I keep hearing a quote from people involved in other types of business, that keeps resonating in my mind.
"if you're not making money on a job there's no point in doing it"
The process of selling custom woodwork especially residential involves providing a substantial amount of services, including design, site visits, and customer hand holding. This is done up front with the expectation that it will be free.
In the past I have tried to shrug this off as a marketing expense. However I think this is simply denying the reality of the situation.
This can be summarized as doing one job for free, to try to get another job we can make some money off of.
If a customer comes to you, and said directly. Here is a small task. Do it free, or cheap, and I might have more work for you. We have all heard that one before, and couldn't run away fast enough.
How is it different when we travel to someone's site, take measurements, and design their kitchen, built in, furniture, or whatever with the understanding that they might pay us s bunch of money to build it, if we do that part for free.
We devalue ourselves by doing this.
What is the point of providing these services, if we don't make money off them. We tell ourselves, that it's what we have to do to get the sale. That sounds like desperation to me. Do you think, potential clients will see that, and respect us as a result. I certainly don't think it helps our status, if we are going to regard ourselves As professionals.
Now I make it clear upfront that I will meet with the client at my shop or over the phone and discuss a potential project free of charge however I will be charging a fee for a site visit and any design work. That fee will include a floor plan, and rendering that they may use for whatever they want, if they go elsewhere.
I will not devalue my design skills, and knowledge by providing design services for free. It has taken many years of experience to learn how to properly design, and spec cabinetry, and custom woodwork. In this day and age this average custom kitchen, is becoming more and more complex, and due to the internet, clients have an increasingly long list, of elements, and functionality they want.
Another plus to charging for these services is that I feel motivated to provide much much more value as I am being paid. I will spend significantly more time working on the design/bidding phase. More time to get things right, in this critical phase, so we can enter into a project with the best road map possible. Client wants me to meet with them at the site, on a Saturday afternoon. No problem, because I am getting paid
If this puts me out of buisness so be it, because I do not want to be in a line of work where I am expected to work for free, And provide something for nothing just to have a chance to compete with other people who are also trying to "win" a bid.
I do not want to work with clients that do not respect my time. If they expect something for nothing, that Is quite telling of what kind of situation you are getting yourself into.
It's one thing if you are trying to sell a phone contract at the mall, and you might waste 20 mins of time.
However bidding on custom woodwork, takes substantially more effort, knowledge, and I feel as if the design/bidding phase represent a service, that I no longer want to devalue. We are professionals and need to regard ourselves as such.
If people want this service for free, they can go to a box store, and frankly get what they pay for. It's quite possible even the box stores charge fees for this stuff too.
we did... then the bubble burst...
we stopped... for a while... we have survived the storm...now we have started again, mainly because of the
disrespect society (those that know more than we do...) degrading our profession.
and "using us" like pawns
I concur with every point you make!
Kudos to you Pete!
I my minds eye......
The bidding process is nothing but a race to the bottom.
I don't care to run that race. do you?
When a client calls me asking if I could come out to look at their project, I ask them first if they have a design (even a napkin sketch). If they don't, I tell them we can come up with a design for $450 (2 minor revisions like drawer or door sizes are included) after they do some leg work like going to houzz.com to get a sense of what they like. the drawing is theirs to keep if we don't get the job. If we do, it gets absorbed in the cost of their project. This weeds out the tire kickers. After approval of design, I price it. If they accept, THEN I do a site visitfor measurements. I also charge $100 for a site visit if the potential client insists they need one. I do this even if it's a designer/contractor or architect. Weed em out and good luck.
Thanks for your post. It's nice to hear someone else say it for a change. I agree with all that you said.
I always add in the time as part of our pricing for us to do our design/engineering/layout. We invest the time to provide complete and detailed shop drawings for approval, and I know a lot of times it will put our pricing higher than other shops. We have to get paid for that time...
We have yet been able to charge for bids/estimates. I've been reluctant but contemplating on how we might approach that. I'm sure it would help weed out people who are not serious about us doing the work.
Fortunately We are busy enough that design involvement is something I can be selective about (For now)
I ask for something from them, a phot a sketch, Something,, And this has to be emailed or come to myshop for a short look see... I want to see they have some vision and direction. (Small or large) holding hands of those who are just needing some company for the day is something I do not have time for.
I've tried charging for design with poor results. The idea scares people off right away no matter how I word it. I do what James does, I want engagement from the customer. Show me you are serious about a project, and have formulated some ideas. Then send me what you've got, or come in. I'm not positive about this approach, it comes off a little cold, but I do it. I also look for signals from a customer where I feel it's worth it to go to the house. I look for people who are not intimidated by a project, who seem decisive, and seem to have a level of trust. My 'kill ratio' really is much higher when I go out. How many people have called and want you to go to the house, spend much time developing ideas, and even want free drawings to take around town to bid against you? These are the ones that never pull the trigger and do the work.
You are always going to do better if you give the customer what THEY rather than restrict them to the things that YOU want.
Sure, you are going to give a little work away by drawing from free but I guarantee you will get a lot more of your bids if you help define the scope of work. Spending time with the customer before you ink the deal can sometimes help you identify a whack job. It will definitely help you to steer the the job to something that is a better project for you AND the customer.
If design work or drawing is hard then work on that skill. Solve the problem at the source. This strategy will help you get better jobs during the boom times and make you stronger during the not-so-boom times.
We will not bid a job without a customer meeting at our Shop/office. We do provide the customer with a set of drawings (without dimensions) and estimate after the first meeting at no cost. If the customer wants to make changes to the drawings to adjust cost or change the design. They can pay a 3% retainer agreement that will be applied to their deposit or a 25% deposit to secure a spot on our production scheduled.
This has helped reduce the amount of time i have to spend with the customer before they commit to using us. It has also cut down on the folks who were using us to get the "exact design the wanted" before paying a deposit. Who would then take our design to another custom shop who do not use design software and have them price it "Apples to Apples" which makes me angrier than taking my drawings to a cabinet supplier. I would have 20-40hrs tied up in meetings and design revisions and the guy down the street would under bid us by enough to get the job.
So now we don't have that problem near as much. It still happens some but our filtering process is better and we have more work than we can keep up with anyway. If things slow back down I am sure we will need to readjust again.
Agree with Tim and much that has been said here. We take a calculated risk going out to take a look at a job and can be what I call a "goose chase" and total waste of time but ,,,,
I don't think there can be only one rule on the subject , when a person has been referred to call me I go , most of but not all my work is from referrals .Seems there is trust and credibility going in to the deal because someone who knows you gave them your name.
If they call and tell me they are getting 3 bids I will ask them to bring me the plan .
A portion of our weekly hours are not spent in a profitable productive way anyhow .Phone calls ,sales people stopping in, clients ,
field measuring, bidding ,etc,talking to people who we will not work for it all adds up .I take 25% add it to my overhead to get my hourly wage where it needed to be or based on a 40 hour week 10 hours is wasted perhaps .
I have been charging for estimates and design for a while now. I feel that if someone is not willing to pay for design upfront they are not serious about having the custom work done. The way I do it is when they call I give them a ball park figure and if they like it I tell them I will need a deposit up front to cover the cost of design and final cost estimate. I also explain it is part of the price of the custom work not an extra cost. It makes them feel they are not being double charged. If they choose not to have the work done I will give them the drawings for the deposit. I will no longer do any design work for free, it is a service just like cutting wood.
When we say qualifying the client not sure all understand what that means but it can be helpful up front to know a few things about the clients direction .
If they already have bids, The one question I try and ask is have you gone to see a job installed by the other bidders ?Mostly they say no and that indicates they are looking at the bottom line not the work,I can't win there and typically won't spend much time .
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