Quality or Quantity?
26th July 2015Scott Hampshire
I recently read something that sparked a few thoughts. Background: I'm a member of a local classifieds group on Facebook that focuses on buying and selling goods in my area. A majority of transactions are used goods a la Craig's List, but now and then I see handmade crafts posted. Last week a bench caught my eye. It was a rustic style with natural edge slabs for the seat and backrest with conventional supports for legs etc. Not particularly my style, but I could still appreciate the craftsmanship.
The disparity in the way modern furniture is built is a big factor in why we expect low prices for what we want.
The bench, however, wasn't what I was drawn to. In the comments a few people asked how much it cost and the list price was $250-300, depending on size. To me that seemed completely reasonable considering I know how much work goes into furniture, especially things like chairs and benches that can be tough to get right. To the others in the comment chain it was "Way too spendy for a bench!" This is what makes life as a craftsman difficult, in a world of mass production, high competition, and disposable mindsets, people aren't married to custom handmade furniture or really furniture in general. Take a step back and think about it: if you need a table or nightstand, the first place a majority of people will go is Ikea. Sure, it might look boxy and is made from veneered particleboard, but it costs $10 and you can throw it away in two years without remorse when it's too rickety to stay upright. (I swear I'm not bitter.) Quality furniture isn't valued the same as it was historically for the amount of work that goes into it. The disparity in the way modern furniture is built is a big factor in why we expect low prices for what we want. When you have a factory that has CNC mills churning out (in some cases) good quality furniture, why should anyone care if it's handmade? Even if you buy handmade furniture, there are many woodworkers cutting what corners they can to increase profits.
*cough* Pocket screws *cough*
This isn't news to me, it's actually the reason I've focused on smaller items at the farmers market instead of furniture. It's a tight market and I honestly don't want to cut those corners to put prices in the lower end but still make profit. If I'm going to build anything large scale, I'm building it with quality in mind, and fortunately/unfortunately that means a higher curb price. I do my best to educate my clients about furniture construction and what makes good design and strong joints, but it still requires a level of trust in me that I know what I'm doing. Does this alienate me from potential clients? Absolutely. Does it allow me to associate myself with a level of quality that is otherwise hard to come by? I hope so. Only time will tell if I'm a fool or a genius, but for now I'll keep on doing what I'm doing and hope it works out. I often forget that this isn't my day job and I have other means to put food on the table each night and pay the mortgage.
I can end on a happy note when it comes to the bench. I took the time to add my two cents and explain that for handcrafted furniture that price seemed pretty decent. I never expected much from it, but I've been liked multiple times and got followed up with many supporting comments on the fairness of price. The bench maker might have made a sale, but you can only glean so much from Facebook comments that disappear into private messages. I know the market for handmade furniture is small, but I'm willing to wade through the masses to find it.