Pricing a Bathroom Cabinet Job

Pros share estimating tips and pricing strategies. June 22, 2005

I am a small, one-man, part time shop that usually works with entertainment centers and shelving units. I have been approached to build cabinets for a bathroom remodel. Construction is not a problem. What I am wondering about is pricing the job correctly. The job is red oak with raised panels, coved drawer fronts and dovetail drawers (all outsourced - $1450 with hinges, shipping and packaging). Everything will be unfinished and installed. Any help with pricing and what you might charge for something like this would be appreciated. By the way, this is for the owner of my building where I lease my space.

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Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor E:
How long will the job take you? You can use a material multiplier since the job is so small. If you're looking to give the guy a good price, I wouldn't go higher than materials x 3. Don't forget to mark up your materials by at least 10%.

From contributor M:
What are the measurements for the linen closet? What materials are you going to use for the carcasses? Will they have backs, and what is he expecting you to do when you fit around the plumbing? Cutting holes big enough to fit around the stops would be okay, or will you have to wait for the plumber to get there so that your holes will be small enough to fit under cover plates?

I would look to see how much doors and drawers will run you. My guess is that he could not get that purchased and installed from a Big Box store for that much. If you are trying to do this guy a favor (he is cutting you a deal on rent, isn't he?), add up your materials, estimate your time to build and install. Next, figure the cost of overhead (how much a day does it cost you to keep the shop open (rent, phone, electric, gas, etc.) per hour. Multiply that by your time estimate - including install time because you are being charged this whether you are in the shop or not, and add that to your price. This is your cost. Want to make a profit? Multiply by 10-20%.

You need to know what your costs are. Otherwise, you will be paying him to make these cabinets. And personally, I would rather be sitting at home losing money than breaking my back, wearing out me and my equipment, subsidizing someone's remodel.

From the original questioner:
I figured my time with construction, travel time and install to be around 27 hours. I added 20% to this for the unknown, bringing total hours to about 32 (is this too much time?). Also, I use 3/4 maple with 1/2 inch backs for carcasses, face frame construction. Total cost for outsourcing door, drawers, fronts, hinges, drawer guides and shipping is $1450. My shop costs are not that high ($350/mo for 1200 sq feet, including electric and gas). I came up with $1120 for labor. So total bid I came up with, materials and labor, is $2850. Am I in the ballpark?

From contributor M:
Are you using maple with oak doors? Is this paint grade? If so, why not use a paint grade door? What was the dims for the closet?

There are guys around here that are doing work for builders at $125/ft. Others are selling at $60/ft. I am not profitable at $125. The vanity et al would be around $1,562 at $125/ft. Then add per each d/t drawer and the price goes up. But again, this is all regional.

Figure your cost, take notes, and learn from your experiences. Some guys are just nailing their carcasses together, no glue or screws or backs ($60/ft). Others use plant-on backs, screws, but no glue. Others rabbet backs, dowel, glue, and screw. I would toss the ball back to you. If you think you can do it for that amount of time and he is willing to pay that for it, then go for it. If he balks at the price, start taking features (options) away, although it is harder to take away than to add on. He may not be interested in maple ply. It sounds like you have thought about it - now pull the trigger and see what happens. We all have different methods and can do this in different amounts of time. But if you are comfortable with your construction methods, your overhead, and the cost of materials, then shoot him the price. If you keep going at this pace and you don't get work, then you will need to evaluate your time, overhead, or materials.

From contributor B:
I built a vanity the same width as yours, only it had shelves up both sides and a bulkhead with pot lights. It was constructed of cherry veneer core and solid cherry fronts (raised panel doors) and I charged $2900. When I presented the quote, they questioned if I could do it for that - "We were expecting at least $4000." Unfortunately, the $4000 was what I should have charged to give myself a fairer wage. I find the hardest part of this business is pricing, but I am learning fast. If you are on the high side, you can always lower your price if the customer complains and you still want the job. Hard to go the other way if you estimate low. I think another mistake we make is comparing our work to Big Box stores. You look at the vanity sitting on the floor with the low price but read further and see what it does not include and it can double the price. It's like that new car at $25,000. By the time it's on the road with the options you like, it's up to$32,000. I am trying to practice what I preach, but it is hard. I live in Ontario about an hour from Toronto. In Toronto, my vanity would be closer to $5500.

From contributor B:
I just priced a 6' vanity and 30" linen cabinet, finished, at $1700. Customer jumped on it, said it was the same price as the high-end cabs at a retail outlet. But these folks weren't from here. The same thing priced for folks here wouldn't go for over $800. I know I should move, but that takes money and time.

From contributor W:
Sounds like your door prices are high. Try Texas Doors. The price they quote you includes shipping. We use Cabinet Door Shop for our dovetailed drawers. They have the best prices around.

An inexpensive cabinet program that makes cutlists will save you more time than you can believe. There are many out there, but we use Cabinet Solutions. If you don't want to pay $4000 for a design program, you can rent for about $100 per month. It is money well spent. Your price is good, but you should work to be as productive as possible so you can reduce that labor cost. It should not take so long to do this job if you are outsourcing the doors and drawers.

From the original questioner:
Thank you all for your responses. These are exactly the kind of answers I was looking for. Man, this is a great site!

From contributor J:
I put your drawing into the spreadsheet that I use and came up with $3,073. I don't usually do face frame because I have an edgebander and like frameless. I also only use melamine for interiors.

This is how my spreadsheet broke it down for me. Labor: 22.5 hours at $35 = $787.5. Door and drawer front cost based on supplier's costlist = $490. Materials for the boxes themselves are $278. Drawer box and hardware cost: $605. I charged $150 for delivery but I don't know how far away the job is. Even if the job is just down the street, it still takes time to load and unload both the cabinets and the tools to install, so I don't think that number is too far out of line. Install = $228. I took the total of all of these and marked it up 20% for profit and to add an overall fudge factor.

I love estimating with my spreadsheet. It helps me to not miss aspects of the job and make sure I am charging for all that I do. I also like that I have a budget for things like doors and drawers, so I know what my target is.

From contributor I:
Here in Ontario, it would run you around $4500 with melamine interiors.

From contributor L:
I am a one man full-time professional shop in Sacramento, Ca. I do mostly high-end custom homes in both face frame and euro.

I have priced this project with face frame construction, red oak exteriors, pre-finished maple interiors, red oak open areas, raised panel doors, maple dovetailed drawers, ogee crown, Blum clip-top hinges, Blum tandem slides with blumotion, (you didn't spec this, but using dovetailed drawers without this hardware would be a crime, in my opinion), un-finished and installed.

Total price: $5335 plus delivery and install at an additional $480.

Looks like I'm the high bidder here, which is just where I want to be! This is my normal pricing and I'm always booked 2-4 months out all of the time.

Jim McDermott and Will Sampson (from the Cabinet Makers Association and Cabinetmaker magazine) have been giving a pricing seminar for several years now, stressing the importance of giving proposals that fairly reflect our talents and investments in our trade. We are professionals just like doctors, lawyers and car mechanics and should be fairly compensated as such!

Contributor R, I honestly don't see how you can make it with that pricing. Is everything cheaper in Texas? The cost of materials alone must be in the same range as they are here.

From contributor J:
I quoted the job in melamine, not maple ply. I assumed that contributor I in Ontario was quoting in Canadian dollars, not U.S. (correct me if I am wrong) and I know that I can make enough to make this job worth doing based on my spreadsheet and doing it over and over again. I think the fact that you are in California might inflate your numbers a bit. I know that housing in California is substantially more than housing in Utah, where I am. This makes everything from shop space to materials to your shop time more expensive, so I can charge less and have more money left over at the end to go play golf with (also more expensive in California), unless it is snowing, in which case I will go skiing.

From contributor L:
All points well taken. You are absolutely correct about costs and prices in different parts of the country (and Canada). You may also be correct that you take home more of what you charge than I do due to the costs of doing business here in Ca. I am by no means the high bidder on the high-end jobs that I usually go after. Contributor R may also do better than it seems due to the costs of where he is doing business. He is a nice guy and no dummy. You do what you gotta in the place where you're doing business.

Even though the original questioner is a part-time cabinetmaker, if he inadvertently cuts the throats of the full-time pros in his area, then he is doing all pro cabinetmakers a disservice.

If there are those guys out there with a truck and a table saw who are willing to give this work away dirt cheap, they make it that much harder for the full-time pro who has a huge investment in his trade to win contracts that will compensate him fairly.

Again, I am not trying to be argumentative. Just trying to pass along some of the points that have been pounded into my head for years now. We all have to start somewhere. Many of us started out in our garage, charging ridiculously low prices, slowly honing our craft and slowly learning to charge more along the lines of a professional. I don't have a problem with these guys (that's exactly how I started out), as long as they are using this approach to become a pro. When they start competing with me to win contracts and they have no shop rent, no liability insurance, hardly any overhead - that's when it's a problem for me.

Right now, there is a guy who rented a shop right down the street from me, who started out 3-4 years ago. He does pretty low-end work for low prices. He has no contractor's license, no insurance and now has a couple of guys working for him under the table. I drove by his shop the other day and saw his guys spraying fancy carved corbels, which means he is starting to do jobs that are creeping into my end of the market, and it's beginning to piss me off! What's worse is the fact that he has a couple of unscrupulous builders that are using him on a regular basis, knowing how he is operating and taking advantage of his cheap pricing. I'm right on the verge of turning all of these weasels in.

From contributor S:
Contributor J, 35 an hour? You need to crunch some numbers, because you are way under average. You should start at 45 and end around 66.

From contributor J:
Have you been in my shop? Do you know what equipment I have? Do you know what I can produce in an hour? Do you know what my costs are? Many guys think that if you put a sign that says you are a cabinetmaker out in front of a building, you can just pick a number to charge for labor. I have worked at shops that charged $75 an hour, but they could produce a huge quantity of work in an hour, so that justified the huge hourly wage. With the equipment and costs that I have, I think $35 an hour is reasonable to charge and puts me where I need to be to make a profit and get jobs. In my current shop with my current equipment, I can build a base cabinet in about 3 hours average, not including finishing doors or building and mounting drawers, or applying finished ends. If I were to buy more equipment or hire somebody at a more expensive wage that could get more work done faster, then I could charge $50 an hour but only bid 2 hours to build the job. You do the math and tell me which cabinet is more expensive.

From contributor S:
Contributor J, I'm not giving you a hard time over your rate. The market will bare 45 to 66. All I'm saying is, you can make more money. It might not be much more for a one man shop, but every penny helps. At only 80 dollars a day more, you can cover more overhead and get better tools and machines. Or you can take longer to finish a job and put more attention to detail into it, making it a better product. Keeping your price lower to stay busy was a philosophy I used to adhere to, but soon learnt that better clients at higher rates was less stressful on me, as I worked less but made same or more money.