Operating a Successful Taxidermy Business

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"Operating a Successful Taxidermy Business".
“Operating a Successful Taxidermy Business”.
D.Price

After receiving a phone call one day this past fall I began thinking about writing this article and how I wanted to approach it. I didn’t want to make it about how and why to price your services a certain way. I think that dead horse has been pretty well beaten over the years. Besides from my past experiences, you are not going to change someone’s mind if they don’t want to change it and it just turns into an argument. Also, I didn’t want a full time vs. part time discussion. Frankly it doesn’t matter which you are because at the end of the day we all are taxidermist.

I get phone calls, emails and private messages per Social Media on a regular basis asking how I do this or what I use for that and so on. I rarely get any asked about the business end of things. Most likely this is due to folks not wanting to discuss their financial and personal business. I can respect that because I don’t do it either. With that said there are some simple things that can be done to make this industry more professional and less peered upon as a hobby.

So, back to the phone call that started all this. I answer the phone, and a fellow on the other end that was not a client of mine says: “How much ya’ll get for a deer head” (right then I knew he would never be a client of mine) I replied “$600”, he said, “WOW, what if I bring you 2 can I get a discount?”, in which I answered “no sir, sorry but that is twice the work and twice the materials and expenses, so I don’t and can’t offer volume discounts”……CLICK! He was gone.

Now this is not the first time I have been asked this question. For some reason that day as I continued working I was thinking to myself, someone is going to give that guy what he is looking for. A light bulb went off in my head. Some people let the customers run their business instead of them running it themselves.  So I started jotting down notes to things that I think make a taxidermy business operational on a long term basis. The following is what I came up with, listed from top to bottom in what I would consider highest priority.

CASH FLOW

Every successful business “MUST” have cash flow to stay afloat, if not you cannot order supplies, pay utilities, etc. How do you keep it rolling, you ask? You make it as easy as possible for your clientele to give you their money. Credit/debit cards, personal or business checks, cash and yep even rolled up pennies will work. That way when someone walks in with a job for you to do they can leave a deposit, and there will be no excuses for you to provide free storage.

Family or buddy discounts don’t create cash flow, remember it is a business.  Also, on the outgoing side you can’t use your deposits to fund a hunting trip or family vacation; this is where a lot of taxidermist get into trouble. You have to be able to manage your money, incoming as well spending. I could write an entire article on “Cash Flow” and may just do that in the future. This is in my opinion the number one thing that keeps your business going.

PROFESSIONALISM

Greeting potential clientele, remember the first impression is very important. If you are stumbling through your words you will not be taken seriously. Whether on the telephone or in person make it clear that you are in control and know what you are doing and talking about. I know we have a dirty job, but some clients and their wives or children don’t want to see it. So have an area for drop-offs and pick-ups that are separate from your work space. Make sure it is clean and welcoming.

It doesn’t have to be Trump Palace, just inviting and comfortable. For example my showroom/entrance at Outback Taxidermy is only 18’ X 13’ or 234 Sq. Ft. But it is a totally separate space than where all the work is done.  Be sure to have examples of your work on display and photo albums. Remember for some clients this will be the first time they have ever interacted with a taxidermist. Have catalogs available for them to browse through to make them feel at ease and not overwhelmed, remember many times their adrenaline is still pumping from the hunt they were on.

Your attire, dress professionally and clean as possible. You don’t have to wear an Armani suit, but you also can do better than ragged t-shirts and jeans filled with holes and covered in blood or paint. Wear an apron while working on projects it can easily be removed when you need to meet with a client.

INTEGRITY

Integrity is very important when operating a business, especially a small business, be honest and up front with yourself, your vendors and most of all your clientele.

You must believe in yourself to be successful. If there is something you do not think you can handle, educate yourself on how to handle it.

You must have vendors to operate and to produce your services, so pay your bills in a timely manner. I know for a fact that some of the larger supply companies used to ship out on open accounts. Now due to lack of “Integrity” in many of their customers, they no longer offer this because they couldn’t collect their “Cash Flow”.  See how that works?

Be honest with your clients; for instance try to give them as close to a completion time as possible. I know things happen beyond our control so I like to give them a range based on my work load at the time, such as 8-12 months. This works pretty well for me.

Always answer your phone and return any messages left from a current client ASAP. If you try to avoid folks it will come back and bite you. People start getting a little paranoid if they can’t get in touch with someone that they are in the middle of a business transaction with. This could cause things to turn south quickly. All that most folks want is the truth, whether it be cost or turnaround time or whatever the question maybe. Be as honest as you can, and don’t give a list of excuses. They don’t care and it makes you look unprofessional.

RESIDUALS 

This is what I consider the smaller things that need to be thought about. For instance, you should have set business hours, whether you are full or part time. Also, this holds true whether your shop is located at your home or a store front location. Remember you run the business not the clients and set business hours help to lay down the guidelines in which you will operate.

Advertising is important, to a certain extent, especially with the internet and Social Media all the buzz. A lot of your taxidermy business will come from word of mouth. However, you still need to let people know you are there to serve them. You will find that someone doesn’t call the local taxidermist until they need you; it’s almost like calling 911. Websites and Social Media pages have pretty much taken the place of the phone book and signs which lead into my next topic.

I have never had a sign out front and never will, and here is why.  A sign is an invitation for folks to stop in; If Joe Hunter happens to ride by and sees your sign he may swing in just to see what is going on. Being the professional that I mentioned above, you must entertain him and answer all his questions before you can run him out politely.

So I have a “NO” rule; “NO” sign, “NO” community coffee pot and “NO” where for someone to sit down and make themselves to comfortable. These rules will help to cut down on non productive time by you and/or your employees. Remember this is your business, not the local gossip hangout. As stated, most people will not call you until you are needed. No one is riding down the road and says let me drop this deer head off. In my opinion a sign is useless to a taxidermist.

Education is next, you may think you know everything there is to know about whatever you are specialized in. Well, you don’t. In fact nobody does. Join your state association and go to their annual show and sit in on the seminars. You may be surprised what you will pick up from someone who is willing to share their techniques.

Lastly, I do want to touch on pricing just a bit. I’m not going to tell you what I think you should charge for whatever it is you do. To be quite honest with you I don’t give a damn what you charge. Your money doesn’t support me and my family, which leads me to my last point I would like to make. You are the only one who knows how much money it takes to operate your business and to support the life style you choose to live. My point is don’t set your prices by what the guy ten miles down the road is charging. Sit down and do the math yourself and figure out what to charge for your services.

I hope this article has something everyone can take and use in their own shop to make life a little easier and successful.

DP

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D.Price
D. Price is owner and operator of Outback Taxidermy since 1993, a full time taxidermy studio in Youngsville, North Carolina. Over his many years of experience, dating back to 1986 as an apprentice at Carolina Fur Dressing Co. in Raleigh, North Carolina, D. has developed unique skills as well as techniques that he uses in his every day taxidermy projects. He specializes in mammal taxidermy, and with his 18 years of experience in the fur dressing side of the industry, he is well versed in the field of hair on tanning as well as skin preparation.

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