A couple of years ago Paul and I decided that we needed to grow the Custom Order side of the business. It’s a smart move for any furniture painter but many people find the thought of taking on Custom Orders a little nerve wracking.
We are currently working on creating an entire course on the topic of launching and running your custom order business but this post is all about the process. The nuts and bolts, so to speak.
The most important upsides of developing a Custom Order arm of your business are obvious:
With that being said, there’s one major concern standing in the way of most painters.
This is the aspect of the Custom Order business that people find the most difficult to wrap their brains around. We want our customers to be delighted with what we do, but what if we let them down?
The most important piece of advice I give our customers who paint for sale is to make sure you and your client are speaking the same language.
The best way to ensure that you and the client are using the same vocabulary is for you to define the words.
Sample boards are a visual and tactile way of describing any color or type of finish.
In our shop we have clients who say they want a “Restoration Hardware finish’ or a “distressed finish” or a “layered finish.” Obviously I can create all of those finishes but those words can mean different things to different people. The only way to know that your definition of “distressed finish” is the same as your clients, is to show them what you mean.
Prepare samples of your standard colors and finishes and have them with you when you meet with your client. Give each one a unique name or number so when you write up the work order, you can use the name/number of the finish you and the client agreed upon.
But what if the client wants a finish that you don’t have a sample of?
It is well worth the extra step – especially if it’s not a finish that you create very frequently or a custom mixed color. Create a sample and let your client see it and feel it.
I can’t tell you how many times I thought I knew exactly what my client was describing only to show them a sample board of the finish they requested and have them say that isn’t what they wanted at all.
Trust me, you’ll breathe a lot easier knowing you and your client are both on the same page.
So, you have a client who reaches out to you inquiring about painting a piece of their furniture.
First things first, send them your rate sheet.
I can here you out there now – “But, I don’t have a rate sheet.”
The rate sheet can be as simple or as involved as you want it to be but you need to have it. It’s important because it provides a ballpark idea of what you charge for the most basic finish on a variety of furniture pieces.
Having a rate sheet can save you a lot of wasted time on a conversation that goes nowhere because of sticker shock at the end. Price should be part of the conversation from the very beginning.
How do you create a rate sheet? Take a look at the prices of pieces you’ve already sold and use that as a guide. You don’t have to cover every piece of furniture imaginable, this will simply serve as a ballpark estimate to give potential customers an idea of whether this is something they can afford. If it isn’t, the conversation can stop right away.
Let you customer know that if they are comfortable with the rate sheet prices, they can send you a photo and measurements of the piece so you can provide a more accurate quote.
Once you receive this additional info, provide your price quote for a basic one color finish. Let your customer know that there are small upcharges for specialty finishes, multiple colors, custom mixed colors, etc.
If everyone is agreeable to the terms, make arrangements to meet to determine color and finish. Often this is when the client is dropping the piece off to you or when you’re picking it up.
Make sure you have your painted samples of colors and finishes you. It also helps to have a few samples of special techniques that you are comfortable with creating such as decoupage or gold leaf. These add to the cost of the piece for the customer but can also be very profitable for you.
Have a blank copy of your work order and make note of everything that was agreed upon including the color(s), type of finish, any delivery fees, etc. Include an estimated completion date and pricing for the basic piece as well as line items for any upcharges and you and your client agreed upon.
You and your client should each sign the work order. If you don’t have a copier handy, take a picture of the work order with your phone and email it or let the client know that you will email a copy to them within 24 hours.
Collect a deposit before beginning any work. Usually this is done when the work order is signed. A deposit of 50% of the total is standard, with the remaining 50% due on completion. The deposit does two things. It acts as ‘earnest money’ so you know that your client is serious and second, it allows you to purchase any supplies you need up front.
Complete the work as described on the work order. It’s important to notify your client immediately if you think you might not meet the deadline.
Once the piece is complete, call or email your client to arrange for pick up or delivery and remind them of the balance amount.
OK, here’s my truth – I still get butterflies in my stomach on the day we deliver a custom order to a client.
I don’t know why, but I always do. Paul and I will never deliver a piece to a client until we are absolutely pleased with how it looks. This makes me feel confident that they will be pleased with what they see. They always are.
But I still get butterflies.
What have you got to lose?
So, there it is. The Custom Order process. Now you know what to do. Go make your sample boards and start looking for Custom Orders. Once you get in the swing of it, you’ll realize how lucrative it is and you’ll want to load up your calendar with Custom jobs!