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garage shop guy... am I hated?3/22/16
For nearly 20 years I been a carpenter. Mostly working for other shops but about 15 years I built a shop and had a brief moment (18 months) where I completely relied on my shop for income. I was licensed and insured had a partner and one employee. I gave up working in my shop full time because during the Iraq war both my employee and business partner were deployed. Since that time I have continued to work part time from my shop while working full time for someone else. Most of my work has been referred to me thru other shops. It's mostly millwork kind of stuff but I do get the occasional furniture piece or oddball cabinet. Never a full set of kitchen cabinets just the odd vanity or liquor cabinet ect. All except for a few small furniture jobs I get paid thru the shop that referred me and claim the income on a 1099 or something similar kind of form. I always read on here about "garage shop guys" and my 26'x36' shop and business practices probably qualifies me as one of those. I feel I am doing a service to the shops I work with but I don't get the sense of love from this forum. I am not getting rich by no means one of my better years was 2013 in which I cleared 12K. I think last year 2015 it was about 3K. Am I hated?
No, not hated. The problem comes from the typical garage shop pricing there work way below what a commercial shop would have to charge. With your work being sold through a 3rd party that probably negates the lowball factor.
Its true. Shop size does add inches to your penis.
Like Larry said, the issue comes from pricing. It seems many "garage shops" do not carry the overhead that a real business requires, such as insurance and licensing. I've also heard of illegal employee arrangements. More typical may be a "garage shop" that doesn't allow a profit large enough to cover their risk, consequently not charging accordingly.
Not only is this bad for that shop, it's bad for the industry as a whole. They are putting their family and future at risk, essentially subsidizing cabinets for someone's project.
A small one man shop is just as much of a real business as a big shop. Sam Maloof, Thomas Moser, and lots of others started in their garages. Maloof started in a chicken coop. Low overhead is a good thing.
Why should garage shops artificially inflate their prices to match large shops prices? That is not free market capitalism, that's price fixing. If the guy in a small shop can make more than me with a large shop then why would anybody ever want to expand their business?? Garage shops play a valuable role and are typically happy to take jobs that larger shops can't do or don't want to do.
Agreed...I'm not talking about the legitimate small shop (which the OP seems to be). I'm talking (ranting) about the garage shops that don't abide by the rules of business. Sometimes, they just don't know any better, and they price themselves out of business because they don't understand their costs. But that isn't helping our industry; it devalues our work.
Let's back up a step.
You're an independent contractor. You have your own facility, you produce under your own rules, when, how, as and if you want to.
You provide a valuable service to your customers or they wouldn't pay you.
You wind up with some net profit (hopefully) when it's all said and done, overhead, etc., etc. included.
Unlike most "garage guys" you're licensed and insured. Your employee(s) were legal.
That's completely different than most "garage guys." Shall we just say that most of them aren't licensed or insured and tend to have illegal workers?
900+ sq ft (26x36) is quite a bit more than the typical garage operation, so you may not even qualify as a "garage guy."
In any case, no, you shouldn't be hated at all. You're just another perfectly legitimate competitor.
In fact, I love what you're doing in filling a niche that works for you. Maybe at some point you'll be able to go back to running your shop full-time.
I only bother to comment because I'm an amateur woodworker, and sort of an "outsider" like you. My expertise, such as it is, is economics, finance and general business, having run a few. (They don't love me, either, so don't feel bad.) Difference is I'm retired and I only build cabinets and other stuff for myself, so I'm zero threat to anyone.
I agree with Dave Nauman. My dad started in a chicken coop, carrying boards at a time across a canal bridge, that shop raised me and I will forever thank him for what he did when he was "small", did bigger shops "hate" him? Who cares! I think that as long as you don't deceive your customers, promising things you can't provide, the transaction is fair and is what makes the market great. I applaud you.
While we're complaining about the small woodworker hiring "illegal" workers I thought it might be a good time to ask what will happen if President Trump manages to get all those bad guys back across the border and gets Mexico to pay for a fence to keep them from coming back.
If these guys are such a problem there must be a bunch of em. Who is going to do the work they when they are gone? Who is going to build the houses we sell our cabinets to?
If we can't sell cabinets because customers can't afford to build houses how will we have enough money to pay $9 for a head of lettuce when it is now being picked by college educated anglo saxon workers?
I would like to add a small input to the conversation about what some might consider under pricing i am a one man show with a shop a bit larger than a garage doing anything i can handle in custom woodworking. I have read questions about pricing many times on this forum and many others and for the most part people are tight lipped. I my self asked a few weeks ago about pricing on a kitchen i am doing now and received a couple of answers. Am i under pricing you guys? I don't know. If i could get more for the same work i would; who wouldn't. I just don't have a large back ground for building kitchens to know a fair price. I think a lot of the smaller shops just don't have access to market prices and just do what they think is best. Don't get me wrong I'm very glad i found this forum and appreciate the help i received in this short time I've been here but pricing is not just overhead and making a profit it is also what is a fair price even if it means i make less then others because of the speed of a one man shop. I hope i didn't aggravate anyone but i agree if we all were pricing similar projects in the same ballpark it would be better for all. We sometimes don't know what that ballpark is.
the biggest problem i see on this forum,most guys are very insecure about their own operation.
This post kind of relates in the Architectural Woodworking Forum where a question about pricing a cherry cabinet occurred. I would have been happy to build it for less than anyone else that posted. I work full time in a totally unrelated industry now but do this kind of stuff part time. I love taking rough lumber and milling it to make some one of a kind item. I think big shops look at me as a competitor with an unfair advantage but maybe they should start looking to us as potential customers. I cannot tell you how many times I bought hardware, lacquer or a few sheet goods from another cabinet shop not to mention 90% of my doors come from a local cabinet shop.
Shaun, I think you just admitted you are the kind of guy this post was directed at. A guy that will work for less, interrupts the flow of a shop to buy some plywood and stuff, and don't have to make a living with your product. I hated when part-timers stopped by to mooch a 1/2 sheet of plywood ("it's just your scrap, right?"), or get free advice, and then talk endlessly about their current job that they have sold. "You know, just to be able to buy some new toys at Woodcraft!" It often took an hour+ out of my day so I could give him some plywood and if he happened to buy a sheet, I could make a whole 20 bucks. Rarely the kind of customer I wanted!
Larry, I live in Kentucky and have a local contractors license. Statewide only issues the specialized contractors like hvac, electrical ect. I do not have insurance. Almost all of my work I am actually working for another shop. I have paid taxes on 100% of the income I have EVER made.
Rich atleast I didn't ask to use your wide belt sander!! LOL
It's true most shops don't want small pita jobs , therefore a small shop can charge more for smallish jobs , I do.
A few points:
The shop the that is operating illegally - zoning, permits, insurance, employees, etc - is not competing fairly in the marketplace. Get legal, and I'll be glad to compete with you.
If you have any pride in your work (Is that even a factor nowadays??), then that pride should extend to all parts of your work - the product, of course, but also the shop, the equipment, the way you conduct business with vendors, customers, even gov't agencies. The way you treat employees is also a source of pride.
If you conduct yourself as a professional, and engage in business as a professional, then you are welcome and have earned the respect of the community. If you are a guy with a garage, a table saw, and the desire to undercut "all them guys overcharging for simple cabinets...." then, no, you do not have the respect of the community and will likely never get it. In more ways than one.
What a bunch of blowhards. A guy that works out of his garage for more than 2 years is not undercutting any craftsman with skill.
Its only a free Country until someone starts to complain, then the freedoms fly out the door faster than gossip travels through a Beauty Salon.
Who should really care what someone does in their spare time ( Shaun did say he works full time for someone else ) and that he gets referrals from other shops.
Its his time, its his shop, its his tax liability, (and he says he pays so why doubt him) its his obligation to meet the quality standards of the shops he gets work from, its his reputation.
I say; good for you Shaun !!
I can also relate this story:
I have the pleasure of knowing one of the finest period furniture reproducers in the US. His work is collected by people that know, and he commands top dollar for anything he does. Not unreasonable, but he gets paid for his work, and his knowledge. He has the respect of everyone he deals with.
I visited him once at an open house where he had a fantastic Cherry Highboy on hand, a Piecrust table, and another piece or two. The highboy stopped everyone. Many of the more serious lookers were older wood hobbyists, and they could note the dovetail spacing, the hand scraped surfaces, the planed drawers individually fitted, and so on.
Many asked him if he had plans for sale. He did not have plans, since he just did not work that way.
I asked him if it bothered him that so many apparently wanted to just copy his piece, and not do the research, the museum visits, the measuring and notations that he had to do to come up with such a good piece. He said he did not care about that. His response was "if they can do what I do, then more power to them."
He had such a high level of skill, and it ran from the first idea, the first sketch, the first measurement all the way to the brasses and the wax on top of the finish. He was confident of his skills and welcomed anyone that wanted to try to copy them. He knew they would not begin to approach his level until after several pieces and several years, with diligence and native talent. He had little or no competition as a result.
He also started out in a chicken coop.
No, you are welcomed!
(different trade - upholstery, similar situation)
I have a target profile customer, and a level of service (read overhead) to cater to that profile. And a marketing outreach they can connect with when they go looking. My prices are appropriate for that client and my level of service.
Which means I'm not for everyone. When a down-market person contacts us, I refer them to a garage guru I know. I'm not afraid of him, because at his lower prices, he will never pay for the resources to compete with my offering in my market segment.
The shop work is the same. But the degree of collaboration, logistics, warranty and convenience changes the price scenario.
Some people just want their chair re-upholstered for as little as possible and don't mind driving it to some shop and picking a clearance fabric. Those are the folks I refer out - happily.
From deep personal beliefs, I feel that every worker and every business has a certain portion of business, or work if you will. Some get their portion, some let it slip away, some seem to chase into the hands of others.
There is room for everyone. Many here forget that "legal" requirements vary widely from area to area. In my area you only need a city business license and sales tax permit to build cabinets. You only need a state license if you install. Many local zones get laws permit working from your home.
With almost 50 years woodworking experience I probably still qualify as a garage shop, but I'm an a-hole who charges like crazy, am independent (to put it politely), and judging from the bitching on thus site probably make more that most of you.
As to illegal hiring, I would bet that the large shops in major cities have way more illegals working that the one and two man shops.
Often wondered about all the one man shows on business and management forum. To my way of thinking a one man shop doesn't have a business or management.
Okay Ray. I'll bite!
Please do elaborate on why a one man shop does not have a business or does not manage anything?
I'd like to hear this one.
I use to think the same way as a garage shop was the problem but have learn over the years they can do good for our industry.
I'm not sure I understand the attitude that equates a small, at home shop with being poorly equipped, unskilled, and disreputable. I agree there are some lowballers and hacks working out of their garage, but there are plenty of large junk shops as well.
what is the most important thing imo ,
and to the clients .
" great things do not have to come from great places "
It's true !
This may be unpopular, but I like to be the devil's advocate. In full disclosure, I helped build up a big shop.
I always hear all over these forums "customers only want cheap products", and tying it in to this topic, "garage guys aren't "legit" because they can't take care of customers like I can".
Which is it? If all the customer wants is a cheap product, then they don't care to pay for the extra services a big shop can provide, and to that customer, the garage shop is a better fit. I think the truth is somewhere in the middle, and absolute statements are dangerous. Some customers just want a cheap product, and others want more. To everyone their own. There's room for everyone.
I think we all agree that as long as someone is within the law, being honest, and providing a decent product, we're all ok with competing with that guy. The market will sort it out. In my opinion, If anyone is having an issue with that, I think they've got the wrong business model for the customers in that market and need to listen to what the customers are asking for rather than force their opinions. The customer will buy what he wants to buy, not what you WANT him to buy.
Dave Nauman makes a very good point.
There are probably a lot more junk cabinets being produced by huge state-of-the-art shops than is built by guys working out of their garage or basement.
I run a one person shop. I started in garage 20 years ago. Five later I have a shop.
I can under bid large shops by targeting customers that can wait 8 months, deal with an answering machine instead of a receptionist, and have specific requirements on small projects. Larger shops can't remember all the details of a complicated small job in a cost effective manner.
Hiring "illeagals" doesn't mean immigrants around here, it means hiring people, and not supporting them with unemployment insurance, worker's comp, health insurance, safe working conditions, or social security payments. I get around that by subbing out what I can to real subs, off site. Other than that, I can't hire anyone, due to the shop being out of compliance with a lot of OSHA rules.
I can understand people being angry at competitors that take advantage of the system and the workers to cut costs. It's a short term business model. Marketing to long term customers is one way to compete.
One reason there are wide differences in prices from one shop to another, and why some garage guys are looked down upon unfavorably, is specifications.
With residential builder/owner projects there are almost never specifications beyond "good quality" - whatever that means. Almost none of the shops in that market segment are AWI members, so there are no standards that will define quality. It is rare to even have a shop define what they build. The builder or owner would be better served if they gave some pricing guidelines, and what that included. But they will almost never do that, thinking Mr CabinetMan will charge that much, but deliver half the product.
I can think of about 7-8 ways of putting adjustable selves in a cabinet, maybe more. Each has a cost, with a variable of maybe 6x in cost. Raw edges on the shelves? Iron on tape? Poly edge band? Solid wood? Solid wood shelves? Sawtooth, pins, KV track, wire hangers, etc.
The customer will get bewildered right away if given many choices for every facet (and who wants to wait on those answers....?), so you just go on and assume you will do what you usually do - the Usual. The builder is no help, all he wants to know is how much it is going to cost him.
Then the cabinetmaker. If he is self taught, he may not be aware of more than 2 ways to set adjustable shelves, and may never have seen an edgebander. Or he may labor over breadboard ends on solid wood shelves when melamine is what is really wanted. Tell him that the veneers need to be blueprinted, and he may be lost. Then there is hardware, then finish.....
So there is plenty of room for price differences, definitions of quality, and finished product. There is also plenty of room for disagreement and misunderstandings and resulting problems that will come from title or no specification.
So I would add specifications to the description of a professional shop - garage or 60,000s/f plant.
If you consider how long a pice of furniture or woodwork should last as indicative of its quality, the worst furniture on the planet is probably Ikea and other knockdown types. They are only here for a while before their trip to the curb is complete.
Quality is in the eye of the customer.
If he is happy and pays what you want he comes back.
"High end" is a joke. I have been watching this board for over 10 years and am yet to see anyone claim to build anything other than high end. So, who really builds the crap so often seen in real life?
Price is my only real advantage on bigger shops. I usually pass on jobs that have a hard deadline, would be much easier with a cnc or painted pieces. I have grown fond on tinted lacquer but paint is nearly a no go from me. I refinished some oak cabinets with enamel paint a couple years ago and swore to never do it again!
Sea, High end is a joke because the only one's that know what high end is a very small amount of people on here. Saying that, we have been forced to make a cabinet that can be sold on the market to compete with our competition. How many of you make a M&T door, used joinery on making the carcass or used a swag butt hinge on your cabinets. No matter if it's made in a basement or a 50k sqft. shop cabinets are a box with a door on it and if a designer or a GC decides to use you and call you high end or if you have a great marketing plan to build your brand as high end you win.
I've seen guys who have no shop OR garage put out stuff that would make you think they did...
Prevailing method decades ago was that cabinets used to be made on-site in a customers driveway (or if you're lucky, their garage to avoid sun and cold)... I've seen guys on other forums advocating a return to this method...
It's not necessarily the surroundings, it's the skill... some need a truck, some need a garage, some need a shop and some need a facility...
But IMHO, as long as he is operating above board with the same rules, how he achieves his end product and under what conditions is up to him...
A chicken coop... perspective...
I'd echo all the points above in that I have never felt, nor read, about any hatred towards a "garage shop". The problem comes when a guy/gal is working out of their garage under the blanket of a spouses income, dont account for their mortgage, electric bill, depreciation on tools, and more than likely feel they are profitable if they have a little cash in their pocket at the end of the week.
Any garage shop that accounts for the shops portion of the expenses (rent/utilities/taxes), has a state business license, operates under the same rules, burdens, and advantages, as the rest of us, is fine by me.
I have the image of an unkempt shop rat pulling up a full pick-up to the construction site and telling the foreman/builder/owner "these cabinet ain't moving until I see some money". Then spitting a well placed plop of chew right between their feet.
"hugs and kisses" hope you feel the love
Like others have said, you are filling a gap in the market. I am 4 man shop and have on the side 2-3 guys like yourself that I refer when a customer contacts me with a small job that doesn't suit us. So your great for the cabinet economy. Hopefully you can prosper.
The ones that bother me are the guys that aren't set up properly, undercut a larger company and do an average job or take a super long time. The customer is unhappy, has learned there lesson and would never do it again......however kitchens ect. are a one in 15-20 year thing so it's either a long time coming till we get tanother chance at that customers work or it never comes. The "backyard guy" eventually folds up because it's all too hard. Then the next one pops up. The cycle continues.
Seeing this a lot with the big box stores. Same principal.
I hate you garage shop guy!!! Just kidding, have at this crappy business!!!!