Tips for Entering a Custom Woodworking Contest
August 15, 2011 | 11:34 am CDT

People who purchase custom furniture oftentimes are seeking a personal experience. As one furnituremaker, Steve Holman, so aptly says, “They are buying me as much as they are buying the piece of furniture I make for them.” So when a custom woodworker wins a contest, it becomes one more attribute that says to a potential customer, “Here is a winner.”

There are a variety of competitions open to woodworkers, and different approaches and outcomes for each person who enters a contest. To get a more focused look at what’s involved, CWB interviewed five contest winners about their experiences. (See sidebar below for information about their individual businesses.)

All five have entered and won CWB’s Design Portfolio Awards multiple times, as well as other competitions. Michael Bright also won the “Kitchen of the Year” Award at the 2009 Kitchen/Bath Industry Show in Atlanta, and he has won competitions sponsored by Sub-Zero. Jeff Vaida and I.A. Keer won contests sponsored by the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). Keer points out that anybody involved with a project can enter an ASID competition, as long as they belong to that organization. Dan Mosheim and Holman have won awards in contests sponsored by the Vermont Wood Manufacturers Association.

Mosheim and Keer also have gained national recognition from print media. Taunton Press and Fine Woodworking collaborated to publish a series of design books, and Mosheim succeeded in getting images chosen for all but the first and the last ones. Keer had an image of his work selected for the cover of Art Calendar as the winner of that magazine’s Crabbie award.

Each of the five answered a list of questions about their
experiences with contests. Below is a compilation of the highlights:

1. Are you ever able to research the judges (to see what they like) to enhance your chances of

Bright says that he has never researched judges, al- though he says he has been “dumbfounded” on more than one occasion when he learned what they selected. The others expressed similar feelings.

Vaida once was invited to a panel discussion where the judges commented about their selections. He says this process was insightful and useful for future competitions.

In contrast, Keer says that he often Googles the judges to learn about their work and their preferences to gain insight about whether his entry might be of interest to them. “I would not say that research increases my chances of winning, but I do believe it decreases my chances of losing,” he says.

2. What winning projects have brought you the most business and why?
None of the five says that they can directly link winning a contest to getting new business. But they say that such recognition contributes toward developing a critical mass of awareness. As Keer puts it, “Winning awards establishes short-term notoriety and long-term professional and creative credibility.”

3. When you win a contest, how do you use it as a marketing tool?
All five woodworkers post news of an award and images of the winning piece on their Web sites. If appropriate, they include a link to the sponsor’s Web site as well. Additionally, the news is included in a timely e-mail blast to the company’s mailing list. Keer says that sometimes the media will follow up with a story about the award.

4. When was the first time that you entered a contest, and where were you in your career at the time?
There was a wide range of answers from the five woodworkers. Holman says, “just five years ago, after I had been in business for 25 years.” However, Keer says he has been entering contests ever since he graduated from architecture school in 1982. The moral is that it never is too early or too late to compete, and it seems to be worth the effort.

5. Has winning contests come easily, or have you sometimes entered and not won?
All five winners admit that they are no stranger to entering contests and not winning. Nevertheless, most expect to keep entering contests in the near future. The most important criteria for them in deciding whether to enter a contest or not is to have a project that they are excited about and that generates an interesting story — and one that has been photographed well so it will showcase the work.

6. What has been your most successful marketing tool to help you survive the economic downturn?
A common theme expressed in the answer to this question was an ability to be diversified and agile; including having the capability to offer design services and being able and willing to travel outside of one’s own geographic area. Additionally, mention was made of having built a strong client base, which results from being in business for a long time. It is always the customer relationship that counts the most — and winning a contest can enhance that.


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