I am currently doing installs for a small, new cabinet shop. What is a reasonable time to complete a kitchen cabinet install? This is new construction, and includes everything... finished kicks, post-formed countertops, and crown. The allowance when scribing countertops and cabinets with finished end panels is 1/16". Usually the cabinets are out of square, causing door alignment problems. I am required to help the shipper unload the cabinets and take them in the house, unwrap them, and install them. The doors are already mounted, but the handles/pulls have to be marked, drilled and installed. There is usually at least one bathroom to do as well, including the top. I don't do any plumbing, and caulk is not allowed. I do quality installs. No callbacks due to my work. Is it reasonable to expect me to be in and out in one 8 hour day? By the way, I get no helper.
From contributor K:
I usually allow 2-3 days for an average size kitchen install in new houses. I am also a one-pony show. I have done several in one day, if everything goes in perfect with little scribing and adjusting. That's rare, though. I build the cabinets I install, so I can make sure things are adjusted before they leave my shop. Installing other people's work can be difficult and sometimes risky. Doing it right the first time is important. You also will get faster with practice.
Average pay rate here is $18.00 hour, and we supply larger tools, fuel expense, etc. Even the most detailed jobs become quicker with repetition. This guy needs to give you more time if you in fact are giving it your all. Team members of that caliber are very hard to come by.
Piece work is the way to go. I don't care how long it takes the installer. I pay the same, and if he finishes faster than thought, then more money in his pocket. After a few installs, we will tweak the numbers if necessary so everyone is happy. Depending on your area per piece, amount will vary, but you get the idea. Finding a happy medium would be in both your best interests. This is for fully insured subs with all their own tools, including nails. We deliver, they help unload to room.
To drop my wages 17% will hurt, bad. Just last week I paid out $120 in fuel. Not sure what the solution is.
I interviewed a man this afternoon who just moved here from New Jersey because of not enough work in his area. He was looking to make $80,000 to $100,000 a year working 40 hour weeks. He has been here 6 months and he is still looking. He is learning that the market will not bear his cost, and he admitted to me that our hourly guys are doing as good as and sometimes better than he could or would.
Recently I have been looking at our install times, and 1 installer with an average helper can easily and consistently install about $8,000 worth of cabinets per day. We do take extra time in the office and the shop to make sure the job ships right the first time. That works out to $400 a day or $2,000 / week. If he pays a helper $400 a week, that leaves $1,600 for the installer. That's about $80,000 a year, assuming he is good enough to stay busy.
Over a long time it would all even out, but if I was the installer and saw how much the difference was that I was getting paid to install, I would be a little upset.
I've been working on this as well and at the end of the day, it appears to be more of an issue of working with good people, communication, documentation, accurate planning, etc.
It is a tricky combination. If you do production work, it would likely be easier to job cost. With custom work there are so many variables, customers, contractors, schedules, etc. to optimize.
My typical situation is to quote the cabinets and outsource the installation. Since no one likes to waste time on free estimates, etc., I plug an install number around 10-12% and it appears to work. I would like to have my installation contractor quote the work, but that has variables as well.
In other businesses, clients see value in "turn key" solutions that put all the responsibility with one party. That party should be compensated for that increased level of risk, coordination, etc.
Here's what puzzles me. My installation contractor fills his schedule with interior finish work, decks in springtime, room additions, etc. Therefore, he is inherently inefficient at some trades. I tell him that I can book his time on my cabinet projects from time to time, pay him $50/hr and I take the risk. He accommodates me from time to time, but prefers to do projects that he can get his profit and overhead from. I know some of you installers are thinking $50/hr is plenty, but in CA the average Union carpenter is probably around $25/hr and loaded with normal burden around $48/hr if not more. That carpenter typically takes breaks, works at a pace and has limited tools. My guy has a new truck, lots of tools, and is able to solve problems in the field and talk to customers. This all has value. The big question is what is the value? If profit is normally 10% and overhead 15%, that would equate to $63.25/hr. I might try that with him and see if it works.
Sometimes, I would think rarely, my installation contractor bids jobs like decks and makes $100/hr for three weeks. He would likely not factor in the time it takes to draw the deck, see the customer on the weekend or at night, etc. He forgets about the ones he doesn't get, the time wasted on getting 1 out of 5 bids.
Everyone deserves to be paid fairly for great work and this is always an interesting area of discussion. There is a book called "Means Cost Guide" that takes industry averages and gives a linear foot price that professional estimators use, to get a feel for the going rate. According to Cabinet Making Magazine's annual price survey, even the price of specified cabinets are dramatically different. Until everyone learns to use a computer, estimates professionally and does accurate job costing, it will remain the wild, wild West of bidding and getting work for most.
I always thought it was interesting that 9 out of 10 most wanted were last seen working in construction.:)
Just a few months ago the latest pay scale averages for all types of careers was released by the IRS. Airline pilots= $90,000 a year, doctor= $110,000 a year, manufacturing manager=$45,000 a year. Less than 2% of the top CFO's and CEO's in the country bring home more than $150,000 a year. The average working American brings home a whopping $40,000 a year. Hey, you could go to ITT tech, get into the medical field and knock down a serious $35,000 a year. Better yet, become a law enforcement officer in your local sheriff department, and you could be seen on COPS making a national average of $28,000 a year. With those numbers, who can afford to pay a cabinet installer with no special skills and a set of those yellow cordless tools from Home Depot $80,000 a year?
I don't know what kind of numbers are realistic in the States since it's been 15 years since I moved here, but I'll assume a realistic number for an efficient installer is 1000 bucks a week. That's 48 grand a year... plus some extras here and there, which everyone has - say 10 or 15 grand. So maybe between 50 and 60 grand is realistic for an efficient person. There are guys on their own making more than that, I'm sure. How else are they driving new trucks and having all those little toys, paying mortgages and raising families? The guys that are good make the money. We make half the money you guys make. I'm building a 300sq meter new home and driving a new Honda HRV on weekends. So I must be doing something right in this part of the world.
We went through so much of this ridiculousness in the past - the disappointments and frustrations, the bills not getting paid, etc. - that one day we decided that was enough. Either we were going to get paid what we deserved as professionals, or it was time to face the reality that maybe we didn't belong in business (which is a hard pill to swallow), and close up shop until we did.
Keep it simple - start off with what you want to take home per year and work backwards from there, creating a roadmap from your destination to origination. This will dramatically assist you in defining whether or not you have realistic expectations. Many posts on many subjects in this forum state how important it is to know your costs, and this is true, but do not forget to include what you want to make as compensation as part of your costs. It is often overlooked, or left on the back burner, while the business is being built. It is much easier to build a business when you are getting paid for all the hard work and effort.
It is now very easy for me to look a potential customer in the eye and tell them point blank, "I'm sorry, but based upon what you want and what you are willing to invest, I'm disappointed to say that I don't think we have a match here.". Then say nothing. 40-50% of these people will either call you back to do the project or bring you back to the table to find out how they can work with you, as they will perceive that you are a professional and they are less likely to let someone like that leave.
I really feel for what contributor P has to say, but we have gotten into this cycle of "I can do it cheaper" and it is dragging us all down. I believe this is a result of the slow economy and people are just desperate to get work, any work. There used to be enough work for everyone and we rarely stepped on anyone else's toes, but things have changed and the consumer is not any better educated, so we are going to suffer. All I can do in this situation is concentrate on my standards and use my skill to beat them to the punch. I refuse to bring down my personal standards. I will do something else before I do that to my trade. I wish others were like that. But you must sleep in the bed that you made and I sleep very well and I can spend my money easily because I know how I got it.
I have received 7 e-mails since the start of this thread from installers interested in coming to this area to work because they can not make our kind of money where they are currently located. One from the Miami, FL area, 3 from the New York/New Jersey area, two from Colorado (brothers) and one from Arizona. A large part of our labor force is from south of the border. We are second to California for this honor. They are the very reason pay rates stay lower in the area - they can do quality work when trained and are more than willing to do so.
Bottom line: these troops do not care about per square foot/per box/per lineal foot. What they really want is a decent wage (+-$18/hr). These guys have families to raise - the concept of piece-work/big money takes a back-seat to stability. The upside for the company is that we get excellent men without the hassle of constantly adjusting pay.
Spend a couple of weekends going to the races/backyard barbeque/fishing with these guys, and it's real clear: they want a decent living, they will work hard to get it, and want no headaches about the pay schedule.
We don't build many houses in my area (Asheville, NC) and there are a lot of qualified trim carpenters and installers in the area. Hence the $18 per hour (tops).
I came from Phoenix, a city that generates 27,000 housing starts per year, almost all tract homes and apartments. Anybody that is even remotely competent can install cabinets in a housing tract that has, say, 1,500 identical units. This is usually Hispanic help, as was noted elsewhere, and it sure isn't $18 per hour - more like $12.
I agree - go to LA, Baltimore/DC, Boston, etc, and you may get big bucks. The term "worth" is dependant on a lot more factors than skill level. I'm sure the original questioner is an excellent craftsman, but like everyone else, he has to determine the tradeoff between geography and money.
The shop owner writes the payroll checks; it's not going to escape his notice that, given his going piece rate, the subs are making much more money than his hourly guys, given the same installs. Subs don't add value to an install, therefore, they don't add to the bottom line. Why would a shop owner pay a sub more than an hourly guy? Equalization occurs again.
Reality check: general contractors/cabinet shops/trim contractors in the United States don't generally pay $40-$50 per hour for installers, at least, not for long. Installing cabinets is pleasant indoor work, doesn't require extensive skill levels, and pays around $16 to $26 per hour, depending on locale.
You can double or triple your money by doing full packages, i.e. do the whole kitchen, with the plumbing, Corian or granite tops, appliances, wallpaper, etc. Customers love the package deal, but it takes a lot of skill. You need subs you can count on, but now, you're talking real money. Any good craftsman can lay tile, install cabinets, put up wallpaper, tear out walls and re-frame... as individual subs. The real cash is in your capacity to pull all of these together into a finished product. Now that $50/hr is realistic.
I have people who work with me, and I also use subs. Where successful subs excel at making more money is their focus on completing the assigned task at hand in the shortest time possible (not the slackers). They are professionals (as are our hourly guys), and are compensated as such. For example, let's say they install 30lf of cabs at $45lf, which works out to $1350. If they are smart, they use three guys, hustle and finish in one day, and they make far and away more than three of the hourly guys, getting paid at your maximum of $26/hour, which works out to be about 54% more for the sub, and I would contend that is a lot. Even adding in business expenses, they will still be making approximately 40% more than the hourly guys. The other side is this: if the subs are not movers and shakers and it takes them three days, they are not making a lot of money, but it does not affect our bottom line, as they are a fixed cost. The hourly guys on the same three-day overrun would then cost the company 28% more for the same period.
It's been my experience that after sifting through the field, the hourly guys worth their salt are ones who have been in business before, but left it for security and a steady paycheck. There is no doubt that independents make more or they would not be doing it.
"Subs don't add value to an install, therefore, they don't add to the bottom line."
I couldn't disagree more with this statement. It's all in the presentation. As far as adding to the bottom line, they are a fixed-cost solution, and this will more times than not directly affect the bottom line in a positive manner. There was a recent thread regarding employee mistakes, and the consensus seemed to be that the company usually pays for it in the end. A sub's mistakes are his own, and they are not compensated for, as they are fixed cost solution to a project.
"Why would a shop owner pay a sub more than an hourly guy?"
The simple answer to this is turn-around. Also, a sub does not come with the associated costs (taxes, insurance, etc.) that an hourly guy does, and you can use them when you need them. Hourly guys are hourly and they get paid whether it is slow or not. So if you are busy all the time, this is not a concern, but if you have slow periods, this will then become an increased cost to your yearly reports.
What it comes down to is this…Hourly wages = security and steady paycheck. Sub-contracting = risk accompanied by increased opportunity for the movers and shakers.
Comment from contributor Y:
A good installer is a ticketed tradesman or has 5+ years of experience and should charge like any other trade ($35 p/h+). A sub is running a business just like the business he is working for. If you are a kitchen installer working as a sub, add up the expenses and the time not working through the year, and compare that to what you are making if you are only being paid hourly (especially if it is only $18 per hour). If you gross $80,000 p/a, you are probably only taking home $55-60 if you are smart and are paying all the needed insurance, tax, etc.
Good installers will help you, and you can make a good installer into a bad one by not paying enough and pushing to finish too quickly.
And as for finishing a kitchen and bathroom in one day... well, it is possible, but who cares? What kind of job got done? Is the customer happy? I ran a millwork shop doing custom kitchens for 10 years and I would happily pay my installers an extra day to have the job done so well (all caulking done, doors adjusted, cleaned, crown joints filled if needed, all caps on screws, pencil marks removed, touch up nail holes... the list goes on) that the customer just raved about it to everyone. The cost of that extra day is very cheap compared to what it gets me. That is the cheapest advertising you will ever do!
I work as a kitchen installer now (I sold my shop) because I always said the installers were the ones making the good money. Here in western Canada we make good money ($80,000 - $100,000) but we work hard and have to put up with a lot from other trades doing sloppy work. I think the lifespan of an installer is quite short due to stress, and the fact that we are usually in a no-win situation and it is frustrating. The trick is to get on with one or two good shops or designers in the high-end and build a relationship. Sometimes you will work hourly, sometimes %, and sometimes it will be piece work.
The going rate in the mid-Atlantic region for cabinets is $50/box or piece (fillers included), including knobs, scribe, kick and everything else needed. Everything is on a piece-work basis, and you must carry your own license and insurance, and provide all tools and miscellaneous supplies.
If (and only if) you are fully skilled in the trade and have all your tools, you should only work by the piece. If your current employer can't deal with it, you need to start looking in the newspaper job listings.
I am a licensed Class A Builder/Contractor, and I do everything in the kitchen remodel from demo to touch up. I literally take each job from start to finish. This typically includes flooring, tile, wallwork, painting, plumbing and electric. In the end, I always make more from the "other" stuff than from the cabinets.
I gross over $200K every year, with a couple of weeks off here and there. My helper makes about $40K a year, but he is well worth it. Together, we are a well-oiled machine and we make our masters a lot of cash.
My advice would be to become very good at what you do, by finding the most efficient method for each task, and then repeat it every time. That way, you maintain quality and minimize mistakes. Once you reach a certain level of skill, you can ask full professional rates. You have to make your employer cash so he can pass some of it back to you.
How long should a new construction kitchen take? Alone, it generally takes me a day and a half for a large, modern kitchen in a $500K home, with two bathroom vanities included. But some have taken me as long as a week, for very intricate work.
I have all of my own tools and truck and I deal with customers and contractors. I have insurance and licensing and I don't use a helper. I expect to make about $600 for the average sized job. I only do work for quality cabinet shops, and they know that when the cabinets go out of the shop, everything is taken care of. I wouldn't install an unfinished cabinet or piece of a cabinet unless that was specified.
Toe kicks are usually 1/4" faced plywood, so I don't know why anyone would have to do edge banding. I use a top of the line 12" combo-miter box saw with an 80-tooth blade and a 10" table saw with an 80-tooth blade. That ensures that every cut is clean and smooth. I also clean up when I leave - no disorder or tools left overnight. That way, I can keep track of my tools and make a fresh start each morning. I'm not working that fast, just efficiently - no wasted moves. I don't think that cabinet installation is for just any warm body. It takes skill and patience. If you're just slapping up factory cabinets with no trim, you might get away with it, but I've seen holes all over the walls, scrapes and dings on cabinets and walls, plumbing pipes pierced, tiles broken, cabinets hung unlevel or at the wrong height, putty mismatched or not done at all, base cabinets not sitting flat on the floor or against the wall, face frames misaligned, etc. I consider myself just as skilled as any other professional, and I feel that making $80,000/yr for my hard work is perfectly acceptable.
Our guys make very good money. There are a lot of shops out there who desperately need an installer to take charge and get a job done. A shop just wants someone it can count on. We charge $60.00 per man hour on installation so we make plenty of money over what we pay our installers. We've been in business since 1978.
This usually works out to about $47 a lineal foot. That includes doors, drawers, hardware and finish. Material not included. Anything over 20 miles we charge $.31 a mile. I used to install commercial and residential cabinets in the past and was lucky to get $10 an hour. That is providing my own tools and the company providing all materials and transportation of cabinets with movers. I learned the trade working for a custom home builder and was eventually building all cabinetry and trim and maxed out at $10 an hour and was happy to get it.
Some shops down here have in house installers which have to work with the shops for years to get to $17.50 an hour. Of course one can rent a 2 bedroom apartment 2 blocks off the water down here for $400 a month, so $17.50 is pretty good. Wages are relative to location. We stay busy and take home about 25K a year working usually 3 weeks out of the month.
The true craftsman is a vanishing breed. I would gladly pay $20 to $25 per hour, furnish all tools vehicle and medical if people took pride in their work. There should never be a punch list, one should punch as they go. Too many people just want to blow and go and accept substandard work. I don't think anyone that does quality work has a problem getting paid what they are worth.
Regarding what the market will bear, installing boxes in new construction track homes is not really the same as installing 40+K worth of high end cabinets in an existing home under the scrutiny of a homeowner. I think that even in Arizona, there is more money for real craftspeople, but it is rarely found in new construction. New construction installers are installing what many of us will be tearing out in a few years. The workmanship is awful.
I recently started working for a high end kitchen dealer and they have an interesting pay system. The production manager looks over the job and figures how many days it should take and multiplies it by $400 and that is what the job pays. Here is where the big disincentive is and the reason why I am looking elsewhere. He does not base the number of days on the average installer, but since he knows his installers pretty well, he bases it on the installer who will be doing the job. I then lose the opportunity to get the job done quicker and make more money. If I hustle and get the job done a day or two sooner, he will just give me less time and less money on the next one.
These cabinets are basic face frame cabinets and everything is prefinished. I've spent years building and installing many high end kitchens in custom homes and would be charging way more for that, but these cabinets are pretty easy to install - about one day for a full kitchen. I just did one kitchen with 15 cabinets and some extra work, and ended up making $700 for two days.