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The need for outsourcing in the new economy9/28
We have been a custom cabinet maker for about 12 years now. What I have been noticing in the industry, post recession, is the need to outsource for most small shops. I have committed my business to automating as much as possible, and making standardized systems for everything we do. In doing this we found our company was changing into a niche component manufacturer rather than a custom job shop. This transformation has had a profound effect on how I look at our industry and the way we cabinet guys generally approach it.
"What would that look like?"
It would look like exactly what we have. Corporate cabinet shops that staff designers and draftsmen to work within the current design trends and deliver product that makes a profit. Perfectly fine for the mass market.
A true custom shop (in my opinion) is a different animal. Its a shop where one, or perhaps a couple of individuals, have "the vision" and go into a project and create something somewhat specific to that customer, project, layout, and so on.
Fully sub'ing out the process is already in place. The question becomes when you do that how do you make yourself different from any other Joe Blow around you.
I think everyone has their own opinion of what "custom" really means. If you are a niche type shop that will only provide long-box or a design similar to that then outsourcing your cabinet components does not make sense. I believe the majority of the market is a semi-custom which we would define as building a box to any dimension but only to a max length before splitting it. This semi-custom is the ideal market that I believe should be buying all of its cabinet parts rather than making them.
Jeff, I find this topic very interesting.
As a custom shop owner who has found it worthwhile to outsource wood components, cutting, and finishing at times I do believe in reality a company that is dedicated to making, let say, dovetailed drawer boxes, will do it to a higher quality and a lower price than we can.
But, it is not as easy as that. I've found that it is very important to weigh some of the variables such as: Speed of product delivery, ease of pricing / project, ease of coordinating order, shipping costs, receiving and organizing components, and unique variables (wood species, sheen, you name it) that may invalidate the effectiveness of the outsourcer. We have in the past outsourced cabinet case parts, and if one part was wrong or broken you needed to wait for a new part to come. Once we started using the CNC this was no longer an issue, and I would think it a huge pain to go back the way it was before.
Didn't the new economy start approximately 6 years ago? I started outsourcing in 1988, which economy was that?
Here is the problem with deciding to start outsourcing cabinet boxes......shops are already set up to produce them, meaning we can likely produce them for the same cost as you, leaving that profit for machining parts in our pocket. Since we sell lots of cabinets, we are able to hit the ecomonies of scale to make it feasible. Lots and lots of small shops are now setup with a CNC and edgebander.
The quantity of dovetail drawers, or doors that our company would produce is very low relative to a dovetail or door outsource company. Setting up to produce dovetails or doors in house doesnt really make sense for the small shop as the ROI on the equipment to produce these will be too low. The dovetail or door company gets to spread that capitol investment over many many small companies door/drawer needs, thus the small company cant compete with the outsource company.
There is certainly a market for outsourced cabinet parts, its just not the typical cabinet shop that will be your customer. You need to find new start ups who have yet to purchase the CNC/edgebander, or another small type of cabinet company I have run across a few times. This being a company that currently sells a "factory" line of cabinets but is frustrated by the costs associated with anything that is not in their catalogue. We have a couple companies in our area that specialize on the low end market with "factory" cabinets. To hit the semi-custom market, they do exactly as you suggest and outsource everything and simply pay an employee to assemble parts.
We are a small shop, 3 of us, hitting the semi-custom market, doing just under a million in sales, at the rate of about 40 kitchens per year. We have a kitchen full of parts in a morning ready for assembly......and these parts are being machined by the same person that is assembling the last job to be cut. This is not our bottleneck. It makes no sense for us to outsource cabinet parts.
We outsource doors and drawers. At the 40 or so kitchens we do in a year, we cant justify the space, labour, machinery, or tooling costs to produce these.
Our bottleneck has always been finishing, and I would suspect this to be true for almost all small shops. We have tried outsourcing finishing, but the logistics of moving parts back and forth just didnt work very well. Growing my business would involve adding a second booth and finisher to try and keep up with the router.
The reason for my long winded reply is, as I read your original post, I suspected a bit of a sales pitch. My reply is to help you narrow your focus of customers who may actually want to purchase your components. Look to the small shop that does not have CNC, look to the small company just starting, look to the shop selling a line of "factory" cabinets and sell the system of outsourcing, look to the busy shop who may need the extra capacity.
Hope this helps, and good luck.
Thanks for the replies!
JM- I definitely was not trying to come across as a sales pitch I am purely in this for other peoples views, just like we are doing now. I believe you are right to a certain extent on the target market for people that would outsource boxes. However, I believe that just like the door builder, and dovetail supplier the efficiency we gain in having faster CNC's that are fully automatic with labeling, fully automatic edgebanders, optimizing defect saws and so on should translate into savings for the cabinet maker. Also, just like the door builder we are able to buy material at a cheaper rate just because of the quantity which lessens the effect of the mill charge.
Man I am loving this conversation, thanks for chiming in this is great stuff!
I post as i want to read this further
I would love to hear from a shop that is not only sourcing their doors and drawers but the boxes as well. How does it work in your system? Are you getting solid, steady returns? How is the ordering process and pricing process? Is it a quick turn around? Has outsourcing provided you with the opportunity to either grow your sales, or your free time!
I havent ever really considered this as an option in the past as we have always prided ourselves on being a "one off custom shop" but over the last couple of years it seems like advancements in tech and production have enabled the large manufacturers to be almost as flexible as the custom shop. Then yesterday I received Decorative Specialties new catalog and they are offering cabinet components, custom finishing ect... And while I know they have been doing this to some degree for years it seems like now they have it down to a pretty good system. I am more interested than ever in at least providing this as an option in my shop. While many of my cabinet sets are very custom, there are still many jobs that I do which are pretty standard, and many times if find myself having to copy "factory finishes" because its what the customer saw in a catalog or friends house
Also I have really been longing for a cnc router for the last several years, but maybe outsourcing is the better option?
I have done plenty of this, the USC footbal staduium was far over our heads, i bid i won then got a larger shop to collude sold them the case work portion kept the custom and install, Made money and had a very large experience feather in out portfolio.
We also did two large Amazon distribution facilities, hundreds of case each, went like clock work.
we also keep smaller work it allows us to go up or down with the times and work. we are constantly using the cnc and all other machinery
Jonathan-I hear ya on it seems that you are seeing more of the cabinet components creeping in. An i think it is exactly like you said with the better material handling, faster CNC's we can better support a part cutting operation. For the people like you that are looking/wanting a cnc i think it (outsourcing) is definitely worth looking at very seriously. At first it seems counter intuitive but the more you think about it the numbers just work. Anytime you can all but fix your costs and maintain a healthy margin you will be able to grow your business and brand at will. Basically, instead of using every spare nickel upgrading your machines and equipment, or hiring another "employee" that doesn't care about your vision, you can spend it on your business. Feel free to private message me if you want to talk.
We operate just like the poster JM. Again the bottleneck is the finishing.. When it comes to a sales pitch I just push more prefinished products that can be outsourced instead of finished in house. Our numbers are very similar to his as well..
Lol and here in my shop finishing is one of the fastest things we do. Because we are so small, large scale production( the occasional very large home) can really swamp our boat
Hen bob- sorry for the late response I was out of town a couple days. I understand your concern on the finishing bottleneck. I assume you must build face frame cabinets as most people that do have the finishing bottleneck. My response to helping you with that bottleneck is the system we use is a dado face frame with a 3/4 scribe that can accept an applied finished end. Great part about our system is was designed around prefinishing all the parts then assembling the box after finish. We use a pre finished plywood for our non exposed interiors. The other great point about finishing your parts is that you can get a superb finish by spraying everything flat. Just something to think about if finishing really is the bottleneck. I would love to hear your response.
We actually only build euro box cabinets. the only face frame stuff is to match an existing cabinet ( so about 1% of the total volume) 60% of what we produce is all melamine/ thermafoil no problems there. Its the 40% of the rest is all painted cabinetry. Like your system every piece is sprayed flat and assembled after finishing.
Like the other posters have said look for the guys just getting going that don't have the equipment to mass produce yet.
The guys around here want around $140 a lin ft for the parts unassembled. 3 different shops.
CNC does not improve the speed of square cabinets as much as their pricing would indicate.
I think there is a fallacy that CNC greatly speeds the production of simple cabinets.
For sure it is a great help in circular shaped cabinets.
Pat i have been tire kicking cnc routers for some time now, I have been wanting one pretty bad, and this is the conclusion I have also come to. Ive watched the demos, talked to owners, timed the demos ect... and unless you get a high end panel processing router its not all that much faster for square boxes. The top end machines really do haul ass, to the tune of around 1 sheet every 4 minutes.The cnc guys advertise that cnc cut parts are far more accurate, superior, fit better. I say it depends on how well your machinery is set up and who is operating them. Square is square and 24 inches is 24 inches. My frames always fit my boxes and my dados, generally speaking, always fit just right. Im beginning to think that the hot combo for square boxes would be a vertical panel saw or automated beam saw for high production, line drill/construction drill, or point to point for high production, and a case clamp. What are your thoughts?
Guys I've got to firmly disagree with some of what you are saying. First of all pricing by the lf in my opinion will make it hard to make money on every job. But I'm sure there's another thread about that on here. However since you referenced lf pricing at 140$ that sounds to me like they are a Millwork shop that produces cases and fills in with cutting parts on the side. Parts should not cost that much if you're just using standard materials. I think the opportunity in outsourcing cabinet box parts is the huge reduction in risk and fixing your costs that are generally extremely variable. I would urge anyone that's looking into having parts cut, look for a shop that specializes in part cutting and not servicing their own custom work. Basically at that point you are feeding the competition. Find a partner who's success is dependent on you being successful.
Good point Jeff, you are right with 2 of them one of them is Decore Door.
My thinking was that if you consider that cutting up the sheet is about equal to loading running and unloading a sheet in a router.
This leaves the grooving and hole drilling on only the ends.
Admittedly the router can do these steps faster.
But how much of the drilling and grooving do you have to do in order to pay for a 6 figure + investment?
If you are doing things other than square cabinets then the router is the way to go.
That would depend on your price.