Every day it seems I encounter a new lesson in how woodworking businesses can better compete and build business by going custom. The fact of the matter is that one size does NOT fit all in woodworking products. But many potential woodworking customers don’t know that custom options are available or within their economic grasp. And too many woodworking businesses don’t realize that modern technology has made custom manufacturing as efficient and cost effective as old-fashioned mass production models.

Custom and competition 

One of the biggest values of going custom is being better able to compete. The big mass merchandisers and offshore factories are disinclined to offer custom options. They are so busy competing on price that they need to convince customers that the “savings” is worth buying something that doesn’t really meet the customers’ needs.

Instead of selling on price, the custom manufacturer must play up the real value in providing a product that does exactly meet the needs and wants of the customer. Compare it to clothing: Would you buy a shirt two sizes too small just because it was a really good deal. Of course not! If it doesn’t fit, it has no value at all. When selling cabinets and furniture, you need to emphasize how well you can make your products fit your customers’ needs without compromise.

Custom and production 

Of course, many customers and even a lot of woodworking manufacturers figure custom is just too expensive to consider. But technology has changed much of that. With today’s software and CNC manufacturing, the machine really doesn’t care if it makes one item or dozens. Yes, there will be additional hand-holding with the customer and additional design time. But efficient use of software libraries, steering customers through a controlled and disciplined design process, and even streamlined price negotiations all help to make custom work very efficient and profitable.

A great example is Colecraft Commercial Furnishing in Falconer, N.Y. This company was resurrected from an earlier incarnation that emphasized tables for commercial and institutional customers. The new owners have greatly expanded product offerings to capture new customers and make more money from every project. Take a library project as an example. Instead of just doing a run of stock tables, as it would have in the past, Colecraft now will make custom tables to fit specific needs in different parts of the library. They will also do computer stations, custom shelving for different media, reception and department desks, as well as matching wall panels in both decorative and functional modes.

Everybody wins 

By being a one-stop shop for the customer, they’ve saved the customer time, money and logistics hassles. By doing more work for one customer, the manufacturer achieved in-house efficiency to offer more competitive value while still taking a comfortable profit. So, the only question is: Why aren’t you going custom?

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