I recently stumbled across this article from Banks Hardwood while searching for information on domestic and exotic hardwoods. The article talks about the challenges facing small businesses in today’s global economy and what they need to focus on to be successful. The headlines from that article resonated with me, and I’ll use them to talk about the particulars of my custom wood business.

Find the High End Niche, Don’t Compete on Price

This is a critical thing for a business like mine. We build custom furniture and custom furniture by its very nature is going to be in the upper end of the price spectrum. There is no way that we could compete with the furniture prices of companies like Pottery Barn and that’s OK, we’re not Pottery Barn. We build high quality, one-of-a-kind pieces, not 100,000 medium-quality pieces.

We differentiate ourselves by offering incredible quality, absolute customization, impeccable service, and that hand-made, locally produced touch. Our challenge is to find the 20% of the population that wants our product and serve them tirelessly, not cry over how the other 80% buy from a catalog rather than from us.

Emphasize Quality

No matter how good a mass produced piece of furniture is, it will never be as high quality as a piece that is produced by a craftsman. On the assembly line, joints are not as tight as they could be, tolerances, clearances, and spacings are necessarily looser, and details in the finishing stages are overlooked.

Every detail in our furniture is important: the mortise-and-tenon joint must have a snug, precise fit, the dovetail drawer must withstand tens of thousands of openings and closings over the next hundred years, the glue joints between boards should be so good that they seem to mold together to form one cohesive unit, and most importantly, the finish on the piece should make people stop dead in their tracks when they see it. These are all things we focus on, and things that are passed over on an assembly line.

Capitalize on Long Lead Times and Slow Turnaround Times

This is one area which we have already taken advantage of to gain sales. We strive to have the shortest lead times possible. We built and installed one entertainment center in a short time period to make sure all the installation commotion was over by the time the clients baby was born (we finished the day before!). Another project was completed in three weeks and installed while the clients were on vacation.

The point is, go the extra mile and offer such individualized service to your clients that you blow them away. When you do that, they won’t be able to help but tell their friends about you.

We will continue this discussion in the next entry.

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