Haggling Over Prices

How to respond when a high-end custom client wants to beat down your price for custom work. October 25, 2006

We have a possible job coming online in about 2 weeks. 25 doors, 1.75 X 36 x 96, around 160LF of cabinetry, miscellaneous shelving. There are no millwork drawings and the owners are not sure what they want as far as door style and finishing. I gave them an approximate cost per door of $1380 from Spanish cedar, three panel, distressed, stained with 3 clear coats, clavos, installed, we supply the hinges, 4,4X4. The owner seems to think this price is way out of line. He is asking for a LF price for the cabinetry and I told him that without drawings or some kind of idea of what they want, I will only quote T/M. After plenty of emails, he suggests we come up with the design that will bring the millwork inline with their budget. The home is 4500SF, beach front, pool, all the toys. Probably will finish out at 2.5 million. My wife and I are considering turning this one down. Are we really that far off on the door cost?

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor S:
The answer is no, you are not far off, not off at all on door cost. Because they cost more than they expected does not mean that your price is too high.

From contributor H:
Tell the client that you can not do the job for less and do a quality job. If your price is, in his view, too high, then he should be thanked for giving you the chance to bid, but should try another shop. I never price cabinets by the foot. Never. Too many variables.

From contributor A:
Why not simplify the design until it's something he's willing to pay for? It's not that your quote is too high for the work. Maybe the customer's imagination is too large for his wallet. Likewise, don't take him for a ride because he has more or better toys that you do. Don't let the size of his house, the car he drives, or what money you think he has influence you either way. That stuff is probably all financed anyways... especially if it's in California!

From contributor N:
If the owner has been shopping around, your price is way out of line. I bought an entry door for my house, Philippine mahogany, same size, with an oval lead glass beveled for $258 unfinished.

From the original questioner:
Jamb included? Distressed finish included? Hinges, installed with all necessary hardware? These doors we are bidding on are going in concrete openings. Have you ever built a door to fit into a finished plaster opening? 1/4 inch under size for shimming, hope the cement heads get it right, pre-finished, no plugs, we hide the tapcons behind the Q-LON. To do it right is double the work of a stick frame install. My business savvy wife suggests I should tell him, you want cheap, go to Home Depot. I am starting to come around to her way of thinking.

From contributor J:
I can't believe they are *only* $1380. This client sounds like a haggler. They may love your price, but want to squeeze you all they can. As for the details, this scares me. Leave nothing open ended here. Do the shop drawings and don't skip a single spec. Make them sign a set of the drawings, and don't take any crap. It amazes me how people will spend money like fiends on a fancy structure, and just because the millwork and cabinets are planned near the end, and installed almost last on a job, this is where the non-planning clowns decide to get budgety. They want to crap-down the very elements of the place that they will be looking at and touching every day.

From contributor L:
The price seems in the realm. There are many variables that affect the pricing, and starting off with a client that fails to see the value of the work is likely to add costs down the road. As for pricing by the foot - not a chance! I'm assuming they have employed a designer/architect for a $2.5M project. Try working with the designer to make the project meet the design criteria and budget. This sounds like one of those projects where you need everything in writing and signed in blood!

From contributor T:
I don't think your prices are out of line. My only question is that you seem to be basing your cabinetry prices on the fact that they have enough money to afford a 2.5 mil house, so the cabinet prices should be higher since they have enough money. I'm sure that isn't what you meant, it just came across that way to me. Once again, I don't think that's bad for the doors.

From contributor M:
I have had this come up from time to time. What I do is send them a letter thanking them for wondering if the price was too high. So I took another look at the quote, called my suppliers, and found I was too low. I would bump the price by 10% and re-quote the bid and give it to them. Funny thing is, I would only lose 1 out of 4 bids. LOL. If the client turns out to be a sweetheart, I reduce the final bill by 10%.

From contributor W:
Contributor N's door is a leftover discount or import, certainly nor hand made of Spanish cedar. Your price is low if it includes labor to hang and jambs and finishing and Clavos. Take all these comments and show them to the customer. Only if you want to. Your wife is right on. His budget needs to be adjusted, and his expectations are unreasonable. With a 2.5 mil house construction, he should be spending 300 to 400 on finish millwork and cabinetry, or it doesn't match up to the job. A lot of these McMansions nowadays are grossly underbuilt and overpriced. They think square footage alone will last a hundred years. I grew up in a 15K sf home that is about 150 yrs old with 18" built up crown throughout the first floor and 12ft tall pocket doors that are still straight and slide with one hand. It's all in the materials and workmanship. Not the sf. Think about the bdft of Spanish cedar and add 40% for waste, and remember you have to mill all that lumber, shape, glue, sand, seal, distress, stain, awlgrip, mortise, hang, transport, etc.