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I Forge Iron

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“Forge” is unquestionably common in blacksmithing business names.  That term does not help focus any Google search.  Nor does “Pronghorn” or “Furniture”.  If my marketing plan relies on algorithm strategies or internet search engines, then “Pronghorn Forge & Furniture” is certainly doomed.

However, here is a plan that is upside down in a big-data way of thinking.  Rather than starting with the population of the world and working in, how about starting with a few perfect customers and working out?

I am thinking of the emotional purchase that Rockstar mentioned.  Somebody who would actually buy a damascus wire stripper truly won’t or can’t  use Google to find it.  They may not even think having one would be cool until they see it.  Then they want it.  This is the person who will buy what I want to make, for the price that makes it worth my while…and delights the customer.  The plan relies on them doing the advertising for me. 

So where to begin?  How about by just making something or a few somethings that are emotionally appealing.  Something folks in a certain group use frequently.  Something that lasts a long time.  Something made by hand…even forged.  Something that looks super cool.  Something unique and special. Something that reflects their personnel tastes, and even the quality of what they do and how they do it.  Something made in the USA.  Something that will cost more than the common mass produced thing. 

Knives certainly come to mind as a thing that fits these criteria.  But these same criteria can apply to a jillion other things too, like Damascus wire strippers, and the groups of folks that might use them, like professional electricians.  Just need to get it in front of the right group of people that it will appeal to...and there are many ways to do that.  Shucks, it could even mean just giving the something to the exact right person as a gift.

Then what the business does trumps what the business is named.  I could call the business “Larry” and it might not matter.  I believe this business can evolve from there on the principle of quality and by referral.  Maybe I am completely wrong.  It’s a good thing I am not depending on this business.  I’m gonna have some fun seeing if this works anyway.

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As a footnote…

While a blacksmithing business named “Larry” could possibly survive, I admit that having a somewhat pertinent name cannot hurt even if its not the linchpin for the business marketing plan.  A memorable name helps for referrals.  I think Pronghorn Forge & Furniture works for that because:

  1. It creates a mental image…great for memory
  2. The imagery relates succinctly to a touchmark that is permanently on the thing made
  3. It connotes a craft and not a retail business.  I could say blacksmithing instead of forge, but forge has 8 fewer letters....plus it flows nicely with the word pronghorn
  4. The craft (forge work) is specially connected with furniture…the stuff I really want to make
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Note that if you are "open wide" on the internet; you will be spending a lot of time on internet inquiries that don't result in a sale.  Not a problem if you prefer typing to hammering.

And please no "tricky names" like "Pronghorn Phorge"   I'd give up on trying to remember that one fast!

Word of mouth works great *if* you are in a good market with the density for it to travel. Or, you specialize such that the a small group of people who may be spread all over the world; but are "fanatics" about something your speciality is involved with.  I'd bet that something like  "Larry's left handed Mokume Gane zither pluckers" would become known around the world amongst the left handed zither pluckers...

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I assumed a zither is a bird.  Why would anybody pluck a zither except to prepare it for supper?  A mental image formed of a cleanly plucked zither in a roasting pan, nicely browned.  I got hungry.  I was disappointed to find that according to Wikipedia a zither is a musical instrument.  However, I do have some pronghorn antelope in the frig for lunch.  It doesn’t look anything like a pronghorn antelope.


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I'm not sure you see the point I was trying to make.  You started this discussion by focusing on three things which might make your business stand out.  

I suggested that you consider how specificity can actually expand your access to buying markets with zero dollars spent. 

If your site came up in an internet search because you were selling damascus wire strippers, you'd almost certainly capture the attention of electricians who were looking for ordinary wire stripping tools.  That's significantly more direct than hoping on word of mouth to carry you through.  Even if word of mouth was your main conduit for sales, why make everything harder on your customers by making yourself difficult to find online?  

  In 2021 the word "forge" does not convey "craft" so much as it communicates pretentious fraud.  "Old Forge Dairy" is a real business that makes cheese.  Go have a look, their marketing is a pitch-perfect example of trendy pretentious nonsense. 

Chalkboard menu

Twee calligraphy 

"Farmstead Cheese"   As opposed to what?  

None of this has anything to do with their product, it simply conveys a mindless adherence to marketing uniformity.  There is a design movement aesthetic called "flatness" where the actual goal is to make everything so two dimensional and "frictionless" that a customer would struggle to tell the difference between competing businesses.  

"Forge" is a meaningless marketing term that properly refers to the tool, not the business.  In most dictionaries, "forge" will be first defined as criminal fakes, second as pushing through a difficult process, and then as a tool.  "Forge" as a business isn't an accepted definition in most dictionaries, unless you're five or six definitions deep. It's simply not descriptive, memorable, or advantageous to customers trying to find you.

"Pronghorn" is very descriptive, indicates the American West which helps people to know where you are.  Everyone loves nature, so there's no chance that your name will inadvertently deter customers.  "Furniture" actually indicates what your proposed business sells.

If you want to convey craftsmanship in your name, I would suggest something like "hand made" or "Bespoke" 





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Another pretentious word similar to "bespoke:" "curated."

GMBob:  A fair amount of high end blacksmithing sales in Colorado is focused on the ski towns such as Aspen, Vail, and Telluride.  You are not that far from the Wyoming equivalent, Jackson.  Also, there are quite a few high end folk around Cody.  You may want to develop some contacts/markets in those areas. 

"By hammer and hand all arts do stand."

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7 hours ago, George N. M. said:

A fair amount of high end blacksmithing sales in Colorado is focused on the ski towns such as Aspen, Vail, and Telluride.  You are not that far from the Wyoming equivalent, Jackson.  Also, there are quite a few high end folk around Cody.  You may want to develop some contacts/markets in those areas. 

You are right on that, and it has not escaped my attention.  Jackson is about 2.5 hours from my...ahem...forge, with a few pretty darn nice fishing holes in between. 

Pronghorn antelope are about the fastest land animal in North America. I hope potential customers don't infer that they will get forged products speedily.

One thing I am trying to avoid is custom work.  I don't deal well with sniveling.   

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5 hours ago, gmbobnick said:

One thing I am trying to avoid is custom work.  I don't deal well with sniveling. 

I had a couple other thoughts till I saw this last line. Just what is it you want to do? Can you compete with Raj of India? If you're counting on finding a "Golden BB" of a product you can sell for high dollars. Join the crowd, everybody who's ever wanted to sell any product has wanted a magic product that sold itself. If you're making hand forged iron for a high end market, failure to deal WELL with sniveling and nit picking will kill your business in no time. Negative word of mouth is many times more powerful as positive. I don't recall the actual stat but it was something like, Everybody who likes your x x will tell 3 people. Everybody who dislikes your x x will tell 25. I don't know the negative advertisement number but the folks I've been around tell EVERYBODY whether they're in the market or not, and for years.

What are you going to sell? Product name or your name? 

Do YOU have a "golden" product that is so desirable folk are lining up and fighting for? 

Do you have wealthy indulgent patrons? 

It's a nice goal for someone breaking into a field but you have to build your "Brand." That means sucking up for a sale, putting up with endless nit picking and sitting at the table at crafts fairs sometimes for years. I know a couple successful blacksmiths, been making a profit for a couple few decades and they still sit at crafts fairs though not all of them anymore and they still have to make changes for a paying client who "snivels" about something. 

Before the accident my dream was a little shop with an attitude. Meaning I could take or leave work as I wanted to without jeopardizing my livelihood. 

If you don't want to put in the miles then you don't want a business, it's a hobby so none of the above matters.

The last two sentence in your last post really threw me.

Frosty The Lucky.

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For all the writing I do, at times I still fail to see things the way my audience does, and it gets me in trouble.  I should explain things more thoroughly before making potentially inflammatory statements, and for not doing that I do apologize.  I did not mean to set Frosty off.

I think of custom work as work done according to the specifications of an individual.  Made to order if you will.  I have known some that do custom work, and with a few exceptions, they are not friendly people.  Some might even be miserable.  Customer burn-out is the malady.  Those few exceptions are extraordinary people.  One is my best friend, but he has a lot of best friends.

I think to be exceptional at custom work, it takes being a master at the craft first and foremost.  Then it takes an extremely attentive listener.  Diplomacy is another key trait.  There are probably other virtues required as well.  I know enough about myself to know it’s not me.

So what will I make?  Furniture.  I have had enough interest in what I make that I think I can sell hand-crafted furniture, but not custom furniture.

I’ll leave it at that.

Thanks everybody for the lively and educational conversation. 

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One thing that a smith who is selling his or her products needs to consider is what and where is your market. Would you rather sell ten $10 items in x time period or one $100 item? Or one $1000 item in a 10X time period?  They all return the same amount.

At the higher end of the market for anything the customer usually wants something special and they probably have the right to demand it given what they are paying, they are buying your time and skill.  This is true for about any product.  If you are buying an old beater pickup for a few $k you will take whatever features and color it has.  If you are buying a brand new $50K pickup you are going to want the color you like best and all the particular options and you have a right to demand that because you are paying top dollar.

It depends how a person defines "sniveling" or "whining" or "demanding."  To have a customer pay top dollar for your work they are also purchasing a certain right to want certain details.  That's how the world works.  The trick when accepting a commission is to make sure that both you and the customer are on the same page and to make sure that there are as few as possible things where expectations and results may differ.

That is not to say that there are a lot of rich, entitled SOBs out there who think they are buying your soul and who have little respect for anyone at least not as wealthy as they are.  IMO, the only way to deal with them is to sense them early on and refuse that work.  Life is too short for that kind of aggravation.  Also, they are the ones most likely to stiff you.  If you take any work from that sort of person, or if it is a project that will take a considerable chunk of your time, make sure that you get at least 50% down before you start work or buy materials.

Another aspect is how to price your work.  For much of what we do there is little to look at in comparison.  In reality, all you are selling is your time and that is the only finite thing that any of us have.  So, when pricing something my main consideration is how much time I have in it.  If my mental hourly rate is $X and it takes me 20 minutes to make something the price is .33X.  I can shift this with my skill.  If it is the first time I am making something it will probably take me longer and my hourly rate goes down.  As I develop skill at making something the time goes down.  There are other considerations, of course, but that is my starting calculation.

"By hammer and hand all arts do stand."

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You didn't set me off. I thought I knew what I was going to say then got to the second post and that last two sentences and I lost track. I didn't know what you were looking to do or why. I should've done a better job of asking clarification but got lost, side tracked is maybe a better term. It's a TBI thing.

Hand crafted I believe I understand, maybe not. I think I know what you mean by custom.

Does that mean you have certain furniture styles you make and do not take requests? If for instance I had a LARGE flat screen TV and hundreds or  DVDs and games. I like your furniture and think a version of a chest of drawers would make a perfect TV/game console. 

That'd be a custom build so you'd decline the commission? I could buy one of your dressers and make do but you wouldn't, oh say replace the top drawer with a shelf to hold the game console, wifi router and modem? Maybe ports in back for power and patch cords.

I'm not criticizing, I'm curious. We're both wordy and sometimes don't express what we really mean when we write. The better we know each other the better the communications.

Frosty The Lucky.

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Slightly back tracking on the topic, but I could think of quite a few electricians at my work who would probably pay top dollar for patterned Damascus cable stripper! You would get return customers as well since several of the regulars have a nasty habit of using them to bite into live wire and make them go BANG! :lol:

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George N. M.'s last comment is spot-on. The only thing I have to add is from my experience selling fairly high-end furniture. We would often take custom orders (things like what Frosty describes), but we were always very clear that they had to be paid for in full before we'd start work, the agreed-upon drawing and description were the Law and the Prophets, orders could not be cancelled after 48 hours (or whatever the legally mandated grace period was at the time; I can't remember precisely), and we would not accept returns on custom orders EVER. All of this was clearly spelled out in our terms of sale, which we required all customers (custom or not) to read and sign. We didn't charge for consultation time or for making drawings; if an order didn't work out, we'd just consider it training for the next time.

If you're going to do custom/bespoke/made-to-measure work, the healthiest thing you can do is to approach it as a collaboration between you and the customer where (ideally) everyone comes out ahead.  Perhaps my current work as a fundraiser is on point: I will say to a potential donor right at the outset, "I'm here to help you figure out how you want your gift to make things better. What we want is a solution that makes you happy, that is appropriate to the resources you have available for philanthropy, and that has a genuine positive effect for the College. If we can work that out, great. If we can't, that's not a problem, and we will just move on." 

It's amazing how effective it is to be collaborative when people are used to being adversarial.

6 hours ago, SinDoc said:

You would get return customers as well since several of the regulars have a nasty habit of using them to bite into live wire and make them go BANG! :lol:

Shocking, I know.

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I believe I understand what you're talking about with respect to difficult customers.  George and JHCC covered this pretty well.  One thing I might add is that in my experience, viable markets can be conceptualized as mesas and buttes.  While both have flat tops, a mesa is wider than it is tall, while a butte is taller than it is wide.  

Metaphorical market mesas have a lot more surface area for competition, the opposite is true of buttes.  Please note that they can both be at the same height.  In practical terms, this means that you might sell the exact same thing, for the exact same price, only you've got more competition in one market than another.  The internet has done wonders for "leveling" in this sense.

Here's the thing.  To get from one place to another, you'll have to descend, traverse, and climb up from the dark valleys that separate otherwise "equal" areas of opportunity.  In practical terms, this movement looks a lot like capital investment, staff restructuring, physical relocation, marketing, research, downsizing, networking, upsizing, hustle, endurance, starvation, and sleepless nights.

The reason for this, is that the "local" competition wherever you're headed will most likely have the upper hand, and you're changing whatever made you a competitor in the old market.  If there isn't any competition when you get to the butte, you can rest assured that you will eventually discover the very good reason for that. 

The "build it and they will come" business model ignores many basic elements of human nature.  People do not spontaneously go on vision quests to purchase unspecified goods simply because some entrepreneur hung up a shingle.  I suspect most people live their entire lives passing the same public buildings without ever crossing the threshold of some business within them.  In most cases, simply existing is not enough reason to compel sales.

This is why real estate is so costly in areas with a strong history of commerce.  

You might be wondering what all this has to do with avoiding difficult customers.

Well it all goes back to Mesa's versus Buttes.  Buying customers will be more plentiful on the Mesa's, which in turn means there will be more competition.  This has the effect of pushing everyone towards commodity thinking, where we see really dumb stuff like equating cost with value.  

Buttes on the other hand, are a lot harder to live on because you don't have as many customers to go around.  People settle on Buttes to escape the culture of the Mesas, without necessarily giving up their "height" which is a stand-in for status.  These are the customers who specifically seek out vendors qualified to perfectly deliver a painless transaction.  If they change their mind, they open their wallets first.

Now all that sounds pretty great, but there are some significant challenges that come with the "butte" market.

First off, they're incredibly hard to find.  My firm has worked for almost 500 General contractors in a major metro area over the last 17 years.  I've got three clients like this.  Out of the remaining 490 odd contractors, there are perhaps a dozen contractors that aren't great, and the remainder are so corrupt, mismanaged, and/or incompetent that we lose money working for them. 

Second, one failure to deliver is all it takes to lose them.   How do I know this?  Well, I got my toe in the door because a competitor had been shown out.   

Third, major economic forces affect everyone.  There have been many times where my best clients had nothing going on.  

Fourth, major economic forces affect everyone.  There have been many times where my best clients had so much going on that it was almost impossible to keep up.

When I started here, we chased "commodity" market level work.  All mesa's all the time.  Since focusing on the "buttes", I've dropped our revenue by half, while doubling our profit.  We do half as much work to earn twice as much profit, while working for people who genuinely appreciate what we do.  The biggest challenge is maintaining our ability to deliver high-end work, even when times are slow.  See if we laid people off when things were slow, we wouldn't have the quality manpower to instantly jump on projects that are so demanding.  We also have to thread a cautious line on what we take on, so that we never come up short.  Work in this market is equal parts commitment and sacrifice.

I hope my experience can help you to be successful.

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