom orders and tight schedules to deliver high quality results.

A case in point is the one-man shop from Nashville featured in this issue. If Chris Harmon were an old-style hand-tool craftsman or even relied on mechanized conventional machines, it’s not likely he could compete for cabinet projects in the demanding million-dollar home market without adding significant staff. But with a nested based CNC at the center of his operation, he can deliver precisely built cabinets with much less material handling. And the time saved in making boxes allows him more time for high-dollar custom touches that his clients appreciate – and pay for.

Ironically, there are still lots of small shops that won’t even consider CNC production. They somehow view it as counter to quality craftsmanship. No matter that their hand-built cabinets can’t equal the precision of CNC-built boxes. This gets back to the age-old discussion of what constitutes craftsmanship. Some people get too wrapped up in the tools rather than the craftsman operating them. I can’t believe that some of the craftsmen of a century or two ago wouldn’t adopt modern methods if they could.

Once again, this plays into the question of value. Truly the only value that counts is the value as seen through your customer’s eyes. If the customer cannot see the value, you surely can’t get them to pay for it. By all means, if you successfully sell hand craftsmanship as a value and your customers appreciate and pay for that, then keep it up. But in my experience, today’s woodworking customer rarely understands basic joinery, let alone everything that goes into hand-crafted woodwork. You can either spend way too much time educating them or you can focus on values they already appreciate. Technology helps you do that.

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