Estimating Jobs for Tire-Kickers

don't give those drawings away any more. April 10, 2008

Just opened a small cabinet shop and wanted to ask you "bigger shop" guys how you estimate. This happened to me two weeks ago and burnt me up. A couple stopped by for an estimate for kitchen cab, laundry room, walk-in closet, and 3 more rooms. They handed me the house plans and I got to work. Well, call me a novice, but wasn't quite sure, so I went ahead and hand sketched all cabinets (6 rooms worth) just to find out they took my sketches to another shop and got a cheaper bid.

When you do a first estimate, do you just give them an overhead view sketch and a rough estimate, then after securing the contact do you finish drawings or software prints? Which is first, the chicken or the egg? Don't have the cash to buy software, and not smart enough to figure out e-cabinets.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor G:
I show them the renderings, but the only thing I'll give them is the quote, which only outlines specs, and provides a lump-sum price. It doesn't make any difference whether they gave me a thick sheaf of spec pages and a 20-pound roll of drawings, or I walked through a couple of bare rooms and was told to do a design from scratch. They don't get my work unless I've been paid.

In house building, you can get paid to do a proposal if you are a design-build person, but software like 20-20, and places like the kitchen desk at Lowe's, have made it so that folks quoting kitchen cab jobs punch out those proposal drawings for free. Not me.

You can't keep them from shopping your price, but you can stop them from using your drawings for the basis of an RFQ. Just don't let them have the drawings. Take all the time necessary at quote time (and it must be eye-to-eye) to explain design, features, specs, all the reasons why, and so forth, but when they go, all they get is the price, the terms, and a gracious good-night. No drawings. Period.

From contributor B:
I had the same thing happen and now do the same as contributor G - no dimensions or drawings, just numbers.

Try the e-Cabs learning guide or look into renting KCDW or another program that takes less time to learn. You could buy Visio. If you are a Mac user try NeoOffice (free).

From contributor R:
Well, I hope you learned a good lesson on that one. Never give drawings until you get the money. I have people bring me drawings from the home centers all the time. I will not let someone do that to me. I design on the computer. I show them what it will look like. When asked if I can print that out, I tell them the design is mine and if they want a copy, it will cost $300. That will be deducted from the bid price if they buy from me. No one ever buys the drawings.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for all your help. I did learn a very valuable lesson, and will take another look at e-cabinets.

From contributor J:
Welcome to my world. I had them take the drawings *and* the sample door I finished for them to my competition. Had a note on the back of the door with the exact finishing schedule too. Now that's truly stupid. Shake it off and go on to the next one... They were just tire kickers anyway.

I only give 3-D shots of the rooms. No cabinet dimensions at all. If they want drawings, do like contributor R said and charge them the rate you settle on.

Another thing that will come up eventually is itemizing your bids. My advice to you is, don't. One bottom line and that's it. If somebody wants it itemized out, be prepared for them to pick your bid apart. It's nobody's business how much you're making. It costs what it costs.

From contributor P:
I quit doing detailed estimates with designs for free. I'll give someone a written estimate with a price range and a list of features, but I won't even do the design until I have some sort of commitment that I feel is leading to the job.

For instance, say it's an average face frame kitchen with X number flat paneled doors and drawers, natural finish, lazy susan or two, and whatever. I'll give them an estimate that details this sort of stuff and then a price range, like $10,000-12,500, subject to change.

At one time I would do a rendering and elevation for every bid I went on. No more - it's a waste of time. I especially was losing time and money on people wanting insurance estimates. They seem to deliberately call custom shops, turn the bids over to the insurance and then go to Home Depot.

If it's a customer that has been referred or that I personally know, then I'm a bit more lax on this, I'll admit. But for the average tire-kicker that got my number from the phone book or wherever, no commitment, no drawings.

I have had customers bring me someone else's drawings. I won't bid from them myself, mainly because I don't really trust the things, especially the ones from the Depot and Lowe's.

From contributor R:
Just this week I had a general contractor that I work for ask me to quote a kitchen cabinet job. He expected me to supply drawings with the quote. I told him to go to the meeting with the client, give him my price, and get some kind of commitment that the job is a go. Then I will do the drawings. The GC does not shop for cabinet bids. If he gets the job, I get the cabinets. That is one rare situation where I feel okay doing drawings prior to receiving payment; otherwise, no way.

From contributor V:
Okay, guess I was a bonehead for doing drawing (lesson learned the hard way!). Do like the suggestion of charging customer/contractor a set price if they do want drawing. In my area I am sure nobody will want to pay only for drawings. Thanks for everyone's help. Just found this site a while back, and boy, it has a wealth of info and some really helpful people sharing ideas.

From contributor N:
I will give you a bid with a total price, nothing more, until I have a deposit. I don't offer drawings with a deposit other than rough in measurements from onsite trip. If they want them, then it is 250.00 or more. They don't get an actual sample until I have a deposit and I never give a detailed bid. You either like my price or you don't. If I don't break it down, they can't argue the cost of something.

From contributor S:
I use software I wrote to create an accurate estimate, time takeoff, and proposal. The customer can easily see the pricing and where he/she is spending their money. This helps to gain the customer's confidence that you know what you are talking about and that the number is not just a wild guess. That usually gets them to the place they are ready to sign a proposal specifying a preliminary budget price. After receiving the deposit I will produce shop drawings. By having a detailed estimate to refer to (including quantities of doors, drawer fronts, etc.), it is easy to keep them in the budget or make change orders (you must make change orders) and get paid for your work.