Businessing Magazine sat down with Matt Smith, owner of Smith Farms, a custom furniture company based in the Southern California city of Menifee. Not only is Matt a talented furniture builder, he also is an astute businessman, having owned and managed several small businesses. We wanted to get his thoughts on how he is approaching his latest venture, and provide some food for thought for other small business owners operating in similar industries.
What made you want to start a custom furniture company?
We have a long tradition of woodworking in my family. My grandfather was an engineer and an extremely accomplished craftsman, working in both wood and metal. My dad has been a woodworker for decades, both professionally and as a hobbyist. His bachelor’s degree was in industrial arts, which was heavily weighted toward developing with wood. He also taught wood shop years ago. My first job my working for my dad’s construction company when I was 14. Having grown up around woodworking, it was probably inevitable that I would find pursue a career in it eventually.
Home remodeling and building interior pieces have been hobbies of mine for years, and although I’m involved with various types of woodworking, focusing on furniture makes the most sense to me because it’s a great mix of practicality and art. Furniture in the home serves both utilitarian and decorative functions, and that makes it very interesting to me. Building furniture for others provides me with the opportunity to build, which I enjoy, and to meet people’s functional needs, which I also enjoy. But it also gives me a creative outlet.
From a business standpoint, building furniture can also be simpler than other types of projects—such as cabinetry—because it usually requires little or no installation. So, although a custom furniture piece is typically made to fit in a specific space and match the client’s design style, it usually doesn’t need to be installed, meaning there’s no modification to the home. Certainly, there are exceptions, but much of the furniture we build simply has to be delivered. That makes the final stage of the process much simpler.
What are some of the challenges of running this type of business?
One challenge in running any business is to first understand what type of business it is. Although we ultimately produce a product for each client, custom furniture is actually a service business, not a product business. That’s really important to understand and keep in mind because it dictates our business processes and how we collaborate with clients. And like other businesses I’m involved with, this is a custom service business. Custom services businesses typically have a longer sales cycle, require more client interaction, and take a slightly different path each time. This informs how our shop is set up, how we market our furniture, and how we guide clients through a process that’s somewhat unique each time.
One challenge with a custom furniture business is managing client expectations. Each person we work with has a different set of needs, but is also approaching the project from a unique perspective. Some clients start by assuming that custom furniture is similar in price to what’s available at retail stores and online. Others already understand that having furniture custom crafted for them almost always means higher quality, but also means higher prices.
Early in the conversation with a new client it’s important to ensure they understand the benefits of custom furniture, as well as the costs. That said, custom furniture is not for everyone. Homeowners who are shopping mostly based on price will never choose custom, but those who are focused on obtaining high quality, personalized furniture will almost always see the value in working with a custom furniture company.
Who is your ideal client?
Because custom-made furniture isn’t a fit for everyone, prospective clients tend to self-eliminate. So in connecting with our ideal client, part of the work is already done. Clients choose Smith Farms for custom furniture for one of two reasons. They either can’t find what they want at retail and so they commission us to build them the perfect piece for their space, or they simply fall in love with one of our designs and they need it in their home. Anyone who’s struggled to find a large coffee table that works in their living room, or a unique live-edge table that’s gorgeous but also works for their family knows that shopping for furniture can be tough. There are a million furniture retailers, both brick and mortar and online, yet so many people can’t find what exactly what they want. At Smith Farms, we can build pretty much anything you can imagine. And if you don’t know exactly what you want, we can help with that too.
Do you have a favorite type of piece to build or a type of wood that you especially enjoy working with?
I really enjoy the process of understanding what our client is looking for in a furniture piece and providing them with options for design, wood selections, and finishes. Lately, we’ve been building a lot of dining tables, coffee tables, and end tables. These types of pieces allow for a wide range of artistic freedom and can easily be designed to work with various interior design styles including rustic, modern, mid-century, farmhouse, shaker, etc. Our most used woods this month are Argentinian Mesquite, Black Cherry, Hard Maple, Olive, and Fig.
Right now, we’re also building pieces for the Western Design Conference in Wyoming and an upcoming edition of Mountain Living Magazine. We can’t share all the details of either piece until after they’ve been shown, but I can share that they are both tables. Those will be coming in just a few months, with more exciting projects coming soon as well!short url: