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rockstar,

You have done your mesa/butte analagy before. Thought id put forth my thoughts based on just that again.

For those who dont know we two are pretty much diamectrically opposed in our views. We have a number of interesting similarities. Roughly the same age, we both work in construction, and more to the point we do our work on and around the front range of Colorado. Our differences are our views on craftsmen. You've indicated you and your firm dont deal with craftsmen. You have also stated your reasons as to why. Not very flattering, but not wrong, just out of context. However your beliefs are based on the work needs of the mesa, not the butte. In this post you mention that you have worked with 500 general contractors these last 17 years. Only three of which may be from the mystical relm on the top of the butte. Since '83, when i hung out my shingle on the butte, im pretty sure ive come across 497 GC's who feel as you do and for the same reasons. They apply absolutely to the work ethic of the mesa. They absolutely do not apply on the butte. And those three others realize just that.

Let me give an example. If you go to the hardware store looklng for siding, you will see a photo veneer pine on chipboard for say $3 a sheet. You will also see a photo veneer of black walnut on chipboard for $40 a sheet. Correct? (Prices may vary and the price difference may be bigger). Why is this? Its because they are not selling quality, they are selling the thin facade of quality. When these 500 GC's are looking for black walnut siding, I have no doubt thst their opinion of a craftsman who makes real black walnut paneling would be no different, and for the same reasons as your views on 'traditionsl smiths". You cant afford the product, and you cant afford the time. And any craftsman who tries working on the mesa faces just that problem. And that, my friend is the basic principal of business on the mesa, he who presents the best facade of quality makes the most money. It does not apply on the butte. True quality, not even the finest facade of quality rules on the butte. Two different realities, two different esthetics at play.

So who do I work for? I work for the man who hires the GC that is your client. If i come on the job before the contracts are awarded, Your GC, and thus your firm will not be asked to bid the railings, they already go to me. Its made clear to the GC that I work thru the owner, not the GC. We are separate entities. If I come on the scene after the bids are accepted, the owner pays off the cost of the fabbed rails and indicates the GC is no longer involved, and the job goes to me. Your GC, your firm, and i suppose your fab shop are paid and get a freebie. All pay, no work, and no breach of contract.  Thats life on the butte. 

One last point, since both your #3 and #4 have to do with the economy. Without a doubt, your GC, your firm, and every one down the food chain are affected by the economy. However, those owners on the butte are rarely affected by the economy. So when the crash comes, and you are madly hunting work whether butte or mesa, the clutter is gone on the butte and we craftsmen of all sorts are easier to spot and we remain busy. Thus, we are not affected by the economy, as a general rule.

I suggest that any GC, firm, or individual who seeks success on the butte, put real and true quality as their primary esthetic. Even the best facade of quality will only fool these folks for a little while. Thats the primary reason they come and go.

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This is pretty obvious but I'll throw it in anyway:  Any craftsman no matter what he or she is making cannot directly compete with factory made items.  That is what has been putting blacksmiths and other craft folk out of business for the last 200+ years. 

If a person wants a set of hinges to hang a door in their house or a gate on a corral and all they care about is the door or gate opening and closing smoothly they are better off going to a hardware store and buying factory made hinges.  A smith cannot compete in that market.  On the other hand, if a person wants an artistic looking hand made hinge for style, the look of the thing, or bragging rights that is where the smith comes in.  The same dynamic is true for just about anything.

Alternatively, the smith can produce items which are not available from a factory, such as the above mentioned pattern welded steel wire strippers.

So, the smith is after the niche market rather than the mass one.  It is either high end items or unique items.

Also, a smith needs to be aware of market saturation.  What we make and sell are durable goods and we don't get much repeat business from folk who have worn out or used up our products and need a new one.  I have done events where I did very well the first year I was there, less well the next year, and hardly any business the third year because I had saturated the market for what I was selling.  The same people were coming back every year but didn't need a new widget because they were still using the one they had bought from me the first or second year.

I don't know if that is a butte or a mesa but if I understand the analogy, a butte seems more likely.

"By hammer and hand all arts do stand."

 

 

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Anvil,

I've competed on the Mesa, and the Buttes.  I've built projects of near exactly equal quality, and cost on both markets.

High end work is not exclusive to negotiated agreements.  Incredibly skilled craftsman who deliver uncompromising quality often work for firms that competitively bid everything they build.  It's obviously wrong to assume that competition rewards compromise.  When a runner wins a race, they have proven their ability.

When a contractor delivers a project they competitively bid, they have also proven their ability.

Sniping about incentives to maximize efficiency is like insisting that the winning runner should have run further than their competitors.

The fabled tortoise didn't beat the hare by increasing the distance, but by steadily making efficient progress.

Construction entrepreneurs have some of the highest failure rates of any industry.  The "build it and they will come" business models represent the majority.  Many of them stake their life's worth on a venture founded on their deep admiration for craft, quality, and old-fashioned values of doing their absolute best.  They fail because they assume that fundamentals of economics won't apply to the morally virtuous.  

This philosophy conveniently provides fodder to criticize everyone who earned their success in business.   Being unable, or unwilling to compete, is a hallmark of unfounded/untested faith.  

I don't begrudge anyone who does honest work for a living.  The market "Buttes" of which I speak are not monastic retreats which exist to reward fussy and demanding artists.  History is full of failed kingdoms, economics applies to everyone eventually.  The attitude of entitlement, the condescending and slippery notions of "quality" are all things that "butte" clients will not tolerate.  Clients like this didn't reach the level where they can be this selective without a firm grasp on business fundamentals.  Anybody can commission an overpriced piece from an arrogant artist who works at their leisure.  All it takes is money, patience, and ear plugs.  I'm sure there are clients who want the bragging rights of having commissioned something by a notoriously difficult artist.  

That being said, many of histories greatest artists died as paupers because clients like that are few and far in between.

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Your responses are very enlightening, and have provided a lot to think about (like I need that), and has been humbling for me as well (I really do need that).

Just to focus things a bit.  My essential goal is to immerse myself in a craft (now that I can) while being personally accountable for my time.  I want to develop what I think are latent skills.  Skills that I see in my ancestry.  I delight to see them come to light in the workshop.  My scrap pile still grows, but I am starting to see some progress and increasingly feel better about what I am able to accomplish. Naturally I want to do more, but I think its important for the time spent to be productive.

God knows where this endeavor will go.  But unless He shows otherwise, I am not designing it to become anything more than one man doing the best he can, while he is still physically and mentally able, to leave something valued and beautiful behind for others to use and enjoy.

So here is where I am at:

I have chosen furniture as my platform…which sounds eerily like a mesa or butte.  Thank you Rockstar for that useful metaphor.

I have chosen western styled, rustic furniture as what I suppose would be a genre….not wanting to sound too artistic. Hand forged hardware, fittings, purposed-functional features would be a key element.

The question is, how do I efficiently and effectively launch this endeavor? 

This is what I am thinking…

First. give the business a western identity or branding, which for me is represented of course by a Pronghorn Antelope.  

Second, pick a target group of customers to start with.  I am looking at “horse people”, or what could be called the equine industry.  Not that this would encompass all potential customers...just a starting place.

Make a line of somethings that this kind of customer would be interested in.  Somethings like bridle racks, hay hooks, hoof picks, saddle racks.  None of this is custom made, but it will be well made or I wont sell it.  It gives them a chance to buy something special, an easy sale, and introduces my business.  Then maybe an opportunity to introduce hand crafted furniture that would suit their idea (and mine) of personal style.

I think furniture…coffee tables, special cabinets, kitchen tables, beds etc…elevate the potential value and beauty of things made to where I would it like it in pursuit of my goal.

That is my dream and the path I hope to follow.  The feedback and input y’all have provided is an encouragement and helps fill some gaps in my thinking. 

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I don't know but that straight out horse themed furniture at a horse event may do well.  A friend of mine does good business selling hand crafted jewelry at small town gun shows---seems like a lot of people think they need to sweeten up their reception when they go to tell their SO they bought *another* gun...

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I better correct something.  Latent skills might not be the best term.  Latent talents is probably more accurate.  Dad was a skilled machinist and grandpa was a skilled carpenter in the old sense of the term...everything from carved ladles to mine structures.  I am pretty sure they wouldnt have accomplished what they did without talent.

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gmbobnick,

It occurs to me that you might investigate "ranchette" development sites.  Wealthy out-of-towners who want a piece of heaven, without all the hard work of actually maintaining stock.

Many of these ventures build a few model homes to provide context, inspiration, etc. to their clients.  These houses are typically furnished with unique pieces meant to convey a specific aesthetic vision. I suspect the developer's interior design firm might be a good lead for you.

There are highway billboards down here in Colorado advertising Wyoming Horse ranches for sale.  

Another potential lead might be high-end dude/guest ranches.  We scrimped and saved to have a vacation at an Orvis listed ranch that was absolutely amazing.  Every piece of furniture was obviously hand-made and the ranch took great pride in Wyoming's craftsmen.  You never know when a guest at the ranch might decide they need western furniture back home.  I was sincerely surprised at how many far-flung attorneys and surgeons loved to "play cowboy"  at a luxury guest ranch for a couple weeks every year.

The other angle that might help, is if you made furniture suited to events like family reunions, weddings, etc.  Many of those ranches convert themselves from "horsey paradise" to Palatial gardens of matrimony several times a year.  They don't always rely on rented white foldables.  Some go to great lengths to have perfectly calibrated levels of rustic furniture to make the entire venue look just so.

"Glamping" is a hot ticket at a lot of these places as well.  They set up a huge tent that's fully furnished with luxurious furniture inside. 

Depending on your interests, you might "pitch" the idea of a unique furniture theme for each tent, cabin, or room.  

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gmbobnick, I have read this thread from start to finish. I must say that I have great appreciation for all who have contributed thus far:  It is helping me to solidify my business plan going forward.  That plan relies heavily on the continuing health fortunes for my self, and, perhaps, that of my Partner.

Iron (steel) and wood will be my high end offerings, the location of the Butte is pre-established by virtue of prior networking.  But back to you, I think that you are on track with your assessment of latent talents, that you will apply as you hone them into skills.

You have what it takes to succeed, with your head appearing to be set squarely upon your shoulders.  I am a bit biased in your direction, as I have a several thousand pound Mulberry trunk influencing MY  business model...

Looking forward to news of your progress.

Robert Taylor

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I'm starting to get a handle on what you're asking. What you call latent talent I've been referring to as a "Knack," I'm just saying so you'll know what I mean by it.

I get liking the learning curve for the sake of learning and picking up skills is also a source of individual freedom. One of my folk's sayings was, "You have to have a fall back." Meaning you need fall back skills and crafts, you  never know when you'll be looking for a job. What that turned into in me is an attraction to picking up new skills.

When I started spending time at the anvil, I had the goal of it being a self supporting hobby with a chance of going pro if I found that golden product. What it turned out to be was I had an IDEA rather than a plan.

It's REALLY good to see you're trying to plan your idea, too many folks don't even know the difference. 

I get what you're thinking of doing and it sounds a lot more achievable than my original foggy notion.  I strongly dis-recommend horse shoe hardware, that line is a crowded valley floor. Be prepared though a potential high spender client may want horse shoe hardware on the barn and  corrals, etc. Sometimes you have to bite the biter pill to savor a feast.

Using Rock Star's metaphor, the type of furniture and hardware you describe is a messa, there are a lot of people making it. Up here unmilled wood furniture is popular, especially "Diamond Willow" furniture though there is many many more. Driftwood furniture is popular and a few makers are doing well producing it. 

A large number of working blacksmiths up here got their starts as: cabinet makers, carvers, finish carpenters, turners, etc.  Carvers and turners tended to get started because they could spend less buying and scrounging the tools to forge a couple: knives, chisels or planer knives than buying a couple. After a little while their blacksmithing kits get pretty involved and lots only do woodwork once in a while. It seems to be a local evolution here.

I think you're on track, thinking about all the possible paths you can follow is NOT the same thing as chasing wild geese up them. I think about a lot of things before I give them a try it helps me avoid dead ends. I'd just strongly suggest you not commit yourself to any one path before you've tried a few. The only thing hurrying guarantees is you'll make your mistakes permanent more quickly.

Whatever market you target: Ranchette, Western Country, Lodges, Theme parks, ? ? ? Good hunting grounds for sure.  

Oh, one product thought for you. A nice small secretary's desk with hand forged hardware and heck perhaps a matching chair, would be a nice piece of furniture in rental cabins, lodge suites, etc. Who doesn't want to write a quick note to go with those cool pics of the deer in front of the cabin? Of course if you tucked a power bar and USB ports out of sight it'd make a nice place to check email and Iforgeiron. B)

Frosty The Lucky.

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gmb, one thing that I have seen in Colorado is "rustic" furniture made with beetle killed pine which has a blue stain running through it from a bacteria associated with the pine bark beetles. 

You might also consider merchanting at places like Cheyenne Frontier Days or the National Western Stock Show in Denver.  A down side of big events like that are that Frontier Days runs for a week or 10 days and the National Western is a 2 week run.  Other rodeos and events around Wyoming are usually one or 2 day events which are a lot more doable.

Some of the large events have substantial booth rental fees.  So, it is necessary to be pretty sure of enough sales to justify the investment in time and money.

Once it is safe to do so we might even consider sharing a booth at an event or having adjacent booths.  I could have iron work and you could have either small furniture items or samples of larger pieces for folk to order.

Make sure as you do items to do a portfolio of photos of your work to show potential customers.

"By hammer and hand all arts do stand."

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