From contributor J:
I tell them I am in the cabinet building business, period. I measure, build, and install their cabinets to fit their appliances (they provide the spec sheets), and their kitchen or bath or whatever. I do work with custom builders, professional remodelers and kitchen designers, but they handle all the mechanicals, tops, finishes, etc.
By the way, I don't help other subs do their jobs, or help with their rough ins or trim outs. That's the builder's/designer's job to coordinate, unless of course I bill myself as such - then I'll need a check.
From contributor G:
When I do a kitchen in a new house, I don't do anything but the cabinets. I do offer to get the granite counters done. I just sub it out and take my cut.
When I am asked to replace cabinets in an existing kitchen, I price out and sell everything. Electrical, plumbing, tile floors, hood vent, lighting, drywall, paint, appliance installation, cabinets, everything. Some I sub out, some I do.
I think this gives me an advantage over others that will not do this work. I have been told by some customers the reason I got the job was that I took care of everything and they didn't need to call anyone else in. I use it as a selling feature and it does work. I take the responsibility and I charge for it.
From contributor U:
Yep, LTL - limit the liability. Just keep using your sense like you have been and you'll be fine.
I agree - don't help the other subs. They don't really need it, appreciate it, nor would they likely return the favor.
From contributor V:
Develop a screened list of subs for your customer. One way to find good subs is to ask other good subs. For example, if you know a high quality painter, I guarantee that he can give you the names of other tradesmen who work at the same level. Another way is to ask your local paint/hardware/lumber shops who they think the best tradesmen are and start there.
From contributor I:
I tell the homeowners that I do not do the electrical or plumbing - things that require a license. If there were water damage or a fire, the insurance would want to know who did the work. Then you would be left to either defend your work or prove that the parts were defective. I tell them that I want them to have the best, and while I can do it, I would rather have someone who does this every day.
From contributor R:
Any cabinetmaker not willing to manage subs on a project when the opportunity arises is missing out on a chance to develop rapport with the customer and profit from the effort. I charge on a cost plus basis to manage the subs I recommend, and to be available to assist them with getting all of the appliances set in place properly. I have never been able to simply install cabinets, then walk away! There are always situations to deal with, no matter how smooth everything goes, like coming back to install appliance fronts or do a special cut out for the countertop people since they, like many of you, "are just top people - we don't cut cabinets to fit the sink, nor do we install the sink on granite tops". Someone needs to oversee the project, and in the absence of a general contractor, I'm happy to be paid for doing it, if for no other reason than I have a great deal of pride in the work I do and the relationship I develop with the customers. The better a job goes while I'm involved in it, the more the light will shine on me. When you rely on word of mouth for your business, nothing is more important than customer satisfaction.
I'm not saying that I do electrical or plumbing work, etc, but I have a good relationship with reputable subs that I can recommend to the customer to be sure the job is done right. Let the experts - electrician, plumber, tinman, etc. - do what they do best. Make sure the subs know you expect them to back up their work and everyone will make money and be happy.
I say go for it - choose a way to charge for the responsibility of managing the project, and make money.
From contributor I:
I am a cabinetmaker, not a GC. When something goes wrong - sub doesn't show, can't get there until next week, there is a fire/flood, the appliance doesn't work properly - you are held responsible, and more often than not, you don't receive money until it is fixed to the customer's satisfaction.
Yes, there is a chance to make more money playing the role of GC, but you also accept more liability and problems. The reason clients come to me to have these jobs (plumbing, electrical, flooring, etc.) done is because they want to save money not hiring a GC. They have swallowed the big lie that "You can be your own contractor," or "You don't need a professional. You can do it yourself." These clients see a kitchen remodel go together in a half hour several times a week. When you, as a contractor that knows how the schedules of contractors work, try to explain that the electrician will be finished on this current job in two weeks, and the plumber can't get here for another 5 days, then you are seen as the bad guy. Reality has met their expectations, there will be no progress for at least another week, and this feeling is associated with you.
I give them good referrals and let them play GC and save their money. I do a great job and get out with positive feelings. If something goes wrong with another contractor, it is not my responsibility. Case in point. The job I am on now, the tile guy was about to do the shower. The shower was being redone because of extensive water damage. The tile guy noticed a small leak in the "new" mixing valve. I can't imagine the liability that I would have to assume. Just ask any lawyer. In a case like this, they will go after anybody they can. Even if you did not do the work, you will be sued and you will have to explain to a judge/jury why you should not have to pay half of the damages. You may be willing to take that risk, and I would hope that you are bonded and well insured. But I still don't see how to make it worthwhile financially and still cover the liability.
From contributor C:
Contributor R, are you a licensed general contractor in addition to being a cabinetmaker?
From contributor R:
This is a topic which has no right or wrong answer. The questioner needs to decide what direction he wants his business to go and grow, and how willing he is to take on the challenges. Many problems can occur, but more often than not, if managed with a level head and foresight, things will go as planned and everyone will be happy. At worst, when thing go wrong, it's how we as professionals handle the situation that will make or break us. Instead of finger pointing, we should, as responsible tradesmen, fix the problem and move on, so as not to let the job get out of control.
I think contributor I's statement is a gross exaggeration - no one does a remodel in a half hour several times a week, and I have never had a customer that had a preconceived notion of precisely how long the job will take. I advise them before they agree to the project approximately how long it might take, but leave it understood that what it takes is what it takes. If I do a proper job coordinating the subs, it goes smoothly; if I don't, it won't.
In any case, you have chosen not to take the risks involved with managing a job, and that's okay. But for those willing to take the risks of a job not going quite as planned, it can be worthwhile. A small percentage of jobs turn out as you have described and they certainly don't have to end up in a lawsuit if the tradesmen are the responsible people they should be. In the case of the bad valve, a good tradesman did find a problem and instead of choosing not to say a word about it , brought it to someone's attention and it got fixed. That's how we should handle that situation and no one had to call a lawyer, and the valve company will probably credit the plumber back for a faulty product, end of story. It is on you to select and recommend reputable tradesmen that will work responsibly on the job and, as a result, make money doing so! But it's not for everyone.
To the best of my knowledge in the state if Illinois, I am not required to be licensed. I do carry a $2,000,000.00 insurance policy as required by the generals that I work for.
From contributor N:
I think contributor M is referring to the damn DIY shows - Hometime, This Old House, etc. They never show the behind the scenes - how long things take in real time. So homeowners think it's no big deal for us to finish an entire kitchen remodel in a couple of days. I run into this all the time.
From contributor E:
This is an interesting thread. I've done it all, but primarily I build cabinets. Some of them I finish, but most are installed unfinished. When working with a GC, I build and install unfinished cabinets. On remodels, I usually finish in the shop before installation. Most of the time on remodels, I coordinate with the subs, and charge a fee to do so. Homeowners don't have a clue how things have to go together.
I did a complete kitchen remodel last summer for a regular client. Decent sized kitchen. Ripped out cabinets and furr down on Monday, repaired drywall Tuesday morning, installed cabinets Tuesday afternoon. Drywall was finished Wednesday morning. Laminate was installed on countertops Wednesday night. New ceramic tile was installed on the floor Thursday, and grouted Friday morning. Appliances and sink were installed Friday afternoon, and she cooked dinner in her new kitchen Friday night. It went like clockwork because I knew all the subs and had commitments from them for the specified time. Did a bathroom remodel for them this summer and it took weeks to make it all happen. One sub doesn't do right and the whole thing is down the tubes! Because things didn't work like clockwork, I made no money on the bathroom and had lots and lots of headaches.
I would rather recommend good subs and let the homeowner deal with the headaches so I'm off the hook. However, even with a GC, I usually have to wear many hats. I recently went to install a kitchen and he had a light switch where the appliance garage was. The homeowner called the electrician, and he said he would be out the next day. Well, he didn't come the next day, or the day after that. GC called him and he promised again. Finally, 5 days later I show up after being assured it would be taken care of. Drove 45 minutes to the job only to find that he hadn't moved the box. Called him, and he said, "just knock that box out of the way and I'll come back and put in a popin box". I started to do that the first day when I realized there was a problem. I could have saved another trip and had the job finished 5 days earlier! You gotta be flexible and roll with the punches. If you can make a buck by going above and beyond being a cabinet builder, do it! If you can't make a buck, it is too much headache to fool with it.
From contributor C:
I usually find out what kind of countertop they are going to use, and put the plywood on top of the cabinets for them. I do the radius plywood that supports granite overhangs and corbels and stuff that matches it up with the cabinets. Granite companies will also do this for you, but if the cabinet company does it, then they instantly have at least a plywood countertop.
The customer likes to have to call as few people as possible. They are going to need a GC, unless they can handle that task on their own.
From contributor P:
If you do any electrical work without a license, the owner can refuse to pay you for the whole shooting match and you will not have a leg to stand on. It is a law that has been put in place to prevent homeowners from being ripped off by unlicensed operators. The same for plumbing.
Find a Sparky and a plumber who you can work with and have them estimate on the work directly to the client. Ask for a 10% finderís fee from same.
From contributor B
My thought: If you, like I, have substantial shop overhead expenses, i.e., machinery, skilled help, rent, how can a cabinetmaker justify the cost of the idled shop while out playing GC?
From contributor I:
Contributor R, the point of this is that the questioner was asking for advice. It appears that he is a little green when it comes to the construction culture. I believe that your advice is hasty for this newcomer. If he does not know the roles of subs, then I doubt that he would be ready to play the role of a GC. While you have outlined the argument for cabinetmakers to take on more responsibility for more income and more customer service, this is premature for the questioner, in my opinion.
As for the gross exaggeration, I take this from my recent experience. I speak of the last several customers that I have had, as well as the potential clients who did not want to wait. Subs here are stretched to the limit with their schedule, and there doesn't seem to be enough qualified help.
And as for responsible subs... The house that we are working on is the home of a prominent architect in Dallas - one of his buildings is in the skyline. He hand-selected all of his subs. And if it were not for the fact that the tile guy could not get to the job until a couple of days after the plumber left, his helper might not have noticed it.
I have done both, just cabinets and GC. I can say that when I accept more responsibility, the potential for problems increases exponentially! There are builders and GC's out there who are making more money than I am. But I have found it to be less complicated and I keep more money in my pocket when I stick to what I am best at, making cabinets - not babysitting subs.
From contributor P:
There is potential to make money as a GC, but if you donít have the license to do the work, and if you donít pull permits for same work, you are just opening a can of worms.
The other day I was measuring for a vanity while the plumbers were putting in the shower pan. I swear I did not know how much work went into putting a shower together, not to mention the liner or how to do the curb.
Had I hired a plumber and a tile guy to do a bathroom remodel for me, I would not have known what to look for to ensure it was done correctly. Had I done it myself, it would have looked very different and would probably have failed and ended up costing me a bundle to have it re-done by professionals.
If you find the work for the electrician or plumber, you get 10%. I'm not good at gambling, so I like to go for the sure thing.
So again, sell what you do, donít do what you sell. Not sure who said that first here, but it makes sense.
Contributor B, the reason most small shops get involved with other trade work is because they donít have work for the shop to do so they feel making money doing something different is better than doing nothing. The sad thing is that this often backfires. I know - it has happened to me before.
I did a job installing beams on a ceiling for a client along with crown molding and some other architectural moldings. Not sure how to estimate this job, I underestimated badly and to make things worse, I took way to long to do the work. Had I done nothing rather than that, I would have been better off.
Now that I think about it, had I stayed at home and sent the client 5 dollars a day, I would have been better off still. I learnt this lesson the hard way. Many others will follow.
From contributor M:
I have come to an agreement with a contractor that I have known for years and trust. To any one of my customers I exclusively recommend him for projects. He exclusively recommends me for the entire millwork/cabinet package for all his customers. We do this at the bidding stage so that if one of us doesn't get the project, the other still has a chance.
We do what we do best. No commissions paid between each other. We set up parameters for who is responsible for what and when it needs to be done. This way everyone can concentrate on what is making them money and not have to do the other's job without making a dime.
On the surface it seems like no one is making more money. But we have now created double the projects we bid on in a year without spending a dime on advertising. And actually, having a team of subs working on the same jobs year after year makes everybody's end run much smoother and more profitable.
From contributor R:
I'm not interested in debating the merits of all of the horror stories or problem situations posted here beyond acknowledging the fact that sometimes they occur. But I don't believe that your few bad experiences are the rule, at least not for me. And I would hate to see the questioner pass up the opportunity based on your few experiences. What bothers me is that those of you that have had a bad experience with managing a project have written it off as something a cabinetmaker can't accomplish or shouldn't attempt. I think this is bull! If the questioner is assisted with foresight from us on how it can work, he might find he likes doing this and becomes successful at it, even if it means getting licensed to do it. There is too much negativity in your statements and not enough guidance, which I admit I haven't offered much of as well, other than to say if he wants to try it, go for it.
To the original questioner: No question about it, it is a challenge to manage construction projects and you are asking to wear many hats that aren't familiar to you. Maybe you need to start with a smaller project to get a feel for how it will go. I am successful at doing what you are asking and if you want to take the challenge, you will also be successful. If not, that's okay - stick to cabinets.
If you do go ahead, make every effort to keep things very professional and legal. Do what is necessary to protect yourself, but always do what is best for the customer, even if it means walking away from a job. Have good, reputable tradesmen that do what they say they will and are licensed.
From contributor B:
Contributor R, I assume you have a shop. Just curious - what is your shop's overhead?
From contributor R:
Yes, I have a shop. I have been here at the same location for 17 years. I don't see what my overhead has to do with this topic. If this is related to your previous post about "idle time as GC", this is by no means idle time. My customers pay me for the time I spend managing and meeting with the tradesmen and overseeing their work. On top of this, I contract on a cost plus basis, which means that I get 10% (the plus in "cost plus") of the purchase price of appliances, plumbing fixtures, stereo and TV equipment, etc. used on the job. This is no different than any GC gets, except in my area of the Chicago suburbs, the fulltime GC's get 20%. If you don't think this is worthwhile to make a couple of extra trips out to the job site, or phone calls to the subs to keep on top of things, that's okay. I am a control freak and when I build a cabinet job, I want to make sure the plumber or electrician, etc. isn't tearing things up I'll have to repair at my expense later, when I get one of those customers that already assumes it's my responsibility. This is how I make it worthwhile being the GC.
From contributor B:
Contributor R, thanks for the fast reply. However, I'm still unclear on how much is your overhead. Not trying to be confrontational - we all have different points of view. It would just help to understand where you are coming from on this subject.
Doing kitchens for homeowners without a GC does require someone to hold their hand, and if you are doing that, you are right - you must get paid for it somehow if you want to stay in business.
I guess also, I just want the newer guys to consider what a bear overhead is for even a small cabinet shop, and how it dictates practically everything one does after making the commitment to do this thing called cabinetmaking. That was the main thing I did not fully understand when I decided to make cabinets full-time. Sometimes I recall wistfully the days when I was "just" a GC, and how lean my overhead was with no shop and most of my work was "cost plus". Try building cabinets "cost plus"... that would be great, only I can't seem to find any customers who will go for it!
From contributor P:
Okay, this is just my point of view. If you are overseeing the whole operation, that makes you the GC.
Common facts 101.
2. The client can refuse to pay you and there is nothing you can do about it.
3. The client is gambling your lower rates against possible poor workmanship. That penny pinching mentality that drives the client to gamble on an investment such as his property makes me very weary.
4. You are gambling that you will be paid, much as we all do, but knowing that if youíre not paid, you can't do anything about it.
5. Your subcontractors are gambling their work and materials knowing that if you are not paid, they can not collect from you.
6. Everybody is gambling that nothing goes wrong, because they all know that, should something go wrong, your cabinet making insurance is not going to cover it.
Personally, I feel that people who do take such risks are not seeing the whole picture and are tunnel visioning into just another way to make a buck. I think that if that was the point, this would be a very confused world. After all, whatís to stop me from calling myself a doctor and doing a little surgery on weekends just because it turns a buck?
A cabinetmaker makes and sells cabinets. An electrician runs wires and builds circuits according to plans. A plumber runs piping and installs faucets and such. A good plumber should be too busy doing plumbing to do cabinetry. Would you hire a possibly poor plumber to do your cabinetry? I think not.
That is why people ask about your overhead, because if you are out there playing GC, you are not in your shop building cabinets. If you are a cabinet maker, but you donít make cabinets because you are out being an unlicensed GC, then maybe you should think about it a little.
Cabinet maker = +1
Donít you think?
Whatever you do, donít refer to yourself as a GC unless you sat the exam and passed.
And remember, people work hard to own houses and such property. That property is, to most, the most valuable investment they have and we should not take that lightly.
Also, when somebody asks for advice, I think it is only the responsible thing to give them the correct answer (to the best of our ability). If the question was ďcan I smoke while I handle lacquer thinners?Ē, the correct answer is no! There will be those that say they do it all the time. Is that the smart answer? No!
From contributor R:
It occurred to me last night just how ignorant I am sometimes when it comes to seeing the whole picture. Everyone's situation is different and those differences are the basis of how we make decisions about our life. I think that what's not clear here is the background that I come from that leads me to doing business the way I do. Having worked in residential construction since I started with building trades in high school, I went on to get a degree in architecture (although never applied to take the exam for my license). I have since worked for 3 different building contractors before opening my own business 18 years ago. All that said, I believe this background qualifies me to do what I do to the degree I do it, licensed or not. As I said previously, in Illinois, to the best of my knowledge, a license is not required. If it were, I would not hesitate to get one.
I do have a client base that doesn't ask what things cost anymore, just if I can do it! I have been fortunate over the past 18 years to have developed customers with enough money that it doesn't matter what my work costs, and they know I am trustworthy enough to have their confidence, that I bill them fairly and do as I say I will, and have the expertise needed. When a cabinetmaker is working with customers on the middle to low end of the scale, I see it would be impossible to get the kind of deal I have gotten. This would certainly make it harder to convince the customer to work on cost plus, but I still think it can be doable.
As for the fears of a job going bad, I am confident I can get the job done right. I would rather take on the job at a known risk than to leave it in the unknowing hands of a homeowner to GC him/herself. I think you run a greater risk when you have a homeowner/GC running a job when they aren't any more qualified to manage things right than you think I am! Even if it is their house, it should be done right. Also, every day you go to work, you run some risk that you won't get paid. You minimize your risks by doing good work and treating your customers with respect, proving to them through your actions that you are on their side, looking out for their best interest.
Finally, my average monthly operating expenses equal $2,600.00.
from the original questioner:
Wow. I can't believe the responses to my post. Thanks. When I posted the initial thread, I was looking to determine if I was responsible for finding a plumber and electrician, arranging for appliance installations, etc. What I have come to believe from all of these shows and from the large manufacturers of kitchen cabinets is that the customer thinks the person doing the cabinets is the one responsible to see the whole project through. I think they may feel this way because the cabinets are usually the bulk of the project. I am not licensed and don't plan on becoming licensed to be a general contractor. There may be money in it, but I need/want to focus on cabinets. There's money in plumbing, but I'm not going to take on a plumbing job because of it.
I just picked up a kitchen the other day, my second in the 2 1/2 years that I've been in business. Part of me just felt awkward saying, "check with the big warehouse appliance dealers - they generally install the appliances" or "you'll have to find someone to run the electrical boxes to the new appliances" (the appliances that I moved somewhere else). The customer didn't seem to have a problem with it, I just don't want any customer to feel like I'm not giving them the whole package. "You want $20,000 and you won't even install the appliances?!" I don't need to hear that. I have a few connections for the electric and plumbing work, but I have to find a new one because these two aren't what I want in a business relationship.
That brings up another question. Should I charge a 10% finders fee or just give him the jobs with hopes that the favor returns my way sometime? I don't know. We'll see how this kitchen goes and I have an appointment for another one tomorrow.
From contributor J:
Here in Texas, all you need to be a GC is a 4x4 crew cab and a cell phone. Gold necklace and nugget ring helps, but not a necessity. I do cabinets for contractors and interior designers, and on occasion I get stupid and deal directly with the homeowner (bad move). I was out doing a shelf out and final hardware install yesterday, and left because the electricians were there. They need you to do everything for them. "Hey, can you cut us an access hole? Got any screws? How about a hand with the oven?" My lord, just give me some wire nuts, and we'll finish the job for you! We will go back when everyone else is through so we don't have to be their handymen.
From contributor C:
Apparently there are states that do not require a GC to be licensed? I only have experience in Florida and California and the ramifications of contracting without a license in either of these states is not worth any potential monetary gains. If you are not licensed to contract, you should not, regardless of your background. If there are places that allow this, then I have once again learned something.
From contributor R:
Since licensing is not required everywhere, then even more important is the proper application of building permits which are more often a requirement than the license, and hold more value to me, since the inspectors are an excellent means of checks and balances for any construction process.
From contributor B:
On the subject of being licensed to contractÖ In California, if you don't have a contractor's license for the trade you engage in, the owner can refuse to pay you one cent on the basis of you not being licensed. You will have no legal recourse at all. Something else to think about.
The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).
Comment from contributor X:
To the original contributor:
2 - Who hooks up appliances, etc? Generally anything that has to do with water or waste I hook up (including the electical part). The electrical part may not be legal where you are, but I have never had a problem with an inspector for doing this. What I mean by this is that if there is an ice maker in the fridge, generally the electician has already put plugs and cover plates on and after hooking a water supply to the fridge, I'll plug it in and roll it into place (yeah, I know - tough job, but some plumbers won't even do that). Dishwashers same thing, although the electical part is not as simple as plugging it in. When I work on a site where I know the electricians, they will give me the electrical parts I require to hook it up ahead of time, because they know that I will do it right. Actually, they just throw a handful of cable clamps into my toolbox every so often when I see them so I have them when I need one. Why do I do this? I have to test the water and waste lines for the dishwasher anyway, which requires it to be powered up. I can hot wire it or take 5 minutes and hook it up properly and be done with it, so why not just do it right? Same goes for garbourators, instant hot water faucets, etc.
3 - What should the cabinetmaker work with the plumber on? Hopefullly all the planning is done before the rough in is done and the location of everything is already nailed down. When that happens, rough-ins are all where they should be (providing I did my job right) and finishing is easy. What happens, though, is that a customer buys a vintage dishwasher off E-Bay to complement their vinyl couch and everything is out of whack. If you can work with the plumber to find a way to make it fit, you will have found someone that you can work with in the future. Generally, I require nothing from the cabinetmakers unless they are also the counter top people. The counter tops are generally cut out for sinks by them, and I do the faucet holes, etc. This may be different where you live, but is the norm where I live. The exception is stone counters - the counter top people cut the tops and bore the holes for faucets, and in the case of undermount sinks, install the sinks. Other than the oddball situations, you shouldn't need to help a plumber out for much of anything.
4 - Someone mentioned finding good subs to work with - great idea. If you can find some reliable people to work with, everything goes well and all issues are easily solved. However, I don't like the idea of being expected to pay 10% of a job for referals as has been mentioned by other contributors. Good business breeds good business and if someone is worthy of recommendation, I'll recommend them free of charge and hope that they do the same for me. The truth is, I see a lot of kitchens and baths in need of renovation and when I get asked if I know someone that would be good to talk to about it, I'm not going to tell them about the guy who charges me unless he is outstanding at what he does.
Comment from contributor L:
I have had the same problem. Now I tell the customers "Plumbing and electrical are licensed trades. In Florida it is a felony to practice the trade without a license."
I do this mostly because they do not want to pay what it is worth to hook up or install.
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