I’m not actively selling pieces “yet”, but getting close (skills need some more work). Most of my business experience is sourcing other products and pricing them for resell or helping others build a business, although I have invented some items and currently have a product I’ve been developing over the past 20 years, I could give you a diatribe about all my business experience but it would bore you. Paul has a recent blog on how he recommends pricing an item.
If I read your post correctly you are wondering how to find customers, I am assuming you have no marketing budget. I’ll start by saying every day you need to actively do something to advertise your brand. For instance when walking through the antique store did you try and speak with the owner or manager, they may not want it, but just maybe, they know someone who would or know of another venue.
Have you thought of entering it as a competition piece in a fair, just so people can get to know who you are.
One avenue I don’t think is being used effectively are interior designers and home stagers, once I really focus on selling I plan to exploit this avenue. They can use the piece of furniture and advertise that it is for sale (there is a risk of wear and tear though).
Etsy may work but I would do your research on how to properly pack it for shipment, 100% nail down the shipping costs and be clear about it in your add. I see Etsy as a venue to sell smaller items and working up to large pieces once your logistics process is worked out. There are plenty of online furniture retailers that sell whole pieces that are not flat packed.
A craft fair or farmers markets (from my experience consulting others, farmers markets can be quirky about allowing crafts) may make sense if you use your piece as an attention getter, I wouldn’t plan on it selling though, most craft fairs sell items in the $20 – $300 range, but some one might buy it or ask if you can build something else for them (make sure you get at least a non-refundable deposit, to cover materials, from them if you do this). You will need a considerable amount of inventory that you could sell in the price range mentioned and be prepared for 12 – 14 hour days. Craft fairs do of course have costs and some large traffic ones have all kinds of rules.
If you are near a larger city you might be able to find a boutique furniture store that would buy a one off piece from you, be prepared to sell it at whole sale, maybe break even for the first few, and this is probably a longshot since these types of retailers are becoming scarce.
Tell all your family and friends you are looking for a buyer, and that you commission custom pieces, they may know someone.
If you have social media accounts you can post it out there as a recent project you completed as part of your new business endeavor. I’m not if favor of using personal social media accounts as sells platforms, more as a venue to show your skills and build interest in your brand over time with a post every few weeks about something new you have built or are working on.
Just some ideas, but whatever you do, you have to let people know you are making pieces for sell almost every day even if its saying something as simple as “I’ve starting making custom furniture, if you know someone looking for something I have a website and here is my business card.” Mouth to mouth advertising is hands down the most economical and effective marketing there is.
Here is what I have done to build my brand in anticipation of selling future items. Over Christmas I made frames for a couple of photographs my wife took. We gave them as gifts. Other people have seen them and asked us if we have others for sell. I made a simple box for a fundraiser recently, it sold for $25.00, one person asked if I could make them a rustic farmhouse table for them. We couldn’t settle on the price I wanted but we agreed they would buy the materials, I would build it on my schedule and I could place my business logo in a conspicuous place on it, they agreed. These aren’t big but I’m trying to build my brand, its probably another 5 years before I get serious.
If you read through Paul’s many blogs, you will find that he built his brand over several years. To do it otherwise takes considerable capital that 99% of the crafts people do not have. My personal and business consulting experience says you need 3-5 years of income as well as 3-5 years of capital to purchase raw materials and cover marketing costs stashed away if you want to build your brand over night, and then there is still no guarantee.
Finally, throw your personal attachment to the hall table out the window, but make sure you have a personal story about it when it comes time to sell. What I mean is, you can’t take it personal if no one buys it, you just haven’t found the right buyer yet. when it comes time to make the sell you need to tell the story about it, where you got the wood, the care you took to mill the wood and do the joinery, explain and show how the joinery is superior to cheaply made products, draw them into the grain of the wood and the finish. At the end of the day that piece should be a part of their soul not just another table taking up space.
Hope this helps, be bold and have tenacity.