Pricing a Built-In Bookshelf

Another tour through familiar territory: How much is this bookcase worth? And should neighbors catch a break? November 26, 2007

I don't really build bookcases regularly, but need to price a job that is pretty standard bookcases. Overall it will be 18' of cabinets using oak with crown and base. I live in California and was looking at about $2,500. Does that seem right?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor M:
Seems low to me. Not knowing the circumstances, it is hard to tell you how much to charge. I am in Ontario, Canada and would typically get about $5400 for this in oak veneer particle, solid wood edging, and a stain and lacquer finish. Start adding doors and such and the price goes up proportionally.

From the original questioner:
This will be on one wall, 10' using 3 bookcases, joining them together and then topping with crown and baseboard. On the other wall there will be two bookcases on each side of a desk. These are very basic, so that is why it is hard for me to price. Oak veneer with face frames and an arch in each case. I will be doing the finishing as well. It is very easy because it is my next door neighbor, so I don't want to overcharge him, and also I have a lot of oak left over from my last job, so material cost will be down for this one. And that was right, 18 feet, 10' on one wall, and the rest on two individual cases. Also, I will not have raised panels for the end panels.

From contributor R:
For the average client I'd charge about $5200, which would include installation and finish.

From contributor G:
I did the design and shop drawings for the guy that built this, all in eastern white pine, stained and finished. He got $6K for the job, complete.

Click here for higher quality, full size image

From contributor J:
Recently did a 14' L-shaped credenza bookcase (similar to contributor G's) plus a full height CD cab with doors in natural stain and lacquer finish with lighting, crown, base and trimmed out two windows and two doors in matching oak at about $10k, for a friend. A regular customer would have been more than $14k. It took me two weeks in the shop with one helper and 2 full days to install with about $2800 in overhead and supplies. Where else can you legally make $3k per week with your hands and love what you do?

From contributor S:
"It is my next door neighbor so I don't want to overcharge him, and also I have a lot of oak leftover from the last job, so material cost will be down for this one..."

I don't care who it is. Work is work. Personally I wouldn't work for my neighbor, but if I had to, I would charge more because I know inevitably I am going to be asked to do some touchup or tweaking down the road. Charity is for your personal life, not business. Just because you have materials lying around doesn't mean they are free. You paid for them at one point, right?

Material costs + waste + profits
Overhead + salary + benefits + profits

Don't forget to bill for design time, cut listing, optimization, ordering and unloading materials, fabrication, packaging, shipping, installation, all the behind the scenes time doing day to day business operations.

Rent/mortgage, liability insurance, workman's comp, electric, heat/ac, dumpster, phone/fax/cell/internet, investment in tooling and machinery and depreciation associated with these investments, vehicle costs, accounting, health insurance, retirement plan, etc.

Profits are what you make for investing money, time and risk into being self-employed. Profits are not your salary.

My pricing starts at $1,000 a foot installed for Euro cases with primer and 5 piece raised panel. Your material costs alone will be close to your current estimate. I wouldn't deliver the unprocessed sheet goods, solid woods, and pails of finish for that price. Glue, screws, staples, sandpaper, rags? The list goes on and on.

From contributor G:
That 13-footer I showed in the picture came to about $2K in total material costs. That figure included almost $500 for 5-piece doors from one of the well known door component makers, and not too much for the 8 CNC-cut carcasses. The outside-purchased 5/4 glued up shelves, crown mold, cap mold for the base, and choice white pine lumber made up the rest, plus the sealer, stain, and topcoat materials. Unless you are a big company, you can probably come out okay if you charge for design, then about 50 bucks an inch, and another $150 to $200 per door.

From contributor J:
Some of us are fortunate to have friends - even friends that have done us favors that may have cost them money, who may have never asked for a dime. And some of us like to reciprocate that goodwill in a way that we can still make a living... And some of us have been lucky enough to hold our overhead down so low that we don't need to charge $2500 per foot (though we do when we need to!) and still make a damn good living from our work.

To preface a comment with "what I do" is legitimate. To tell someone "what you must do" may not be. Judge not lest ye be judged...

One great way to learn pricing is to get someone (maybe on WOODWEB) whose work you respect and who is in the same or similar market and to pay him a couple of hundred dollars for doing a takeoff of your drawing/sketch. Do this a few times, and keep close track of your costs - especially the hidden ones (a fairly comprehensive list of them was started here in this thread) and then do what too many don't - review that list and see what actually happened. Do this a few times and you will have a better handle on what your pricing needs to be.

From contributor F:
No two cabinet shops will charge the same, and nobody here can tell you what to charge. The exact same bookcase built in Biloxi will be a greatly different price than one made in Manhattan. You have to know your costs and price this job like any other. Then when you have a price, if you want you can offer him a discount of X percent for goodwill because he's your neighbor.

But this is still your job and your livelihood and you cannot work for free, and by the sound of your initial quote, you're not making anything on this job. It's one thing to lend a neighbor a tool or help them with a small project, but you can't spend a week or two working and not get paid. At least that's my opinion and I'm sticking to it.

From contributor R:
If you are in southern California, at $2500, I can see you losing out or, at the least, breaking even with hardly any salary for yourself.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. I did increase the price to $3,500, which is still cheap, but like I said, I have a lot of leftover and it is a good neighbor.

From contributor S:
A few years ago we also sold several lines of stock and semi-custom cabinetry to builders for spec houses. One was a really super basic line. If memory serves me correct, the wholesale price delivered to our shop for everything you would need to do this job would probably be about $2,000-$2,500 wholesale. Then we would mark it up and add for install. I still can't see it being done for less than $6,000 figuring this.

Yes, there are operational cost differences all around the country to consider, but materials cost the same, and electric, gas, tooling, machinery are all things that don't change regionally. It is really easy to underestimate the amount of cumulative time it takes to get things done. I used to be really bad at that. You look at something and figure "oh yeah, I can get that done in 3 days." The thing is when you think like that, you are figuring your best days possible with absolutely no interruptions. How often does that happen, maybe one day a week at the most?

You earned the right to make money on the materials. Do not pass that along to your neighbor. I do understand if you want to discount the labor portion.

From contributor K:
I think contributor S is giving you some good advice and insight into how doing a project for a friend/relative can cost you more than you think when you take into account your fixed and variable costs, if you decide to give them a discount.

A week's worth or more of labor at a reduced rate still eats into your billable hours and net profit, and needs to be made up elsewhere. Or do it at your convenience as suggested (maybe on Saturday mornings for a month or two), which would have less impact on your schedule and finances.

In any case, when doing any project at a discount, for whomever, just realize you are choosing to lose money (and that's okay if that is what you want, although $4K for a friend is quite a friend), spending less time with your family to get it done, and also adding pressure to your regular schedule. Weigh all the factors when considering this, and if you are okay with it, go for it.

We do some pro-bono work throughout the year, but it is usually done at off-peak times and hours so as not to affect other facets of business.

Look at the annual Cabinetmakers survey with prices all over the place. Look at this thread - you were looking at $2500 (or $138/ft), some were at around $5000 (or $277/ft or two times what you ask), some at $10,000 (or $555/ft or four times what you ask), some at $18,000 (or $1,000/ft or 7 1/2 times what you ask), so $2500/ft is achievable with the right clientele. I guarantee you someone in your neck of the woods is making it, with the same market conditions. Our pricing would have been around $15K.

From contributor T:
$6,000 finished, but uninstalled. We are considered middle of the road in the whole of Washington state. High middle for the eastern side of the state. 4 years ago I would have done it just like you, but not anymore. For a friend, a true friend, maybe $5,000.