the thought of going pro is daunting

39 posts in this topic

Posted

So, like many of us, I dream of going pro one day, and don't give me all of the "if it is your job you won't love it" talk, I'm willing to take that chance. I have a pretty steady inflow of commissions, although not all of them end up super profitable. But for the amount of shop time I get (which isn't always that much) I always seem to have some "for pay" work to do.

However, I have good job with good pay, pay that I don't think I could equal just by solo woodworking. I broke it down in simple terms the other day and it feels daunting to me:

There are 52 weeks in a year. If you can sell something for $1,000 profit (-materiel cost and such) that is $52,000 a year, and you would have to find 52 people each year to sell it to. Then you need to account for taxes and insurance and all that fun stuff, so you end up with what? $32,000?

Not to mention that you might want some time off, so consider 50 weeks, and this is assuming that you are a 1 man shop and don't have any other salaries to pay out. And also not to mention that 1,000 profit on 1 thing isn't easy, let alone to do it 50 times!

Is there some factors that I'm missing, factors that won't LOWER the profit amount?

Derek

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Posted

Personally I would keep doing what your doing. I bet you will have more fun in the long run this way. It's a great thought but thats as far as it gets. Most guys start putting one and one together and figure out pretty quick it's difficult at best to turn a buck let alone make a decent living for yourself. Why do you think most pro's do so many classes- it's not just cause they want to share their wealth of knowledge otherwise the class would be free. Im not saying it's impossible just really difficult and you need a serious dose of luck as well. Please keep us posted if you do go for it.

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Posted

How long does it take you to do a project now (on average) in hours, and could you complete 50 projects a year?

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Posted

Furniture making is a tough, tough, tough way to make primary living!

The well-regarded pro furniture makers I've met, that seem to be the best financially, all teach, write, or both, to supplement income. In fact, many of them use their written work in a similar manner as an acedemic, to raise their cred and charge higher prices. Even "famous" guys like Phil Lowe teach, and I don't think they'd build bookends for $1000.

Most of the other pros I've met, who aren't barely getting by, are married to spouses with excellent jobs. For instance, a local guy who makes really cool live-edge benches from reclaimed city wood is married to a busy gynecologist. Another guy has a wife who is high enough in a Fortune 50 to be listed in the annual report.

The guys that seem to make a decent living in a smaller setting are doing specialties like cabinet refacing, trim carpentry, and marine interiors.

I've met a few guys who actually got rich with wood. All of them do architectural woodwork / custom millwork, not furniture. Stuff like university libraries, offices, casinos, auditoriums, lobbies, and high-end residential (Hamptons three story home library high-end or picky historic restorations - think "Newport" or "Central Park"), custom staircases, you get the idea... Most haven't touched wood in many years, and typically operate what are essentially small factories, complete with safety meetings, productivity measurements, and HR departments. These folks aren't really woodworkers, they're experts at hiring really good people, project management, and financing. In other words, they probably could have made the same money in many businesses. These are the guys with really nice airplanes! :D

I did meet two guys in Boston last spring that have a TV show... That's how you do it!

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Posted

How long does it take you to do a project now (on average) in hours, and could you complete 50 projects a year?

Given my current shop time no, I couldn't do 50 in a year. Unless you mean 50 pens... But if it was my job, then I'm sure I could. But it sounds like unless my none existent trust fund cashes in I need to just keep it as a hobby for the next 30 years until I retire. Then I can supplement my retirement with it.

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Posted

Given my current shop time no, I couldn't do 50 in a year. Unless you mean 50 pens... But if it was my job, then I'm sure I could. But it sounds like unless my none existent trust fund cashes in I need to just keep it as a hobby for the next 30 years until I retire. Then I can supplement my retirement with it.

That sounds like a much better plan. There is no way one guy can do 50 projects a year that will net that sort of profit. On average to net a 1000 bucks profit you need a 3000 sale. Maybe 10 years ago during the building boom but not any longer.

Don

areynoldsre likes this

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Posted

Don is right.

To do 50 projects a year at that sort of profit would be challenging. Two things: there are a lot of different ways you could supplement your income from the projects you now do. Those have been mentioned above. The other thing to consider is the affect and effect of your family. What I mean by that is perhaps additional support from your family could help, or perhaps additional demands made by your family can hurt you as well.

The one guy I know who is full time supplements his work (which believe it or not is mostly custom mantels) by selling Lumber. He gets a lot of lumber which he sells for turners and woodworkers. The stuff he gets is really nice, but not always right for mantels. He does pretty well. He is basically the "go-to" mantel guy around here. But he has his health insurance and what not through his wife. She has what most people call a "real job".

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Posted

A lot of little guy profit issues are lack of buying power and storage. Most little one man cabinet guys buy by the job, this is a disaster to the bottom line. If you want to do cabinets they become a staple and really what pays the bills but you have to buy big by little shop standards. I use an offsite semi truck trailer stored at our mill. For example buying 4 bunks of prefinished maple ply will cost you about half per sheet than if you bought by the job. 1000-1500 BF will save you a load on staples like cherry, alder and walnut. When you save money on cogs you obviously make more profit and you dont need to knock out as much work. When you buy by the job you're paying full retail and its way to hard to make anything at all. This pretty much goes for anything you buy. Hinges cost much less if you buy 1000-1500 at a shot. Sandpaper, screws, glue everything it really doesn't matter what it is buying in large quantities will drastically increase your bottom line.

Don

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Posted

Is there some factors that I'm missing, factors that won't LOWER the profit amount?

Derek

Derek -

I quit my corporate job 4 years ago to pursue making furniture. Here is my reality:

- I don't make enough money with the furniture. I still freelance as a web designer to help pay the bills. AS Cessna said, I have a VERY supportive wife, with a steady job and good benefits. With her support, there is no way I could do it. Our household income drop dramatically when I decided to pursue this, but I am a much happier person now.

- I find that making projects for clients pushes me more. I have clients to please and deadlines to make. I create things that I normally would not. Sometimes that is frustrating, sometimes it's great. Making something for other people is wonderful when you see the look on their face when you bring it to their homes.

- There are other reasons to start a profession then how much money you will make. I get much more time with my wife and kids. I was loosing at least two hours a day commuting. Now I have that extra two hours to be either in the shop or with my family and friends. I get to design. I get to construct. I get to deal with people instead of corporations. I get to touch and feel what I make, instead of it being inside a server somewhere.

I hope you find your answer, whichever one it is.

Jonathan

===========================================================

pagel and CessnaPilotBarry like this

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Posted

FWIW - I think a move like that *should* be daunting. It's a huge decision with huge ramifications. It sounds like you're putting some good thought into it, but I want to throw out some thoughts.

You're focusing too much on the end goal and whether it makes sense mathematically (which is a good issue to address), but not enough on what it will be like, or how you should approach, getting there.

You make 'some' money now as a side job while you maintain your real job. It's unlikely you will just throw a switch and instantly be in a position where you have a profitable job per week lined up. You should come up with a plan to get more shop time and commission business, even to the point where it hurts (long days, weekends, etc). That will make any transition easier, simply because it would allow you to maintain your current pay/benefits as long as possible.

You need to spend a lot of time and effort to build that business, network, get a customer list and customer base, and work it to build your 'brand'. What would you be known for? Furniture? what type - chairs? tables? hutches? built-ins? cabinets? kitchens? contemporary? classic? shaker? This building of your brand will take time, during which you should not expect any consistency to large profitable jobs.

This time might be better spent on building a steadier stream of smaller, more profitable jobs, and then medium profitable jobs. These would be good jobs to improve your shop efficiencies and cost controls.

  • Wasting a lot of material on small jobs? How would that scale to larger jobs?
  • Buying power - how would you work your inventory and material buying/storage? If you eventually end up going through 10 sheets of ply a week in your "big job per week" scenario, if you can cut your cost by $10 per sheet that's over $5k in increased profit per year.
  • Where would you find yourself spending your shop time that would be better spent doing other things? An example I've used and seen used is building drawer boxes. When working 'small', it's great that you can make them if you have nothing else going on, but if you can buy them for far cheaper than your overall burdened cost to make them, would you?
  • Advertising/media presence. Would you advertise in print? Online? Through local merchants? Via product placement?
  • "office" operations - billing, collections, ordering, customer service/relations, etc. This take your most important resource - time - so it'd be great if you had someone that could be responsible for as much administrative work as possible (assuming you had orders lined up that required your time to be spent in the shop).

I think some of these items, addressed poorly, would increase your costs and decrease potential profit. Addresing each of them properly, over time, will help you reach your end goal.

You certainly could take the 'burn the boats' strategy and just jump in with both feet, but I think a slower, more deliberate approach and gradual transition would increase your chances of success.

haysflooring likes this

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Posted

Derek -

I quit my corporate job 4 years ago to pursue making furniture. Here is my reality:

- I don't make enough money with the furniture. I still freelance as a web designer to help pay the bills. AS Cessna said, I have a VERY supportive wife, with a steady job and good benefits. With her support, there is no way I could do it. Our household income drop dramatically when I decided to pursue this, but I am a much happier person now.

- I find that making projects for clients pushes me more. I have clients to please and deadlines to make. I create things that I normally would not. Sometimes that is frustrating, sometimes it's great. Making something for other people is wonderful when you see the look on their face when you bring it to their homes.

- There are other reasons to start a profession then how much money you will make. I get much more time with my wife and kids. I was loosing at least two hours a day commuting. Now I have that extra two hours to be either in the shop or with my family and friends. I get to design. I get to construct. I get to deal with people instead of corporations. I get to touch and feel what I make, instead of it being inside a server somewhere.

I hope you find your answer, whichever one it is.

Jonathan

===========================================================

I could save at least an hour and a half of commute time and $300 a month in gas costs if I could work from a home shop.

My wife will probably be a stay at home mom one day, so that would slow things down. I would love to be able to be an exotic hardwood dealer and have a huge barn full of woods that I buy 1000 BF at a time and then could sell off to local woodworkers and well as satisfy my wood collecting addiction.... plus I could cherry pick the awesome ones for the furniture that I make.

The biggest thing that limits my shop time is that my shop is a 2.5 car garage that also stores 2 cars. So there is no such thing as spending 45 minutes in the shop after work during the week because I have to back out both cars and then rolls my tools into place before I can do anything, and then push everything back and pull the cars back in. And I don't want to be running the table saw at 9 or 10pm out of courtesy to my neighbors. Not that I'm trying to make excuses- i'm just being real.

I hope within the next 3-4 year to move to a different house were I can have a basement shop, or an extra garage, or space enough to build an extra garage so that I can have a dedicated space to work with.

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Posted

About 5 years ago I was a full time "pro" with a dedicated shop and I was making decent money. Then I decided to put my commercial pilot's license to work part time and got rid of the shop but kept doing high-end finish carpentry mostly full time. After a while the flying job got busy and woodworking had to slow down. Fast forward to today and I am a full time pilot with a corporate flight department and full time pro woodworker (as full time as I want to be anyway). I don't think you need to quit your day job to be a pro woodworker. I developed a reputation for quality and I continue to work on commissions when I'm not in the cockpit. My clients understand that my time frame might be a little longer because I have another job, but it hasn't kept me from being busy. I'm just a pro woodworker based out of my garage with another full time job.

Brian VanVreede likes this

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Posted

"PRO" is a subjective term. Alot of folks think working at home in your garage part time makes you a pro, some believe you must be full time. Being a good or great woodworkier does not make you a pro. A pro is somebody that works and understands both the wood side and the business side of the industry.

Part of the problem with the industry is its saturated with hobbyist that are taking work from the true pro's that have to mark up their products, pay taxes and be a legit business. Part of going pro is going legit which means paying your taxes and doing what the government requires of a professional shop. This means having your shop inspected regularly by L&I. Buying equipment that meets professional safety standards. All of this cost a bunch of money. Doing it any other way, your just a guy working under the table in your garage illegally.

Don

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Posted

rpike... Small photo, but that looks like a BeechJet variant? Very nice! Captain or FO?

Don... Where I'm from, "Pro" means you hold yourself out to work for compensation, usually with an expectation that the work will be to a level commensurate with the price paid. That's all... This can be full-time or part-time, and has nothing to do with where your shop is located, or even if you have a shop. I know full-timers who have rented bench and machine time from others, as well as part-timers who had no shop at all, using their employer's stuff after hours with permission. As I recall, isn't your shop at home?

If a woodworker earns money woodworking, the income is legally reportable, regardless of professional or hobby status. The income may or may not be taxable, as there may be costs that eliminate profit. Only profit (real income) is taxable. Throughout my life, I've run several very successful part-time businesses. I've always filed tax returns for these businesses, even though they may look like hobbies.

In the USA, an individual has the right to charge whatever they want for their work, even if they lose money. The businesses I'm familiar with don't see hobbyists as competition at all. This is because they operate the business to a standard, for both the final product and service, that no hobbyist could possibly meet. Any full-time professional, much less multi-employee business, that sees Harry homeowner and his Shopsmith as a real threat, needs to take a hard look at their operations, possibly even seek an knowledgable and objective outside opinion.

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CessanPilotBarry - That's a Citation Mustang I used to fly for a Part 135 outfit. I'm currently a captain flying twin turboprops as well as the PC12 (Pilatus) for a northwest technology firm. A lot of it is single pilot, so I guess I'm captain and FO in that case.

Dwacker- Yes, it is very easy to pretend you're a pro these days, but I don't think being a pro has to be as regimented as you imply. Being a pro requires that you hold yourself to a higher standard, but being a small-time pro allows me a lot of flexibility that large pro shops don't have.

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Posted

Don... Where I'm from, "Pro" means you hold yourself out to work for compensation, usually with an expectation that the work will be to a level commensurate with the price paid. That's all...

I agree that location is pretty much meaningless. How much time you spend in the shop is meaningless also. There are many home based shops that have shops at the same property as their home myself included. There are also many that choose to stay off the grid and operate out of their garage be it attached or detached. I'm required by law to hold a retail business license in the state of WA. I have to pay B&O taxes, pay for L&I insurance, collect sales tax, track all hazardous waste, keep complete records and hold personal liability insurance. For the city, I have to buy an annual license,pay a hazardous waste generators fee and pay to have my little air compressor inspected every year. For department of ecology I have to have manifest for every pint of finish and pay a state hazardous waste generators fee. For the county I have to pay property taxes at the elevated business rate for the shop portion of the property and pay property taxes on every piece of equipment and ball point pen used in my business. We all know about the federal side pretty straight forward as far as they go. The only real difference is that you have to track everything business related and file a schedule C for sole proprietors. Any business owner knows being a sole proprietor is dangerous so instead you should incorporate. This means paying income taxes for the corporation, employment taxes even if you are the sole employee. Yes you still have to pay your own on top of what the business pays. I cant run out and buy a shiny new PM2000 table saw and just fire it up and go to work, I have to pay L&I 300+ dollars to have it certified or loose my L&I insurance, no insurance no business. I cant make cabinet doors on a router table mounted in the end of my table saw. I have to own a certified industrial rated shaper with power feeder to meet L&I standards. Not even getting into warranty or ADA requirements and building standards for residential and commercial cabinetry, this means all cabinetry.

Do off the grid shops hurt other businesses. You bet they do, they take work from the industry whether its the big guys or the little guys. Its basic economics, if you cant afford to run a legit business then you shouldn't be in business. Every off the grid dollar you put in your pocket is theft from the American public. If you build a set of cabinets for a neighbor you very well may have taken a job from a legitimate business. Some would like to believe their volume is so low that all this really doesn't matter. If I did a single $1000 job off the grid. Ive cost the state of WA and its residents over $100 in tax revenue, money that should have gone to educate my grandson. I pay the county $1654 per year in property taxes for my equipment alone, money that pays the fire department that came to my aid when my shop burned to the ground. Every dime a guy steals from the federal government is a dime stolen from the American public, money that is spent to pay for everything we take for granted. So much money is stolen every year that banks and third party payment systems now have to report on the new 1099K. So many small cabinet shops that many thought went out business have just shut down and moved off the grid. The state of WA has made it the generals responsibility to verify that the shop is legit before buying cabinets. Any off the grid purchases make the purchase illegal leaving the general responsible for the taxes since even most generals don't qualify for resale permits anymore.

There is a big difference between being good at something and being professional. I dont really care if your the Krenov of the neighborhood and sell to the whole block, if your not legit your a hobbyist. Getting yourself a web page named ?????????woodworks.com does not make you a professional. All it means is that according to the government you are holding yourself out there as a business to the general public leaving you subject to every governmental agency audit and regulation that could possibly be involved with your line of work. It means your breaking more laws and or regulations than you could imagine. Telling someone you are a professional part time woodworker without being legit and charging them a fair price for a good product sounds great. It does not make you a professional woodworker. Again its holding yourself out as something your not and misrepresenting yourself, but leaves you open for every audit imaginable. Every guy that quits their day job and wacks their thumb off at the cost of their personal health insurance company is stealing from their health insurance provider. If you hold yourself out as a pro they dont have to pay, that what L&I was made for your liable for insurance fraud. Remember your the "pro" your the business without insurance, your liable.

There is alot more to going "pro" and staying that way than making sawdust.

Don

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Posted

Well I can see that a sensitive spot was hit there, to the point that I hope it didn't end the threads usefulness.

...But if it did, I'll just end it by says, who is stealing from who, the feds or the people? I didn't tell the gov that I wanted 25% of my income taken...

And regulations, how many 55 gallon drums do you use a year that would warrant hazardous waste fees? Those government induced fees have proven that overall revenue would have been higher if the fees were lower because all those shops in your statement wouldn't have needed to go underground.

So how about this going Pro deal!

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Posted

I may be wrong, but isn't Marc a pro based out of his garage? Does that mean he's not a pro?

Long story short, if you're going to be making money at this you should make it a legitimate business. That means paying taxes and all that good stuff. Some states make operating a business less simple than others. Apparently, Washington is not so small business friendly.

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To Don's point of hobbyists hurting the professionals bottom line, I have experienced it in two ways. My father was a photographer. His profession was hurt once point and shoot cameras came out, especially when the prices dropped for the better ones. It wasn't that amateurs were taking jobs away in direct competition - that they were as good as he was, but it was more that people and businesses THOUGHT that they could do as good of a job. As soon as they thought they could do as good of a job, clients started to disappear.

I also experienced this in the web design world. When people started to get their hands on Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Wordpress, etc. jobs became harder to come by. THere were quite a few times when potential clients would give me the "I could get the kid down the street to do this at a fraction of the cost" speech. Once the amateur thinks they can do as good of a job as the pro, it hurts the profession. Maybe a small amount, but it does still impact it.

There is alot more to going "pro" and staying that way than making sawdust.

Don -

A general question about your business. Do you have employees, or are you the sole employee?

Jonathan

=====================================

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Posted

Not tot pile on here, but it sounds like Washington is not a state that supports small businesses. My wife has her own small business. We have to do none of the stuff you listed and commented on. Sure our tax rate is a little different and stuff like that.

For the record, she is in the cosmetology field.

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FWIW, I am in FULL support of an amateur becoming a pro. If you can swing it, go for it. Let's just remember that not everything is sunshine and lollipops. Speaking of which, the kids are in bed, back to work (for a client) in the shop. :-/

Jonathan

=========================================

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To Don's point of hobbyists hurting the professionals bottom line, I have experienced it in two ways. My father was a photographer. His profession was hurt once point and shoot cameras came out, especially when the prices dropped for the better ones. It wasn't that amateurs were taking jobs away in direct competition - that they were as good as he was, but it was more that people and businesses THOUGHT that they could do as good of a job. As soon as they thought they could do as good of a job, clients started to disappear.

I also experienced this in the web design world. When people started to get their hands on Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Wordpress, etc. jobs became harder to come by. THere were quite a few times when potential clients would give me the "I could get the kid down the street to do this at a fraction of the cost" speech. Once the amateur thinks they can do as good of a job as the pro, it hurts the profession. Maybe a small amount, but it does still impact it.

Don -

A general question about your business. Do you have employees, or are you the sole employee?

Jonathan

=====================================

Sometimes I have a part time guy and sometimes not just depends on the need. More of a helper than a woodworker. Once you incorporate you become the employee. When you ask the government for that incorporation buffer to protect yourself from the wolf at the door you become an employee of the entity. So either way you're stuck with all the rules as if you had guys off the street.

Don

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Not tot pile on here, but it sounds like Washington is not a state that supports small businesses. My wife has her own small business. We have to do none of the stuff you listed and commented on. Sure our tax rate is a little different and stuff like that.

For the record, she is in the cosmetology field.

Does Indiana require your wife to have a cosmetology license that she has to pay for? Does your wife collect the Indiana state sales tax from her customers? Does she have a state or local license that she paid for? Does she pay for liability insurance? The list can go on and on just depends on the industry, I dont even know what a cosmologists really is, but I'd bet she has her share of expenses to be legit.

My wife is a lawyer. Many of her cost are the same as mine and some are industry specific and are more than double what mine are, but thats what it takes to run a legit practice.

The title to the thread is "

the thought of going pro is daunting

Most just dont realize how daunting it is in real life.

Don

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Are there any licensing requirements to be a "professional" woodworker or furniture maker? Most professions distinguish themselves through some type of licensing or certification process, which usually requires a recognized form of (formal) training or education, e.g., certified public accountant, licensed physician, electrician, plumber, etc.

On the other hand, to start a business does not require these sorts of prerequisites. You don't need a business degree or formal training to be in business. Yes, there are various laws that regulate business activities, but you don't need to pass an exam or be licensed per se as a business owner to participate in that activity. In other words, you don't need to demonstrate a standardized level of competency before being allowed to engage in business.

So what counts as being a "legit" professional in the field of woodworking? I'm sure many of you saw Chris Schwarz's recent blog on the topic of being or not being a "professional woodworker." Is there any formal distinction that separates Chris Schwarz from Garrett Hack, for instance?

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Are there any licensing requirements to be a "professional" woodworker or furniture maker? Most professions distinguish themselves through some type of licensing or certification process, which usually requires a recognized form of (formal) training or education, e.g., certified public accountant, licensed physician, electrician, plumber, etc.

On the other hand, to start a business does not require these sorts of prerequisites. You don't need a business degree or formal training to be in business. Yes, there are various laws that regulate business activities, but you don't need to pass an exam or be licensed per se as a business owner to participate in that activity. In other words, you don't need to demonstrate a standardized level of competency before being allowed to engage in business.

So what counts as being a "legit" professional in the field of woodworking? I'm sure many of you saw Chris Schwarz's recent blog on the topic of being or not being a "professional woodworker." Is there any formal distinction that separates Chris Schwarz from Garrett Hack, for instance?

You are required to hold a business license in every state in the united states to do retail business. In fact Its at every level in some state. Some counties require a license and most cities require a license I have two one for the city and one for the state.. Your professional license theory has nothing to with being legit as a retail business owner.

Don

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