Old Topic Revisited (Pricing Cabinets)

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Forum topic by Finisher posted 12-24-2012 11:18 AM 1385 views 0 times favorited 14 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Finisher's profile


31 posts in 2107 days

12-24-2012 11:18 AM

Hello fellow lumber jocks,

I know this topic has been addressed before but I thought a fresh opinion was needed. I and my son work together out of a 1000 ft. shop. We built just about anything we can make and sell from wood. But I haven’t built any kitchens lately. Now I have the opportunity to quote an individual looking for cabinets for a new construction. I am a little skiddish about using my old formula for estimating because as of late, people think my prices are just to high. I really can’t compete against box stores or “Cabinets to Go”. How they can make any money at $ 25.00 a linial foot is beyond me. I really would like to do the kitchen but not if I end up making $5.00/hour, if ya know what I mean. We pride ourselves in the quality and craftsmanship of our cabinets using all 3/4 veneered plywoods and 13/16” thick face frames and structural members. Clued and screwed is the creed of our shop. I want to be fair to my client and fair to myself. We live in West Michigan. Any advice would be appreciated.

-- James, Michigan

14 replies so far

View Kjuly's profile


308 posts in 3254 days

#1 posted 12-15-2012 12:49 PM

Hello James,
Ignore the big box price and bid your work so you can make a profit and be in business next year. Your task (and all of us in business) is to educate your client on why your cabinets are better and worth the extra cost.
Educate them without bashing the big box stores or their products. Negativity does not sell. Give them the facts and point out the advantages of buying from you. Also. give them something that the other guy can’t, “added value”. Maybe pictures of the progress or something else that will get the client involved in the process. Listen to the client and figure out what their wants and wishes are and work from there. Give them your best price without hurting your business. If they say that your price is to high. Do not lower your price without taking something away, that would be giving money away and only hurt your business. Offer something like cheaper handles/knobs or drawer slides that would reduce the cost but not get into your wallet.
Good Luck and keep us posted.

-- Keith, Charlotte, MI

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6851 posts in 3948 days

#2 posted 12-15-2012 01:06 PM

Hi James;

Keith said it very well…forget what the big box store does, you’re not a big box store so it’s not apples to apples.

In addition, I also point out that we can make custom sizes, eliminating filler strips, whereas ordering them from a stock cabinet line would actually end up costing more, and add 6 – 8 weeks to the process.

You need to educate the client so they understand they are getting a better product.


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View huff's profile


2828 posts in 3254 days

#3 posted 12-15-2012 02:22 PM

Keith and Lee really covered it well for you.

“Educate” your client. Work with them on design, lay-out, ask them what they like about the kitchen they have now and more importantly; what they DON’T like about their kitchen. See if you can find the solution for that.

If your client is only interested in price, then you probably wouldn’t want that job anyway. To me, selling was a lot of the fun in my business, yes frustrating at times, but I loved the challenge.

-- John @

View jdmaher's profile


427 posts in 2548 days

#4 posted 12-15-2012 02:25 PM


This is not an area of expertise for me, but I’m very interested in the answers you’ll receive.

What, exactly, IS the additional value of a custom cabinet job? And I do mean dollarized value. This is a question that virtually every homeowner has to face (eventually). Being objective about it, IS a custom job truly “better”? Or can it be?

For example, you mentioned quality and craftsmanship. Do big box cabinets really use cheaper materials? If so, what is the dollar value of the difference (remembering to consider the discounted prices that big box makers likely pay)? Is the craftsmanship measurably better? Lets say the that your cabinets will look good for 100 years, but big box cabinets will be shabby in 20 years. What’s the actual value to the consumer? My guess is that they won’t be in the house for longer than 25 years, so that’s a 25% increase in useful life. Problem is, personal and fashion tastes are likely to change within 15 years, so is there value in that longer life?

Keith mentions ideas that I believe are important – unique values only a custom maker can provide. I hope we see a lot more of these ideas on this topic. Unique design and excessive communication are great starts. Planned “upgrades” are another good idea: don’t just offer to provide cheaper knobs and pulls, but offer to “upgrade” them later; and offer to add “roll-out shelves” and other hardware later.

Lee’s thoughts about custom sizes is good. To me, filler strips are a minor compromise, but being able to size a cabinet for (say) the left of the stove that is just exactly the right size to hold exactly what they keep there is something a big box can NOT do. Very narrow and very wide and “niched” cabinets (e.g., a shallow under-range drawer for baking sheets) – these “look” custom and unique – which is visible value they can point to. Shorter lead time could be important, so long as you don’t make promises you can’t keep.

I believe that an “un-fitted” look is difficult to achieve with stock pieces, but kinda the point of custom work. Custom and varied finishes accentuate that difference. Again, visual evidence of unique value.

What else?

-- Jim Maher, Illinois

View Don W's profile

Don W

18686 posts in 2536 days

#5 posted 12-15-2012 02:41 PM

I believe its more than monetary value. Your bucking a trend of a throw away society. Why do antiques cost so much? Because they stood the test of time. There is a story behind them.

You know why I like vintage hand planes? Because there is a story behind them. (see how i worked hand planes into the discussion). Could I buy a new LN and get then same performance? Sure. It goes beyond monetary value.

That’s what you need to sell your customer. Anyone can walk into home depot and order a kitchen. If you want a vision built, Home Depot isn’t going to have that.

I believe if you try to sell on monetary value alone, your going to loose most of the time. You’re giving more than kitchen cabinets. Your giving your personal service, knowledge and artist values to your customer.

Read this thread about artist value. How do you price such a thing? Now, how you convince your customer you’ve got this extra value is the hard sell. You’ve got to convince the customer they came to see you for a reason that goes beyond the cost of the cabinets. If that’s NOT true, you might as well give up because you’ll loose every time on money alone.

Someday your cabinets will be antiques with even more value. You can’t say that about anything that comes out of a Home Depot store.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View Don W's profile

Don W

18686 posts in 2536 days

#6 posted 12-15-2012 02:47 PM

And I agree there is nothing worse than getting half way through a project and realize you’re not making a profit. If your confident in your estimating skills and you know what you need and want to make, stick with it. You have just as much right to make a living as anybody.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View 489tad's profile


3353 posts in 2980 days

#7 posted 12-15-2012 03:08 PM

We had our kitchen done two years ago. Quotes from two big box and two local guys. All the estimates were pretty close, althoug both big box stores never gave us a final quote because they could never finish the design. “Oh can you come back next week, I should have it done by then”. Our decision came down to the one guy who listend to what we wanted and when he questioned our ideas, took the time to lay it out and see what we were talking about. The second small guy said that won’t work and that was that. Guess who got the job. Finish product is fantastic. I hope this helps.

-- Dan, Naperville IL, I.G.N.

View Kjuly's profile


308 posts in 3254 days

#8 posted 12-15-2012 03:28 PM

Added value doesn’t always have to be attached to dollars. It can be something the big box can’t or don’t offer.
A custom finish always gets their attention. It takes a little more time submitting samples but it can be unique. As Huff said, if they’re only interested in price, anything other than a lower price is fruitless.

-- Keith, Charlotte, MI

View Loren's profile


10278 posts in 3617 days

#9 posted 12-15-2012 03:37 PM

If you cab get the client to do it, go with the client to a
big box store and look at the cabinets there together. You
can explain and show how yours are better.

You cannot make money selling to clients who cannot
comprehend the value you are offering.

Also the quality of installation matters – scribing and all that.

Clients won’t know the value until they are looking at a crappy
install every morning over breakfast.

People who have never had good custom work done
won’t generally know what the differences are.

View huff's profile


2828 posts in 3254 days

#10 posted 12-15-2012 05:58 PM


Everybody has given you some good advice that should help you in selling your work to a customer.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever recieved was from a very successful business man ( had nothing to do with woodworking) that told me the biggest reason most companies fail is because they forget they’re in the “people business”.

You can have all the knowledge and ability to design, build, finish, install and service your product, but if you fail to connect all that to “people” (your prospective customer) and the value of that, then price is about the only thing you will have going for you.

There’s many ways to accomplish that; one of the best is simply listening. Find out what they like about their kitchen now, but more importantly what they don’t like! How can you solve that? What would they like to have changed? Listen to what they feel is important as far as value to them, not so much what you may think is value and trying to jam that down their throat.

The more you can get your customer involved in feeling they are solving some of their own problems, the more they want to work with you. Just remember, there’s a fine line between getting a customer involved and letting them run the show. I do try to make it more about them, then just trying to sell something.

Here’s four things I’ve always felt was a key to successful selling; ( you have to be totally honest!)

Know yourself: Know your strengths and weaknesses… on your weaknesses

Know your product: Know your products strengths and weaknesses… on weaknesses.

Know your competition: Know their strengths and weaknesses…......take advantage of their weaknesses.

Get to know your customer: Get to know their “wants” and “needs”.........just because they “want” a high-end custom kitchen, their budget may “need” to stay with store bought, and sometimes you need to simply educate them on the difference and let them decide.

If you’re going to do custom work, then you will have to realize you will not be able to sell to everyone, so don’t feel bad if you don’t get every sale. As long as you did your best to educate them, then you did good.

-- John @

View dannelson's profile


193 posts in 2340 days

#11 posted 12-15-2012 08:06 PM

Lets try to get back on topic , pricing cabinets. For starters do you do in house cad design? are you cutting with a cnc? do you outsource doors? In house finishing? Overhead .Any of these are major points to consider. I think we agree time= money bottom line. The more efficient you are the better off, If your not set up for cabinets dont bother you will loose. I think that if your not incorporating these elements your labor cost are going to be way to high to compete. I do all of the above.The last kitchen I bid I lost . My bid was $24,400. The owner went with another that didnt include install. His bid was $22,500. That kitchen was bid at $400/LNFT no countertops. Install was figured at 18 man hours. Its tight out there pick a number and dont budge.

-- nelson woodcrafters

View SCOTSMAN's profile


5849 posts in 3554 days

#12 posted 12-15-2012 08:20 PM

MY answer when someone asks me re pricing though I PERSONALLY just do things for my family and myself as I have strictly a hobby shop.People want Ikea prices for bespoke furniture quality they need to be educated first off Ikea use rubbishy materials generally and you will never be able to compete but they the sweetener is this.If you want your furniture to last four years then buy ikea if you want it still to be around in four hundred years by bespoke hand made.That’s how I was taught.Alistair

-- excuse my typing as I have a form of parkinsons disease

View Finisher's profile


31 posts in 2107 days

#13 posted 12-16-2012 02:41 PM

Thanks to every one for the fantastic responce to my question. I can honestly say that I had lost focus and forgotten why I chose to built cabinets in the first place. Behind the words I can hear your hearts and am glad to see that there are many of you who feel the same as I do about the kind of work we do. If it were only about the money, I would go and purchase production machinery from one of those on line auctions. But I do what I do because I love designing and building what I design. I chose to do something I love because it gives me a high level of sense of accomplishment. I strive to be the best at what I do. I do not allow my sons to use phrases such as “good enough, or “it will do” in regards to the jobs we have in the shop. I’d forgotten that it isn’t just the product we are selling. It’s the fact that no one in a large factory can give to the client, the attention, time, concern and value that a custom cabinet shop can period. I don’t have to compete with box stores because they don’t offer what we do nor can they. It really isn’t apples to apples as mentioned above. I shouldn’t be ashamed for what I ask for our cabinets, because they are worth every penny. There is a business side to what we do. We have to be smart and profitable. But if I loose sight of the things that originally caused me to become a cabinet maker in the first place, it will just become a job and I might as well take a position in a factory and not deal with the stress.

So to Keith, Lee, Huff, Jim, Dan, Nelsons woodworking, the Scotsman, and everyone else, thank you for the encouragement and helping me regain some things I had lost sight of. Your wisdom and insights are of great value to me and is one of the reasons I joined this sight.

-- James, Michigan

View huff's profile


2828 posts in 3254 days

#14 posted 12-16-2012 03:31 PM


Thanks for the response and very well put. It’s great to hear that your sons are working with you and you’re passing on that pride of true craftsmanship.

-- John @

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