Bid Pricing For Cabinet Jobs

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How to figure costs and prices? A start-up cabinetmaker gets an earful of good advice. April 14, 2005

I have just leased a space where I am in the process of putting together a cabinet shop. I've been in the woodworking business for ten years, but I've always worked for other people. The problem I'm having is figuring out the best way to bid jobs, mostly residential cabinets. I don't know the going rate for custom residential cabinets. I would think that it would be a linear foot price, but I don't know where to begin. Can someone out there give me some advice?

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor A:
To find a base to start from, I would take an 8' section of base and wall cabinets and do a material list of the materials you plan to use. Allow for one sink base, one drawer base 3 or 4, and a regular drawer-door base, three 32" uppers with doors and 8' counter top. Add up all this, then figure how long it should take you to build and finish them times the hourly rate you charge (overhead should be included in this amount ), plus profit. Then divide by 8, and this should give you a baseline to start from. It is good for quick estimates. Remember that you will always have to add in extras as the client asks for more and more. Different cabinets and styles will affect pricing somewhat, as will the cost of different materials.

From contributor B:
Search the archives here in top right corner of this page by entering the following search terms.

1. Operating costs
2. Bidding
3. Pricing

There are hundreds of threads to help you out. If you havenít done so already, immediately create a comprehensive business plan. If all your experience is on the shop floor and you have no business experience you will soon find out that building is the easiest part.

From contributor C:
The lineal price method has always worked for me with typical kitchens. Floor to ceiling cabinets (ovens) would use the height for the lineal feet measurement. Any base or upper would use the larger dimension (width or height) as the lineal measurement. $60-$75 per foot is a good starting point for the basic box, then add on any feature such as: drawers, doors, hinges, finished ends, pullout shelves, lazy susans, etc. As a rule of thumb, whatever feature you have to buy such as doors, at least doubles the price to the customer. Features you make in the shop such as drawers should be in the $75 range with pullouts around $100. This pretty much covers my overhead as well.

From contributor B:
Starting at $60-$75 a foot? Holy cow! I will close my shop and buy everything from you to sell to my customers.

From contributor D:
I think he forgot the zero. If not, I'm going to buy from him too.

From contributor C:
As I said, $60 a lineal foot is a starting point for a raw box with a face frame. Doors, drawers, etc. added later. When all is said and done, a typical kitchen I build averages out to about $275 a lineal foot. For a house with 40 lineal feet of cabinets that's $11,000. For $6000 (labor, materials and overhead) that leaves me about $5000 profit for about 2 weeks work. That seems good to me and has pretty consistently given me a 6 figure yearly income. If someone has a better system I'm all ears. I'm ready for your orders gentlemen.

From contributor E:
I was also surprised at that pricing. To put it in perspective, I was recently reading a consumer magazine where they were telling customers (going from memory here) that average pricing was:

$65 - $175/lf for economy to standard cabs
$200 - $425/lf for semi-custom cabs
$500 - $1000/lf for custom cabs

If I remember correctly, the magazine also pointed out that for mouldings, appliques, etc. the price would increase. Now that's for "industry averages"... At $275/lf, it would place you at half of the low-end of custom cabs, and just shy of the mid-range price of semi-custom for custom cabinetry in this articles chart.

What I'm sure that a lot of guys would benefit from is how you are pulling in a six-figure income from charging, from my perception, so little... I know of guys who own million-plus companies who still bring in less than $100K personally per year.

More curious yet, is how much more you would be making if you charged the low-side on the chart for custom ($500) per linear foot.

As another example, if you go to ImproveNet's Kitchen Estimator (what comes up under "kitchen estimator" in Google), Chicago zipcode, for 8 linear feet of base and upper cabs, they list:

$1,497 to $1,797 for Modular: Economy (or $94 - $112/lf)
$2,019 to $2,422 for Modular: Standard (or $126 - $151/lf)
$2,559 to $3,070 for Modular: Luxury ($160 - $192/lf)
$9,930 to $11,916 for Custom (or $621 - $745/lf)

They say that "the data in this planner is supplied to ImproveNet by Marshall & Swift / Boeckh, the nation's leading supplier of residential cost data and estimating systems to the insurance industry."

If the average custom shop has a $65-$125 per hour shop rate, how in the world is it possible for you to charge only $60/lf for a raw box AND face-frame, which includes materials? Then again, if you average 4-foot boxes/frames, I guess it could work out...

Just don't sell yourself short, as if you only charged 30% more, which, according to your numbers, would put you at $357/lf (I think you charge 100% more - $550/lf), which is still low for custom-cabs, you could be making dramatically more for you and your family.

Then again, maybe you've somehow carved out a niche for yourself. If you are consistently pulling in a six-figure income doing this, kudos - those who are not have something to learn from you.

A six-figure income in woodworking is certainly nothing to sneeze at.

From contributor F:
Wow - lineal ft pricing is a lot more complicated than I thought it was!

What constitutes 40 ft of kitchen? It looks like contributor Cís would be all the cabs laid on the floor in a line with the full height cabs on their side. Others would have the uppers stacked on the lowers. So contributor Cís 40' would be about 20' according to contributor E and contributor A? In this context, contributor Cís $275 becomes about $550.

Apparently in contributor C's shop two 2' wide x 7' tall cabs = 14'.

What constitutes a "modular luxury" kitchen? Is it possible to get a "custom standard"? What's the lineal ft price for that?

This discussion demonstrates what I don't like about per foot estimating. It seems simple enough, but it gets complicated pretty quickly as you try to make it actually work in the real world.

When asked how much we charge per lineal foot I usually say between $100 and $800 - a pretty useless piece of info. "Your kitchen will cost between $4000 and $32,000, depending on the options you want."

I really like Home Depot's approach to this. The ad says you can have a kitchen for $125 per foot, then there's a 3' x 6" block of barely legible fine print with all kinds of disclaimers. It's based on a 10' x 10' L shaped "starter kitchen". Six or so feet of this is appliance. You get 3 or 4 lowers with like 2 drawers total. One of the uppers is a 14" H. fan cabinet. Crown, finish base, knobs etc are not included.

The problem is there's a perception among many customers that Home Depot's, contributor Cís, contributor E's and my lineal foot are all the same. To me it seems that how "long" a kitchen is has little to do with the final cost, and is one of the least important statistics in a design.

From contributor A:
Every body has their ideas on what to charge for cabinets, and tops. On a custom oak kitchen L-shaped 8' X 10' with raised panel doors and seven drawers and a laminated top with a wood edge , and one 36" pantry cabinet 84' high - my pricing would be like this:

Take the length each way 8 + 10+ 3 = 21'. Not subtracting for stove or dishwasher. I then multiply this number by $400.00 per ft. - this includes uppers, bases, and top. This equals $8400.00. It would take 2 weeks to build and finish it, and approximately $2200.00 in materials. Next, within 60 miles I would charge $400.00 to deliver it to job site. If we needed to install it I would charge a flat rate of $1500.00, taking 2 days time if needed.

Thus, the finished kitchen would be around $500.00 per ft. I have been doing this for 20 plus years and it seems to work well for us. We do make all our own doors and dovetail drawers.

For this money, if a client wants a couple of slide out trays I will just throw them in at no extra charge. It is good for relations and future jobs from word of mouth. We are also in Vermont where I find pricing seems to differ from other parts of the country. And yes, we are making good money at this.

From contributor E:
To contributor F: The numbers from ImproveNets estimator describe it as lineal feet but separates it into uppers and lowers, which are really not lineal feet. It is not accurate, as it should be running feet. Unless something has changed over the years, lineal foot pricing is supposed to be floor to ceiling times the number of feet. Pricing levels remains the same, just plug in your formula for calculating.

Then there is running feet, where you measure the uppers and then lowers and divide by 12. Of course, you could always use cubic foot pricing, but that gets to be a little complicated.

ďThe problem is there's a perception among many customers that Home Depot's, contributor C's, contributor E's and my lineal foot are all the same." We actually price ours out by the square foot which is more accurate for pricing for both customers and the company; then for customers, we convert it to lineal foot pricing, so they can better understand it.

Use whatever formula works for you, but if you are a custom manufacturer, remember to charge for it.

To contributor A: Your pricing is lineal foot pricing. $500 lf for uppers/lowers and tops? I know you said you are making money, but like I was pointing out to contributor C, you could be making more, but each of us decides what we are worth, and if that works for you, more power to you.

Here's a question - How many of you have increased your pricing due to the increased cost of ply, and how many of you have increased your prices due to annual price increases (payroll, insurance, etc.)? I've talked to some local guys, and they are still charging the same price (not all of them), even though their direct costs have increased. It seems to stay that way from year-to-year.

From contributor A:
To contributor E and the original questioner: If you read my post you will see these prices are for the type of cabinets I described. I also noted that I would add for extras, such as most slide-outs , lazy susans , crown , and such. Different types of tops will also change cost. Also different woods would affect pricing. I do adjust for cost of overhead, materials, and labor. Most of the time we do not install our work, just do job site deliveries. The question was how to begin to find a base line to start with. I think this is a simple way to start - but you have to do your homework in the beginning.

From contributor F:
To contributor E: I'm with you on sq ft. We charge by cab, by drawer, etc. plus sq ft of fronts/finishing and crown and whatever.
Fortunately I use a CAD program that does all this automatically while I tweak the lay-out. And we definitely do change our price as things change. Spreadsheets make this very easy to do. Want cherry interiors? No problem - just plug the price into the material cell and we've got a new estimate. When I ran a large millwork shop we used lineal feet (length on the wall) for only the most standard line-ups, so I guess I was being a little facetious. We used it just as you describe.

In my experience there is no magic per foot price for custom work. Even for production work you need to tweak it for different materials and finishes. Just read contributor A's disclaimer list. He's right. It's just a starting point. It can be made to work. It's just not as simple as it seems to the contractors and clients. And it doesn't work for me at all anymore.

From contributor B:
To contributor F: Does that mean you do drawings before coming up with estimate? Do you use these for estimate and proposal? Or do you give them price ranges then get a deposit, and then do drawings?

From contributor F:
If somebody comes in off the street I'll give a range based on my experience - what the local market will bear, how much we need the work etc. If we're both still interested I do a quick drawing for quote. At this point it's not much to look at. More detail comes with the deposit. I work in a shop that is well established with a number of builders and designers in the area. They know our work and the level of service we provide. Most of the jobs come via this route and these people are already familiar with our pricing in general. In this case I take their design drawings and draw them into my system to get a firm bid. Front lists, hardware lists, parts lists and labor estimates are a by-product of clicking cabinet symbols into a drawing. These are summarized to a spreadsheet where the appropriate costs are applied to the various totals.

For designers that we've done a lot of work for I have developed some ballpark per foot pricing based on jobs we've done for them in the past. They use these to see if the clients who come to them are serious. The designer presents a range - $15k to $20K; $30 to $40 etc. and it's nothing binding. My final bid for a job has nothing to do with those numbers.

From contributor H:
To contributor A: In other words, you are charging @ $160 lf. for base cabs, plus $160 for uppers and top. Red oak here in California is used for the fireplace. My last kitchen project with 57 lf of cabinets ran at $30,000 with painted and glazed doors. In your example I would have charged 18 lf for base plus 18 lf for uppers plus the pantry at 6 lf. = 42lf at $526 = $22,092.

From contributor A:
To contributor H: You are correct, that is basic concept. I find that by taking the overall footage and combining all of upper and lower together with top if I know the type and style, it is a quick way of estimating a job.

I have many numbers for different setups and this works well for me. However, the market here will not support the money you get where you are. For the painted and glazed doors I would have added an upcharge of about $1500.00 because of the extra finishing steps required. $22,092.00 plus $1,500.00 = $23,592.00. I would have liked to get $30,000.00.

I'm not sure how you started out with 57' and ended with 42' Ė this equals 15'of missing cabinets by my count. If stove and dishwasher is in the run I do not subtract them out. I figure that stove makes up for the cabinet over the refrigerator and the inside corner is really charged both ways or 2 x 2 = 400.00 plus 400.00; in an L-shape I measure to the longest points of counter tops including stove, and add pantry last.Now I am getting confused, but my way works well for us.

From contributor I:
I've always had a difficult time pricing by units or feet. Custom work does not often repeat from job to job. You can get a pretty good handle on what it takes you to build a drawer or a panel door but the species, style, finish and detailing are always changing. Like you I have worked for large well equipped shops. I don't have industrial equipment in my small shop. I don't have $12-$15 an hour help. It doesn't make sense for me to buy plywood by the lineal ft. I don't have a fork lift or the room to store extra material. Every step of my process is more time consuming and expensive than it might be in a production shop. However their overhead and management costs probably balance things a little. For example, I did two cabinets that cost $5100 installed - they happened to be priced separately from other work. The other bidder, a large cabinet shop, was $6040 and I doubt the specs would be identical. My shelves, solid edge banding, and carcass are 3/4" A2 birch fully painted and top coated inside. Adjustable shelf holes are grommeted. Top quality euro hinges and a new 8 step finish technique for me. Thereís about $800 in materials.

I spent 8 hrs at least meeting with the customer four times and deciding on the plan. I spent 6hrs practicing the finish and making samples in "just the right colors". I spent 25 hrs finishing and 4 hrs to install. If I charge $45 per hr, that leaves me 52 hrs to get materials and build the project. My overhead costs come out of my hourly price. Did I do OK or am I too expensive? Only I know and the same will be true for you. I rarely have a competitive bidder but customers usually want to know the cost. The real value becomes evident 10 yrs down the road. Does the customer still love and recommend me? Are the cabinets still functioning and looking good and am I still in business and happy? For me the only way to price is by each job and the way I would build. I don't worry about the other guyís price much. I've seen too many come and go. You have to be somewhere in the ball park though.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor J:
I own a custom/ production (non modular design) shop in the central US and we are turning about a 37% profit margin on the following formula;

Builders Standard Set (our main source of income)

Base $97.00 LF
Upper $84.00 LF
Tall $165.00 LF
Island $170.00 LF

We do simple additions for extra drawer stacks, lazy susans and etc.
Our standard contractor set includes some rollouts in select lowers and talls, 4 ĹĒ crown, full ĺĒ ply case construction, raised panel ends and full raised panel doors constructed form oak. Our standard sets do look custom and we build for homes in the 250,000 to 600,000 range. We on average produce 3 to 5 complete sets per week and buy our raw materials in volume but even if we didnít, charging any more than we do would cause us a tremendous loss of business. Our custom formulas are way different and I will spare the details as they are rather premium and coincide with what some of you guys are saying.