Affordable designs vs custom products

I returned from our few days of vacation to find myself the recipient of more new design business than I could comfortably handle. What a wonderful problem to have!

I have been repositioning the products and services offered by Box-Carts, my custom woodworking business. It may appear to be a subtle point, but it has made a significant difference in the reception I get and in the amount of interest generated.

I now stress that we provide affordable designs in wood rather than custom wood products. Those of you with a background in short-run manufacturing, will see that there is actually little difference in what is being produced. There is, however, a significant difference in what is being purchased.

A person purchasing a design expects to get something unusual and possibly one-of-a-kind. Since our customers participate in the decisions leading to a finished design, that is what they get. What seems to be equally important to them is the fact that they acquire bragging rights when they take delivery of a custom design and this appears to add value to their purchase.

A product, by definition, is usually something that is turned out again and again. We can brag about the fine products we have bought and we often do so. However, there is a special satisfaction in saying that something was designed for us and it does not necessarily relate to the amount of money spent.

Based on the favorable response to this new positioning, I have created new promotional material which highlights the fact that we offer affordable designs in wood. I distribute this literature when we are installing Deck Planters and it generates immediate follow-on design business.

It helps that we are located in a large community of fairly new homes at at a considerable distance from the nearest city. There are a lot of discriminating buyers who have been searching the internet and elsewhere for just the right coffee table or shelving unit and have almost given up hope. When they find that they can get what they want from a local supplier, price becomes a secondary issue.

So, we continue our adventure in the exciting world of small business. We keep redefining ourselves as we understand the nuances of this market niche better. I get all of the excitement of corporate life without the lost motion and lock-step mentality that comes with a large, impersonal organization. 

In a small business, there is no delay between cause and effect. If you make a mistake, it shows up in your bank account immediately. If you make a correct decision, it can produce favorable results before the week is out.

Fortunately, we are making more correct decisions than mistakes. We just have to continue that pattern.

UPDATE: The Box-Carts website has been redesigned in a weblog format around the concept of Affordable Designs in Wood.

I owe many thanks to Dickie Conn for her help in this repositioning effort. She has a great future as an executive coach, when she gets tired of her present position in high-tech marketing.

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0 Responses to Affordable designs vs custom products

  1. I’m not sure what you mean by “Affordable designs in wood”.

    Are you aiming for both custom and inexpensive? or merely rare and inexpensive?

    The first would be a one-of at a many-of price. I’m not sure that that’s sustainable as a business plan, because the many-of price is based on hundreds of thousands of units.

    The second would be a few-of at a many-of price. I’m not sure that’s sustainable either.

    Can you explain further?

  2. Our designs are not inexpensive, they are merely affordable. We design to a budget or we can design to a finished product.

    The combination of modern woodworking machinery with hand finishing and assembly in a low overhead environment lets us produce customized designs at a price that our customers feel comfortable with.

    We do not do designs that can be purchased in stores or on the internet. We try to operate in the niche where discriminating customers are looking for a one-of-a kind design that is a variant on some commercially based design.

    Most of what we design is adaptable to production of more than one item. As a result, we have a few designs that have had moderate success and we have put them into limited production to increase profitability.

    Sustainability is definitely a concern, because ecomomies of scale do not strictly apply in this case. I am operating out of a large workshop in my home, and if business grows too much, I will have to move to larger quarters and that will change the economics of the situation drastically.

    I will be facing the choice of making more products at a moderate price point or selecting fewer jobs at increasingly higher price points. From what we have seen so far, I think the demand will trend to larger commissions.

    This next year will quite interesting.

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