Bidding Against Big-Box Home Centers

For custom work, you may be able to match a home center's cost and offer more and better features. July 5, 2011

Does anyone have experience bidding against Lowe's? I have a lead on a job and the clients have already been to Lowe's. I have a small one man operation and can usually win against the bigger shops that are still in business, but have no experience with the big box stores.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor J:
Good luck - all the customer will look at is the outside. So it's your job to show them your difference. But the big boxes take plastic. Do you? I don't and it has cost me at times.

From contributor C:
The mistake that I still make at times is trying to bid according to what I think the competition will charge. Bad idea. I end up with jobs that pay terribly, or when I have employees, they can end up costing me money. Bid what you need to bid and show your potential customer why you are the better choice based on other factors than price.

From contributor H:
Lowe's and Home Depot sell different lines of cabinets. If you are bidding against their stock line, you will lose money trying to compete. If you are bidding against their custom order cabinets, you will most likely be able to beat them without cutting your prices at all.

Walk into either one of those stores and open the cabinets to one of the high-end displays. Taped to the back of a door will be a price list for what the cabinets on that display would have cost. This will give you a good idea of what their prices are like and it will most likely surprise you how high they are.

Make sure to ask them how much Lowe's is going to charge for install and point out if that is included in your bid.

From contributor D:
For me, one of the best ways to get a job from the big box, besides pure quality, is to change and improve the layout, and offer them designs and options not available unless they go custom. No filler strips, no particleboard, no voids, no wasted space. Sell yourself and your services and product.

From contributor M:
I agree about pointing out the drawbacks and limitations that box stores have, but do it with tact. I compete with them on window treatments and unless the customer is shopping for really cheap, more times than not, we get the order.

From contributor C:
I agree with contributor M. You can point out the benefits of using your company vs. the big box stores, but do not bad-mouth them. Bad-mouthing is an extreme sign of unprofessionalism. Remember: people do business with people. Let them know what your company can personally do for them. Let them know that their project will be treated with care and respect because you and your employees (if/when you get some), take personal responsibility for each and every piece that will be going into their project. Let them know that you personally will stand behind your work.

From the original questioner:
Thanks to everyone who posted a reply. It was all valuable info and reaffirmed some of my own thoughts.

From contributor O:
Give them your bid. Talk about your business: the work you've done, love of the custom woodworking business, experience, show them samples of your work, stuff like that. I'd say the client probably knows construction business and they probably want you to do the work, so go get the job.

From contributor S:
I had Lowe's price a couple of kitchens for me, and then I raised my prices. You can not compete with the in-stock, unfinished cabinets they sell. Besides, they are import junk, by custom cabinet standards. You can compete with their "custom order and wait 6 weeks" lines. Don't go by what they have posted on the cabinets. If you ask, you will find that the actual per foot cost is about double what is posted by the time you get them to look like the showroom samples. Typically about $350 a foot, which I have no problem competing with. All it usually takes is showing a customer how his 33" space will have 3- 11" cabinets rather that a 22", a 9", and 2" of blank filler. I frequently send customers who haven't decided on a style to go look at my local Lowe's or HD for ideas. They all come back to order.