Subcontracting Finishing Work

An unfinished furniture maker considers contracting out finish work, and gets advice (mostly con). October 2, 2005

We are a small furniture manufacturer that has a retail store that has been successful so far. Right now we sell all our product unfinished. We feel that we need to sell our product finished to expand our customer base. Adding a million dollar line isn't an option. Are there any companies out there that you can sub work out to? I've tried local finish shops, but some of them want $250 to finish a bookcase that retails for $199.00.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
Where are you located? If you are building stock items, then it is difficult to sub out, because most finishing is custom. I know, because back in 1988 I had a restoration shop and filled in time with sub work I did for Naked Furniture Sofas and More in Island Lake, IL. A 42" round ash table back then sold, unfinished, for about $175.00. I charged $150.00 for a stain-seal-topcoat. It does not matter to a finishing shop what you sell your item for. It doesn't change the overhead or profit margins of a finishing shop. You will find your best deals in volume.

Chances are not good. Shipping back and forth to a finisher will be a nightmare of scratches and chips. Usually only high end, multi-step stuff is sent out for glazing and toning and such. If you can't afford a finishing department (it'll be way less than a million bucks), or don't have the room for it, you could (a) find a finisher and send your customers to them, or (b) stock some DIY stains and topcoats and sell them along with.

You can get yourself set up to finish for under $10k and chances are, it would pay off in less than a year. Here in the NE, you lose about 35% when you sub.

Set up your own finishing operation (even if it's not in the same building). Doing this will:
1. Keep quality control and scheduling issues in house.
2. Allow you to respond to new finishing needs that your market dictates in a more flexible way.

3. Make a profit on your finisher instead of letting it out. Your finishing department can do the duties of sanding, finishing, wrapping, shipping, clean up, etc. when they're not actually spraying.

When my finishing room is over tasked, I only recommend to my boss that minor parts be subbed out, such as drawer boxes and cabinet backs, and then only the clear coated stuff. Too many variables in stained pieces, finished ends and drawer faces and doors. The quality/consistency varies too greatly with different people doing the work.