Drawings, Estimates, Bids, and Sales

Cabinetmakers explain how they sell their services to prospective clients. April 27, 2006

I have been wondering how you guys bid. When we get a person who wants a bid, we first ask the basics in terms of wood type and hardware. From there we take their house plan (if they have it) and over the next couple of days we draw out what they want. Then the tedious process of bidding begins. My question is twofold. First, do you guys just give them a bid without supplying pictures? Second, we are using Cabinetworks to design. For those who are not familiar with this product it allows you to place a price on the wood used and also a waste factor for each type of construction technique. Do any of you guys using the same type of program use some other way of bidding, even though it does give you a price? I know my question might be a little difficult to understand but I would love to hear your thoughts.
Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor A:
I will always supply a picture with a basic design with the initial bid. This way, I can tell them that this design costs this much. If they make changes to the design then I will change the price accordingly. I use KCDW and it gives me the prices. I just design something basic, press the price button and am done with it - 1/2 an hour tops in most cases.

From contributor B:
I have a standard brochure I made with MS publisher. I add a rendering and a layout -nothing too detailed. I define the materials and define my terms and conditions. If they don't buy, Iím out a couple of bucks. The brochure makes an impression on people.

From contributor C:
It takes me about 15 minutes with a few guided questions to qualify a customer. If they have come to me they are usually a referral or at least know about my product. Every once in a while, however, I do get a lost soul just trying to find his way home to the land of "cabinets for a buck". I have a minimum linear footage price I use and can adjust this quickly for style, wood, finish, etc. - so in a few minutes I can let a customer know about what they can expect to pay. If they are ok with that I will have them sign a design contract and pay a design fee. (Always, always, always get the fee) From here it is down to meeting the customer's expectations with realistic commitment. This method helps me minimize my wasted time with "shoppers". If they can't afford me, let's socialize after hours at the cafť - not on my time at the office.

From contributor D:
We use Cabinet Vision to draw the complete job, then optimize for a material list. We calculate shop days, finish days with materials, then add our overhead and profit percentage. This ranges from 30 to 45%.

From contributor E:
We do no drawings without money period. You need to create a pricing program to bid that you can submit with no drawings, in my opinion. My days of free work are long over. They either supply drawings and/or photos of what they want and I price it based on that, or I get a budget from them and explain to them what we can make for that price. Either way, no drawings are done without a contract and without 10% of project paid. It is amazing how much time is spent on projects that do not come to fruition. Taking this route allows you more time to bid more projects and actually make money doing something. You should have a portfolio of previous work. If they are not willing to give you money for a deposit based on your photos, experience, and reputation, they have no respect for you and are not worth your time.

From the original questioner:
First, I would like to say thank you all for the great responses. Second, contributor E - I really like your nonsense way of bidding. Do you find that people are hesitant about signing a contract without pictures though? I am just a little hesitant to give them a price of $10,000 and then say if you want to see what that looks like then give me $1,000 and I will give you a look at the pictures for your house. Also, do you just kind of guess what will fit in the areas of the kitchen, baths etc. and work from there to price? For example, do you say that for a bath there could be two 18" cabinets and a 23" cabinet configuration in there and price the room accordingly? I would like some more details if you could provide them because I really do like your idea.

From contributor E:
No, I do not feel people are hesitant to give me a deposit based on my approach. It has taken me many years and oh so many failures to get to this point in selling and I still work on it every day. When I show up for a possible sale I take the following: A full set of prints from a previous project to show as a sample of what they will get for their 10%. I made a portfolio of our work that was burned on CD. I show it to them and leave it there along with business cards. I also bring my laptop and a portable printer. Almost all of our contacts come from reference so they also have the word of someone they trust or I am bidding through a designer and they make the presentation for me.

I spent many, many hours along with some of my guys to come up with a very thorough bidding system which is loaded on the computer. By the time I leave that first meeting they have seen our capabilities and I have left them with a detailed line item proposal. If they do not call back within one week after my proposal I make one follow up call. At that point they are either going to buy from us or they arenít. I am very confident in what my guys are capable of producing and I believe it comes across when I talk to them. That along with a professional presentation in my opinion is enough. I have lost many proposals. Almost all were lost because of high price. We have not lost one bid because of asking for money with no drawings. The best part about it is that I spend very little time with non buying customers. This approach gets you in and out quick. Time is too valuable to invest in work for non customers. Go to cabinetmakeronline.com and go to the download section. You can download all the paperwork I use to make a sale and gather all the information needed to complete a project.

From contributor A:
So let me see - I'll go to a job and measure so that I know how big I need to think the project is that I'm going to build. I wonít design anything, I will just assume that it will take X amount of materials and X amount of time. Then I will spend 1/2 an hour or more with the customer showing them my portfolio, discussing previous jobs, explaining how we build, etc and then tell them my price. It seems like I've wasted a lot of time. What I should do is go to the home and measure, tell the customer that I have what I need and give them a card with my website. Let them know that my online portfolio is spectacular. So I'm in and out. Then I go back to my computer make a sketch on KCDW and shoot out a price. I then e-mail the picture (without dimensions) of the basic design and price and tell them that we can add what ever they want at extra cost. Then I'm done. Thereís no time wasted trying to sell anything. This is what you get for this price. Take it or leave it. Normally they will add to the design and pay more for extras. I'm not a salesperson. I'm a woodworker. They need to see what I'm offering them. You don't go into Kays and ask for a diamond and they give you a price. You can pay and hope it's a good one or walk away. No - you get to see what you are paying for and upgrade from there. I think time speaks for itself. I may spend time on drawing, but I'm not spending time away from the shop talking with the clients.

From contributor B:
To contributor A: Good call. If I had a website I would do the same. I have standardized my brochure so that the first three pages are project specific:
1 rendering
1 layout (no dimensions)
Material specs

Then the rest is an explanation of my service, terms and conditions etc. I take the measurements the next day or two; I mail or drop off the brochure. If they call back it's 10% for detailed drawing and another 40 to get the job going. People dig it - the only thing better would be a website, which is coming soon.

From contributor E:
To contributor A: On average how much time do you spend on site measuring, drawing, and putting the whole proposal together?

From contributor A:
To contributor E: Obviously at some point you must go to the clientís house to measure. To me this must be done before you can give the estimate and you need to have the initial meeting so that the client can tell you what they want. When I am at the clientís house, they talk while I measure. I am there 15 minutes in most cases. For the drawings, depending on what it is I am bidding for, it only takes around 20 minutes for a kitchen and less for smaller jobs. You have to remember that you are giving them an estimate, not the final price. So in most cases for a kitchen I will basically just put in cabinetry the same design that I am replacing, and for entertainment centers I come up with a quick design that accommodates the TV and components but not really anything else. In my e-mail I will tell the client the estimate and what materials I would be using and send the drawing I did to get the estimate. I explain the options and that finalizing the design is the next step along with a deposit. It takes less time for me to e-mail them the description than it does for me to sit here and explain what I do. The total time is probably less than an hour, not including the drive time which you would have to do no matter how you do your bidding.

As for the contract, I have the contract saved and just need to type in materials and price - a simple 5 minute job. And by the way, all of my design time, measuring, etc is added into my estimate so I get back any lost time. If I lose the job, I lose 45 minutes. Maybe I wouldn't take a lunch the next day. My advice to anyone is to do what it takes to win over the clients every step of the way. You must remember that our work and quality is very important but our customer service is just as important. Not telling the customer what they are paying for simply by giving them a price to me is like selling a Lamborghini and delivering a Pinto.

From contributor F:
It probably wouldn't be a complete discussion without at least saying there are others out there who bid differently. I and many others use computer programs to bid - we use a program put out from True32 called "Business Partner". It enables us to finish a complete, accurate bid in something less than Ĺ hr. All that are needed are initial measurements from either plans or visit to customer. Many guys who use the program submit the entire bid from information given on plans.

From contributor D:

I did not realize how fast that program is in creating drawings. It sounds like you have a very efficient and fast way of doing proposals and thatís what counts. I have seen the examples of the Business Partner too. That also looks like an excellent choice for bidding. I would probably have purchased it had I seen it before I created my own. I guess most important in all these examples is to have some method of creating fast and accurate pricing, whatever method it may be.

From contributor G:
I am in the commercial world and I usually get fairly detailed drawings to bid from. I do a lot of free estimates - about $21 million in estimates to achieve a gross volume of $7 million last year, and the cost of estimating (my salary and my assistant) is recovered in my overhead. I have a fast, accurate repeatable spreadsheet system that I have been able to teach to my assistant, so together we can bid this kind of quantity without much stress. When we do encounter a customer I want to do business with who has no drawings, I take the following approach:

1. Give an order of magnitude budget price to see if he is interested, based on a verbal description of what he wants.
2. Give him a price to design and draw his work and generate samples, with an option to generate renderings in addition to cad drawings.
3. Contract with him for the design work, complete it, and submit it for payment and approval.
4. Reprice the work based on any changes that arise from finalizing the drawings.
5. Do the work based on the final agreed price or send him off with a valuable paid for set of drawings, to shop around.

If you skip the part where you get paid for the design work, your customer gets to go shopping with your drawings for free, and your competitor gets to do the work without having to pay for the design phase, which keeps his overhead down. This process is also a very good qualifier to find customers who are serious.

From contributor A:
I don't want to wake up in a hurry to get something done to make a buck. I want to crawl out of bed and mosey into the shop and sit in my chair and contemplate what I will build and what my brother will build. I bid on probably 3 jobs a month and get 2. I pay my bills and I am happy. I see the other woodworkers in the area racing around giving 20 bids a week to get 9 jobs a month just to slam them together and get a check. They will be out of business long before me and you can take that to the bank - thus making me truly a woodworker and not a salesperson. Otherwise, I would be like every other business person who calls himself a woodworker, who shuffles paper but never steps into the shop unless something is wrong or it's slow. Money isn't everything, but happiness with what you do and who you are is. Remember that when youíre out getting threatened with a law suit because your guys rushed too much on your demand.