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MuffinPunch

Starting Up "business"

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Hello all,

Its been a while since I've made my presence known here, but I have been around. I lost the ability to build for some time due to not having access to tools, workspace, etc. But Im back in action and hoping to hone and use my acquired skills to make the world a better place. Ha!

I really want to start making and selling custom designed guitar bodies and necks finished or otherwise, and the occasional complete guitar, but I am not really sure what would be the best avenue to take, or how to get my name out there. I am a professional vehicle designer by trade and work full time at Polaris Industries, so this would be and after hours "job" for a supplementary income. I am by no means under the delusion that I can become a professional guitar builder full-time. I more than anything want a way to finance my hobby of woodworking and help ease the crushing financial burden of student loans.

I have a few of my own body and headstock designs that have proven successful on an aesthetic level if nothing else, and one conceptual construction method that has proven successful on a prototypical level, but I plan to keep that one in my back pocket for a while. For the time being, providing unique and well thought out variations on the already proven super-strat platform seems like the way to go.

To all of you inspiring builders out there who actually build lines or one-off custom guitars for clients and customers: Whats the best and simplest way to get started?

I don't have a lot of capital to work with, but I do have tools, and skills, and a relatively good supplier for materials (i.e.wood). I also know an amazing musician to potentially endorse the product. Any advice is very much appreciated. Thanks.

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Have the highest integrity.

Deliver what you promise.

Get a business plan. Get your business license. Get an accountant or learn to do it yourself.

Do it because you love it not to make money. If you are great the money will come if not at least you had fun.

Build the most amazing highest quality guitars you can and sell them for a loss to begin with (breaking even is great). Never sacrifice quality. Never.

Don't bite off more than you can chew. Many new builders take on more work than they can handle and end up disappearing with other peoples money. Remember the first line. Integrity.

Remember you are only one bad guitar away from being ruined.

Good luck. Everyone and there brother is a custom builder these days... the market is flooded.

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Solid advice RAD. Coming from one of the most admirable builders I know on this forum, Ill definitely take it to heart.

I know what you're saying about the market being flooded, which is why I thought it might be a good approach to make bodies and necks and sell them as a "kit". Currently, the only bodies and necks for sale I've come across are licensed classic styles: Strats and Teles mostly, with the occasional SG or Les Paul, etc. I want to offer the user something that can't be found at a typical guitar shop without having to commission a high dollar custom builder. Unique body styles and headstock designs without being obnoxious, finished or unfinished and ready to be equipped with whatever hardware and electronics the end user wants. If there is a market for that, I want to find it. If not, like you said, at least Ill have some fun finding that out.

I get what you mean about a business plan and license, but I hoped it wouldn't be an issue considering the microscopic scale of my operation (at least for the first good while). But if lawfully I need one in order to sell anything, than obviously it goes without saying. I figured Ebay would be my friend until I figured out my own business plan.

Does anyone else have any gems of wisdom they wouldn't mind sharing?

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Have the highest integrity.

Deliver what you promise.

Get a business plan. Get your business license. Get an accountant or learn to do it yourself.

Do it because you love it not to make money. If you are great the money will come if not at least you had fun.

Build the most amazing highest quality guitars you can and sell them for a loss to begin with (breaking even is great). Never sacrifice quality. Never.

Don't bite off more than you can chew. Many new builders take on more work than they can handle and end up disappearing with other peoples money. Remember the first line. Integrity.

Remember you are only one bad guitar away from being ruined.

Good luck. Everyone and there brother is a custom builder these days... the market is flooded.

Well put! :D I would add:

Be willing to sell your "toys" to fund the necessary tools. This includes your favorite guitar...I know, that hurts, B) but you pursue is only worth what you are willing to put into it.

Be willing to spend the extra cash on quality tools. The tool acquisition process never, ever ends.

Be willing to scrap any "sub par" guitar at any stage of the build process. I think most of us who do this full time have been there. :D

Don't under estimate the satisfaction of bringing your vision to fruition.

Don't let anytone tell you "you can't do this".

Dont expect to get rich...

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Forget safety.

Live where you fear to live.

Destroy your reputation.

Be notorious.

~Rumi

:D

Also,

“Our real discoveries come from chaos, from going to the place that looks wrong and stupid and foolish.”

― Chuck Palahniuk

... :D

I can't say building for a living has been easy, but it sure as hell keeps things exciting.

Edited by NotYou

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"I am not going to sit on my ass as the events that affect me unfold to determine the course of my life. I’m going to take a stand. I’m going to defend it. Right or wrong, I’m going to defend it."

Ferris Bueller

Also

"Life moves pretty fast. You don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."

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I love how this topic became an outlet to quote motivational cliches. All very valid advice though! Thank you all.

If anyone has any specific advice as to how to go about building a guitar business from scratch beyond what has already been shared id be extremely eager to hear that as well.

Edited by MuffinPunch

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If you're confident with you building skills, you just need to get a reputation, some recognition, and credibility.

I was fortunate enough to get into Destroy all Guitar pretty early on. That got me the recognition and especially the credibility. Reputation takes time and can be frustrating. A lot of people won't review your guitars or get them seen publicly, but that's really the only way to get it. You just have to keep at it and do your best to blow minds.

The longer I do this, the more I realize that standing out is key. I've known builders who make great stuff, but can't sell anything because people can easily go with somebody else with a longer reputation or a cheaper price. If you make guitars that nobody else is making, they'll sell much easier. People need to know that if they want something like what you're making, they have to get it from you.

The more established builders can make stuff that's more traditional and get by because they have a recognizable name a long reputation. Newer builders cannot do the same thing and compete. Demand is extremely important, but if they can get something similar from somewhere else, it won't matter.

Look at any of the newer or younger builders on DAG. Everybody is making stuff you can't get anywhere else. I don't just mean visually, either. Even guys making Strats and Teles like Red Rocket are making them so unique and beautiful that if you want something like their guitars, you have to get one of their guitars.

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I get what you mean about a business plan and license, but I hoped it wouldn't be an issue considering the microscopic scale of my operation (at least for the first good while). But if lawfully I need one in order to sell anything, than obviously it goes without saying. I figured Ebay would be my friend until I figured out my own business plan.

You don't legally "need" a business plan. However, you don't need to wear a cup to play in a baseball game either but we've all seen how that one works out. Write a business plan. After a few months, when your head starts spinning, break out your business plan, read it outloud and it'll put things back into perspective. You'll understand what that means in a few months. Good Luck.

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I get what you mean about a business plan and license, but I hoped it wouldn't be an issue considering the microscopic scale of my operation (at least for the first good while). But if lawfully I need one in order to sell anything, than obviously it goes without saying. I figured Ebay would be my friend until I figured out my own business plan.

You don't legally "need" a business plan. However, you don't need to wear a cup to play in a baseball game either but we've all seen how that one works out. Write a business plan. After a few months, when your head starts spinning, break out your business plan, read it outloud and it'll put things back into perspective. You'll understand what that means in a few months. Good Luck.

This was more in reference to the license than the plan... I dont even know how to go about writing a business plan or what that is! I just want to build guitars. The main reason for selling them is to be able build more guitars! Having a bunch of extra income wouldn't hurt, but its certainly not my primary motivation.

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In general, with any business startup - the advice should be the same. Quality goes without saying, and all the advice here so far is excellent - don't skimp or settle on products or tools that affect your quality and reputation. You can't buy a reputation, so the good news is a good reputation doesn't have to cost you a cent, but a bad reputation can cost you everything..

Beyond quality though - check out a few business books. I'm in the marketing business so the stuff that comes to mind to me goes for any new startup. Whoever said "stand out" is dead on. In sales, this is your unique selling proposition, or unique value proposition. What makes your guitar any better than the next guys.. maybe there is a certain niche you are catering to, maybe you've figured out a better way to build a mousetrap, etc.

Look at Tom's shoes.. they make an ugly, utilitarian shoe that looks like something you'd see worn in other parts of the world.. not america.. BUT they tap into our rapidly growing cause-conscious generation and hit them up with a very unique sales pitch You buy a pair of shoes, we'll give a pair of shoes to someone in another country that can't afford any. They have skyrocketed and other companies are scrambling to cash in on their unique business model. I'm sure someone told them that the shoe market was flooded and not to get their hopes up..

Markets are always flooded, but the sub-sections of the markets aren't always flooded. Within the custom builder market - look for subsets that appear to have a need. Listen to consumers conversations and get in tune with their needs. The kits you are mentioning - could be you are onto something. That market is a little tough, depending on what kind of kit you're wanting to look at. Look for needs though. The custom market is flooded with weird exotic looking guitars and with strat / tele copies, true.. but there are so many other approaches out there. different finishes, materials, etc..

The only advice I would give about the kits is to consider what the maximum price is that the market would handle. if you have a great reputation and build a custom guitar to order - you can sell that for anywhere from 1000-1500 for basic stuff, upwards to 2500 or more for carved and exotic stuff. Given the time and work that goes into something like that, it's still a decent profit margin. You build a body and a neck - unless you have automated machinery, you could be sinking more time into the construction than you will profit from in the final sale. Kit buyers tend to be looking for a bargain. So at that point you have to be thinking about volume. A good guitar builder might build 15-20 a year and do very well. Selling kits, you could potentially have to sell hundreds of them to make a good profit.

And all that goes into the advice someone else said - write up a business plan. You have to. At the very least, run through some income projections using a spreadsheet. Enter your cost of materials, time to build, figure out how many you can make and sell each month - you'll have natural production barriers based on available time, resources and ability. Compare your projected sales with projected cost and see if the profit works out to be worth it.

The business stuff can be boring, but you have to do it. Don't lose sight of the goal or the dream, but make sure you aren't headed down a path to hardship before you even get started. Many times you'll uncover other ideas that make the business idea even stronger!

Best of luck!

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I get what you mean about a business plan and license, but I hoped it wouldn't be an issue considering the microscopic scale of my operation (at least for the first good while). But if lawfully I need one in order to sell anything, than obviously it goes without saying. I figured Ebay would be my friend until I figured out my own business plan.

You don't legally "need" a business plan. However, you don't need to wear a cup to play in a baseball game either but we've all seen how that one works out. Write a business plan. After a few months, when your head starts spinning, break out your business plan, read it outloud and it'll put things back into perspective. You'll understand what that means in a few months. Good Luck.

This was more in reference to the license than the plan... I dont even know how to go about writing a business plan or what that is! I just want to build guitars. The main reason for selling them is to be able build more guitars! Having a bunch of extra income wouldn't hurt, but its certainly not my primary motivation.

Badass!!! You just wrote the first two lines of your business plan. :D -> "I just want to build guitars" <- and ->"The main reason for selling them is to be able build more guitars!"<-

Put that down on a piece of paper. Below that, compile a list of what you are and are not willing to do to acomplish that.

Example....

Will: dedicate X ammount of cash and X ammount of time to perfecting my neck designs.

Won't: Dedicate any ammount of time building a birdhouse for my neighbor to buy some new router bits.

The hardest thing about starting any business in any industry is getting sidetracked by what appears to be lowhanging fruit. It is never really low hanging and it's usually rotten lemons. Next thing you know you're Muffin Punch the fancy birdhouse guy who doesn't have time to build a guitar. It happens to every smb owner and a business plan will keep you focused.

Also if you're in the US, You may want to look into forming an LLC. It'll cost a couple hundred up front, but you'll make up for it in taxes and little to no personal liability if you find out you or one of you biz partners suck at running a biz.

Edited by masterblastor

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i was going to lunch with a buddy of mine yesterday who is a mechanic and i was reminded of why i will never have a buisness that deals with the public. a guy had his car towed in the day befor and asked them to make it run well they worked on it got it started but it ran like crap. the guy came in and said "it ran smooth befor yall worked on it" the owner "it didnt run befor we worked on it" customer "it certianly did it ran fine when when truned it around for the tow truck driver" the owner "then why did you have it towed" any way the guy was blaming the shop for messing up his car.

the whole point to all that is i have delt with the public just remember some people you cant please no matter what you do and some people are just out to get something for nothing. just figure out your own way of dealing with those people and enjoy the rest. For me i just gave up and got out of retail.

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You have received a TON of great advice in this thread so far. So I am only going to add a few things.

Be willing to start at the bottom and work your way up. I've seen new builders start right off the bat with prices that match experienced and established builders. Name and reputation are everything, but price is a close second. I won't buy a $20,000 concept car built by a guy I know nothing about when I can by a Ford for that same price.

Decide how much you are willing to invest in time and capital up front. Especially with kit guitars, most people are looking for a low price, so while I think you have something with unique designs in kits, final cost will still be a determining factor for the customer.

Decide how far you truly want to take this and take your time to get there. I would love to become a full time builder that does nothing else, but I will be happy if it only ever stays as a hobby that funds itself. In my area I could go out and post flyers and business cards and place ads, but I don't have the time to commit yet to the possible amount of work that might generate. So for now I work at my pace.

I hope this works out for you and wish you the best of luck with it.

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Don't undersell your product or worse still, your time.

Pretty much as ihocky2 says, if the sum of your time and the product worth puts your selling price into the bracket of an off-the-shelf item then your product or service needs to have a true differentiation from the competition, especially the mass-product markets who have the added benefits of throughput, consistency (for the most part, don't use Ford or Gibson as benchmarks) and market presence.

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Since we're throwing quotes out there, here is one I take very seriously:

"Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them."

Henry David Thoreau

I'm both a technical, and an artistic person. I've worked for "the Man" on and off most of my adult life. My work experiences include (in order): Restaurant work, factory work, machinist/toolmaker, sales rep, office "pee-on". In between, and during those I have worked for myself both full time, and part time. In every full time job I felt my ability/creativity was "stifled". I worked alongside many people who lead a defeated work life...It's sad really.shudder.gif IMHO, I would rather try & fail continuously than to reach old age with regret of never making an attempt to achieve my goals/dreams.

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Since we're throwing quotes out there, here is one I take very seriously:

"Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them."

Henry David Thoreau

I'm both a technical, and an artistic person. I've worked for "the Man" on and off most of my adult life. My work experiences include (in order): Restaurant work, factory work, machinist/toolmaker, sales rep, office "pee-on". In between, and during those I have worked for myself both full time, and part time. In every full time job I felt my ability/creativity was "stifled". I worked alongside many people who lead a defeated work life...It's sad really.shudder.gif IMHO, I would rather try & fail continuously than to reach old age with regret of never making an attempt to achieve my goals/dreams.

I promise you Doug, if the opportunity presents itself we need to talk over a few beers. The wander over to yours is somewhat wet, however. :D

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