Advice from a Successful Production Artist

Woodworker Matt Thomas has a success story that happened as a direct result of smart strategies put into place for his first wholesale trade show.


Artist Matt Thomas speaks with a customer in his trade show booth. Read his story at


At his trade show debut, he opened 60 new accounts and garnered 40 reorders that same year from those customers.

Matt describes his product line as “timeless products.” He says, “I don’t chase trends, but design my collection to have broad appeal. I don’t have the most expensive line, but I have produced work that is durable, attractive and affordable.”

He explains that the easier part of that equation is coming up with products that customers would like to buy. It is more difficult to make that happen at an affordable price. This is where planning ahead pays off.

Matt focuses on making handmade products that carry added value. His mindset is to offer a collection that looks ornate and time-consuming, but is quite simple to make due to production systems he has created. He continually adjusts his production to bring down the labor time involved in each piece.

Every product in his line can be sold as a gift. Under that umbrella, he offers sushi boards, cutting boards, candleholders, and other functional ware. Nothing he makes is non-functional, and many have several uses. For example, his cutting boards can be used to cut, prep, and serve, but have a decorative face as well to hang in the kitchen.


Sushi Set by woodworker Matt Thomas


Putting together a studio production system helps control costs. Matt shares a story about a fiber artist he knew who complained about production problems. He looked at her procedure and found she was dyeing, then weaving, only 2 or 3 scarves at a time.

He suggested that she look at her production one month at a time and that she ship wholesale orders on the 1st and 15th of each month. He also advised that she work in large batches, dyeing all the red she would need for upcoming orders, and then dyeing blue, etc. She was thinking in terms one order at a time, rather thinking bigger. When she changed her production system, it freed up a lot of time and also cut her expenses.

What about balancing his workload without becoming overwhelmed? Matt keeps a production calendar. He knows his monthly production capability, and schedules orders so that he has time to make and ship them on time.

“Reorders are the wild card,” he says. He delegates space for reorders in his monthly production and builds inventory with any available free time. Often he will allow time to make 10% extra during production in order to set aside stock for future orders.

Matt looks back to his former career in construction, where competition was fierce, and the weather was a factor. He recalls that the experience taught him to plan carefully and take advantage of opportunities, and he has carried those principles over into his studio business.


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