Going Beyond the Traditional Shop ‘Portfolio’

Okay, here’s your thought for the day: The photographs in your portfolio are actually only the small pictures – it’s the big picture that really counts.

For your potential customer – even for the one who says she wants to see exactly what you do – what really counts are the subconscious feelings she will get about your company. Those impressions will sell her on you. It’s what your shop looks like and what your crew looks like and what you look like. It’s your logo and your truck and your t-shirt and your work boots. It’s your toolboxes and the equipment you operate. It’s your history and the way you work. It’s your deodorant and your body language and the way you engage people.

All these “images” form the real basis for the impression you and your shop make on potential customers – even as they leaf through photos of your past jobs or click through your Web site.

The traditional basis of the “portfolio” – good photographs – cannot replace those underlying marks you can make on your customers: the subconscious messages they’ll get from seeing and dealing with your operation.

In fact, you may not need a whole lot of great photographs of your work to “sell” yourself – if indeed all the other good signs of a great shop can be firmly planted into the customer’s mind at the same time.

If you’re successful in planting those seeds, the crisp, well-lighted photos of the stunning kitchens your shop has done will only serve to reinforce the positive impression you’ve already made.


Since it starts with the point of contact with your customer, the first thing to do is to put yourself in you’re their shoes. What do most people want when they hire someone to do work for them? As someone who manufactures products for a living, you may think that it’s quality of product that most people are after. In truth, however, most of the time it’s quality of process that people really want.

Your customer is looking for someone they can trust. They’re seeking reliability. They want to know they’re making a safe choice in selecting you as their shop. So this is where to start – you need to project that established solidity right from the beginning.

This can take all kinds of subtle forms. For example, a well-designed company logo shows you off as a professional. You don’t have to spread it all over everything, but truck signs, t-shirts and business cards can all go a long way toward conveying a sense of reliability that a portfolio full of photos may not be able to do.

Your people are also a key to this process. If you have employees other than yourself dealing with customers, they must project a professional image, too. And it’s not just language and politeness over the phone or in person that I’m referring to here. At our shop, for example, we’ve experienced the embarrassment of employees with body odor. You, as the manager, have to step in here and address that sensitive issue, no matter how difficult it is. Perhaps you can just give the employee a deodorant stick and not make too much of a deal about it.

Again, you’re projecting a positive image to your customer – an image that your shop is one they can feel comfortable about.

Humor can play a part in all this, too. If potential customers can relax and have a little fun dealing with you, they may feel like you’re a person or a company they can work with.

Having customers visit your shop is usually a good idea, as well. In fact, it’s often a better approach, in many ways, than simply mailing a brochure or showing off your portfolio. Again, we’re talking about the subconscious impressions you can make on potential customers.

The truth is, most people love the smell of a woodshop, and the idea of seeing things being built goes down well with many people, too. So think about how you look here also – keep your shop floor, office and rest rooms clean and organized if you’re going to have visitors. You can also make your shop a place where you display drawings, sketches, photographs or even vignettes of what you do – so your clients don’t have to pore over a binder of photographs.


Of course, it’s important to have good pictures of your jobs. We hear repeatedly from customers that they’ve loved looking at photographs of our projects. Not only does it confirm that we do great work, but sometimes it gives them additional ideas about what they might do on their remodeling project.

If our own customers haven’t physically seen our work, they’ve usually seen photos of our jobs in one of several places: On our Web site; in a magazine; at our shop, or perhaps in a portfolio that we’ve brought to their home.

Web sites, of course, have become more important than ever as marketing tools – and investing in one is an important decision. The big advantage of a good Web site is that you can put a lot more than just photos up – your history, your people, your processes can all be described on your site.

It also helps to have professionally shot photographs of your work. It’s good to use a photographer who’s experienced with interior work to shoot your projects. They know what they’re doing with respect to lighting and “staging” the work. A good photographer will also accessorize the project – adding flowers, fruit, bowls, even artwork – to make your work look its best.

And, if the cost of using a professional is too high, consider asking others who’ve worked on the job – designers, builders, countertop suppliers – to share the expense of photos.

It used to be that wide-format camera shots were the way to go. They’re excellent for large-sized, printed photographs, or for magazine and newspaper articles. They work well, too, if you’re considering mailing out oversized postcards to customers. However, if you’re not printing up a brochure (which is very expensive), or using lots of 8"x10" images for your portfolio, you may be able to get away with smaller-sized, digital shots – especially if you’re heading toward electronic display of your work. These can work really well for the “before-and-after” shots. And it doesn’t take a professional to shoot “before” pictures. In fact, the effect may be better if those photos are actually of poor quality. They may make your “after” photos look even better!

Digital shots can be easily sent via e-mail, too – an effective tool if you want to be selective in sending an individual customer a particular photograph.

One final thought: Consider putting your portfolio on your Web site. That way, your potential customers can browse through it on their time, without you hovering over them making comments about how great you are. It creates less pressure. And we all know that people buy more readily when they’re subjected to less pressure.

To read past columns on Shop Management by Steve Nicholls, and send us your comments about this article and others, visit Kitchen & Bath Design News’ Web site: www.kitchenbathdesign.com.