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Faster Better Cheaper...Questions


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It seems like every business model needs to address at least the 3 principles of faster better cheaper.  But perhaps all three do not necessarily need to be treated equally.  The emphasis given to each defines the business.  In other words, a business focused mainly on one of these three principles will be known accordingly. 

So, some questions.  Do I want my business known for its short response time, or high quality, or low cost?  Or is it some compromise?  Does it change in time?

If indeed a compromise for equality, then isn’t there a market consequence?  Maybe the business will not stand out, and may not even survive.  

But if a business is to stand out, then shouldn’t it be sold out to one of the three principles?  With regard to blacksmithing business, shouldn’t the leading principle be quality?  Modern industry can beat a blacksmithing business silly when it comes to faster and cheaper.  But quality…maybe not always.

As I venture into business with my forging and woodworking operations, I am trying to find those products that are attractive to prospective customers because of the quality.  Things that are readily distinguishable from what is typically found in the store in terms of quality.  Even before getting the stock hot, selecting a section that is thicker/heavier (to a point) than what is available in the marketplace could start the quality wheel rolling.  Then adding a few quality flourishes…nice finish, clean lines, thoughtful design etc. goes further down that road.  Finally, good tool work…not necessarily perfect…just the signs of purposeful, appropriate, efficient, consistent tool work.

But maybe it is not good taking quality to an extreme…at least initially.  Excessive detail, complicated design, and precise joinery may be appreciated by certain few, but the business needs to appeal to a broader set of customers to move product and be viable.  I don’t have that level of skill just getting started anyway.  So speed and low cost cannot be abandoned completely.  Maybe speed and inexpensiveness can be diminished in time as clientele grows, but it seems this is an evolutionary process…does that work?

Since this is just the beginnings of what may be an endeavor that will carry me through post-professional career years (aka retirement), I cant speak from the depth of experience.  I am interested to hear what those of you with lots of experience in the business of blacksmithing think, how your business has changed and grown with respect to the 3 principles, any big regrets, and any gems you might be willing to share.

 

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Earlier today I encountered an article compiling a Gent named David Perell who wrote a series of paradoxical truths.  One that applied well to your post is "the paradox of specificity: In the age of the Internet, when everybody has Google search and social media, differentiation is free marketing.  The more specific your goal, the more opportunities you'll create for yourself.  Narrow your focus to expand your horizons. "

From that I take two main things.  First, don't name your business something common, because you'll never get found on Google, which means you'll never get found by your potential customers. 

The second, is that you might find it's significantly better to avoid well-trod markets for whatever you do.  

By way of example, consider the following.  If I wanted to buy a "rustic hand-made looking door knocker"  I could have my pick from imported cast pot metal nonsense to historical artifacts wrought by some of the greatest smiths who ever lived.

Now in contrast, if I wanted to find an electric guitar knob that had similar aesthetics, I'd have to commission it myself because Googling "hand forged electric guitar knob" leads to absolutely zero correct results.

Same thing for "Hand forged damascus wire strippers".

"Faster, better, cheaper" doesn't necessarily apply to emotional purchases.

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All of what comes next only applies to those who wish to make a decent to great living as a traditional smith. It is not a pathway that will give you anything quick. There are as many unique pathways to success as there are working smiths. This was my pathway and it worked.

 

"faster better cheaper".

As opposed to what? china,india,mexico imports? Other working smiths? For the former, you dont need any smithing experience. For the latter, 5 or 6 years experience is manditory. Obviously you are interested in the latter. How do you gain  those needed years of experience? Thats the catch 22 and depends on your personal situation and rhe 3 "D's"(desire, dedication, and determination). Age? Family? Personal resources to name a few. Time between hammer and anvil is critical. My solution was to serve my personsl apprenticeship as a farrier. It is one of the few occupations that a contemporary business plan will work with, finance a decent lifestyle and put you betwixt hammer and an anvil 24 7. That was my pathway.

"short response time, or high quality, or low cost" 

The only choice as a traditional smith, is high quality.  Forged iron is not,,, ever,,, in the relm of the other two. Like the great military strategists state, chose your battlefield. If you chose anything but quality, you will not be able to compete by hammer in hand with the other two. Cheap imports and fabrication at any level will prevail.

I next began my own type of journeymanship. I did this during the last few years of my farrier business and it continued for another 7 or so years after i transitioned from farrier to blacksmith. During this time i wrnt to as many possible workshops and demonstrations as i could and worked for peanuts with any working smith thst needed help.. This evolved into a custom hardware business. I beat the streets and knocked on every door of those who did custom furnature, cabinets,doormakers and as many interior decorators as i could stand. It worked and this evolved into a rock solid business. This then opened the  well hinged door to full blown architectural blscksmithing.

"not good taking quality to an extreme"

Do take quality to an extreme. This is your primary selling point. Of all the items you list, make it a point to max each and every one out on every job, from small to lsrge. Qualiry IS your product expressed in iron. Add more as you discover them.  Eventually they will become second nature and the time factor will diminish.

"Excessive detail, complicated design, and precise joinery may be appreciated by certain few".

Your work and design will most likely evolve Twards simplicity,not because simplicity is the easy to create, but just the opoosite. Our joinery is just that, simple. Precise joinery is critical and comes with time. Think a few hundred pickets with a simple tenon on each end, all forged shoulder to shoulder to within a 64'th. Simple and beautiful to behold.

"may be appreciated by certain few"

Lol, this is your market. They do have the money, they do want, no, demand the quality and time is ususlly not an issue. You dont find this market dealing your business as if you are selling big macks, This market is usually not affected by the economy and best of all, if you presevere, there is plenty of room at the top.

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One of the things a smith must address is what he or she wants their skill in the craft to do for them.  On a basic level it can just be the fun of creating something and learning a new skill set.  At that level the smith's output of the craft is absorbed by him or her self, family, and friends ("Everybody gets a bottle opener/knife/steak turner/etc. for Christmas!")  The next level up is where the smith decides that the craft should be returning some economic gain.  This can be as little as how much the smith is putting into the craft economically, e.g. the cost of tools, materials, and fuel, so that it is a hobby that supports itself economically.  Next, it can be a supplemental income to add to whatever the day job brings in.  At the top of the economic hierarchy the craft provides a living for the smith and his or her family.

Each of these levels requires a different set of commitments from the smith.  Even at the most basic level any economic return requires some sort of marketing or activity to exchange forged products for money or anything else of value.  This can be as basic as setting up a table or booth at a local craft or Christmas Fair but even that requires a commitment in time and resources.  For some people this is fun and for some it is drudgery and a chore.  I rather like interacting with customers and it is an ego stroke to have random strangers complement me and my work.  For someone more introverted who does not enjoy that kind of interaction it may be enough to prevent them from going to an economic return model for the craft.

As a person moves up the economic hierarchy the economic side of the business has to take more and more of the person's time and effort.  As Anvil has related a person has to be out beating the bushes to develop a customer base that will buy the product offered and will continue to patronize the smith and/or recommend the smith to their friends.

Some people at any economic level may develop an economic specialty such as making campfire sets and tools for buckskinners (Mountain Man re-enactors), daggers and jewelry and period cooking gear for the SCA, high end art, architectural ironwork, knives for use or for high end collectors, or anything else.

The more economic return a smith wants for his or her work the more they need a realistic economic/business model.  This, of course, becomes most important when the smith is relying on the craft to support him/her self and any family.  In that situation the results of the model not working out in reality are much more dire.

I should mention that whatever economic level the smith chooses is completely independent of skill level as a smith.  Many very excellent smiths do not choose to sell their work because any time spent on the economic side of things is time spent away from the forge and anvil.  Or, they simply do not like or have the business skills necessary.

Another consideration is that once the craft is a job and economic necessity it is no longer just a fun hobby.  I have always tried to avoid that distinction.  I have too short an attention span to enjoy making widget after widget for a customer even when it is economically rewarding.  I once took a commission for 500 hand forged nails and I still hate making nails and only do so when necessary for another project.

I have always stayed at the level of a hobby that pays for itself and gives me some extra income.  I have almost always had another career that supported me and my family.  There was a time when I was between careers when I supported myself with my hammer and anvil but while it didn't pay much more than unemployment I felt better about doing it than being on the dole.

This brings me to the faster, better, cheaper issue.  An experienced smith may be good enough to turn out widgets faster and of equal or better quality than someone less experienced but the only way this is an economic advantage is if there is a demand for the widgets that will absorb them at that rate of production.  And, what is the drudgery level of having to make the same thing over and over as fast as possible?  Better is a subjective measure.  Will a tool perform its function better than another or will an object be more beautiful than another?  Cheaper only comes in when a smith either has access to less expensive material or fuel or is willing to value his or her time at a lower level than any competitor.  The latter choice is, IMO, a really dumb one.

"By hammer and hand all arts do stand."

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I can't fault any of the advice so far and don't have any about starting a business. What I'm seeing is similar to what I was displaying when Deb and I were starting to build the house. I was  running in circles stressed, worrying about things I didn't know about. A coffee shop friend who was going to act as my general put his finger on it. I was over analyzing everything and stressing. Once we started clearing land and had the foundations in it got much easier, measure, cut wood, nail wood, get more. Stop when the roofers gave us the bill and the finish guy got done slopping the interior. (A family friend and a mistake)

Anyway, you're stressing over details that aren't going to come into play until you develop a brand and market. This early in the game you need to try your hand at many styles, finishes and such. Seriously, if you're selling paint you don't offer two colors, you take sample plates. Yes? 

Start simple while you build your skills, keep track of consumables and time, learn how to do production work, it's not like doing one offs. If possible don't quit your day job till you have something going or don't need the mortgage payment. 

How are your person to person skills? What type personality works best for you? Do folks like you better as a: folksy type, a serious craftsman type, businessman, etc?

Sure I'm heaping more things to think about but they're generalities and not something to worry about. Not now, you're over stressing yourself too early in the game. Take a breath, develop skills and a product stop at potential retail outlets and chat. Don't sell, just chat get to know them and see what they're selling. Keep notes but keep it low key till you're getting ready to move.

Frosty The Lucky.

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  I've had a few entrepreneurial adventures. Whether out of necessity or want, for me personally, the ones that did the best had a more....., organic growth?

  I guess a decent analogy would be like hammering on cold steel instead of throwing it back in the fire and letting it come back up to a good temp.. It's going to cause unneeded stresses on you and what you're working on, ultimately leading to fatigue and subpar products. I'm not saying don't be proactive, just try not to force it to hard.

  For me the ones that didn't do well we're forced. Everyone was obsessing over where we wanted the business to be instead of enjoying our progress and how far we had made it. Grandiose ideas can get in the way of executing exceptional quality and growth.

  "Patience young grasshopper" ;)

  Just my two cents on any entrepreneurial journey. 

  Joe Dirt

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I continue to be impressed by the willingness of the membership here to dedicate their time and provide thoughtful answers to questions.  Thank you all for the time and thought you have responded with here.  It helps to have others to bounce ideas off.

Fortunately, I am not depending on the business to survive. Its more of a challenge than anything.  Yeah I do over-think things.  But I love planning.    Been that way for 60 years and likely won’t stop.  But stress?  Not at all.  I am enjoying the creative outlet.

Even drew up my own logo…what do you think?

 

pff logo.png

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  Nice work gmbobnick! Sounds like we have some similarities.

  I'm a complete new be to the forum and to the craft. I've been absolutely thrilled since I've stumbled upon this place of wealth in knowledge!

  I had been picking through youtube and the inter web way to long. One rabbit hole after another and not really advancing anywhere.Wish I would have realized how active IFI was sooner. Like 5 years sooner.

  I'm reading slsells's book again and getting ready to redo my rotor forge(going to use the ducks nest method and recipe to add depth and a more localized heat). Had not realized the hazards of portland cement if it wasn't for the fine folks here and the curmudgeons ;) It's one thing if I injured myself because of my naive ignorance but my 7 year old daughter likes checking in on me and my progress. 

  Still trying to figure out a way to share photos from my cellphone without a home computer. Really would like to share my progress and get some feedback. Wouldn't be where I am if it wasn't for y'all.

 Godspeed on y'all's journey and thanks for sharing!

 Joe Dirt

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Mr. G.M.B.B.,

It is a beautiful logo.

Use it in the best of health.

Just for fun, you may want to spend a bit of time checking out other logos at the Trade Marks Office*. to see if it resembles other 'people's".  trade marked logos.

Regards,

SLAG.

You can search using the net.

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Good Morning Bob,

In the racing word, there is a saying "Good, Fast, Cheap. Pick two"

I have owned and operated my own Automotive business for now 48 years. Competitors who have said "I am going to do it cheaper" have learned that they had to close their business down. They didn't make enough money to pay their own wages and went broke. I have always tried to get along with my competitors and offer them assistance when they are stumped. It is a 2-way street, you never know when you will need to lean on them for a favour. It may cost a tiny bit to be helpful, but if you both are making ends meet with a little for the piggy, that is golden. Business friends are absolutely a must!!

I have a Blacksmith business as well. Business is business, no free rides! Work hard, respect your customer/client, treat them fair. You will do well.

Neil

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As a fellow 307er I like the name and logo.  You could easily use the pronghorns as a touchmark, sort of inverted and splayed Js on a horizontal line.  Not too hard to fabricate. If there is already a Pronghorn Forge you could always try Wind River or Fremont (for those without our frame of reference, the Wind River flows through Fremont County not far from GMB's house) as the basis for a name and logo.  40 years ago I lived about 10 miles from GMB and my wife and I had a business called Fremont Geologic Consultants.

To echo what Swede has said, there is plenty of business to go around and there is no need to be cut throat.  Trying to beggar your neighbor is not a good business model, is a poor attitude to have, and is bad karma.

"By hammer and hand all arts do stand."

 

 

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Pronghorn antelope like to wander down the fence line about 30 feet from my shop.  

Actually, I could call it elkhorn too.  A couple weeks ago I was standing in the shop door waiting for a piece of steel to heat up and saw this out in my hay field.

Thanks for the idea GeorgeNM!

 

 

 

IMG_1588[1].JPG

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That's a beauty! Oh the knife scales you could make :) Need to get in the woods and do a little looking. Use to find sheds all the time when I was a kid, but we were in the woods all the time.

  Joe Dirt

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On 4/15/2021 at 10:43 PM, George N. M. said:

You could easily use the pronghorns as a touchmark, sort of inverted and splayed Js on a horizontal line. 

Just made one with a single horn out of auto coil spring

TM.jpg

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Earlier I mentioned that getting found on Google is a very, very, big deal in terms of customers knowing you exist.  The word "Forge" is incredibly popular with marketing people who mostly use it for a rustic flourish in a business name.

Here are two examples of how ridiculous this is.

Googled: "Forge lemonade" found a company making lemon shaped pins, as well as a lemon flavored moonshine.

Googled: "Forge umbrella" found five separate companies making umbrellas, one was for vampires!

 

It's also a word with multiple meanings, the most common of which is criminal, i.e. forgery.

For these reasons, I would be hard pressed to name another word that is less advantageous to a new blacksmithing business than "forge".  

Even if these two reasons weren't enough for you, consider the fact that virtually all entrepreneur blacksmiths and knifemakers name their businesses; "XYZ Forge".  It's not original, meaningful, or memorable.

"Iron Pronghorn Furniture" is easier to remember, and it would stand out from the innumerable "XYZ Forgers".

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Rockstar.esq for some reason you are the only member here that I read with an accent. For some reason it's a British conservative rp esq ;) accent. I'm also fairly certain you are in fact a pipe smoking, top hat wearing k9. I enjoy your thought provoking responses. Sorry about the change of subject.

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"Ironworks" or "ironshop" might be alternatives to "forge."  "Steelworks" or "steelshop" might be confused with a steel mill or someone selling dimension steel.

Years ago when I told my mother I was forging she was upset because she thought I was doing something illegal.

"By hammer and hand all arts do stand."

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