Tom Provost is a furniture maker whose business comprises larger projects made to commission supported by a range of smaller stock pieces which he sells through his Folksy shop. We talked to him about about the benefits of working to commission, and find out why he thinks words of mouth is the most effective form of promotion…
When did you start your business, and what did you consider before opening your Folksy shop?
I started my business about nine years ago now and my main consideration before opening the Folksy shop was that I wanted greater exposure for my stock pieces.
Are you a full-time designer/maker?
Yes I’m a full-time designer and maker. My jobs range from making stock for the Folksy shop to full kitchen commissions.
How do you sell your work?
I mainly sell my stock pieces online and through a few shops, Green Woods Furniture in Bristol being one of the larger ones.
As well as your ready-made products, you also work to commission. How did you grow this side of your business?
The commissions side of the business actually came first. Or nearly. I made a few show pieces which actually didn’t sell but the commissions started coming in from the back of those first shows, and then it’s word of mouth that keeps me in work really.
What are the pros and cons of working to commission?
The big plus is that you are guaranteed to sell the piece and the main con is that commissions have to suit the client, so you can’t always go as wild as you might like on some designs.
Do you have a formula for calculating your prices?
I price my work by going through the job and noting the hours I estimate it will take, and then multiplying that by my hourly rate.
Do you take your own product shots and how important do you think good product shots are?
A good friend of mine, Giles, takes my product shots now and often helps me with projects at his workshop at the boat yard. It’s interesting to see the progression in photos over time. More and more I think it’s all about the photo when showing your work on the web – it’s all the viewer has to go on!
How do you promote your work?
By far the best promotion in terms of sales has to be word of mouth. Good pieces seem to sell more pieces!