Offering Long Warranties

Should cabinetmakers back their product with a "lifetime" warranty? June 4, 2012

I am thinking about giving a lifetime warranty on my furniture line. Right now it is not specified, but when anyone asks I say one year. What do you typically give for a warranty? I would think a lifetime warranty would be a big help with sales.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor C:
Who's lifetime Ė yours, your company's, your client's? Do they need to return the product for warranty work? Or, will you go to them? What if they moved five states away? Still interested in driving for a repair? How long do you plan on servicing this furniture?

I give a one year warranty on the materials and workmanship with the following exception. The Blum hardware that I use comes with a limited warranty that will replace the parts for the original owner of the product. So, I use that as a selling point. And, if my company doesn't exist years from now, they can find any Blum distributor to take care of them.

The truth is, if a piece of hardware fails a few years after I deliver, I will most likely replace the part and not charge labor. No, I will not put that in writing. One never knows what a customer might do to a product. I am running a business, not a charity, so I reserve the option to decide on a case by case basis if I want to do free work. You might consider a five or ten year warranty if you really want to extend the time limit, but I would like to hear from some other business owners before I even did that.

From contributor U:
Warranties used to be very important to our shutter customers, they hardly ever ask these days. It seems like price has taken its place as far as importance is concerned. I offer, when asked, a basic five year limited warranty. Whenever I find a failure due to our workmanship or poor design, I fix it and make it right regardless of how long it has been since the install.

The bottom line is, I do not over-commit with a written warranty. I was thinking about putting a long term warranty on our product, but then I thought it would be a little presumptuous since I am saying there will be no flaws with my designs, workmanship, my employees workmanship, the materials used that were made by others, the hardware made by others, the paint made by my suppliers, etc. I am sure you see my concern.

Since so many customers seem to use anything they can to get the better of those who provide products and services, I try to limit the ammunition I give them. I fixed four panels that fell apart recently, and they were built ten years ago. I was glad to do the repair at no charge, but I felt like the customer was grateful for my doing this, and not like they were using a warranty to "make" me fix the problem as if I would not have anyway.

I really don't see where a long term lifetime warranty will help you sell more products, but I do see where building a better product and building customer satisfaction will. That has been our approach, but it does take a while, sometimes years, to get that reputation.

From contributor A:
Do you plan to cover those lifetime warranties under your future business name after you go bankrupt servicing those same warranties under your current business name? The really business smart guys buy their Corps by the dozen. The warranty goes away with the name.

From the original questioner:
To contributor A: There are plenty of companies supplying a lifetime warranty, especially the Amish, and there arenít too many of them filing for bankruptcy. Unless you build complete junk, there shouldn't be too many problems that arise. A hinge here or a drawer slide there isnít a big deal to keep a customer happy. The warranty could only cover workmanship.

From contributor O:
I donít get asked often about a warranty, thatís probably due to the fact that many of my clients come from word of mouth. My warranty is simple; if it breaks because of faulty workmanship or materials I will fix it and unless I charged the client time and materials I wonít charge for additional materials unless they want to change something around.

I had a pneumatic hinge break in a kitchen I completed (eight months after install) and I uninstalled and replaced it (a three dollar item). The client wanted to know about how much they owed me for the service call and parts? I said ďnothingĒ! This gives the customer a feeling of security that a written guaranty canít provide for them. They then know that Iím a guy who stands by his word and products and that is what makes for additional sales!

There are also laws which give consumers certain rights and warranties so that expectations for certain things are already present. There are also similar to a restaurant I completed work for. I recently received a call to do some repairs on movable garbage bins that I built. The doors were falling off, the veneer needed repair, and the wheels were loose. I did some repairs gratis because I had given my word, but I wonít go back again!

Not only did they abuse the bins but they had another carpenter come to change things on other works I completed for them. They also ignored the basic care instructions that I provided. These things void any warranty that Iíd give to a client. Donít attempt a repair or do purposeful damage and expect me to come and do repairs as part of a warranty.

From contributor K:
You don't have to offer a lifetime warranty, find out what your competitors offer and add to it. You do run the risk of someone's kids deciding to use your furniture as a workbench and the customer expecting you to fix it under an unlimited lifetime warranty. You might want a lawyer to come up with something.

From contributor S:
There are plenty of furniture makers out there who offer lifetime warranties. I donít think with quality furniture this is a big risk, as a well-built piece should easily last for many years, even beyond the life of the original owners. You should have an idea about whether or not the furniture you make falls into this category or not. Of course this wouldnít include misuse of the warrantied item. Most warranties only include problems that come from faulty materials and poor craftsmanship not, from someoneís children taking a chainsaw to the table legs.

If you are offering a high end product that is well built this is almost like offering a good feeling only, because the vast majority of the time thatís about all it will cost you. The time that it does cost you it would cost you anyways because as someone who cares about what they do you would always rectify any quality issues with your work as a matter of pride.

From contributor M:
I feel that two years is reasonable. I build my products to last longer but most defects should arise well within this time frame. Anything more than two years is really just marketing in my opinion. It takes a very large stable company to guarantee anything much longer, however if there is a problem after that I want to hear about it so I can learn from it. Therefore my policy is to extend my warranty on a case by case basis as long as I am in business.

I will do this provided that I can determine that the issue is due to a defect and that wear and tear or abuse has not played a role. Otherwise I will be glad to repair or refurbish my products for a reasonable fee. If there is a failure for something I sold for top dollar 15 years from now I want to know about it. People buy my stuff because they want something that won't fall apart. If I screw up I want to fix it.

Now I do not talk about this publicly but if somebody accidentally damaged a piece of furniture I would likely just fix it free of charge if they wanted to go to the trouble to bring it to me. That is as long as the repair is simple.

If itís easy for me to do and it makes a customer happy itís probably worth it. If I did things right to begin with I made enough off the original sale to where I can afford to do this.

From contributor A:
In this day and age the "Lifetime Warranty" is a marketing tool. As mentioned companies typically write them to cover nothing. I always laugh at people when they claim to have a lifetime warranty. It typically amount to nothing.

In South Australia they make the trades provide a five year warranty and a ten year liability. They exist because they now have an audit oversight/self-inspection system. I'm still learning how the warranty works in the real world. Obviously you can't warranty a hung door for five years.

From contributor D:
We build the best we can in cabinets and furniture and we make them to last. I personally want to know if and when anything needs my attention. The job is still a reflection of us, and how we handle a problem or issue sets us up for more business or not. I don't put any time limits on the limited warranty. Normal wear and tear would mean the finish will show signs of age eventually.

From contributor Y:
I've used lifetime warranties as a tool for years. Of course, the warranties exclude wear from use and the usual. If my glue joints failed in twenty years, I'd repair them. If a hinge failed, I might even replace it even though it's not covered (it's that manufacturer's problem). Once I replaced a wall decoration, though it was obvious it had been broken in half by a fall (solid pieces of wood don't just fall in half). However, when I give my warranties, I knew the fact was one in hundreds would seek it. This was based both on that producing durable quality was a cake walk and it's not in most people's nature to pursue such things.

There are several big companies that soared because of lifetime warranties. They analyzed the facts and acted accordingly. In the end, do the math and figure how much you'd have to really replace based on the written agreement.