Thursday, November 20, 2014

Woodworking and Our Global Economy

I'm not sure if it's everywhere, but you hear the debate going on here in America from time to time about things being manufactured locally. Automobiles and motorcycles seem to be the big items everyone wants to  chime in about. But then the other 90% of their money goes to other countries. Now, I'm not saying anything against a global trade, as long as it is equitable, but let's be even across the board. So what's this have to do with woodworking you ask...well, I think it has a lot to do with it. Why does a company outsource labor and manufacturing to another country? I would argue that taxes and cheaper labor and material prices were right up there at the top of the list. Everyone is always in an uproar about jobs moving overseas but then their spending habits support these actions. This continued behavior I think has programmed people to accept lower quality products for a lower price point. Now, in this great modern world of manufacturing, these companies are able to produce products that look like the real thing...that is, until you have to replace it a couple years later. I am mainly talking about furniture made of glued together sawdust that you have to assemble out of the box, but also about other handcrafted items.
I read a post online the other day that really got me thinking about this. A friend of mine posted on social media about people expecting basically to get something for close to nothing because it was a handmade item. When did we start to devalue an item's worth because it was made in someone's home or garage? Of course no one wants to pay more than they have to for something. I love a deal just as much as the next guy or gal; but at some point we have to put our money where our mouth is.

So I think there are two sides to this issue. The first is from the standpoint of the maker. This can be the small family operated cabinet shop, the stay at home mom who sells items she sews, or someone like me that, when time permits, takes on small commission jobs. It doesn't take a large neon sign or a fancy piece of paper in a ornate frame to make someone a professional. I have seen plenty of highly skilled artisans that fall into the above-mentioned categories. Unfortunately, I've also seen people who title themselves as professionals who provided shoddy--at best--products or services. So if you're a maker or someone who provides a service then don't undervalue what you provide. You owe it not only to yourself but the other people that provide similar products or services to price your work appropriately.

Now the other side is that of the consumer. If you are looking for an item and you want a quality handmade item then be prepared to pay the appropriate price for that item or service. If you love IKEA than please feel free to continue to purchase your wares there. But don't get upset when you inquire about a hand made item and the price is considerably higher than what is sitting in a box at Walmart.

One thing I try to do with clients is working with them to see if there are options to get them the product they are looking for, within their budget. Sometimes there is a way to still make a quality piece of furniture but use different species of woods and then stain or dye them get the look they are going for. But there will also be times when there is no way for both the producer and the consumer to meet on common ground and that is perfectly okay also. So where do you stand either as a maker or a consumer? Or as both? I try to buy local when possible, but I also believe in paying for quality work or services but not for substandard quality based purely on them being the "little guy" in this big global economy.

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