A man with a 5-year plan - Making a profit

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Even with his total involvement, he contends that “the work I do evolved and took on a life of its own without orchestration from me. Everything seems to have fallen into place to keep me firmly entrenched in woodworking.” His success may be due partly to his Zen-like philosophy of living day-to-day and assimilating every experience that comes his way. Consequently, over the years he has self-educated himself and learned intuitively by watching and doing.

Making a profit
McDunn is always trying to ramp up the bottom line. His ultimate goal is to corner business from the 15 percent of the wealthy sector in Greenville who can afford to pay his prices. He estimates he has about 2 percent. He could make it easier for himself by lowering his standards, but that has never been in the plan. “I follow my heart and preach the value of fine workmanship. I figure if people can afford an expensive Mercedes or BMW, they can afford my furniture. But it’s a hard sell. Some have a different ideology, where they don’t value furniture the way they do a car. Appreciation is misplaced, as far as I’m concerned, or maybe it’s lack of knowledge of quality furniture. Seems like elections and stock market fluctuations upset their spending habits, too.”

Ironically, it is McDunn’s consistent demand for quality that has won him exciting and unusual commissions. He is well-known for his work on the renovation of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, a local historic landmark. For three months, he built niches and sconces for religious icons as well as white oak gothic-style kneelers, refinished much of the alter, and gold-leafed metal crosses and wooden angels. It was a job that generated several more in the five-figure category.

For the Michelin headquarters in Greenville, McDunn designed and built a 22' x 6' conference table. It was rendered in the requisite Herman Miller contemporary mode to match the other furnishings. He also did a conference table for the founder of Carolina First bank. And when Greenville’s Frank Lloyd Wright house, “Broad Margin,” changed hands, McDunn was commissioned to craft new dining chairs and tables of cypress in the Arts and Crafts style from original Wright plans. (The house is one of 13 Wright actually signed.)

Word-of-mouth advertising, being in the right place at the right time, and extensive networking have won him many coveted contracts. Other techniques such as mailing brochures to interior decorators and setting up a Web site have also contributed to his name recognition.

For the most part, shows have not been part of his overall marketing plan. “From a practical standpoint, shows haven’t worked for me. I could spend $100,000 on building an inventory and sell one $700 table. That’s when you slap your head and decide to use another approach.”

There are exceptions. Every year he exhibits several pieces at Artisphere, a high-end show for artisans representing every media. It is held in the Falls Park area of Greenville in a three-day period in mid-April. The event draws a big crowd and gives McDunn a chance to get his name out to prospective clients. Part of its success lies in the fact that Greenville, a city of approximately 60,000, is a cultured community and many residents support the arts.

Besides his participation in Artisphere, he took another opportunity to show his furniture at the beginning of the year. For four months, several of his pieces were in a show at the Franklin G. Burroughs - Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum in Myrtle Beach, S.C. “Preparation was a killer,” he says. “I was required to build 18 pieces with a contemporary flare and functional assets. I was working 10 hours every day of the week building chests, tables, chairs. It was worth it for the exposure, and I did sell some pieces. You have to look at it as a long-term investment. Sometimes you have to gamble.”

McDunn has taken a lot of business risks in his career, but he can’t always act on his dreams. He wants to purchase a brick warehouse in back for his shop and make his present building one big gallery. “I’m a true capitalist,” he says wryly. Nevertheless, right now he has to invoke one of his favorite quotes from Clint Eastwood, “A man has to know his limitations.” But the dream keeps him plugging away and minding the other points in his five-year plan. As he likes to say, “Bit by bit.” n

Comments (1) Comments are closed
1 Sunday, 17 October 2010 05:43
Tracy L. Conway
Great article on Mike McDunn, really captured the essence of who he is at heart. He is the finest of fine woodworkers I have ever known. Those who own his work can attest to this fact.