Woodworking in the great white north.

Marble Tower – for charity?

The marble tower is done and making a home inside the house (sadly no more playing in the workshop, back to work). 

A few years ago I came across a marble tower that was bigger than the one I made, but conspicuously similar in design.  It was in a restaurant and had a gumball dispenser on top that was presumably for charity purposes. 

Coincidentally, I came across the very same thing a couple of weeks ago, although the sides are encased in some sort of plexiglass type material to protect it from the public.  The money collected was to go to a local hospital and if you got a black gumball, you won a prize.  My daughter gave it a try.  The gumball wound its way around the various ramps and mechanisms (making far less sound) and ultimately depositing the gumball in a receptacle at the bottom.

What do you know, my daughter got the black gumball and won admission to the pumpkin-land they will set up this fall.  Cool!

I snapped a couple of blurry pictures (sorry) as you’ll see below.  It appears that an entrepreneur has worked out a CNC method for producing the parts for these marble towers and produces them as needed for charity gumball dispensing. 

I actually googled something like ‘charity gumball tower’ and was able to find one source for these….starting at over $1000 each.  While, I would go poor selling the one I made at such prices (labour costs coming in below minimum wage), it is interesting to note that something that starts as a handcrafted item can be produced through a mostly mechanical means at a cost that is viable from a business point of view.

This has me pondering the differences between Production work and what could be considered Research and Development.  After developing the process of building something can you recover that cost through the subsequent mass production of the item?  This would be an interesting exercise in developing a business plan around the initial cost of developing a piece of custom woodwork and then selling replicas of it at a level where the R&D costs are recovered in a short enough time to start generating profit on the items.  Hmmm!

Of course, this flies in the face of a custom woodworking business where the customer is buying the item in part because it is unique.  The question then is where does type of approach fit in?  My neighbour made a few bucks off of mass produced mirrors and rocking horses by hocking his wares at various craft shows and fairs, but this is not a viable business model.  This obviously isn’t how the greats did it…but then they have something the rest of us might just be missing (aside from thinning hair, I don’t see a lot of Sam Maloof when I look in the mirror.)  Then there is always the question of what ‘custom’ really means, it’s a big world out there, especially on the internet..can more than one person be willing to pay a lot of money for their own ‘copy’ of a custom piece?  I digress, perhaps I’ve been reading too many articles on making woodworking a business.   What would Adam King say?

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