I received this question in episode 1 of the Ask Brian Boggs Show:
How do you value your work? Price and see how the market accepts, raise and lower accordingly, or commissions? It’s tough when not knowing how long a project will take.
I’ve done so many different types of woodworking projects. I know what a piece should cost based on its complexity. If I’m building a piece that I have never built before, I will often go online and look at pieces of comparable complexity are selling for. I know that ours is going to cost more, because we invariably will put more into it than just about any other shop. What I mean by that is the detailing, the joinery, the engineering behind it, especially if it’s a chair. With a chair, I don’t go online to look at comps. I know what those need to sell for, but tables and custom desks, sometimes I will go online.
The stuff that we’re doing now is so different. I just go with a gut feeling based on its complexity, how long it will take. If it’s going to take eight hours, it’s an $800 piece. That generally covers overhead, material, labor, our margins, our marketing. If we do a really good job, we’ve got money left over to fire up the next design.
There’s not a real rule of thumb to follow that makes the math easier. You’ve got to be able to draw on some experience. Or, if you have no experience building, let’s say it’s a table, or if it’s a Windsor chair, just look at the market. If you’re coming into it new, you probably will have to price your work below what most of the market for similar quality stuff is, because you don’t have the reputation that your competition does. That’s just something you’ll have to earn through the school of hard knocks. Just get out there, and start producing it.
One of the things that is really critical in all of this is to not work above your level, and that’s something that takes a lot of discipline. By that, I mean you don’t want to be having most of the work that you’re putting out be something that challenges your craftsmanship to the max, unless you’re already established well enough that you can charge your clients enough for you to go to school on every piece. You want to have some bread and butter stuff. You want to have some work that you can really flow through the shop with. The same is true for our shop. There’s a certain volume of our production that we want to be routine, easy stuff so that we’re not going crazy with every piece. Our outdoor line is like that. Our ladderbacks are pretty much like that. We’ve been making those for a long time. The Sonus, Lily, or the Lily bar stools, have gotten that way too. We’ve been making those for years now. That’s a pretty fluid, reliable, not constantly reinventing the wheel, lines that allow us to have a custom arena that’s part of our company, where we can take risks, explore, and do things that push the envelope for our creativity. Those are all things that are important aspects of price and marketing strategy.
I hope you have found this informative, useful and inspiring.