I started the new year out with a new policy. No renderings for the job until I get the contract signed and a down payment. So far, 3 bids out with no results. It's hard to give someone a bid (they are averaging from $4,000.00 - $5,000.00) without them seeing what they are paying for. But too many times I have given bids with a rendering only to hear "thanks for the design." Hope I made the right decision
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor Z:
It's a tough call. In busy times, I'd refrain from drawing it up... Sort of like holding it for ransom. Or start with a simple drawing and not do revisions without the down payment. Perhaps leaving out all the dimensions.
Now, on a very large kitchen, I did an elevation with call-outs, because I felt the need to illustrate the details that were responsible for the price. It was a quick draw, with KCDw, and I'm taking a chance. But I want this job, and the more I look like a pro, the better. This will at least make the competition shoot for apples to apples, giving me a fair shot.
I used to print my drawings on red paper, thinking the color wouldn't fax. I don't know if that really works.
I recently bid on a plan done by a factory cabinet company and the client wrote the cost he said the quote was on the plans he gave me. He wrote the cost at about $10,000 less than what I thought the kitchen would really sell for. I got close to his number, but he still found someone to "substantially" reduce my number.
It's all a dirty little game. They play theirs, we just gotta play ours. And make enough to stay in business. In the end, we can't give it away. If you're sending out bids and hearing nothing, maybe including a simple drawing would fill some of that dead time sitting by the phone?
You may want to watermark your preliminary drawings and include a Copyright Infringement Statement. It's well worth the few hundred dollars spent with your attorney. All of our drawings include both. And of course there are no guarantees that your drawing won't be used. It would have to be some pretty incredible and extenuating circumstances for us to enforce the policy. Since your ego is the only thing that wins in court.
If you bring a portfolio of your work with you, use real photos (not printouts), and add a line underneath that shows the street and city (not the number of the address) of the project. It shows that these are real projects versus something copied off the internet and printed out.
Set yourself up as the expert, from your company image to measuring and designing a kitchen and inputting in your laptop ASAP (within 20-30 minutes). They don't know you and want to know they are in good hands.
I bring my laptop and we look at the kitchen from all angles while the contract is discussed. I then ask for the job.
Most people can't imagine what things will look like. A picture is a very powerful sales tool. Clients are impressed with a computer presentation. When they ask for a print out of the rendering, I either hand them the contract and say sign here and it's yours, or tell them I will sell it to them for a refundable amount of $250 if I get the job.
I do a couple quick renderings and maybe even revisions, but they get no copies in hand until the contract is complete. This is all done on the laptop or with printed drawings at our shop or their home.
What gets old for us about this whole process, though it's no different for any product, is that you are perpetually trying to educate the customer. It's a very tedious process and we have even come across situations where a customer decides they are willing to accept the lesser product after receiving the free education. The only hope is that they do it early in the process rather than late.
What we often find is that when you go the "apples to apples" route, they can't even find an apple for comparison. That's to say they go to the boxes or other sources and can't find anything of comparable quality to what we are supplying. At this point they begin to wonder "If it's okay for everyone else..."
We operate in a pretty rural area and have a reputation of being over the top, though we are often well below. I once had a guy tell me the only tools needed to build a house were a chainsaw, a hammer, and a shotgun. The chainsaw to cut your boards, hammer to nail them together, and a shotgun with "punkin balls" (slugs) to shoot the holes for your water lines.
What the heck? They asked their friend how much was that; they know how your prices are. It just frustrates me that people have no consideration of your time. What do they think, you just hit a magic button and the design and price pops out?
I know it's crude, but we often get to the contract using rough per linear foot or square foot pricing. I make it clear that these are simply rough budgetary numbers, but they let you know where the project will end up. Often I give three ranges, one for low end, one for mid to high, and one for extreme custom. I let the customer choose to move forward or not based on these budgetary numbers.
It's a luxury to be able to do this, as we do not need work, but I do aggressively pursue every job offered to us regardless of whether we need it or not. I don't overprice if we are busy. I price every job fairly and if we are booked, you go into the queue.
Just thinking of it that way is absurd. Your time is worth something. Giving these drawing away for free will bite you in the butt. You work on the drawing for a couple of hours, then hand it off to the client along with a price. They reject your price and you don't get the job. Two years later they ask you in to bid on some trim work. You go in and there is the kitchen you designed. They got someone else to make it. They were able to charge less because the client just handed them your concept and said price this. Of course he can do it for less - he didn't have any work in the design.
I have clients that go through 4, 5, 6 different renderings before they know which direction they want to head in. You can spend 20, 30, 40 hours making these drawing/designs only to have the client go, "Eh, I don't like it. What else you got?" And expect you to come up with more ideas, for free.
If you charge them for this, they want to have input, to speed the process up because it is costing them money to have their ideas put on paper. It is just the fair thing to do for both parties. You want the job and they want the design. They will end up with the design they like, but will you end up with the job?
Every potential client takes a weighted approach in my view: Have I done work for them before? I might make my markup higher, plus give them free plans. Are they a referral? Same as above. I see a better chance of getting these jobs over competitors. Is it a cold caller? Probably not.
In the end, the more I need the work, the more likely I'll sweeten the pot. A new client last year had meetings about their kitchen for 3 months, to which I said I'm not revising anything without a deposit. I did the job. I would rather be seen as a guide to take them from dream to actuality, whereas others may be seen as not getting involved without "show me the money." And as we all want their money, short of by gunpoint, I will do whatever I think I need to do to get it.
You need to figure costs based on your shop rate. If you don't want to make a profit on it, you can charge less and break even. But why should you use your time when they may not even be a client, just a tire kicker?
I currently do not charge (sort of) to have the initial appointment. The only reason I do that is because some schmuck decades ago decided to do free estimates and it has trickled down and now everyone expects free estimates from people who work in wood construction.
When is the last time you saw a plumber or an electrician do a free estimate? They don't. They charge a service fee. Before they walk through your door they let you know that it is going to be $75 (or whatever) to just look at your problem. It is usually taken off the bid if they get the job, but if they don't, they have been paid for their time.
Why is it different for us? Why is our time worth nothing? Why should we give out our valued services for nothing other than to have the opportunity to bid on a job?
Many of the contractors on forums I frequent have been starting to charge for estimates. It has been helpful to their business practices. Has it lowered the amount of estimates they go on? Yes. But those people are likely just tire kickers anyway. The jobs they do go out to bid have a better pick up rate than when they weren't charging. A client that understands your time is valuable is the kind of client you want.
For a service call, I charge $1.00. I have had people refuse to let me come out because of this. These are likely not customers anyway. That they think my time is worth less than one dollar shows me this. They are showing how cheap they are right at the beginning.
The way I bid I know exactly what cabinet types, how many, how much crown, how many finished ends, and any other accessories the customer wanted. I also know what I have bid for each room. This really helps when I go to do the drawings and give them a final price.
As far as I know, I have never lost a job because I wasn't willing to give away my drawing for free.
The client then wanted some kitchen cabinets. I made a design and handed over the drawings after 3 changes were made. They gave the job to another shop that was only $300.00 cheaper.
Don't ask me how, but they wanted me to come over and look at another job. I did and asked to see the kitchen. Guess what? There was my design. I wonder where the $300.00 difference came from?
My frustration is hearing about bids that total close to just my materials cost.
I have not been asked to review and bid on other's shop drawings, but I have been asked to replicate designs or aspects of designs featured in magazines or catalogs using custom measurements.
I have not done replications of others' work, and I would not feel comfortable doing outright copies of others' work (unless antiques or the sort). There are many instances where the drawings set me apart from competitors with far more experience than me. They lack the modern convenience of a laptop and the knowledge to use one (except as a cash register) or they rely on an outlet to sell their factory goods for them. This is fine if the consumer can live with "standard" or doesn’t mind going to a big box or Ikea and going with their design.
A lot of the time they don’t fit because the homeowner supplied the numbers or they want things switched after delivery of the stock chipboard cabs. These are not my customers, although I get calls for quotes or “can you fix this” jobs all the time.
If I could charge for drawings consistently, that would be great. The truth is, if I charged on some jobs, the customer would walk and never know what I am capable of. This is a seller and it's not easy money, but money (read time) well spent.
My dilemma is becoming consistent with policy and looking forward; hard to do when you’re only a year and a half full time and a one man shop.
The other dilemma is I do a lot of e-mail quotes from referrals and that could require a rendering or two to nail down the job, although for the most part I give five or six quotes for every three I earn.
Obviously, the jobs you do get. (It is the same answer as who pays for the overhead of having a showroom. It is the customers who buy, and not the people who come in and don't buy. Who pays for the gas for the car of a traveling salesman? The customers who buy, not those who don't. Are you suggesting that we only allow people into showrooms if they pay admittance or that salesmen charge for sales calls? Of course not.
All I suggest is that some businessmen may reasonably consider drawings in the same way. If you do not, fine by me!
Do you charge people if they call you up and ask you about a project they might be interested in having you bid? Who pays for that overhead (your time, the phone, the office you are in)? Who pays for advertising?
Always the same answer. The customers who buy. (And I realize that if the cost of that overhead - the drawings, showroom, gas, telephone, advertising, your time talking to prospective clients - exceeds your ability to cover those costs (and others), you are out of business. However, if you sit in a shop and will not speculate even to the point of picking up the phone or answering the door unless you collect up front for that overhead, then you are out of business.
In the end I can see the charge from drawings argument from two ways, and I guess I would resolve the question by charging if the market will bear it, but if that leaves you sitting alone without any jobs, perhaps you need to get some drawings out there.
A person calling up on the phone and wasting a few minutes of my time is a lot different than spending hours on drawings and a presentation and not getting paid.
It is obvious that you value your time less than I value mine. It is the way you wish to do business and that is fine by me. But you are giving away money. You are perpetuating the free estimate mentality that has brought the construction industry down to people believing that our time is not of value.
Let's say you are working for someone as an employee. The guy tells you when you go home, you have to do these drawings. But he isn't going to pay you for them. Is it fair? Would you do it willingly? I would hope not. This is the same thing.
I have given a lot of stuff and my time away for free over the 20 years I have been in business. Do most people appreciate it? Nope. They see it as a game. See how much stuff they can get you to do without you getting paid for it. See how much they can knock your price down and still get what they want done for less than you need to run your shop with proper profits.
Don't undersell yourself. You have a talent that a lot of people don't have. It is worth money, and you should be compensated for it, on whatever you do.
You have equipment. That has value, even if it was paid for years ago. You have paid a lot of money for this stuff, learned how to use it and maintained it.
I don't know how you do your drawings/renderings. But you had to learn how to do it so the presentation will make a sale. You put time and effort into the renderings. It sounds like you go to their house as a norm, and that should be compensated for.
Try an experiment and charge the $1.00 service/estimate charge and see how many people really value your time. You will be surprised. $1 is worth about 1 minute of your time. Yet you are willing to spend hours with them. And they are unwilling to part with that $1.
I have been making a six figure income for over 15 years in my small 4 man shop, and continue to do so in this economy. And all the while a part of our marketing has been to provide creative hand drawn cabinet designs when necessary.
Notice I said "when necessary." In order to give a bid, somebody has to have come up with a design. Sometimes this is done by the architect, sometimes by another designer, and sometimes it's us. It is often our creativity that sets us apart.
There is also something to be said for the relationship that you develop when you're working on a design with a client. It's an intimate thing. You are asking them very personal questions about lifestyle choices, design tastes, who cooks in the family, do they eat together, etc. You can't help but form a bond during this process.
Who else is sitting with your client while you're sitting with them? Nobody. Develop their trust, get them emotionally involved, make a connection. They want to give you the job. Don't blow it by being an ass with "this policy" and "that policy."
I fell into this business 20 years ago with no business training. I was lucky to end up in a trade where I am graded on a curve. I don't have to be a brilliant businessman to succeed; I only have to be better than my competition.
I use this as a selling point. I'll say in effect - "Here is something that is sorely missing from our industry" - and then I'll produce our price list. I go on - "We'll provide you with a price tonight, and this will either make sense for you or it won't, but unlike many in our industry, we don't pull a number out of the air and hope you bite at it."
We can do this because we know our costs, and the amount of profit necessary to maintain our business. It's the first red flag that goes up when someone cannot provide me a price. Don't you know your costs? The Big Box companies know their costs, right? When we do an in-home presentation, we are there to get the business, not dither around and hope for it. Give them the confidence to choose you on the first call.
On average, we spend about 1 1/2 - 2 1/2 hours on a presentation, and that includes either manual drawings or computer drawings.
One easy way to avoid the whole leaving the drawings thing, is to either attach your manual drawing page to your price list (which you can't leave behind) or don't bring a printer. If they ask for drawings after seeing it on your laptop, tell them that "Absolutely, we provide drawings! Once we go under contract, we actually provide you with not only one but a total of three sets of drawings - 3-D, Elevation and Overhead. We provide you with a view of all angles of your project. These will be provided next week, when we measure everything down to the millimeter and reconfirm all your choices."
If they ask for drawings without an agreement, my first question would be "Why?" There's no reason not to charge for them. If they are looking for goodwill, you just gave it to them in the form of a free estimate. How much do you plan on giving away?
When you give them a ballpark figure, that is the number that sticks in their head. If you go down, that is great (for them). If you go up, they call you a thief. Doesn't matter if you are giving them a fair price or not.
Another thing is the pain in the butt factor. Some clients need a lot of hand holding and guidance. This is hard to figure out in a single meeting. It can be a costly mistake to give a normal price to one of these people.
It is great to know that you have a handle on your prices. I don't think I will ever be able to give them a price on the spot and be comfortable with it. Contributor K, do you do custom cabinets, or do you use standard customizable cabinets, or standard boxes that you get from someone else? Big difference. If I made standard boxes I could easily come up with a price list. But every cabinet I make is different from any other cabinet I have ever made. Totally custom.
As far as costs for wood go, that is a no-brainer. You don't charge only your cost for materials - work it into your SF or LF pricing. If you buy your doors, etc. from a supplier, they don't give you a different pricing schedule each time you call. They have one that they update annually. Works the same with you, but you need to know your costs.
I honestly don't understand how people can work without a pricelist. You call your suppliers every time you prepare a quote? I mean, they could have changed their prices, right? Makes no sense. Your COGS should already take this into account. Anomalies like the gas spike a couple of years ago have to be added, but think about it. If you are paying $2 BF for oak, a 20% price hike would make it $2.40, and that is only going to impact your profit variably.
Of course, you need a profit to account for such a difference. Unfortunately, many shops are stuck in a cycle of robbing Peter to pay Paul (even during good times), and the concept of a company profit that is separate from their personal pay, which should be included in their costs, is something they hope for but don't implement. If you know your prices (and this takes effort), it is much easier to plot your path to an income.
Contributor K, to me, pricing a very complex job in a single meeting screams of vinyl replacement windows, Sears siding salesman, used car salesman. Pricing single elements if they are stock or perhaps semi-custom, for sure. This would be things like tile, carpet/floor covering subs, drywall and finishing.
If I were a homeowner sitting down with you for the first visit on a very large complex job in which you were going to handle the entire project (GC or doing it yourself), and you were able to crank out a quote in a 2 hour meeting, I would run for the hills.
We regularly do very large complex projects that involve massive restructuring all the way through to 100% custom millwork, custom cabinets (made by us or subbed to another local shop). I know my prices and have databases tracking my costs, both recent and from many jobs ago, but there is absolutely no way I could generate a detailed quote and proposal on the spot in a 2, 3, 4, or 5 hour sit down. It is simply impossible.
Most savvy homeowners would easily put two and two together that your numbers will have to be extremely inflated to produce a quote in minutes to a couple hours for anything other than a small job.
Furthermore, the design process itself is one of revisions on top of revisions. If we are talking all off the shelf components (plug and play), that is one thing, but with large quantities of custom work, or even one of a kind work, there is simply no way. I don't think any part of this thread relates to spec homes or cookie cutter construction, not that I am saying that's what you do.
Perhaps your clients are vastly different that those I have dealt with for the past 20 years, but I doubt it. I'm not trying to stubbornly hold onto antiquated ways. As I am sure many here do, we regularly do work that may require a day or even a week of contemplation, engineering, design, and planning, just to figure out how to build what the customer wants. Only then can we even begin to price it. This type of work is quite common for us. And odd/custom doesn't mean a blank check - it's often quite the opposite.
While I don't mean to sound insulting, your position screams of naivety to me. I consider myself extremely good at quoting. I rarely lose a job we quote, but that is really due to other conditions. Many times when I am walking around a job for the first time, I have a number(s) in my head for materials, labor, subcontractors, and so on. I also have a number for the overall project. These numbers become instinctual based on experience, but they are not to be trusted. In the days following, these numbers will usually be off only slightly from the actuals that come in. That said, no database of pricing can handle the complexity of our average job. There are just too many variables. This doesn't even take into account that there may be something on a given job that you only do once or twice a year, maybe less. Having current pricing for everything at all times is impossible.
Again, I could easily do it if I inflated my quote, which my market would have to be willing to bear. That would be nice, but it just aint reality.
From personal experience I am not sure why you are spending so much time drawing jobs. Typical kitchen (20k for cabinets), meet customer for approx 2-3 hours, including measure up. Preliminary CAD drawings in Cabinet Vision, includes renderings, 3-4 hours (usually includes 3 layout options in plan view only). CV also does my quoting and when I get the job, I have drawings and CNC program written. 7 hours = $350.00. Not that $350 is nothing, but I can lose way more than that missing a part of a commercial job when quoting or a small mistake in the shop.
I get 60-70% of what I quote, and I don't get many tire kickers.
I can only assume it comes down to the ratio of quotes to jobs landed by how personally one takes it when a customer slaps them across the face.
The 350 is easy to overlook when the work is flowing, but when things get competitive, I am sure it gets annoying. By these numbers you are talking a day at the desk for every job landed. That's easier to swallow when you have 10 guys in the shop.
Being directly involved (and doing) much of each segment myself, it would be very rough if I had to do four losing quotes for every 6 I landed. I just don't think I would physically have the time to make and produce 28 hours of lost quotes, and do the 4 hours of paperwork per day.
If you are the guy doing the drawings, and that is all you do, and you have 10 guys producing product, I can see giving up some of your work in trade for getting jobs. But for us smaller shops, 1-3 men, there is less time to do the drawings versus getting money making production done.
Most of my drawings are done on my time away from the shop. When I am at the shop I want to get 10-12 hours of woodworking done and not have to deal with paperwork. When I go home I deal with family until about 10pm and then I put in a few hours on drawings. So these drawings are done on my "free" time. Time I could be watching TV or sleeping. But they have to get done and I want to get compensated for that time.
Contributor B, are you the owner of the 10 man shop? And what hours do you put into the business a day?
I figure I put about 90 hours a week into my business. 60 of them are on actual production work and the rest on something else, such as drawing or figuring out how to make something work.
I think there's room for both approaches (and anything in between). The customers who took my drawings elsewhere and got a lower price? Probably not the right fit anyway.
I do try to qualify clients before I invest design time. If I feel unsure, I'll ask outright if they've ever contracted with anyone to do custom cabinet work, and if they have a specific budget in mind. I have no problem giving out a price range early on if I have something to go on.
The majority of homes out there are pre-2000 construction and not McMansions, and if you're doing the type of business you are describing, you should already know the limitations and advantages in that.
With the exception of a full remodel, which involves more product samples and choices that have to be defined than is feasible to be carried, if you have the databases you claim and know your pricing as you say you do, I don't know why you are not able to quote one call. I am speaking of kitchens, furniture, bathrooms, countertops, electrical, plumbing, flooring, etc., even minor remodels. The other exception would be for exotics and their availability. While I am measuring and pricing, our customers are watching a CD reinforcing our company's products and services. People don't run for the hills when you demonstrate you know what you are talking about, use soft-sell techniques, and put them at ease in the areas they are concerned with (i.e. - company, product, service and price, in that order).
Perhaps it is in the way you are pricing. Maybe you are figuring out each item's cost, and developing a quote from there. All I need is an empty room layout and a tape measure, and the numbers fall into place. The advantage of a price list. On average, it takes me 15-20 minutes to do a simple 3-D line drawing, whether we are talking kitchens, furniture, bathrooms. I've done so many of them. I have a laptop and design on it also, but there's something old-school that people relate to when you bring it to life on paper.
It sounds to me like when you take on a project, you need to get quotes on electrical, plumbing, etc. We don't, as we already know our pricing for these ahead of time, and they are already in our price list (with our markup, which is less than what the customer can get it for themselves). We sub out electrical, but we have guys we've worked with for years, with whom we have established pricing, so we don't need to get a quote from them.
Now approach this from every aspect of your business. This is knowing your costs. Otherwise, you are just reacting and I guess spending a lot of time quoting.
As far as design goes, when I walk into a room, I don't even see what's there. I see an empty layout, and after identifying what the customer is after, the design falls into place. You are the expert guiding them to what they want (assuming they don't have a magazine article or internet picture of their own).
For perspective, there are two different measures taken in our company - one for pricing, the other for installation, and at the second measure, everything is confirmed and any changes made up to that point are incorporated.
On the first call, we are there to write the business. But as far as being compared to Sears, they too have a system in place - they know their costs and can provide a quote that night.
Regarding inflated prices, we are not the cheapest in our market, but we are not the most expensive either. There will always be someone cheaper and more expensive in your market; you just have to decide which brings you to your goal.
While again I have no idea who your customers are, I can tell you that this is, and would be for almost every contractor I have ever been around, a very tough statement to back up in a complex job unless you have a lot of "fat" in your pricing. If your area allows for that fat, power to you. Or perhaps you are able to push your subs into doing any work you misquote based on your volume - I have no idea.
When I say a complex job, I mean basically any project beyond cosmetics. That would be a project requiring modest to in-depth modifications or additions to structure and mechanicals. This would include work outside your company (other licensed trades). That could then be followed by a job not having off the shelf trim and millwork, cabinetry, and other finish components. Like I said earlier, carpet, tile, sheetrock, wallpaper, paint, and so on are easily priced.
I am very well versed in the other trades, but I am in no way a master of them. I can count dozens of times that I have gone in to a job and thought a simple HVAC expansion was possible, only to find that the duct sizing or unit size was not capable of handling it. Plumbing expansion that would require a new main to be run back to the meter as the homeowner wants a 12 head body spray. Electrical work that involved code aspects I was not versed in and had no business trying to learn. And so on. This is just one aspect of an overall project. I have no business telling my subs what I quoted for their end of the project and why, and further, expecting them to honor my pricing. If we are talking about adding a couple GFIs in a kitchen, or pulling a sub panel to an addition, I can see it, but even then I would have to have a built-in buffer for unforeseens or be willing to go back to the customer later, which is not an option.
This of course doesn't speak to the design and engineering aspects of a project. What if the customer wants to take out 18' of load bearing wall between their kitchen and dining room and the city requires an engineered drawing to be submitted prior to issuing the permit? What's the engineer going to spec? On and on. While I don't mean to trivialize things, this is all just day to day stuff and it happens right down to the footers.
Your approach speaks to what I meant by spec home or plug and play construction. This is what the industry has been moving towards for thirty years. We all see it in the big box model of business. Component based pricing for each individual aspect of the project. It may well be the future of construction, but it is what our customers are trying to avoid. We find with component based pricing that the cost of building skyrockets, as these pricing models do not take into account if they are done as a stand alone item or part of a 1 year project. The cost of installing 40 square feet of ceramic is totally different if you are going to the house for that one room or you have 5 other rooms of ceramic in the job as well. You can of course have column pricing for these items, but when you're GC'ing, it gets very complex given all the individual components.
While it makes perfect sense economically, this plug and play pricing has a negative effect on the residential marketplace. I feel it stems creativity and pushes customers toward what is cost effective for the contractor to build as opposed to what they really want. It nudges, and in many cases forces, a customer into a box. This is brutally clear in the McMansions you mention. Poor designs, poor layouts, but they have all the "must have" components. Spiral entry, decadent master, commercial kitchen, etc. They are often homes assembled out of a catalog, like picking options for your Mercedes. A good design doesn't work like that.
While it likely works for you because of the bottom line, it takes the dynamics out of the process, which is the very thing our customers thrive on. Our customers have always raved about the creative process and the ability to think outside the box, letting the project evolve without the constant fear of over the top change orders and penalization for modifying the original plan. There are costs associated with changes, but these are often way overblown.
It's clearly just two different ways to look at the process. There are two basic types - creative, and those motivated by the bottom line. I am the creative type with a firm eye on the bottom line. You likely have a better bottom line. I feel I have a much more loyal customer who is in love with the process and the end result. This reputation is what has kept us from feeling any of the economic bumps for many years.
If all you do are complex remodels, we are not talking the same thing. We do full remodels also, but the majority of our business is interior remodel and some commercial work (which is an animal we have yet to tame).
When it comes to mouldings, people don't lack for choices. When a customer chooses a door style, we cannot show them every door out there on a sales call, but we can provide whatever door they want. If they like this edge, with this raised panel, etc., they get it.
Other than the exceptions of full remodels and exotics, if you know your costs, including subs, there is no reason you can't quote one call for most everything else. Our approach has nothing to do with plug and play construction (although that is a valid business model), but there are many cases where you have repetition in basic design, but you still make it unique, as the customer is not adding SF, whether due to budget or code, and there is only so much you can do in a certain footprint.
On a personal note, we thrive on the creative. It keeps it fresh. When you fabricate and install most everything you do, it's hard not to be creative. If you can conceive of it, we can most likely create it. Making money and being creative are not mutually exclusive.
There is no one way that is going to work for everyone. No one is right or wrong.
I price jobs individually and usually give drawings without dimensions to prospective clients. Many of my clients have disposable income and are not likely going to be shopping me against box stores. For this type of clientele, service is a priority. They need the attention they cannot get from a box store and they are usually willing to pay more for it. They may shop me against another custom shop, but this is where reputation and references usually give me an edge.
Lower priced stuff usually comes from builders and they generally already have the design; I just provide the price. Again, they may shop my price around, but I've established a good reputation. Sure there are plenty who will go with the lower price, but those who've learned the hard way will generally find a shop they trust and stick with them.
If you want to put a policy in place and stand firm, then by all means. But in an economy where there is little solid ground, standing firm may not be easy. So if what works for (fill in the blank) doesn't work for you, well... just don't be surprised.
Each prospective client inquiry calls for a slightly different response, though generally I come down on the side of providing a hand-drawn elevation with my preliminary pricing. Last week I bid a 10k entertainment unit, hand drew the sketch and scanned it in 15 minutes. It was based on a similar project the prospect referred to on my web site. I don't do kitchens, so library walls, TV and fireplace cabinetry are fairly compact in comparison to draw. Not only did I not get the job, but they wouldn't even reply to my request "so what price range do you want this to land in?" This was likely a typical case of sticker shock. That's part of the terrain and if you can't get used to that, you're going to be frustrated a lot.
The primary mission of first contact with a genuine prospect is to win their trust. And you're less likely to do that by being all cagey about not providing even a rudimentary sketch without charge. Another thing I've started doing with my first or second e-mail contact is provide my references, and encourage the person to contact them. Only serious prospects and do that. This definitely works!
Now I'm bidding on an entertainment cabinet where the client provided a crude isometric and I promptly provided a 5k ballpark. (Notice, he didn't charge me to view the drawing, which made quoting the job much easier for me.) Got a quick reply "what can you do to bring the price down?" So I drew a scaled drawing for my own use to try to squeeze the price down some. But because they live nearby, I won't just send the drawing. Instead I'll invite him to the shop to discuss my ideas. If I don't win the job in that meeting, I probably won't let the drawing go - it all depends. Overall, I've found recently that providing a quick drawing makes my proposals more accurate and professional, and has helped me land jobs I would not have gotten without the sketch. So it's pretty much SOP now.
Believe me, I got here reluctantly, trying to follow the "never give drawings away" approach, and I still try to get some ballpark pricing out on the table before even doing a crude sketch. But for me the other approach is clearly more effective. Here's how I look at it: Would I rather bid 4 jobs with a quick sketch and get one, maybe two? Or bid four jobs with no sketch and get zero? I've found that a bid with a sketch is simply more likely to get me the job, so it's a no-brainer.
Entire kitchens? I can see how that is a whole other kettle of fish. Be like a tree: bend!
In terms of quoting, I think it will always be different strokes for different folks. From the shops that price cabinetry by the running foot to those that cost out all the way to the door bumpers. I have seen shops with the most elaborate software costing systems go out of business while the pencil and paper lineal foot guy is still chugging, and vice versa. If it works for you and it works in your market, then it works.
I'm going to do a written estimate with all the details, and send them a photo 3D or two line drawings off my Cabnetware program, and that's it. I could waste a couple more hours and do a nice color set of drawings off my KCDw program, but what they see is dollar signs. They're the kind of new customers I see here all the time. If they could buy gas for 50 cents a gallon, milk for 30 cents, or a steak dinner for $1.99, they'd still ask for a discount. Sounds a lot like the Great Depression.
For much of my work, that's the norm. I have a fair amount of small jobs that take that long. I just sent a final bid for a large job that's been in the works for a good 6 months and we won't even start on it for another month. The project itself won't be done until the end of summer.
A lot of my work is in the city, high rise buildings and such. Anything beyond a simple built-in is usually connected to some other remodel work, meaning permits need to be pulled, architects hired and so forth. Some jobs scoot right along, but it's certainly not uncommon to be looking at jobs many months before the first deposit checks go out.
I don't understand the 6-7 month wait for an entertainment center, the shelf unit, and the interior doors. First of all, the prices for material could change in two weeks. This is not a big project by any means.
Every bit of that $1000 drop came out of your pocket. Your material prices are not going to drop 25% like your bid, and your other shop bills aren't going to either, which means you need to make up the difference elsewhere. The net result is that, as of now, you didn't get the job anyway. They didn't jump at it, and it could be another month before they make the decision, so the justification of the mortgage and truck payment is out the door.
The most you should ever drop (if you play the price gimmick game) is the company profit, which is above and beyond what covers your bills including your pay. Drop beyond that, and you are paying for their product, as every dollar past this profit point has to be made up to cover your expenses and your pay. These do not go away just because you are buying business. Otherwise, they are not your customer and you should walk away.
From this point, the way I would handle this one is simple - "Mrs. Client, I matched the quote you got from that other shop because I thought you would jump at it because you were getting our service with the price you liked - a winning combination from a customer's perspective. It's not something we normally do, but I thought I could help you out and fit your project in between upcoming projects. My question to you is why didn't you jump at it? I mean a 25% discount off our regular price, for the service and product which we are known to provide, is an excellent value. Our regular prices this year already reflect the current economy, so what more could I have done to get your project rolling?"
Don't say another word until they answer. Remember, when you drop the profit from your pricing, you are selling the job at cost (your cost includes your expenses and pay). If you don't change this mindset, you will always find yourself in the position of buying jobs for reasons like the mortgage and truck payment, which don't always materialize.
I don't care about these people and their mindset. People like them will always look to take advantage of everyone. They will find yet another lower bid, so I may not get the job anyway.
If Bear Gillis on Man Versus Wild can eat bugs when things get tough, I can eat hamburger.
I encourage you to look at why you are getting the 2 jobs out of 10, instead of focusing solely on participating in the bidding war. Those 2 out of 10 that you are getting, are you farming their warm market? People like to show off their new product, and they usually do so within the first few weeks.
You said it best about the other cabinet shop. They are buying business, but they didn't get those 2 out of 10. That is where your focus should lie. Low bidders were around in good times and in bad times. Don't join them. There is someone in your market right now, charging more than you and getting it.
One thing you should always tell someone focused solely on price is, "There's always a reason why they are the low bidder and why the experts warn against them. Why do you think the experts warn you not to take the low bidder? They are usually the ones you read about or see consumer specials about. It's not the ones who know their prices and operate their businesses responsibly that you have to worry about."
If you don't have business, your job 100% of the time until you do is to focus on getting the business, not cleaning the shop, or entertaining thoughts of soup lines, etc.
I did talk to another shop that will not lower their prices, but they have more connections and from what I can tell, their overhead is high, and they are optimistic, but in reality may not stay around. I would rather stay around a little while longer and work all the angles.
We also do commercial work and quotes are always free because you are bidding on work. A commercial quote can have many addendums, site visits, requests for price break downs etc. In most cases, price wins; sometimes shop reputation has an effect if prices are close. Are you not doing the same thing when bidding on work from homeowners?
As a 1-2 man shop it must be hard to meet the customer, do drawings, and have them walk. But this is how you choose to run your business. When I was thinking of leaving and starting on my own (before we agreed that I will buy the business) I knew I would need 2-3 employees just to pay the bills and have enough time to run the business. I give you credit for doing what it takes to keep your shop going.