Once you are well on your way to establishing your motivations and interest, what about your clients? Understanding their desires and spending habits is just as important and potentially elusive. The purchasing public fickle and they have a lot of competition for their dollars. Establishing the value of your work relative to their money can take some mental exercise and time to develop.
Who are these people that you hope will consistently purchase your woodwork at a price that will support your business (and hopefully family)? Again, I think that the best place to start is with yourself. When did you last spend money on a product similar to the ones that you hope to produce and at the cost you hope to charge? Usually the answer for the budding woodworker is "never".
It's important to remember that folks operate with much of the sensibilities that guide your own purchasing habits. Try putting yourself in their shoes. I'd advise looking into the buying habits and interest of your peers, friends, parents and neighbors. What would your plumber realistically pay for that? He probably has more money than you think, but how do you connect him to the value of the work? I recall a relative saying "Who would spend $1000 on a wooden chair?" and while it was crass to state, it was the right question.
It's easy to imagine a wealthy clientele for whom the costs of your product won't be noticed while it's value is obvious. But aiming squarely at a "wealthy" clientele has some inherent risk. Only a small portion of society has such deep pockets and the competition for their dollars is high. As the maker, it’s all too easy to equate your assessment of the value of the time, skill and materials in a piece and imagine that you can think like a “rich” person “ who will have no problem dropping their cash in response. This is not a business plan that I would bet on personally.
To state it plainly, what you make is not valuable until you establish it as such in the mind of your clients.
I’ve sold chairs to library clerks and traded them, at full price for firewood. What is it that connects those folks to the work enough for them to surrender their hard won cash?
As an example, here is an approach that I've taken with my chairs. It's sort of a one act play that I've done a thousand times.
Know it or not, we all have a deep connection to chairs. My goal is to expose folks to the choices that I’ve made in materials, construction, design and tooling and the ways that this affects the result.
Usually, interested people see the chairs from across the room and notice the overall impact of the design. The gesture of the chair, the lightness, something different from the norm. As they approach the chair, they begin to notice the shapeliness, the subtle tool marks and the thinness of the parts. Then they touch it, contacting the smooth surfaces and the tooling, noting that not every surface has been treated the same. Upon sitting they smile, never having sat in a wooden chair that flexes and feels comfortable. While they sit I can take a moment to demonstrate the role of hand tools and split wood in the production of the chair, not as a romantic gesture but as a means of gaining strength, comfort and durability.
When they stand, I ask them to pick the chair up. It never fails that they laugh as the chair is much is so much lighter than expected. Then I demonstrate the flexibility of the spindles, which usually elicits an audible gasp, and my job is complete. I’ve replaced their previously held assumptions about wooden chairs and as such built a connection. This may not result in a sale, but their engagement is gratifying for both of us and assures me that I am on the right track. Of course this depends on some deliberate choices in the type of product that is made and the quality of the results, which I'll look at in the next post.
Testing your market and educating your community is essential to guiding your production. I spent many weekends at local Farm market craft shows building my awareness of the buying public and my reputation amongst them. After a few years, folks felt like they knew me and had watched my skills grow while they coveted the work, that's when the sales became more consistent and I started to gain a footing. Small time craft shows may not be where you envision your high end products selling, but I've sold lots of chairs there and more importantly, gained a sensitivity to how the public assigns value.