Let's Talk Custom...

Until I became a furniture designer myself, I didn't understand custom work. So, I feel like this post is actually useful and I will try to write it without condensation. Really. So let me go through a few basic tenants of custom jobs and explain them because you have a right to know why, on average, a custom piece costs about 2x the on-the-shelf version when you order only one or two.

1. Custom work is more expensive.

I've had requests before for slight variations in size of product I make, and my potential clients were aghast to the increase in price. Their logic is, "if a 17" cube is $X then why would a 16" cube be more than $X, it's less material!"

Solid logic, because they are right - to a degree. A 16" cube is less material than a 17" cube, so my material costs, in theory, go down.

Despite that being true, the labor goes way up. This too can be counter intuitive so it's my pleasure to explain it.

Every cut. Every weld. Ever mold made is new and different in a custom piece. In the example of a 1" smaller cube, you may have the same number of welds, but new jigs need to be made.

We use jigs for everything. For cutting a piece of wood the same size over and over. For welding pieces of metal into specific sized shapes, for placing bolts in concrete so they attach to metal frames etc etc. When you change anything about the design's size/shape, the jigs have to be remade.

Often, the jigs alone cost more than the actual retail price of the piece you're customizing.

Take for example, our Harvey concrete wood slice table. The mold for that piece costs more than the Harvey retails at. We are able to sell the piece at the price we do because we can reuse that mold. If we were to do a custom one, there is no guarantee that the mold will ever be used again. Even if your custom job is beautiful and amazing, it's hard to get people to see it. Then it's even harder to get people to buy it.

A product like the Manti, however has 3 custom processes to it: the base, the top and the metal plating. Each custom process adds to the cost.

And on top of all of that, a custom piece is often ordered at one or two at a time. If you want to order 10, 20, 100 of a custom piece then you probably already know these things and should know that your custom job will price accordingly, and that is probably less than retail. 

2. Custom work takes more time.

When you order custom, expect a wait time between 4-12 weeks, depending on what you're asking for. This is because of the jig work mentioned above, but it's also due to it not being made in quantity so I can't just go to my shelves, get one and drop it in the mail. There's a lot of steps that go into something even if it looks really simple, like a cube. In fact, minimalism is often more difficult because you can't hide any imperfections.

3. Custom pieces are final sales

Because these are unique to your design, hence custom, this type of work can't be returned. I think this should easy to understand, but if not, let me assure you, that just because you wanted it, doesn't mean I can turn around and resell it. If you bought one of my tried-and-true designs, I have a decent amount of faith that it will sell again. A new piece, even with a minor tweak like being 1" different, won't sell as easily - there isn't years of marketing and branding and photography to support its sales process. If you get it and you aren't pleased with your choices, I'm sorry but there isn't much I can do. It's a dance-with-the-one-you-brought situation.

4. Custom jobs aren't "no big deal"

For all the reasons above, you should be understanding this, but there is one other thing to realize - shop flow. SHOP FLOW! To stop and change gears for me or my crew, isn't as easy as just doing something different. On any given day the shop maybe be working on three different projects per person. That's not to say, one person finishes three jobs in a day, but most things take multiple days to complete, where only a small fraction can be done on a given day (think for example, things need time to dry). While I am continually improving shop flow and all my employes' to-do lists, throwing a wrench in the plans in order to add a custom project is more of a headache than you'd think.

5. Custom jobs are disruptive

In every step of the custom job experience, I, or someone in my shop, is making a special trip for you. Let's say it's a custom concrete part on a brass base.

Here's a few of the trips that are needed to get this done that aren't required when you order off the shelf items: unique trip to metal shop to buy supplies, cutting the metal, grinding the metal, polishing the metal, trip to buy concrete molding materials, trip to the metal plater, trip to clear coater. And every special trip I need to make to buy materials or go to vendors is at least an hour, I live in LA afterall.

6. Custom jobs are often experimental

The beauty of Ford's assembly line was both speed and consistency. When you, or an employee, is doing something over and over expertise is developed. On a custom job, throw some of that out the window. Of course, there is a lot of carry over, which is why you would come to me for custom pieces and not your plumber. But at the end of the day, each new step, new element is a variable and variables are chances for errors. It is not uncommon for a custom piece to be remade before it ever arrives to the client because, well, that's the nature of the beast.

7. Custom jobs are a relationship, not just and order.

Because of all of this. Because of all the time. Because there may be an approval process, there's a lot of back and forth. And sure, you won't find many companies that respond to an email quicker than I do, but that comes at a toll. We value this relationship, and in the emphasized component there is time spent on it. And well, when we're responding to emails, we're not pouring concrete, polishing metal, sanding wood etc etc. 

Patrick CainComment