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Shay

HOW DOES IT ALL START

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Being a guitar player for fourty years and a part time luthier for the past twenty. And I'm talking about just doing set ups and repairs for friends and family as well as a little word of mouth work sent from the local music stores. (Most of which no longer exist due to the larger store chains and the internet). I guess that I have always planned on having a little music based business for myself when I retired. I thought about  opening a small shop and maybe doing some guitar work and lessons and then sell some gear and accessories. We'll that was the plan but recently in the last couple years I've gotten the guitar building bug like so many others have. And I started building a few years back. I've done some complete builds as well as kits and also pieced together some stuff from buying necks and making the bodies myself. I have worked in the trades for almost thirty years and have a ton of skills when it comes to building things, especially woodworking. I also grew up in a family owned automotive body shop and have been fixing cars and reprinting them since I was around 15 or so. I have continued to do this work on the side for years also. I buy a lot of salvage title cars, from insurance co. Auctions and repair them. So I have a lot of  experience with paint work and finishes. The automotive paint and guitar paint are very similar. I also have a lot of friends and family that are very experienced painters. I also consider myself to be a pretty talented artist, I draw things very well and seem to be very creative.  So I think that all this would give me a good vase to start building and selling guitars like so many are now doing. About seven years ago when the economy went into the recession I decided to get out of the trades, mostly because the work had dried up. I also was pretty tired of it. I ended up getting a good job working in the transportation business and have been driving for the same co. Ever since. But about four months ago the co. I work for lost a very big contract and as a result i ended up getting my work hours cut to about twenty hours a week and my pay cut to les then 50% of what I started at.  So know I find myself with all of this extra time and very little income. Also I had just purchased a new house right before my jobs cut backs as well as having four kids, two of them are starting college in the next couple years. Now I have a fully functional workshop set up in my basement with about every tool I could need. So I plan on getting started on this music business thing, but because I don't really want to sink the money into an inventory or renting a store front, I plan on just building some boutique guitars and selling them and keeping my costs down by working out of my home. And this is where my question comes in, my biggest concern is how do you go about building a customer base and how do you find people who are willing to pay boutique prices. I'm just afraid that I would build a bunch of guitars and they would just sit and never sell, even if they are great guitars and well built. I'm just amazed by these guys building guitars for $3k a piece and they have a waiting list. What's the trick to this? Is there that kind of need for these guitars out there? I see some of these custom built guitars on e-abay and the prices they are asking and it's hard to believe that these things are selling. Are they?  Well I'm hoping that some of you guys that have built a good  business can help me by answering some of my concerns. I spend a ton of time watching videos on u-tube and listening to podcast about it. And the one subject that's never talked about is the sales side of things, like how many guitars a month you can sell and how to go about finding customers or maybe selling your guitars to retail music stores. Well I think I've gone on enough now so I'll shut up and wait to hear some input.

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I don't run a business, so take my comments as such.

 

10 hours ago, Shay said:

I'm just amazed by these guys building guitars for $3k a piece and they have a waiting list. What's the trick to this? Is there that kind of need for these guitars out there?

I don't think you can legitimately charge boutique prices without building up a reputation first. People who charge that kind of price for a guitar are (hopefully!) charging a realistic price for their skills, time and materials. A novice who tries charging high-end prices will quickly come unstuck. Every time I consider putting my work on the market I always remind myself about how confident I need to be in my abilities to put good quality work out, or at least be willing to take a poor review of my work and then make sure I go out of my way to put things right. Just do a search on Sevenstring.org for horror stories of builders who bill themselves as boutique custom luthiers and their work isn't on par with their self-appointed title.

A waiting list as such doesn't indicate anything. They may only be able to turn around a few guitars each year, so it's not hard to have a waiting list that takes a long time to get through. Or they may be really popular and have a long waiting list. Or they may be just snowed under and unable to deal with the backlog. A waiting list may indicate that they are in hot demand, but conversely it may indicate that they can't cope with the workload.

 

11 hours ago, Shay said:

I see some of these custom built guitars on e-abay and the prices they are asking and it's hard to believe that these things are selling. Are they?

No idea. You see all sorts of things on eBay with a Buy It Now price of $XXXX, but if you can see it on eBay it also means it hasn't sold. Probably not the best source of sales information for guitars.

Robbie O'Brien did a good video about marketing for people just starting out in the business:

 

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Ive chatted about this stuff on the luthierist podcast. 

If your quality isnt there, you can fool people for a while, but eventually you come unstuck.

If you dont have something different, no one will care.

Forget about trying to emulate someone else, you dont know how they got there or why. Example: a company recently tried to emulate our sales process, with similar products, and cheaper pricing. We sold approx $200k worth of guitars in a week. They have yet to see a single sale.

You need to learn how to market your wares. (and going to open mic nights is not marketing)

You need to know who your customers are (and I dont mean "guitarists").

You need to offer quality that is sort after.

I know two luthiers with 3+ year waiting lists. One has 6 orders on the books, the other, 5. We've had as many as 90 on the books at one point (now 35?).

Most people go full time around the point of having 12 orders. They then find either:
1. Thats not enough to sustain them, and they take on part time work
2. 12 overwhelms them, and they go back to work.

The biggest mistake some people make, is jumping into full time building. 

You need to understand cashflow. We now plan 6 months forward.

You need to know your costs. Every single item needs to be accounted for.

You need to be efficient. Efficient enough with tools that you either KNOW you can do a job perfectly, or you dont even think about it before doing it perfectly. IF you are still "oh shit, I must get this right" then you need to practice more. If you are "shit, i dont even know what happened there, but the neck joint is sloppy, damn tools!" then you are really really not ready.

Success rarely happens over night. It will most likely be much slower than you imagine. It took a long time for us to be profitable (we did reinvest everything though for years). Most full time luthiers barely make minimum wage. It is possible to have more than that... we've had our first million dollar year (turnover, not profit), but I dont know anyone that pushes as hard as I do. I havent had less than a 70 hour week for the last four years.

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On December 28, 2016 at 7:16 PM, rhoads56 said:

Ive chatted about this stuff on the luthierist podcast. 

If your quality isnt there, you can fool people for a while, but eventually you come unstuck.

If you dont have something different, no one will care.

Forget about trying to emulate someone else, you dont know how they got there or why. Example: a company recently tried to emulate our sales process, with similar products, and cheaper pricing. We sold approx $200k worth of guitars in a week. They have yet to see a single sale.

You need to learn how to market your wares. (and going to open mic nights is not marketing)

You need to know who your customers are (and I dont mean "guitarists").

You need to offer quality that is sort after.

I know two luthiers with 3+ year waiting lists. One has 6 orders on the books, the other, 5. We've had as many as 90 on the books at one point (now 35?).

Most people go full time around the point of having 12 orders. They then find either:
1. Thats not enough to sustain them, and they take on part time work
2. 12 overwhelms them, and they go back to work.

The biggest mistake some people make, is jumping into full time building. 

You need to understand cashflow. We now plan 6 monthhs forward.

You need to know your costs. Every single item needs to be accounted for.

You need to be efficient. Efficient enough with tools that you either KNOW you can do a job perfectly, or you dont even think about it before doing it perfectly. IF you are still "oh shit, I must get this right" then you need to practice more. If you are "shit, i dont even know what happened there, but the neck joint is sloppy, damn tools!" then you are really really not ready.

Success rarely happens over night. It will most likely be much slower than you imagine. It took a long time for us to be profitable (we did reinvest everything though for years). Most full time luthiers barely make minimum wage. It is possible to have more than that... we've had our first million dollar year (turnover, not profit), but I dont know anyone that pushes as hard as I do. I havent had less than a 70 hour week for the last four years.

Just after reading the first two paragraphs of this response, I knew who the author was without even seeing the closing signature. And I had no idea He frequented this forum. I'm greatful for your input Perry, because I have followed you closely for a while now. I listen to you on the Luthierist podcast with Sully and I've heard all the great advice you've given for new people just getting into the business. I've also seen pictures of the car you drive so I know your doing something right. Ha -Ha I've heard the stories that both you and Sully have shared about your early days in business and how much it took to finally turn the corner and start seeing some success. So thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule and sharing that advice..  -Peace, Shawn K.

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On 1/8/2017 at 10:42 AM, Shay said:

Just after reading the first two paragraphs of this response, I knew who the author was without even seeing the closing signature. And I had no idea He frequented this forum. I'm greatful for your input Perry, because I have followed you closely for a while now. I listen to you on the Luthierist podcast with Sully and I've heard all the great advice you've given for new people just getting into the business. I've also seen pictures of the car you drive so I know your doing something right. Ha -Ha I've heard the stories that both you and Sully have shared about your early days in business and how much it took to finally turn the corner and start seeing some success. So thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule and sharing that advice..  -Peace, Shawn K.

Its certainly a difficult business to "make it" in. Of course, levels of success are what we determine them to be. Five years ago I'd achieved everything I had ever dreamed of, and more. Now? Im of the opinion I was just mucking around, and Im not even half way where I want to be.

To some, Im an inspiration (or frustration!). To Fender? "Who's that clown with those funny frets?" :D 

My original goal was to "work in a hardware store, to support three days a week building guitars". I never in my wildest imagination thought I'd have five staff. Now I wonder "How many people will be working for me in two years, and at what point will it become less fun?"

 


 

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"at what point will it become less fun?"

....perhaps when you're on the panel of smug rich fuckers on Shark Tank, having to beat down and/or con some hard-working craftsman forging their own path purely to demonstrate a fake level of control, power and ownership in order to entertain a know-nothing cross-section of the Australian TV viewership?

In all seriousness, it'll get less fun when you are no longer willing or able to get down in the trenches and muck in. And enjoy it.

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