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The Status of the Custom Market: Are We Seeing a Resurgence?

comments (17) September 22nd, 2010 in blogs

CustomMade CustomMade Staff, contributor
thumbs up 6 users recommend

We believe the market for custom is making a resurgence, and it’s starting with a new found appreciation for the craftsman in all industries. I noticed this recently while seeing commercials for the fall TV lineup: Top Chef (and the new Top Chef: Just Desserts), Project Runway, American Chopper…these are all shows that celebrate people who make things. Really, really well. And millions of people are making a point to sit down and watch them do it every single week.

I think most people are surprised that there are still people in this country who can actually make things with their own two hands. But as the shock of this new realization passes, what they’ve just given themselves is the knowledge that their purchasing decisions don’t have to be dictated by chain stores. They don’t have to negotiate their requirements based on what’s provided in the first three stores within a 10 mile radius.

The explosion of appreciation for local goods is also a promising sign. We only have to look at the popularity of farmers’ markets to see this. People are willing to travel further or spend more money (sometimes both) so they can spend quality time talking with growers to learn about what they’re buying and where it came from. The more convenient option is, by far, to go to the closest grocery store that sells everything regardless of quality. But the fact that growing numbers of people have decided to care about from where their items are coming tells me that this philosophy will carry over to all of their shopping habits.

Even though the movement is budding, the value of custom, hand-made goods in the woodworking community still needs more exposure. How do you think we can better advocate the value of what you do every day to the world?

posted in: blogs, custom

Comments (17)

gabzachuck gabzachuck writes: I think a lot of people settle for mediocrity because their motives are dictated by the what they think they can get for the least amount of money. Recently my neighbor had her kitchen remodeled, and when she asked me to repair a cabinet door that subsequently broke, I had to painfully inform her that what she presumed was cherry was actually packing crate wood with a thickly lacquered finish. I've always been enthused with antiques, mostly because if they have withstood the test of time that pretty much equates quality. I create my own furniture mostly because I can get what I want and the quality I want & not what simply is locally available. That also goes for craft & imported beers, imported coffees and most of all precision tools. Compared to fifty or more years ago it's absolutely amazing the wide variety of interesting things available to the average consumer now. This very much bodes well for the imaginative person that now has vast resources to chose from when they feel they want to be creative.
Posted: 3:18 am on October 6th

BallinaBill BallinaBill writes: "If you make machines to do your work you will become a machine man"
This is to paraphrase a quote from Confucious. What he ment in essence was that if you become automated you will loose a large part of your humanity. There is a need for speed in todays world of instant gratification. There is also a need to make a living resulting in the production of cheaper and inferior furniture to meet demands of a market attuned to the quick fix of the shiney and new.
Many woodworkers are forced by necessity to producing work that give little satisfaction to their ability as craft workers. I have many pieces of hand made crafted furniture, by myself and others, that will be in use for several generations. Most of these are commercialy unviable as the market will not see the value of generational furniture that is not scrapped when the desire to "consume" and savour the childlike satisfaction of the glossy, and the often tawdry, that replaces common sense.
There will be further degredation of craft raised to art as these skills are proving harder to pass on to future genrations, seeking instant gratification, and having their expectations met for little or no effort.
Posted: 6:16 pm on October 5th

Kaytrim Kaytrim writes: The problem I see with custom woodworking is that the consumer doesn't want to pay custom prices. swannyww has it right. The furniture industry is inundated with factory made products at various price points. This includes the cheap knock down and solid wood construction.

What the industry needs is consumer education. They need to be taught what to expect from a custom builder both in price and quality. Also they need to understand that custom builders don't have the ability to offer 6 or 12 months same as cash like the factories do.

Also helping custom builders and consumers connect will be beneficial like what CM is doing. However the builder should have their work verified if possible. This will give the consumer confidence that who they contract can do the work at the level of quality they expect. I don't know what the process is for someone to become a member of CM, I don't think my ability is up to par for the market. Nor do I have the time to make a living at it.
Posted: 11:58 am on October 5th

danjohnston danjohnston writes: We've been on CustomMade for some months and really appreciate their personal attention. We made hollow wooden surfboards, yea rather limited market, but CM took one customer under their wing and hooked him up with us and we've been talking about a rather large, one surfboard, project. Still in discussion but even if it doesn't pan out, CM showed they can add a personal touch to bringing buyer/seller together.

Blind Dog Surfboards
Posted: 7:12 am on September 28th

HenryDoe HenryDoe writes: As far as the TV shows go, People are all about the made up drama than the actual items being made.
Posted: 9:41 am on September 27th

GeorgeCarlson GeorgeCarlson writes: Custom furniture is art, and artists are almost never well paid. It isn't just "the public" that has a hard time distinguishing between custom and factory made, it's craftsmen too. Well crafted isn't good enough, it must be well designed, as in strong, functional, and beautiful. The market for overdone and avant-garde has always been and always will be small. It must be easily moved from room to room, place to place, take abuse and still look great.
Posted: 11:02 am on September 25th

Bowis Bowis writes: My experience tells me that the attitude toward custom made furniture these days is that it is a last resort, rather than a first choice. In the 18th century, elegant furniture was a status symbol as it was clearly distinguishable from cheap or common substitutes. These days, people can't distinguish between high and low quality furniture (once you get past the knock-down stuff)so they shop largely on price and look. Only when they need something very specific that they can't find anywhere else do they come a custom craftsman. The good news it allows us to charge a premium, but the bad news is creates a challenge identifying new customers. I'm hoping folks like CM can help educate the market to start thinking custom first, rather than as a last resort. I'd much rather be educating on design choices than evangelizing custom on its own merits.
Posted: 3:31 pm on September 23rd

HayesFurnitureDesign HayesFurnitureDesign writes: I'm glad that someone is optimistic about custom furniture. I've been in business only a year, and i am struggling to make bills. I have a four year degree in furniture design with a minor in marketing, and everyone thinks i'm crazy for getting into furniture making. But i believe in myself, and i'm hoping that society will realize the importance of quailty made furniture that will last multi generations, but this won't happen by itself. Someone needs to get things rolling in the right direction. I support custom made website and hope that its successful. Tommy MacDonald as well, GOOD LUCK!!!!
Posted: 2:09 pm on September 23rd

CustomMade CustomMade writes: We feel that a lot of the challenge is educating a disposable-minded and "use it and toss it" prone society about the benefits of investing in quality that lasts. This is the goal of our CustomMade blog. Separate from the site, the aim is to show consumers the benefit of custom goods. Our latest post, for instance, is about our founder Seth having a custom coffee table made from figured bubinga. He can pass that table on to his kids, who could leave it to their kids, etc. This is almost never the case with a name-brand piece of furniture from a store. However, we make the effort because we see and believe that there IS a growing demand for custom.
Posted: 11:59 am on September 23rd

powderjones powderjones writes: Like any market, the market for fine woodworking expands and contracts with the times - it's just business. Adaptability is the key to survival. While I enjoy doing my signature work - taking in some (or even a lot) trim or built-in work is never under me. In fact, treated right, that type of work can be a boost to your finer work down the road. Also, be sure you are taking care of your past customers - they are the most reliable source for repeat and new clients - also the least expensive to procure.
Posted: 11:47 am on September 23rd

swannyww swannyww writes: People want well made furniture, but the competition offers easy credit, very cheap prices and the consumer falls for the gimmick. The cheaply made products quickly fail and the consumer is left with payments for junk. The consumer, already in a bind, buys even more junk on credit, and the junk fails again as it is designed to do. There are no standards for making furniture, although consumers think there are. The custom builder's reputation is on the line each time he works, and in order to stay in business he must produce quality pieces. If the consumer thinks little of his furniture, and price is the only factor, then you can't change his mind, but he gets real angry when the cheap stuff fails because his theory isn't sound. I am still in business and many large furniture stores have gone bankrupt in my 31 years building.
Posted: 10:18 am on September 23rd

HayesFurnitureDesign HayesFurnitureDesign writes: saschafer,
thanks for the correction

Posted: 8:27 am on September 23rd

a_Furnitologist a_Furnitologist writes: Gina......Appreciate your questions and will briefly respond as I do not want to appear rude. I do not want to get caught up in a debate on thie forum. My intent was to help push an open opportunity that will hopefully help push new furniture design.

Beginning my 31st year this past June as a furniture deisgner and manufacturer you learn to morph and move to what the market offers. The market of the 1980's looks nothing like the 1990's or 2000's. Yeah economic times drive the furniture industry, always has and always will. Furniture feels the lows of the low and only small windows of the high. Right now everybody here is thinking of furniture design as casegoods only; when the US is best right now at manufacturing upholstered goods. So what's the opportunity for somebody on this forum to compliment upholstered goods???

Your questions require thought that doesn't start at the government. The government proved already it doesn't care about the US Furniture Industry.

You can e-mail me and we can discuss this further if you would like.

Also without being flippant and far from disrespectful, please do not referr to me as a "Pro Woodworker" my card doesn't say "Professional Woodworker", I've never introduced myself as being a "Professional Woodworker" and I do not like to respond to its use. It's an internet catch phase.


Posted: 8:12 am on September 23rd

saschafer saschafer writes:

The government hasn't said that the recession is over. The National Bureau of Economic Research said that the recession is over. The NBER is a non-profit organization, not connected to the government in any way.


Posted: 10:01 pm on September 22nd

HayesFurnitureDesign HayesFurnitureDesign writes: The government claims that the resession is over, i don't believe it. I think they are trying to coax the people who have money into spending it. Personally i find making a woodworking living super difficult right now. You're right getting in touch with buyers is the key, but creating new buyers is hard when they don't have the budget to do it. You should see the looks on people's faces when i price them something. Furniture used to be an important part of social status, its just not there anymore. Customers have to be convinced that the quality outweighs the extra cost to get it.
Posted: 8:45 pm on September 22nd

GEide GEide writes: Neil, how have you seen things change during your years as a pro? Has demand dropped off with the tough economy? Is it showing signs of improvement? I hear different reports from different woodworkers.
Posted: 2:54 pm on September 22nd

a_Furnitologist a_Furnitologist writes: Custom has never gone away.....its always evolving. A new generation has to be reconnected with it.

Tommy MacDonald is trying to do his part by putting together a Furniture Designer Showcase within the New England Home Show in Late February 2011. If accepted into the showcase there is NO FEE to having the opportunity to connect with the buying public.

The theme of the show is "Re-Connecting the Furniture Maker with the buyer"

The key is that the American Woodworker has to understand its all about new product and meet the challenge of showing work of today not 2 years ago. A Call for Entries is out and can be viewed here:

Check out who is going to be there with more in the works.

All Furniture Maker/Designers are welcome to submitt an entry by January 15th, 2011.

Interest has been high but the real proof will be January 15th and the number fo submissions.

Neil Lamens
WoodExpo Committee Memeber
Posted: 2:34 pm on September 22nd

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