Top tips on setting up a furniture business from a qualified maker
Updated: Mar 23
Having a successful corporate career spanning 25-years, working with some of the world’s largest organisations and then leaving it at your will to learn how to set up your own furniture making business. Trading inner-city skyscrapers for the rolling hills of the Scottish countryside. Sound like a thing of fairy tales? Well, this is exactly what Mike Whittall did! Mike joined the Chippendale School’s Professional Course in 2015 and he is now the proud founder of Ochre & Wood, designers and makers of beautiful bespoke handmade furniture. We spoke to Mike to find out his top tips on how to start a successful furniture business.
Learn how to be the best
First things first – before setting up your furniture business, you of course need to hone the essential skills needed to become a master woodworker.
Mike attended the Chippendale International School of Furniture’s intensive 9-month Professional Course, which provides students with the technical skills and business knowledge to succeed in a woodworking career.
Upon graduating, students have everything they need to start up their own furniture making business if they wish to do so.
Setting up shop Once you are ready to dive in and set up your own furniture business, give some thought to the practical side first. Where is your workshop going to be? Do you have the ideal space in mind already, or do you need to get creative? Consider all of the equipment that you need and work out a floorplan. There needs to be ample space for your table saws, routers, planes and the like. Don’t forget to leave room for workers to move around safely. This may only be the start of your venture, but it is never too early to plan for the best. Is there room for your workshop to grow? For Mike, his business space was a converted outbuilding at his home in rural Aberdeenshire. No commute. Heavenly! Defining your product
Furniture makers fresh out of woodworking school will have their own unique approach to woodworking, which of course lends itself to making new and bespoke pieces. However, it is worth considering the other ways that you can make money from your furniture business. These can be fun and equally as fulfilling. There is a huge market for high quality reproductions of antique pieces. Or why not breathe new life into existing furniture by offering restorations? You might try your hand at teaching and run furniture making courses to pass on your knowledge.
You could get involved with a larger project and offer yourself out as a sub-contractor, or source work out to others to complete parts of your projects.
Knowing your customer
All successful businesses have a thorough understanding of their customer and how to reach them. Ask yourself, who are they? How old are they? How much do they have to spend? Where do they hang out, both online and offline? Then consider how you will get to them. Think about which parts can you do yourself and where you might need a marketing expert, or simply another pair of hands. This is Mike’s shortlist of ways to reach your customer:
Network with potential customers and others in your field
Set up a website to showcase your work, like www.ochreandwood.com
If you are a Chippendale School graduate, market your business via the Fine Furniture Guild website of course!
Place adverts in printed media
Make yourself visible across social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram
Submit your work to be shown in exhibitions
Write a press release and target publications
Contact professional bodies such as the Scottish Furniture Makers Association
Other avenues might be approaching designers, retailers or bloggers
Finance and the business plan Now let’s get into the nitty gritty. How are you going to fund your business to get it off the ground? You may have savings or family and friends who will invest in your business. Have a look at the government funding schemes available, such as the Princes Trust for under 30s. Borrowing from a bank or lender may be an option or try cutting costs by collaborating or forming partnerships with other makers. Look into crowdfunding too, there are a lot of options here. Plan out your first three to four years of business and what your turnover might be. Do not forget to include time for learning the skills to become a furniture maker. For Mike, this was 9 months at the Chippendale International School of Furniture! Looking to the future As you have probably heard, starting a business is not always easy! When patience is dwindling, continue talking to your network, give yourself time to come up with new ideas and go for some quick wins. “Remember that the ‘tough’ times will pass, keep your passion for your craft alive throughout it all. Never stop making!” – Mike Whittall Starting your business as a furniture maker will be exciting and a challenge at times. Knowing your craft inside out will allow you to develop your business without having to worry about the quality of your work. The Chippendale International School of Furniture is a brilliant option for gaining both the woodworking skills and business know-how to achieve your furniture making business goals!
Many thanks to Mike Whittall of Ochre & Wood for his contribution to this blog.
Find out more about fine furniture maker Mike Whittall and his business Ochre &Wood on his FFG profile.To follow in his footsteps and study at The Chippendale School, see information on our furniture making courses here.