Starting a rfurniture refinishing business

6 things to consider before starting a Furniture Refinishing Business

Sarah Stahl
Sarah Stahl
Passion for transforming tired, old furniture into bold works of art. Sharing my learning with you.

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I often get asked for advice on starting a furniture refinishing business.  In fact, the questions I get asked the most fall into the business side of refinishing.  Until now I haven’t really shared any tips on starting your own business.  Why?  

I needed to consider what my advice would truly be.  Furniture Refinishing is a fun and rewarding hobby.  But what should you consider before turning your hobby into a full time business?

Let me share with you the truth and the 6 Things You should consider before starting that furniture refinishing business.

 

Table of Contents

Social Media inspires and enchants

Furniture Refinishing is more popular than ever before.  Social Media is driving attention to the business and it’s so easy to get swept up in the latest viral reel on Instagram.  How could you not, when you see the amazing profits made on their latest, easy project.  

It seems like a no-brainer to invest 60 dollars into a piece and turn a profit of 600 with only 6 hours of work!

Furniture refinishing looks like an easy peasy way to turn a fun hobby into a profitable business.  But before you jump in, head first, consider the following: 

 

  1. Are you blinded by Social Media Lights
  2. Do you understand the basics of Furniture Refinishing
  3. Research your local Market
  4. Pricing your Services Right
  5. Consider Scalability
  6. Find your customers

 

Let’s dive into each topic together so that you can start that business with the right mind-set. 

Don't get distracted with the bright lights of social media

There is no denying that social media is a useful tool for furniture refinishers.  Whether you are there to promote your business, showcase your work or to create a social media empire. There seems to be an explosion of furniture refinishers with 50,000, 100,000 or even 500,000 followers. With this much interest in furniture accounts, there must be a huge market for refinished furniture! 

 

Weekly there are new accounts popping up with very talented furniture artists. Some of them have been flipping furniture for years and some just recently started for extra money on the side.  Either way, both groups of people are utilizing the brilliant tool of social media.

Social Media Likes

Before starting a furniture refinishing business; consider the following:

Are you starting your business based on information you have gathered from social media?  What I mean by this, are you starting a business solely because someone online stated they made a profit of 600 dollars on a piece of furniture they found on a curb?  If it sounds like an untapped gold mine, it usually is too good to be true. 

Other Social Media Draw Backs

It is easy to get lost in social media and doom scroll.  Watching piece after piece of amazing, sold furniture pass by and wonder why you are not selling as fast.  Perhaps your work isn’t as good?  Maybe you need to get more creative?

Another downside to social media is the comparison game.  Wondering why you are less successful than those accounts you follow online. How did that person sell out of all their custom work slots for the year and it is only May?!

Surfing online,

And sadly, there is yet another downside, that you start to focus more on the social media side of your business than on your actual furniture refinishing. Worried whether or not your reel is going viral, did you create enough content and focused on getting video of you sanding from 3 different angles?

Are you in the business to refinish furniture or to earn via social media?  Be honest with yourself, as both avenues can earn income, but require different skill sets and focus.

Instead of focusing on Social Media...

Want to start a furniture refinishing business?  Then you need to focus on creating a solid foundation for your business and establish yourself in your local market.  Social media can eventually play a part of your growth and scalability strategy, but it should not be the reason why you started that furniture refinishing business in the first place. 

I often hear that social media is considered a marketing tool and while you may sell pieces via Instagram or Facebook, ask yourself this question.  When you go to shop for your own home furnishings, do you head to Instagram?

The basics of furniture refinishing

Going briefly back to the blinding lights of social media, do you think furniture refinishing is solely cleaning and adding some paint to a piece of vintage furniture? If you are not yet sure how to tell veneer from solid wood, how to remove hinges for painting doors or why bother with primer; I recommend that you start researching before opening that business.

 

man painting a small nightstand white

These words may sound harsh; after all those in the business all started fresh at one point and are still continuously learning. Most refinishers first started as a hobby.  They painted and experimented. Start small and work with family and friends. Ensure that you feel confident in your basic skills and that your pieces are ready for sales.

As a consumer yourself, you expect that when you buy something with your hard-earned money that it is of quality.  Your customers will too.

Therefore, take the time to learn the basics of furniture refinishing.  There is so much information online that you simply need to google and practice.  Learn how to clean, sand and strip different finishes. Learn how to make basic repairs and how to spot insect activity.  Work on achieving that perfect, smooth finish and how to make small repairs.

Furniture Refinishing 101: Articles to check out

Tools Make the Project

I do believe that you can start your business with minimum investment.  That being said, I also believe that good tools and products are half the success.  While you may not need to run out and buy that surfprep everyone is talking about (and by the way; has a affiliate code for you) consider getting the following tools to start.

Sanding smooth wood filler
bahco carbid scrapers for removing paint and finishes from furniture

Further Learning

Take the time necessary for you to gain confidence in your refinishing skills.  Start with a few small projects.  Read and research, continuous learning is key to growth.  Develop furniture refinishing friends to learn and grow from.

Only join a subscription based learning group if it’s the best method for you to learn. Personally, I found these types of monthly groups are great for chatting and getting to know other furniture refinishers, but in terms of learning; I could google information faster and cheaper.

I personally learn best 1 to 1 when guided and I have the ability to see how things are done and can ask relevant questions at that time.

Finding your Style

While creating your own style which you are known for is not necessary to be successful as a furniture refinisher, it can set you apart from competition in your local market.  People fall into a specific style the longer they paint. It isn’t usually done purposefully. Often, you start by creating a wide range of looks, but as certain styles sell quicker, as more customers show off those pieces, you will find that future customers start to request something similar. 

 

Furniture refinishers in the business for years often have a recognizable style.  You see a picture of a finished piece and you are 95% sure whom refinished that piece. This may be your goal or perhaps you find the idea to limiting.  Either way, it’s a compliment when your pieces are recognizable and requested.  Developing your style takes time.  Don’t rush the process of trying different mediums and techniques.  I am still developing my own style and am in no rush to determine what it will be.

cocktail cabinet refinished with 3d cubed design in green, purple and pink across both the side and top.

Understand your local Market.

When starting any business you must look at your local market and understand it’s needs and potential.  This is the same for starting a furniture refinishing business.  Even if you are simply flipping furniture you found on big garbage pickup.

The first step to knowing your market is watching your market.

Go out shopping at the vintage stores, consignment stores and thrift shops.  Check what type of furniture is being sold and for how much.  Take notes!  Because you should go back weekly and check what is being actually sold and what pieces sit around for weeks. 

Don’t limit yourself only to physical stores.  Do the same online.  Check out Marketplace regularly and take note of what is selling quickly and what isn’t. 

Check out the Competition

I believe in open information sharing among furniture refinishers and being supportive of each other’s business.  That being said, those furniture refinishers in your area are also your business competition.  It is best to understand what type and style of refinishing they do.  How many pieces they do in an average month.  Do they take commissions or not? How quick are their pieces selling and for how much? 

This information is important for formatting your own business. Not for competition. 

Say your local competition consist of two full time refinishers.  The one specializes in mid-century modern pieces, averages two pieces a week and seems to have a waiting list or deals mainly with commission requests.  The other individual specializes in decoupage pieces in wild prints.  He only finishes 2 pieces a month and his pieces normally take 2 months to sell. 

You immediately know that decoupage in wild prints will be a tougher market for you to break into locally.  Mainly as there seems to be less demand. 

You could consider also going into mid-century modern pieces, while also trying your hand at art deco styled tape design. The one hand you are going into a market which seems to be in high demand while testing the waters in another style to see if there is interest locally.

 

Midcentury modern after refinishing and restoration work, with water based top coat
Upcycled cocktail cabinet in art deco style. Large drink cabinet in teak and mahogany woods

The market research you conduct at the beginning will better structure your business when you start. 

Watch Trends

Another key element to business research is watch for developing trends and try and get ahead of the trend.  An example is the milk paint and chippy look.  Around 2021 – 2022, this was a booming trend. It has however, faded from main stream furniture refinishing.  Now Mid-century Modern is hot!. 

Another growing trend is raw wood. However, polls show often a split between raw wood and dark, rich warm wood tones.

Taking the time to understand your unique local market and favourite trends, will help you to create a business which best serves your local customers. You will be better situated in a market which might be oversaturated with a particular style.

close up of milk paint chipping
table refinished with milk paint

The importance of pricing your services correctly

How should I price my pieces?  This is definitely one of the most asked questions and also one of the hardest to answer. 

Online there are spreadsheets and downloads available from many furniture refinishers showing how they price their pieces.  What works for them in their market, may not work for you in your own market.

You may also buy into the price based on your skills and time.  Know your worth strategy.  However, if your local market is all undercutting each other, your pieces set at a much higher price point, will probably be passed over. 

I’ve seen drink cabinets going in some countries for double or triple what I can get in my market. Envious sure, but you need to be realistic.

With the internet making all markets so visible, it is easy to understand why there is so much confusion around pricing. Going back to the last point regarding understanding your market.  If you did the research, you should know what the average prices finished pieces are going for in your market.

Be critical of your work and that of others

Are the pieces being sold in your market of quality? Be critical.

Do they have hinges that are painted over?  No top coat to extend the durability?  A single colour and no design work? Is the piece a trendy item of furniture?  

Look how the quality of your finished product differentiates from others and highlight your skills! Don’t be modest. If your piece is finished to a high standard of quality, then you can price accordingly.  

Mention it in your advertisement descriptions.  Highlighting key words around durability,  refinished to last generations, professionally painted.  You should also consider giving a warranty with your piece.  Stand behind your work.

Be competitive, but don't undercut

Say that there is another refinisher in your local market completing work that is similar quality and style to yours.  Initially you see that her pieces are selling for XX amount.  Perhaps you want to bring attention to your pieces and therefore list them for 10% less.  Now what if your competition see’s this and also then tries to match or even undercuts your price drop?

Being competitive with your prices does not mean you should undercutting your competition.  This will eventually undervalue your business.  It is hard to go from price cutting to increasing your prices without losing clients that you have developed on the way.  Those few customers which you may have won over due to the lower advertised prices will also leave the moment someone else steps into the market with yet even lower prices.

It’s a vicious cycle so don’t start it.  Price similar to your competition and find other ways for your products to stand out.

close up of paint brush and paint can with orange paint

Be Realistic about Scalability

Now this is a topic close to my heart. You started your business, you are making sales that bring in a profit, you are recognizing whom your target customers are and are able to reach them.  Now it’s time to scale your business.  After all, if you are making a couple hundred each month in profit, wouldn’t it be better to double or triple this?

It’s tempting to dream big and imagine the potential around your business.  And while you should look for ways to grow your business, I want to advocate for cautiousness.

Conduct an inventory for growth potential.

Firstly, take the time to truly review what is potential for you in terms of growth.  

Take an inventory of your time and space.  Can you take on additional pieces?  Do you have time left in the week or space in your work shop?  

Think of ways to increase your productivity without immediately hiring staff or investing in a larger work space.  Simply having the room or additional hands around does not necessary translate into increased profits. 

Think of Small Steps for Growth

An example of great way to increase your productivity is getting a paint sprayer.  You can spray a piece much faster than you can paint a piece by brush.  

Maybe you have time to finish two standard pieces, painted in a single colour per week vs only completing one highly technical designed piece per every two weeks.  Depending on your market, those 4 standard pieces could sell at a higher profit then that 1 highly detailed piece.

Finding the right customers for your business

When you first start selling, it helps to know whom your ideal customers are and where to reach them.  Consider the previous pieces you did while your business was still a hobby, or when you were selling to friends and family.  Who was interested in your pieces?

You may not have a real idea who your ideal customer will be, initially.  Maybe you will need to sell a few pieces in order to draw up a comprehensive customer profile.

When you develop an idea of the type of customer that is attracted to your work; draw up a customer profile.  The more details that you include the better.  Then based on this profile, you should be able to pin point where this person shops for their furniture. 

For example, when I first created a wide range of pieces, my customers reflected this.  I also advertised across a wide range of online platforms.  Now skipping forward a few years, I can pinpoint what my average customer is interested in small cocktail cabinets.  I now only tend to advertise on a single platform and know the key words which will reach those customers.

Finding customers for your furniture refinishing business

Other points to consider when starting your furniture refinishing business

In addition to the 5 things that you should consider before starting a furniture refinishing business; this following should be considered.

Failing to understand the time and effort necessary to refinish furniture: 

If you are selling in a highly competitive market, sanding a piece lightly and painting it, will most likely not be sufficient for a quality sale.  Quality work results in quality sales.

Not providing good customer service: 

Your current client could also be your future customer.  Or perhaps their friend or family member will see your piece in their home and want something similar.  You will only be recommended if your quality is professional and your customer service went that extra mile. 

Price Correctly: 

It’s important to price your pieces in a way that brings you a profit worthy of your time.  Factor in all your time and costs!  It’s easy to forget about that paint brush you bought, or that box of sand paper.  Use a tool to track all your costs and your income and do regular checks to ensure you are earning on each piece.

Understand the yearly selling cycle for furniture:

People do not shop for furniture all year round.  Summer and Winter periods can be lulls in terms of sales.  People are busy during the summer months and as Christmas approaches, they are saving up.  If your pieces are not selling during this time, don’t fret.  Wait and re-advertise during the spring and fall when people are looking again.

Learn to stage your photos:

Your piece may not be selling because the way you staged it.  Try taking multiple photos in different settings and with different accessories and placements.  Ask friends and family what photo do they find to be the most attractive. I’m personally still working on this point.

Storage Space - is it needed?

Have space for finished pieces which do not sell immediately

When selling lulls occur, you want a space to hold onto that piece of furniture until you can sell at the requested price.  Do not simply mark down the piece to sell quick and free up space.  You are only undercutting yourself and devaluating your work.

However; consider keeping your reserve of unfinished pieces small.  You may want to purchase all the great deals you find and then eventually find yourself spending money monthly on a storage unit which actually negates the money you saved.

Storage Units

March to the beat of your own drum

Don’t follow other’s roadmap:

Just because someone else was successful in reselling paint or even opening a shop, does not mean it is the right option for you.  Consider carefully your long term business plan and ensure it fits into your local market needs.

Don’t Jump on other’s bandwagons:

I am guilty of being blinded by other’s lights.  You see advertised courses or subscriptions that make promises to help you grow your business or develop your skills.  It convinces you that this is just what you need to be successful!  Honestly, 9 times out of 10, it’s simply someone supplementing their own income with information which is generally free if you google it (I expect a little hate on this point). 

Find a tribe to grow together and think before subscribing to that monthly group. Will it really help you to achieve your business goals?

Final Thoughts

This was a difficult topic for me to write about.  I love refinishing furniture and share information opening. We all can grow together.  

That being said, Furniture Refinishing is not a business for everyone.  You need to take the time to determine if the business is right for you and right for your market.  By detaching yourself from the bright lights and lofty promises on social media and truly examining your local market, you can determine if the path of furniture refinishing is the right path for you.

Personall, I am an impatient person and jumped into refinishing furniture without really researching anything.  I did have knowledge coming from a family of antique refinishers and extreme diy’ers.  I also have a love for learning and enjoy problem solving.  Curved Raw Veneer, need I say more?  

Yet, it took me years of working in this business to learn my local market, what sells and what doesn’t. Who the heck is my ideal customer and where I can find them? Looking back, I wish I had taken time in creating my business plan and had taken these 6 points into consideration. 

What do you think I forgot to add? Let me know in the comments.

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