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How I dealt with challenges to stay profitable in the wood carved art business world

Carousel & Rocking Horses brings together those who love wood carved art and those who own it. We help owners of carousel horses, carousel animals, rocking horses and similar wood carved items to sell their piece at a price that buyers are willing to pay.

Prior to starting this business I was and still do run a digital marketing business. 

I was browsing at an art festival when I came across a couple selling some of the most detailed and beautiful wood carved rocking horses and animals I had ever seen. A number of people were interested in their art and discussing it with them. I mentioned to them what I do and left my business card.

Within a few weeks I met with them and worked out a deal to create a website and sell their products online for a commission.

The first deal I landed for them was with an actor’s agency who wanted to buy a fine rocking horse as a baby shower gift for Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick. 

Needless to say, sales took off. 

When the artist couple was on the art show circuit (showing art to people in person), certain items usually sold, but online we found that different items sold more often.

From there we worked together to sell these items online. That worked out so well that as soon as they had completed carving the item and shipped it to the customer, an order had come in for another one.

That’s how this business started, but it shifted to work with other wood carving artists as well.

The main challenge over the years has been finding new wood carvers.

Most of the good wood carvers only last 7-10 years. 

Imagine you are an artist and have enough orders to keep you somewhat busy making rocking horses or wood carved art every week, then every Christmas there’s a flood of orders that come in. With limited time you must make or have stocked enough art and ship them on time. 

Within a few years you may develop arthritis or something else that challenges your ability to continue pumping out the orders. And before long, you’re done.

I’ve seen this happen to many of the woodcarvers I have worked with.

Another challenge is that the demand for wood carved art is not as high as it once was. 

The U.S.-China Bilateral WTO Agreement, signed in 1999, opened the door to Chinese imports by lowering U.S. tariffs and easing the way for China to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). 

Since then most of the wood furniture industry has gone to China and many of the well-known furniture makers in North Carolina and woodworking craftsmen went out of business.

One of the things I’ve done to deal with these challenges is to shift toward brokering. 

Some people who own rocking horses and carousel horses want to sell them but don’t know what they are worth; they need help to sell them for a price that buyers or collectors will pay.

I help them with these and many other issues like appraisals, negotiation, promotion and shipping, everything they need to effectively sell their item at top dollar. I receive a commission upon the sale.

Brokering is a great business to be in when you know a lot about both sides of the deal and can advise both the seller and the buyer objectively about the quality and worth of the item. 

I do this by presenting the art piece on my website and point out all of its flaws along with the info people need to make a buying decision.

When a buyer contacts me, it’s usually about shipping or price negotiation, which I handle for the seller.

A good portion of this business is knowing how to deal with antiques or collector’s items and that means detecting a fake as well.

Many sellers contact me thinking they have an antique rocking horse because it was made over 25 years ago. Unfortunately, wood carved art is not like automobiles in that respect.

Even if you have a very old wood carving that is in good condition does not necessarily mean it’s worth a lot of money; the key is whether it’s a collector’s item or not.

Collector’s items usually have artistic uniqueness and/or detail that other wood carved items, even by the same artist, do not have. 

These artistic features make the carved piece more attractive and tend to fetch a much higher price.

In some cases, collector’s items are pieces made by a particular artist. But, it’s usually that the artistic features used by that artist are unique, detailed and beautiful. 

Accurate identification of the piece is critical to providing a price range for both the seller and the buyer. Some buyers and collectors already know everything about the piece and will snap it up. Other pieces may sit for a while but most sell within a year or two.

Earlier this year I noticed that a number of sellers began offering their items for a much lower price, presumably due to needing cash or not knowing better. 

Can you guess what happened? The bargain hunter collectors swooped in and bought them up!

You may need certifications to do brokering in some industries; most of brokering is doing the homework for both the seller and the buyer so each party is going to be satisfied on the deal upfront.

I’ve turned away sellers at times because I know buyers won’t be interested for one or more specific reasons. I’ve also turned away buyers who make unreasonable offers.

Thus far, I have not worked with a buyer who was not thrilled after receiving their wood carved art and that brings a lot of pleasure to me in this business.

If you have a wood carved piece you want to sell, I’m glad to take a look at it for you:

Tom Shivers is owner of Carousel & Rocking Horses and loves brokering art deals that satisfy both the buyer and seller.

Nataly Komova
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