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How to Sell a Desk to a Friend

Updated: Oct 20, 2020

This is a custom walnut desk we built for a client. It has a solid walnut top and colorful slats for shelves.
Walnut Custom Desk Build

Being in our mid-twenties, quite a few of our friends are starting to go to grad school, which means they’re buying a lot of laptops, books, binders…and DESKS! We’ve built quite a few desks in the past, but this one was by far the most in-depth and was extremely fulfilling because we priced it almost perfectly – from the initial quote to materials and labor, to the price on the final invoice! So let’s give you some background and break down how we did this:

Our friend came to us saying she needed a desk that matched the furniture she already had in her apartment. As a person who loves getting to incorporate custom designs into projects, I (Jennie) was super excited about getting to have a bit of creative freedom on this one! Initially, I was just thinking this would be a $200-$300 desk, since that’s roughly what we’ve charged for a writing desk in the past. I was going to go into the sales pitch with those numbers until I thought to myself,

“Why? Why am I already lowering the budget to $300 in my head when I haven’t even spoken to her yet?”

If she truly wanted a desk that would last forever, survive multiple moves, and have custom design features, I could easily pitch over $1,000.

And that’s exactly what I did.

Turns out she wanted a desk that WOULD last forever WITH custom design AND a solid, thick walnut top. I did some super quick, rough math and pitched $1,500 and she said yes! Never say no or lower the client’s budget for them. This is why we LOVE starting the sales conversation with the question,

“How long do you want this piece to last?”

That gets them thinking about the fact that the budget determines the quality and vice versa. I know some of you may be thinking “Did you just over-charge for an average desk??” And my answer is….not at all!! I simply sold her on a higher quality desk….which as a result just costs more and makes the business more money.

After closing the deal, we sent over a Sketchup image we created based on her requests and rough dimensions (this is something we almost ALWAYS do for our bigger sales).

We created the client's custom walnut desk in Sketchup.
This was the rendering of the desk we created in Sketchup and sent to the client.

It gets the client excited about the project because they can start to see the final outcome. We decided we were going to use 8/4 walnut for the 5′ long top, solid walnut drawer fronts, and use some alcohol based wood dye from a brand named Keda that we found online to incorporate the colors she wanted on the two shelves. That was how we decided to match the desk to the furniture she already had.

In the picture below you can see how her other tables had colorful slats on the bottom of them as well. The dye ended up working perfectly! If you’re interested in trying it out, click the link. We made sure to also incorporate space for cord management on the back of the desk for chargers and things. One last thing that was super important to us was finishing the table top with a high-quality finish so that there wouldn’t be any indents when she was writing on a single sheet of paper on top of it. For that, we decided to use several coats of General Finishes Enduro-Var in Satin.

This is the end-table that we used to model our walnut custom desk build after.
This is the end-table that we used to model our custom desk after.

It ended up taking us 13 hours total to build the desk, including the time it took us to drive 2 hours to our closest hardwood dealer to pick up the walnut slab. This is how all of the pricing broke down:

All materials: $664

Labor (at $30/hr): $450

40% markup: $445.60

Total: $1,559.60

The total was $1560! We estimated material prices and hours of labor before even starting and came to $1500!!

In all reality, this helped us realize that we’ve solidified a price structure for our furniture business that has proved itself effective multiple times- and we are very excited about that.

I guess if there’s anything we want people to take away from this project, it’s this:

1) Look around your community and see where people need (or could need) what your business provides. For us, it’s desks for college students. The possibilities are really endless. There is business out there for you if you look for it hard enough!

2) Don’t say no for the client or lower their budget for them!

3) Don’t be afraid to pay yourself and your business for the work you do, and once you figure out how, continue to hone that skill until it’s second nature for you.

We love projects where we get to learn and grow ourselves as business as well as make a really cool piece for our clients. All in all we think the desk turned out great and she loved how the colorful shelves matched the rest of her furniture in her apartment!

If you want to know how we got this job, closed the deal, created a budget, drew the desk in SketchUp, and built the whole thing…check out this video!!!

This post may contain affiliate links for products we used to create this project! If you’d like to check them out, we do get a small percentage of the sale and they are of no extra cost to you! It all goes towards supporting the content creation of Jennie and Davis. BUT – we do not take tool sponsorships and there were no tool endorsements. Just our honest opinions!

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