Less than your best?

Many years ago, I made the decision to offer only high quality work. Previously, I was always open to the idea of making lower quality pieces for people who had smaller budgets or simply didn’t want to spend a lot of money.

Over the years, I realized that this was often a trap. People would seek me out because they had seen my work somewhere. They would say something like, “We really like your work and want you to do our job but we don’t want to put a lot into it. Can you come up with something less expensive?” And I would tell them, “Yes, I can. It won’t be as this or that as the work you saw but I can make you something nice for that price.”

But when I would deliver the piece, they were almost always disappointed because they really wanted my best work and even though they realized they could not afford it, they wanted it anyway. In the back of their minds, they really expected me to provide it even though we had an understanding. They would have many complaints and most of them would have been legitimate had they paid for what they expected.

After several of these scenarios, I realized that people always expect your best effort. Their sense of what you are capable of will be determined by what you have done in the past and what you show them. Once they see a level of quality that convinces them that you are their guy, you cannot let them down easy. You simply have to produce what they expect to get from you, no matter what was said or understood. If they cannot afford your best effort, it might be better to walk away. Either that or give them what they expect with the understanding that you are not going to be the one who ends up with the shorter end of the stick.

It might be worth it if these people are able to compensate you in some other way, by referring more work or having you do another, bigger project at full price. Sometimes that works out, sometimes not. But don’t let yourself believe that that guy who said they understood that they were going to get less than your best will be happy with that. It simply goes against human nature.



  • Dave Sochar says:

    I agree. It is hard enough to try to ‘hold back’ the quality on a job in order to justify a lower sales price. Then when the client is unhappy, it is a double letdown.

    Also, you can get a reputation for this type of work, and then struggle to get away from it.

    I often make the analogy of a Ford owner wandering into the Maserati showroom. The shiny Maserati is very attractive and seductive, but the Ford driver is, first and foremost, a Ford driver. He may become a Maserati driver, so treat him with respect, but the Maserati dealer is not going make a deal so he can drive that shiny new beast home.

  • I started as a professional woodworker in 1946. Very soon my specialty became custom cabinets in the then new European Modern style, but utilizing the full range of woods available in the USA.

    Even when I was fairly young, I believed in the same business strategy as I use today. I never cut my price. I refuse to do jobs of shoddy quality. I believe that my reputation would be ruined if a customer could point to a set of cabinets I built which were of lower quality to meet a customer’s budget.

    If the customer does not need my best quality and is unwilling to pay my price, then there are others who will allow the customer to set the price. Or, such customers looking to save are welcome to shop at stores selling un-assembled cabinets made from pressed chips. Those are not the jobs or clients I desire. Currently my custom shop has a 16 month backlog, so it seems there are clients sharing my beliefs.

  • Don Thomson says:

    Sounds like that customer is the type that has somehow convinced themselves that it says “Santa Clause Workshop” on your door – even though it doesn’t. I tend to steer these customers to the big box stores because they want, like you said, the really high end but are only willing to pay Kmart or Home Depot prices for it. This is a loose-loose for everyone involved.

    I try to educate them on the difference between big box store and what I do. But if they are convinced they have a right to the high end for the Walmart price it’s just not a fit.



  • Alan Blough says:

    I read one time an article about a high-end custom furniture maker by the name of Milo Fulton. He deplored the state of the furniture manufacturing in the United States. He didn’t let customers push him around. If they wanted a cheaper price, he would raise the price. If they wanted one of his pieces, they waited for it; and he made excellent products.

  • Aaron Sikes says:

    My grandfather was a master cabinet maker from Hungary. From what my dad tells me, Granddad held his employees in National Cash Register’s wood shop to the highest standards of quality. I can’t imagine him ever agreeing to scale something down based on a client’s budget.

    You’ve given me some good food for thought as I start out on my own adventure in woodworking. I hope to someday produce work at a quality Granddad would approve.

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