What is the current market like?


Well-known member
This is just a curiosity question.  I'm a weekend warrior furniture maker.  It's obvious that things are tough regarding the economy at present.  That got me to wondering how things are going in the handmade furniture market.  My wife and I are typical middle class, so we can't offer much to help students working towards a career in cabinet making, but our daydream (you know, the "if we won the lottery" conversation) is to be able to sponsor folks that have chosen the path of creating beautiful things.  My particular interest is, of course, furniture and hers is painting, but we are supportive of most any creative endeavour.  Anyway, I just wonder what the market is like out there.  I read that these downturns take a while to trickle up and that wealthier folks still spend to a point.  I remember taking a class from a well respected furniture maker and teacher who told us that during the recession of the 80's, he built garage doors! 

My wife and I have had our retail store (period furniture and accessories) for 15 years and this is the worst we have ever seen it.  It is not slow - it is dead.  And not just our store but all of our neighbor stores also.  We are also starting to see small business' close their stores.  Not a good sign.  Even The Home Depot is closing stores!  It took years to come to this slow down and it will take years to re-cooperate (sp?).  But yes, people with money will always spend it.  I am happy to say that I am extremely busy.  With one or two more orders I will be booked until the end of next year (2009).  But remember I have been doing this since 1985 and my name is known by people who want custom period furniture.  It also took 23 years to get to this point.

Most all people are working and have money to spend.  However, the news media has them so scarred that they are afraid to spend it.  If the news media would just shut-up the economy would be much better (in my opinion).  One of our FT working customers told my wife, "the recession is coming, I must stop spending".

My advice is, do not start a FT small business at this time.  PT is okay but do not quit your day job.

Dennis Bork
Antiquity Period Designs, td.
"However, the news media has them so scarred that they are afraid to spend it.  If the news media would just shut-up the economy would be much better (in my opinion). "

Boy howdy, have you ever got that right.  The American news media thrives on catastrophe and sensationalism, and getting a few talking heads to say "things are bad and are going to get a lot worse" draws viewers and advertising $$$.  It's vulturism in the extreme, and unethical.
I know a number of Antique dealers, and they are all having a terrible go of it. My observation is that it isn't simply the bad economy. It appears that the younger generation are more interested in "mid century modern" than antiques. I've met a number of young people with money to spend, and it appears this is true. They won't have anything to do with the older stuff.

Unfortunately, without entry level buyers, it's hard for folks to upgrade and keep a market going.

But cycles come and go; at some point it will start all over again!

I have an advert in the current issue of Early American Life magazine.  I've gotten zero feedback. It's a small ad, near the back.  But I'm a bit surprised to hear nothing.  My ad rep said that things are slow at the moment.  I have a enough work to keep me busy, but I'm not exactly Don Trump if you know what I mean.

I think Windsor chair making took off because it was viable as a business.  Hand made cabinetry hasn't demonstrated itself as such as yet.  And I feel as though it's unfair to ask me or someone like me to have to "make it" commercially for the craft to go mainstream or receive the recognition it deserves.  I'm afraid that folks will skip it (have skipped it) because they feel it can't be done. 

Just like Windsor chair makers built a market for their expensive, hand made, period authentic furniture, cabinetmakers can do the same thing.  For a whole host of reasons, I think this just hasn't happened yet. 

I hate these conversations because I'm afraid they will discourage people.  To quote Tom Stauffer, "making furniture is not a get rich quick scheme".  In my experience, it's more like a holy vocation, complete with the vow of poverty.  But if you are called to this sort of work, I feel one loses something if they don't pursue it. 




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Don't worry too much about no response yet, Adam, it takes at least 3 issues to elicit response, something to do with people not taking you seriously until you've proved that you'll hang around.


For 15+ years, off and on, we advertised a 1/6 page ad in EAL.  I received at most 4 orders from all the ads.  More people came to the store.  My conclision is that most ads, in any magazine, do not work.  We never had an ad pay for it's self, even in a good ecenomy, no matter what magazine we advertised in.  One year, in the 1990's we spent over $25,000 in advertising and our return was less than 5%!!!  (My wife tracks all sales.)  Don't be surprised if you ran an ad for 2 years and receive no orders.  People may call or send for info but that is where it stops. 

Pam is right in that it takes at least three ads for someone to notice your ad.  That's what they taught me in an advertising class.  However, the class was taught by an advertising sales person who gets paid on commission.

So how do you get orders - time.  What I mean is placing many ads (even thought there is no response people will remember your name), exhibiting at shows, expensive, (even though people will not buy at the show they will see your product), having an expensive store front (where people can brouse) and then eventially they will start buying after many years.  Don't expect success in 1 year or 2 years or 3 years even in a good economy.  It will take at least 5 years, again in a good economy.  This is that my wife and I have experienced.  And, don't plan on getting rich.

Dennis Bork
Antiquity Period Designs, Ltd.

I think it's funny to hear other craftsmen saying "at least I made my booth fee"  whet they complain about a poor performing show.  I heard many such complaints at the last 3 shows I attended.  Seems to me advertising and booth fees should come out of profit, not gross sales. 

My sense is that people do it for the love of it.  And that's a good thing, I guess. 

Hey I just want to mention what a huge fan I am of yours, Dennis.  The depth of your generosity with this community really deserves cartouche level recognition in my opinion.  You've answered more than a few of these personal/financial/business type questions.  That combined with your patience with us all and the level of craftsmanship you bring to the industry, frankly, i'd be hard pressed to think of a cabinetmaker I admire more.

I don't know if I ever told you this story but when I first applied to the EAL directory, Tess Rosch called me to talk about my application.  She asked me about my work and then said "so do you think we should bump someone like Dennis Bork for you?"    Now I don't know all the folks in the directory.  She could have named someone I didn't know (funny that she didn't though.  She mentioned you specifically).  Fortunately, I knew who you were.  I felt familiar enough with your work from your website and posts here.  So I answered honestly (and immediately)  "NO!".  As I recall they let me in anyway.  Mine was a few names beneath yours that year.  That was pretty neat for me. 

Anyway, thanks for all you do for us.

I would like to reply. Photos do no ones furniture justice. Pieces of furniture should be looked at in all dimensions not just two. Let your pieces speak for themselves. The question is how is the best way to do that. And it comes down to exposure. Everyone needs to get their pieces seen and felt as much and as often as possible. I have sold pieces to individuals 3 years after they have seen our pieces in a show. In the same note I have done shows for years where we haven't sold anything. How to do that on the Internet or print media is almost like beating your head against the wall. People love local. They don't want to go far if they have a problem. Wood moves so with that in mind stand behind what you make. Who knows where the next order comes from. You are only as good as the last piece you built, and that can be improved upon. There will always be other interests to draw peoples attention William and Mary, Queen Anne Chippendale federal empire Victorian Shaker  Art New Vouge New age generation X post bi whatever and what may come. All pieces made today have been influenced by traditional joinery. How else do we join two pieces of wood.
We have been in business long enough to say that if you offer a good product and can adjust your product to suit your customers needs but at the same time not sell your soul and earn a living then life is good. I can't see much difference in today verses two hundred years ago. Some things don't change. We have seen slow downs during WWI The great depression than during wwII then early60 then 80's S&L 2001 altought it started before then. After the election things will improve again. If you can survive the slow times then the better times will take care of themselves. It's a fine juggling process. I am afraid this probably isn't much help. That's my two cents whatever that worth with today's inflation.
I talked to a cabinetmaker-friend at the Designer Craftsmen Show of Philadelphia in January and asked him if things were slow.  He said his business is booming!  He feels the clients he deals with are starting to invest more of their money in high end furniture rather than in the stock market!