Setting Yourself Apart from the Crowd

What makes a cabinetmaker's offerings special for high-end customers? February 12, 2009

I have been a professional woodworker for many years now (finish carpentry) but would like to enter the cabinetmaking field. I'm interested to know what are some of the "extra" measures you will go to to consider your cabinetry "high-end" or custom, compared to what the average production shop would generally offer?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor I:
In a nut shell I would say the difference between the average production shop and a custom shop would be "choice". You should be able to give your customer whatever they want. Simple as that.

From contributor K:
A combination of choice, materials, design, execution and price (and no, not the lower end of the scale as you should be compensated for delivering "high-end", otherwise just buy some big-box store or similar product and be an installer.

From contributor D:
I'd agree with contributor I in that choice is the essence of custom cabinetmaking. Another way to maybe state it is a client will never have to settle for something less than what they actually want or need.

A big part of being a custom cabinet maker is not only the technical talent it takes to construct and finish beautiful boxes, but the ability to lead clients through the myriad of choices of how to make their cabinetry work for them. That includes what functional and decorative hardware and accessories to use, how to lay out the space for maximum function while delivering exactly the kind of a exterior look and feel they dream of.

To accomplish all the above efficiently and effectively will separate you from the production shops. While they may have many choices in sizes, finishes and accessories, they only can sell what they offer. Because of size limitations, you find many production shop designs include fillers to make their cabinets fit the space available. That is precisely the point where a cabinet buyer begins to settle. A skilled custom shop designer, on the other hand, will build the cabinets to the dimensions to fit the walls without wasting valuable cubic inches for fillers just so the boxes will fit in the available space.

Attempting to compete at the price point of the big production houses is almost always a recipe for poor profits and is likely futile. The largest production shops will go through many truckloads of sheet goods and/or solids in a shift and use automated machinery that will produce hundreds of finished cabinets in a shift.

So if you chose not to compete on price, it leaves you with at least two other areas where you can effectively compete. Quality and customer service are the areas where many custom shops shine. Those two coupled with superior technical and product/component knowledge and your top execution skills can put you and your shop in the game.

The learning curve in this endeavor, like any other new area, is very demanding. You have already taken the first step in admitting that you don't know it all. You can learn by attending any number of formal educational programs and/or workshops, seminars and trade shows around the country. You can certainly use time and trial an error, in your attempt to reinvent the wheel.

From contributor G:
I would add that one the principal distinguishing features is the finish. High-end customers are paying for a look, and while they expect high quality, you can't see high quality. And there is little substitute for a beautiful finish that shows the benefits of careful sanding, staining, glazing, polishing; and one that compliments the wall and floor colors. Get the finish and room color palette correct, and your cabinets will pop with life, even if the casework is melamine.

From contributor J:
I have found working in the New York Architectural market that having a woman project manager with great communication skills and the ability to listen and hold the clients hand(s) is the key to success. Following through on paperwork and the attention to detail are also very important. Cultivating young architects as friends and clients plays a key role in developing this aspect of the business. They are usually on the "cutting edge" of the business and are contrary to common knowledge very aware of the material and fabrication process.