Sunday, March 9, 2008

Toyboxes and the Free Market Economy

Let me take a moment to preach to the choir.

Some friends that my wife and I know through our local Cycling Club are expecting their first child in a month or so. Today I received an email from him asking if I had time to make them a toybox. Immediately I came up with a beautiful idea....

It requires a point of information, though. Here goes… Some time between when God chose rainbows as a symbol of the promise to never again flood the entire earth and the Homosexual community adopted the rainbow colors as their symbol, the international cycling community chose the rainbow jersey as the prize given to the World Champion. Whoever wins the World Championship gets the high and mighty honor of wearing the rainbow jersey during competition for the next year. Also, all former world champions get to sport the rainbow stripes as accents on their clothing and bikes for the rest of their lives. If you ever see a photo of a former World Champion (Mario Cipollini, Lance Armstrong, Paolo Bettini, etc) in their regular jersey, you may see the rainbow stripes as accents at the end of the sleeve. The blue, red, black, yellow, and green horizontal stripes on a pristine white jersey is cycling’s highest prize.

So, when asked about the opportunity to build a toybox for the first born child of a bike-loving friend, I provided the following response.


Toybox….My first thought was a lovely white toybox with World Champion rainbow stripes going around it and a raised silhouette of a road bike….start planting the seed early.

However, I am really far behind in my projects.

I would love to do a project like this, but timing is a really bad thing with me. I worry that we would work out a design and deal, and I would deliver it just in time for your first child to take it off to college as a footlocker.

Also, the cold harsh reality is that one can get “furniture” from Asia cheaper than we can even buy the raw wood for. This is why I travelled to Viet Nam and China in 2005 when I was working with Company A (a Fortune 500 consumer products company) on the design of a wooden deck box. That was when I was still working with Eric (another cycling friend of ours) up at Company B (a design firm) in Grand Haven. Eric and the Industrial Designers that work for him came up with a beautiful design that combined aluminum and wood, then I went to Viet Nam and China to find a company that could make the whole thing for $99. It is truly insane how inexpensive the stuff coming in from overseas is. It is great for us as consumers, but it makes any type of custom, hand made furniture here in the States have to be marketed as “artwork” in order for the craftsman to make a profit.

I am thrilled that you would even approach me on this, though. However, when I did a quick search and found something on the internet: (Link to a toybox website)

I realized their finished prices are just about what I would pay for materials.

If you had any other thoughts or questions about design or construction, feel free to ask.

Jeff Skiver


So, at the moment I am torn. I would love to make a custom toybox, but I don’t know how I can do it without charging hundreds of dollars. Given how slow and detailed I am, I don’t think I could produce it in less than 12 hours and I know the wood and hardware would cost from 100 to 150 bucks. If I had nothing else to do, I could come up with the 12 hours of time and do it for close to the cost of materials. However, I have a ton of things on my plate already. Also, that brings up the debate of whether or not it disturbs the Economics of the Free Market by offering a product that has an unrealistic labor figure attached. Ya know…how can a professional furniture maker ever compete with “Uncle Jeff” doing respectable furniture quality work at a labor rate of fifty cents an hour?

Yet, it means a lot to me that someone asked me to do this.

I suppose I need to focus on the fact that I am right now 6 months behind schedule on delivering two large picture frames for the nursery of a different cycling friend out in Durango, Colorado. Right now there is a little girl in Colorado who is supposed to have two beautiful Graham Watson posters above her crib housed in frames that are trimmed with wood that came from her great grandfather’s farm. Every time I walk into the shop I feel the dreaded self-hatred of knowing that I have to finish those frames and get them out to Colorado before they break down and decide to go with the Sponge Bob wall paper.


Ethan said...

When I agree to a commissioned work, I give the customer hard date deadlines - it's the only way to keep myself on track and not let the project get pushed off.

It's the same for a part-time job I have doing editing/proofreading. I tell my boss he HAS to give me hard deadlines or else I'll always have something more pressing come up.

I haven't figured out how to handle similar situations in my personal life, but so far that works well for me in my semi-professional hobbyist life.

JasonB said...

I understand your reasoning but I have to tell you something from my own experience. Fourteen years ago I made a pretty nice maple cradle and gave it to some good friends of mine for their first child. It's the hanging basket type, and I overdid it. 1 1/2" x 8" wide sides that the basket swings from. 1" maple dowels with turned knobs for the pivot pins. Turned maple rungs on the basket. It weighs a ton. Well that piece became an instant heirloom. They've raised their own four children in it. I borrowed it for my youngest child's first few months. And I know of at least 6 other couples who have used it. I will never regret making that piece, and I get a kick everytime Carla tells me she's loaned it out to another baby's parents. And amazingly, through all those homes and going in and out of storage, there is hardly a mark on it.

Jeff Skiver said...


My friend Chris wants to know if he can borrow the cradle. With the money he saves on a cradle, he can buy a painted MDF toybox from a big box toy store....

jasonb said...

If Chris comes to Louisville, KY to pick it up, and promises to return it when he's done, I'm sure she'd loan it to him.

jasonb said...

On second thought, she might require a cash deposit to loan it to a yankee.