Avoiding tyre kickers

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Forum topic by 404 - Not Found posted 01-15-2014 11:20 PM 2060 views 0 times favorited 37 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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404 - Not Found

2544 posts in 2993 days

01-15-2014 11:20 PM

At the time of writing of this, I’m about 80% through preparing a website for my business.

I am quite pleased with what I’ve done so far, been through the archives, got (nearly) all the photos and started writing copy.

What I’m really concerned with is ‘tyre kickers’. You know the ones – someone here described them as ‘champagne taste but soda pop budget’.

As my work is all commissions, is there a way to avoid going out to meet people with unreal expectations about cost?

Realistically, you could waste a day between driving to and from someone’s house, discussing a job, measuring, phoning around for material and hardware costs, doing up a drawing and estimate, only to get no response or be told they’ll leave it.

Is there a way around this? How do you deal with it?

I am really trying to get to another level and go a bit more upmarket, this is the copy I’ve written about commissioning work:


Commissions usually begin with a phone call and a meeting to discuss the requirements and your expectations of the piece.

The style and function, timber and finish choices, and hardware options will all be noted and dimensions taken.

With this information, I can prepare an initial drawing and email it to you for review, along with an estimate of how much the project is going to cost.

It is quite normal to make a few changes before design sign off, and there is never any pressure to rush a design through. After all, the whole point of commissioning a piece is so you end up with exactly what you want.

Once a design is approved I can use the drawing to work out the cost of materials, how long the piece will take to make and finish, and give a firm quotation.

If the design and quotation meet with your approval, I would require a 30% deposit before commencing any work.

While the piece is being made I can keep you updated with photos and progress reports, and upon completion will arrange a convenient time for delivery/installation.


I think that says it all or would you make any changes?

Thanks in advance

37 replies so far

View JAAune's profile


1802 posts in 2341 days

#1 posted 01-15-2014 11:31 PM

Unfortunately this is a risk you’ll probably always face unless you can get a reputation that keeps the wealthy collector types headed your way all the time.

If you notify people up front about your prices, you’ll scare away potential customers before you get the chance to sell them on your services. The idea is to show them the benefits they can obtain by hiring you and why those benefits are worth the price you’re asking. You don’t want them simply comparing the prices of your products to those offered by the stores. They need to start thinking about stuff like customized functionality, design aesthetics, customer service and convenience.

It is a good idea however, to make sure people understand up front that you aren’t going to be selling at chain store prices to scare off the worst offenders. If they don’t bat an eye upon hearing this they might be feasible customers.

Take a cue from insurance salesmen. Whenever I ask them how the prices of different packages compare to each other they invariably start talking about how different policies are offering different levels of coverage.

My own approach has been to factor in the wasted time as overhead. Then I just do my best to minimize the impact by getting really fast at estimating and design work.

-- See my work at and

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

4948 posts in 3984 days

#2 posted 01-15-2014 11:42 PM

Have you thought about a consultation fee that would be incorporated (deducted) from the price of the commission?


View Loren's profile


10476 posts in 3672 days

#3 posted 01-15-2014 11:42 PM

Ballparking the job over the phone is a good skill to have.

I usually ask “have you had custom work done before?”

Sometimes there’s a lot of educating to be done, and at the
end of the process they decide not to buy from you. I talked
some people out of having me build a pergola because I
was up front about the maintenance.

If they can get it at a big box store, you might want to
ask them why they didn’t do that. Some people do
have an idea that somebody could build a one-off and
beat the big retailers. It’s not an informed idea, but it’s
there. Some people who can afford custom work
have it too. They know the big box store doesn’t
fit their needs, which is why they generally call a
custom shop.

Do not second-guess price flexibility. People will ask
you to knock-off furniture pieces you cannot do
for the price of the wood alone…. but the people
who go and look at real quality furniture will be
familiar with the price ranges. Sometimes you can
save them some money because you’re not marking
it up 100% as stores tend to do. Sometimes you
can do a simpler finish or eliminate unwanted details.

You can always ask “what’s your budget range on this?”

In the end you’re going to have to quote a fee. There
is no point in pussy-footing around the issue of costs.

Some people have a lot of money but they will try to
bust you on principle. Sometimes that’s how they got
a lot of money in the first place. These are customers
who will pay for quality.

View patcollins's profile


1685 posts in 2889 days

#4 posted 01-15-2014 11:48 PM

Charge them to come out

View Dan'um Style's profile

Dan'um Style

14173 posts in 4007 days

#5 posted 01-16-2014 12:10 AM

I agree with Loren. Always ask for their budget range upfront.

If the budget number comes in too low then explain why your custom work is higher then their expectations.

Another thought is to limit your time on the upfront-work i.e., ... before-money-gets-exchanged-process, for a new customer… I would target 1 hour or so before a $ deposit is made.

I do like your website idea, something I have never done done ,but another thought is to include a price range on the projects you post… or possibly a square foot $ amount for large projects. ...

-- keeping myself entertained ... Humor and fun lubricate the brain

View Fish22's profile


83 posts in 3137 days

#6 posted 01-16-2014 01:44 AM

If you have pictures of your previous work, and that was something that prompted them to call, you could give them a ballpark figure of cost on the previous project. Getting the maximum information on that initial call, and being upfront about the process, cost and what goes into the project should help weed out some of the tire kickers. Educating people on why a mass produced piece costs less and the sometimes inferior materials used in those pieces probably wouldn’t hurt either.

-- Bryan, South River, NJ

View lanwater's profile


3111 posts in 2958 days

#7 posted 01-16-2014 05:06 AM

Nothing beat the face to face meeting. Most of the time that’s when the customer make up their mind as to if they can trust you or not.
Remember they are very scared to hire someone they don’t know, they worry they are going to be scammed. Meeting face to face alleviate many concerns. Once they are comfortable with you, They will pay a little more because they feel secure.

Wee work with some customers for more than 3 months, informing and educating them for free. Sometimes we do not get the job but most of the time they refer other people to us.
Nothing beat referral.
We do not do woodworking.

-- Abbas, Castro Valley, CA

View Jake's profile


850 posts in 1655 days

#8 posted 01-16-2014 07:23 AM

As a custom solution salesperson I can relate to what you are facing and I will say, that educating a customer ‘for free’ will be a big part of your job, at least until you start working referrals only. Once you get to referrals only your life can be a bliss or a nightmare, because obviously high end customers will refer you to high paying customers and the opposite is true also. Cheap customers lead to cheap referrals. But that means that you might have to turn down a lot of customers in the beginning until you wade through the BS, because you really don’t want to have previous projects on your homepage that cost 200$ while you are trying to sell a 4000$ vanity.

Keeping that in mind, I think educating your customer and qualifying a customer is just what you could call a part of your pipeline and think of it as paying forward. I would not pay for a consult, before knowing anything about the end result, and neither would most other people. Qualifying a customer means that you need to know if they have the money you ask, otherwise it does not matter how good of a salesperson you are, they just can’t buy. A simple qualifying question over the phone could be “So why did you decide to go for a custom-made piece” (2 key things that should be done in the first conversation by phone, 1: Make sure to convey the idea that you are not a box store So you will be more expensive. 2: Have them shortly sell their need for a custom-piece to you)

In addition, as previously stated, you should really meet a customer face to face. People like to buy from people they like and a lot gets lost in terms of a personal touch when business is conducted by phone only. After you have established a relationship this is no longer necessary, but initially 1-3 meetings might be required to have them trust you and be willing to buy.

As far as the text goes, there is a few key things that I would change, see the sentences I would change with comments:

With this information, I will prepare an initial drawing and email it to you for review, along with an estimate of how much the project is going to cost.

- I prefer a firmer approach when putting things in writing, I CAN do a lot of things, that doesn’t mean I WILL do them. But once I have been on the phone, met with the customer discussed everything about the project and I have qualified that they have the money, I WILL make a sketch for them, because making things visual for the customer helps me sell better.

Once a design is approved I will use the drawing to work out the cost of materials, how long the piece will take to make and finish, and give a firm quotation.

- Same applies as the explanation above

If the design and quotation meet with your approval, I require a 30% deposit before commencing any work.

- Definitely take away the would from the deposit. If a deposit is what is required, it has to be required, if you have would in there, it can and will give an illusion that this is negotiable, but it should not be negotiable, after all the energy you have put in there, you need to get a deposit. Especially since people sometimes get buyers remorse and you don’t want to have invested 1000$ and have them jump ship. In fact I would reccomend: If the design and quotation meet with your approval then depending on the work I will require a 30-50% deposit before commencing any work – This is a good thing to have, because then you can comfortably get 35-40% of a deposit, because some people like to get a discount and if you always start at 50% deposit you can meet them half way at 40%:) Additionally, this is the last qualifying step before starting work. If they want to buy a 1000$ Piece of furniture and they don’t have 300$ to pay you up front, then how will they have 1000$ in 4 weeks?

While the piece is being made I will keep you updated with photos and progress reports, and upon completion will arrange a convenient time for delivery/installation.
- Same applies as in first 2 can vs will explanations

By the way, only subtitute ‘can’ with ‘will’ if you are willing to do these things, meaning that if you promise that you will do something you will do it. I wrote more about that in one of our fellow LJ blog response here

I could go on a lot longer into sales psychology and techniques while selling with integrity, but I don’t have the time now, if you have any specific questions send me a PM or ask me here and I will try to be of use.

-- Measure twice, cut once, cut again for good measure.

View Woodknack's profile


11775 posts in 2404 days

#9 posted 01-16-2014 07:54 AM

It’s called pre-qualifying and you have to do it. Ask questions like, “What is your budget? What time frame are you expecting.” I’ve learned that if someone won’t tell you their budget it’s either because they don’t have one (always a bad sign) or because they are afraid you’ll take advantage and mark your prices up. The latter can be overcome but if they have no budget there is a good chance you’ll waste your time.

Where I grew up there was a local cabinetmaker and architectural woodworker who was very talented and past retirement age. I sat on his porch with him sipping lemonade one day when a 30-something fellow came by to ask for a quote. “I don’t do quotes anymore and I’ll be too expensive for you anyway.” Well that just egged the younger guy on so finally this woodworker says, ”... take your highest quote and multiple by four, that’ll put you in my ballpark.” Well the more this old timer tried to put off the customer the more the customer wanted to hire him. It was absolutely a treat to watch. I think it ended with him agreeing to send his son out to see the job. Even funnier is he pulled the same crap on me first time I met him.

-- Rick M,

View KnickKnack's profile


1090 posts in 3590 days

#10 posted 01-16-2014 12:15 PM

Once upon a time, a long time ago, my company wrote and sold shrink-wrapped software.
Of course, people were always contacting us to write something bespoke for them – and, in theory, we were happy to do that.

The policy we developed to avoid “the talkers”, was to require that they do things before we’d enter into much of a conversation, and certainly before we’d arrange any visits. In our case, the very first thing we’d require was that they write some form of specification document. In about 90% of cases people were happy to talk on the phone but, when asked to commit finger to keyboard, we never heard from them again. The 10% remaining would have a document returned by us, with some initial drafts, possibly some form of price, requiring a further response from them. Down to about 5% now, those people usually ended up ordering, paying, and being very happy.

Perhaps a custom woodworking version might include them sending you pictures of pieces, the style of which they like. Perhaps a rough drawing of the piece they have in mind, and where the piece is destined to go. You can probably come up with better ideas – as long as it involves them in doing some actual work beyond just chatter.

”Commissions usually begin with a phone call and a meeting to discuss the requirements and your expectations of the piece.”
This doesn’t, in my view, make it hard enough for them – you’re going to spend a bunch of hours on a project that might never happen – they need to spend some too, first, and not over a cup of coffee.

Just an idea based on my experience from another industry.

-- "Do not speak – unless it improves on silence." --- "Following the rules and protecting the regulations is binding oneself without rope."

View Mark Davisson's profile

Mark Davisson

597 posts in 3341 days

#11 posted 01-16-2014 12:25 PM

I’ll offer a little different perspective on this. While I certainly agree with most that has already been offered, there can also be value in simply telling it like it is – you produce high-quality pieces, and your prices reflect that high quality. There are people who will be attracted to that – not very many but, once you have them, they will be long-term, repeat customers. And they will provide to you the most valuable prize of all; world-of-mouth advertising to their like-minded friends.

-- I'm selfless because it feels so good!

View kajunkraft's profile


152 posts in 2234 days

#12 posted 01-16-2014 12:50 PM

One explanation that I use is that I have been looking for one of those machines that you put a tree into one end and a few seconds later a piece of furniture comes out the other. Unfortunately I have never found that machine. So, all my work involves making each piece of wood needed, selecting, cutting, sanding, assembling, etc. This takes time and I believe that my effort is worth more than third-world labor rates. In addition to the many valid comments already made, this may help to put things into real-world perspective.

View Tommy Evans's profile

Tommy Evans

147 posts in 2198 days

#13 posted 01-16-2014 02:44 PM

Once a design is approved I can use the drawing to work out the cost of materials, how long the piece will take to make and finish, and give a firm quotation.

While we making suggestions, may I suggest in the above paragraph you change the word “make” to “create”

Once a design is approved I can use the drawing to work out the cost of materials, how long the piece will take to create and finish, and give a firm quotation.

peace, T

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1533 posts in 2385 days

#14 posted 01-16-2014 03:27 PM

After a phone conversation to roughly qualify the scope of the project without going into specifics, suggest that they visit you to start the detail process. That should eliminate most of the tire kickers.

-- Clint Searl....Ya can no more do what ya don't know how than ya can git back from where ya ain't been

View Lee Barker's profile

Lee Barker

2170 posts in 2874 days

#15 posted 01-16-2014 05:32 PM

Something about this question brought out a batch of great wisdom. It is exciting to read how LJs from other industries can insert their experience into this realm and applies really well.

I have always shied away from ballpark estimates—my explanation being that, “If I do that, one of us will end up with a broken heart and I don’t want that to happen.” I would rather make the initial visit. That said, I’m learning from reading this that developing a skilled style of qualifying the client on the phone, and offering that estimate range heavily weighted to the high end, would be better than what I have done.

Offering a range of anything has risk involved, and here’s why: The listener will hear only the number that he/she prefers. If you read that your new Gizmotron 2000 “will ship in three to six weeks” what number do you start computing with in your head?

Therefore, my only suggestion is to say “A 50% deposit is required for me to start work (or to get you on my schedule).” If the project was destined to cross the first of the month and of a length that would justify it, I would write in “progress payments due on the 10th of each month.”

Thanks to the OP and all who contributed here. This is golden.



-- " his brain, which is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage, he hath strange places cramm'd with observation, the which he vents in mangled forms." --Shakespeare, "As You Like It"

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