Passion or Profit?

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BrandonB

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Hi all,

I'm going to ask the age old question. Being a carpenter/joiner as a career choice is it more of a passion than profit?

I am currently 9/10 years into my carpentry career and I am considering investing into a small workshop/workspace so I am able make my made to measure installs. (For reference, when I say workshop/workspace I am looking for a space 6M x 6M which is very small compared to most who are doing this kind of work). They're a few things to factor in before making any decision for a business, the obvious one being the overheads and how profitable will it be to begin renting a workshop/workspace. Given materials have risen in cost in the last year, it makes each install a little harder to gain a sensible profit from. If you were to factor in the additional overhead of a workshop/workspace and rise in material cost I think you would be seen as 'unreasonable' and may price yourself out of jobs (obviously not charging enough in some cases) to the common client. This isn't to say you were too cheap initially but you'd obviously have to charge more as it costs more to do business, if you weren't to do this you'd be running a failing business of course. Your client's would have to be in the top 10% who can afford the luxury of having made to measure installs fitted in their homes etc.

When you add in the fact of the down payment you've made buying all of the tools and equipment to be able to make installs and provide a high standard, I struggle to see the reward/profit/business side of things. I love what I do but from a business point of view I cannot see where the profit is made. It can only be made from cost of goods sold, but if the material prices are high it doesn't help.

My question to the experienced guys who have had similar thoughts, what did you do. What helped you?
 

dzj

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Aim for the wealthier segment of the population if you can. Be aware though, that they don't always play fair.
I prefer subcontractor work. A solid working relationship with a few contractors has paid off well in my case.
(I'm not from the UK, so take this with a grain of salt.)
 

thetyreman

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it depends 100% on the clients, for me it's mostly a hobby but I have managed to make a few custom commission boxes recently, I would say your passion matters even when it comes to making money, if something is not made with passion it will show in the work, usually the quality suffers.
 

Jameshow

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If you enjoy it keep it as a hobby.

If you need to make money from it do it.

If you can do anything else other than it do that...advice I was given regarding another career path.....
 

johnnyb

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regarding overheads and units etc I've found its extremely difficult making enough money to justify a unit. basically (unless you employ) when your fitting your not using the unit. I've found kitchens bathrooms doors skirts etc
( van joinery) to be more profitable(not needing a unit just adds to that)
making stuff is basically a labour of love. it's hard to sell your( handmade) quality over man made perfection of mfc stuff. sometimes the quality is simply not good enough at the price point. material increases just make your prices seem ludicrous. the same isn't exactly true for joinery but the unit size and investment in machines are much more.
having a unit is really a luxury in a game that's barely profitable to begin with.
 

D_W

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If profit is the motive, I think it's important to widen your look at other professions and find just how many folks have gained much wealth working entirely by themselves.

I knew a plasterer who did side work on the weekends - he was an absolute master and enjoyed doing the side work (everything he's done in my parents' house is crack free - everything else, almost the opposite). During the week, he worked with a restoration group for the national park service because it just makes more sense making a living than trying to work by myself.

You can pretty much go across the board in every trade that ever visited my parents' older house. The only way anyone made any significant living (aside maybe from the plumber - the electrician did OK, but was by no means rich) was to have a business with employees.

If you're going to do the joiner thing professionally for profit, the guy who gets paid a lot vs. "enough" is probably going to be estimating jobs, doing layout, etc, while other guys are doing the work for him.
 

johnnyb

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I'm doing OK because I've sought (semi)wealthy clients over others and endeavour to acheive excellence both in finish and knowledge. but don't confuse skilled woodworkers with skilled businessmen. one can do both but not usually. some of the most gifted woodworkers I've ever known were practically unemployable. working in a place churning out rubbish was like torture to them. but jobs that utilised there skills weren't profitable.go figure.
mdf (fitted)furniture can be good(I hesitate to say amazing) but can also be dreadful. in a cottage industry sort of a way.
 

clogs

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gotta say working out of a van was more profitable that the 5 men I had working for me......
U need a decent size w/shop at home (and good neighbours) that way u get the best of both worlds....
watch out for the rich tho......I totaly refused to work for Solicitors or Accountants....
it's not great but Granny's front gate and the like etc will keep u warm n dry.....
I did a lot on boats n shops, that paid well.....
 

Doug71

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I have a well kitted out 9m x 9m workshop, loads of experience and can make anything but reckon I would make more money working out of the back of a van hanging doors and fitting skirting all day. A few months ago my workshop rent went up quite a lot, landlord blames it on insurances etc but it is making me have a good think about the best way forward for me.

I'm always amazed how much time I waste sorting things out (pricing, ordering, customers etc) and how little time I manage to spend actually making things.

I know of two joiners in my area who have both recently given up their rented workshops as it wasn't working out for them.

I am the type of person that johnnyb mentions above, I'm no businessman but I would struggle working for somebody else.

And the older you get the tougher it gets, you don't have the same energy, I seem to have lost my enthusiasm for it all at the moment.

I have just read through what I've written, I sound like a right miserable old git, maybe I'm in the middle of a mid life crisis or something 🤔😂😂😂
 

BrandonB

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We've had some really good responses to the topic. When you start off working for someone from as an apprentice you're under the impression the guy at the top is making loads of money on every job and all the rest of it but the reality is, he isn't and most of the time there isn't massive profits involved. It's more like a fine balancing act between finishing the job on time (expecting nothing to take longer than you imagined and not coming across any unforeseen problems) and making sure you're haven't priced the materials too tight incase you cut something short or forget an item and actually sell your goods for a profit (which is a essential)

If you were to have a workshop/workspace, invest in machinery and possibly a member of staff or not. You'd probably end up taking home less than somebody who is just working on the books, few cordless power tools no containers or workshop/workspace working for a company running around fitting skirting and architrave all day....This cannot be right? - Like your business may turnover example £100,000 but when you look at the out goings and cost of goods, machinery, staff, premises and the take home is like £35,000....Surely this is alot of hard work for the same result? I can't help but feel short changed in some way.
 

BrandonB

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I have a well kitted out 9m x 9m workshop, loads of experience and can make anything but reckon I would make more money working out of the back of a van hanging doors and fitting skirting all day. A few months ago my workshop rent went up quite a lot, landlord blames it on insurances etc but it is making me have a good think about the best way forward for me.

I'm always amazed how much time I waste sorting things out (pricing, ordering, customers etc) and how little time I manage to spend actually making things.

I know of two joiners in my area who have both recently given up their rented workshops as it wasn't working out for them.

I am the type of person that johnnyb mentions above, I'm no businessman but I would struggle working for somebody else.

And the older you get the tougher it gets, you don't have the same energy, I seem to have lost my enthusiasm for it all at the moment.

I have just read through what I've written, I sound like a right miserable old git, maybe I'm in the middle of a mid life crisis or something 🤔😂😂😂
Yeah that's the only solution i've thought of is to have a premises where it isn't costing you. Why can't we be like IT guys and ask for the full amount of a job what it actually costs plus a little more to keep us warm without being questioned or told by the client. MDF is only £20.00 from B&Q why have you charged......etc.
 

johnnyb

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my rent is going up by 1/3 this month.gulp. so I'm really reassessing until summer. it just happens to have coincided with a good run of profitable site work ( kitchen bathrooms etc etc) just to make the contrast richer(wrong
word) I'm guessing this is happening all over the country. I would go doing proper site stuff( roofs and floors) as many in our area are earning £75000+
but im not totally compus with everything involved!(these are true figures from trusted sources not bs)
food for thought. I've tried to get someone interested in a share or working together but they like to pretend there flourishing making gates for granny etc.
suppliers haven't done small and one man's any favours not wanting to lose any revenue themselves.
 

johnnyb

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I'm not entirely convinced by working from home either cutting your expense and cutting your capacity seems retrograde plus I prefer all the paraphernalia not literally on my doorstep. I will say I know noone whose made much money from wood(bar suppliers) upvc manufacturers and installers definitely even at a minor level. not wood though. I can only think of one called Turner craft(this was the lovely Anthea Turners dad)who have had any decent success.
 

HOJ

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I can't add to what's been said other than a 6x6 workshop is never going to be big enough, mine is 14x5 and I struggle with working space, but I am fortunate in that I have a massive empty grain store barn next door that I can use as a store.
 

baldkev

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Some great replies above.
I have a shipping container workshop. Im a site chippy but always wanted a workshop.
I dont make money from it.
I use it for the occasional built in job to do carcasses, mouldings etc and for more decorative bits that you would struggle to do on site ( glazed partitions, oak boxes etc ) and for my own enjoyment. I hope to move more into the workshop but realistically, site money is better in the long run.

My workshop doesnt cost me much ( a lot to buy it and a lot for machinery ) so at the end of the day, i dont have to turn a profit from it. Its all worth a lot of money if i had to sell.
Workshop rent around here is now 800 a month plus vat, so thats a grand a month, plus elecs, presumably business rates etc. So you need to do a weeks work per month just to break even on the space.

Im no businessman. I feel sorry for the customers because it all costs so much ( although i can now spot the sob stories a mile off )
I'm trying to be more brutal but it hasnt worked yet. Im also trying to make the space more productive ( by being organised and sorted dust extraction etc ) which all adds to the costs 🙄

I wouldnt want to be without it now though. I can see that @doug71has a difficult decision to make.... mind you, there's probably value in having a long term reliable renter, so negotiating is an option. Even 2 months lost rent while waiting for it to let out again is a loss, plus a new tenant might be a nightmare......
 

niall Y

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Hi all,

I'm going to ask the age old question. Being a carpenter/joiner as a career choice is it more of a passion than profit?

I am currently 9/10 years into my carpentry career and I am considering investing into a small workshop/workspace so I am able make my made to measure installs. (For reference, when I say workshop/workspace I am looking for a space 6M x 6M which is very small compared to most who are doing this kind of work). They're a few things to factor in before making any decision for a business, the obvious one being the overheads and how profitable will it be to begin renting a workshop/workspace. Given materials have risen in cost in the last year, it makes each install a little harder to gain a sensible profit from. If you were to factor in the additional overhead of a workshop/workspace and rise in material cost I think you would be seen as 'unreasonable' and may price yourself out of jobs (obviously not charging enough in some cases) to the common client. This isn't to say you were too cheap initially but you'd obviously have to charge more as it costs more to do business, if you weren't to do this you'd be running a failing business of course. Your client's would have to be in the top 10% who can afford the luxury of having made to measure installs fitted in their homes etc.

When you add in the fact of the down payment you've made buying all of the tools and equipment to be able to make installs and provide a high standard, I struggle to see the reward/profit/business side of things. I love what I do but from a business point of view I cannot see where the profit is made. It can only be made from cost of goods sold, but if the material prices are high it doesn't help.

My question to the experienced guys who have had similar thoughts, what did you do. What helped you?
Hi Brandon,
I rented a small workshop for about 30 years, making the usual stuff - kitchens, bathrooms,alcove units, etc. you name it and I've probably made it,some time over that period. If it's only you working in the space. then there is going to be a limit to the maximum size of the workshop you can afford. Mine was about 10 metres x 6 metres. A friend, in the same business, also ran a similar size workshop.
The way the finances worked,was about a third of my turnover went on overheads, a third on materials, and a third was profit. Site-work is a lot more profitable, as you are only maintaining a vehicle and small power tools.
There is a risk factor. when investing in machinery,as you cannot claim back all the tax immediately, so the best way to proceed is through finance. Though this can leave you exposed, if things get tough. One of the guys in the next door workshop used to receive auction catalogues of firms that had gone bust, where all their kit was being sold off by creditors. It was quite a salutary lesson as many were often modestly equipped businesses, with all the same sort of machinery that I would have chosen - yet for one reason or another they hadn't survived.
I didn't get rich from woodworking, but did manage to bring up a family, and pay a mortgage - though I suspect that in the present climate things might be a lot more difficult.
I did go through those periods where woodwork did seem to be a bit of a bore, especially making one kitchen after another, but that didn't last long.
Niall
 

Flynnwood

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Not sure if anyone occasionally watches the Skill Builder channel on you tube. James (a builder often featured there) has just had to fold his Ltd Company and take up employment.

 

Terry - Somerset

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I am a chartered accountant by background and a hobby woodworker. So my comments are based on a career in business and observation of smaller businesses.

If money is the motivator, bear in mind that of 10 business start ups, 1 really succeeds. 3-4 keep their heads above water - some years good, some bad. 5-6 fail or close within 3/4 years. There is no formula - but it is about shifting the risks in your favour.

What separates the successes from the rest:
  • a range of skills - sales, estimating, purchasing, pricing, good admin. If you don't have these, can't quickly learn, or can't employ someone who has you will find it difficult
  • be very clear what your speciality is. Jack of all trade (no matter how good) is master of none. Understand your market, competition and customer base
  • luck - timing, economic environment, one good contract or one big bad debt!
Be clear what motivates you. Money, job satisfaction, security (family responsibilities etc). Are you willing to sacrifice short term for long term prosperity. One option is to "invest" in the workshop and flex the balance between contracting and own business as it develops.

In a whole range of careers (finance, IT, building trades etc etc) the demand for competent contractors has meant that few have experienced extended periods of unemployment.

50 years ago with an A level in computer science I considered a career in IT. If followed I may have spent my career with a well paid in demand skill set. Foolishly I thought it would not last and chose accountancy!
 
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