Big-Box Cabinet Installation Pay Rates

Installing for the big boxes is a whole different business. Here are some rumors on how the setup works. January 26, 2008

How much does Lowe's pay for installing cabinets/trim/doors/etc.? I assume it's complicated, but a general run-down would help me a lot.

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor S:
Ask them, but act like a customer if you don't think you'll get answers otherwise. I would guess it's not a whole lot, or every carpenter in town would be beating down their doors for a job.

From contributor M:
Lowe's does pay good money, but you have to do more than just install. You contact the homeowner and check the layout, you may have to pick up and deliver the cabinets, you have to schedule everything yourself. They require you to have insurance, workman's comp/liability (which you should have anyway), but they pay for everything - more than most cabinet shops around! The bad thing is that they have a 45/90 day period before you can get paid. Plus they hold 10% until the homeowner signs off. (This is in the Norfolk, VA area. It could be different where you are.) If you work by yourself and have some money saved already, it might be okay, but if you have 1, 2 or more helpers, you have to pay them. I don't think they're going to hang around for that long without pay. But check your local Lowe's. Ask questions - most of their work is remodeling, so be ready for it. I know that Home Depot requires you to put them on your auto insurance because you might be picking up cabinets or parts in your truck, but I don't know if Lowe's requires that. This is all I know.

From contributor J:
I worked for the blue box. Installers were compensated on a point system that assigned a specific value to each task in the install process. A wall cabinet was 1.25 points. In our area installers were paid $17 a point. The estimating sheet was very detailed and itemized, everything down to every piece of scribe and toe kick, assigning them a point value. I guess the idea of this approach was to standardize across stores and installers to maintain price consistency, however in practice some installers would give the store estimates for less than they could have been paid, and others asked for more than they were supposed to get according to the sheet.

The insurance requirements are somewhat difficult to comply with. Not that the insurance is expensive, just that there is a four page document that specifies exactly how the policy must be worded in order to protect Lowe's. Even installers that worked for us for 5 or 6 years had trouble getting their insurance agents to get this right! It was a yearly thing...

In general, be prepared to hold the hands of new designers. There is little training, and many are hired without experience - sometimes selling paint one day and designing kitchens the next if someone quits. (Don't get me wrong - there are many talented designers at Lowe's overall, but usually one per store is really good and he/she spends their time holding other people's hands.) Why would you be concerned about the designer's work? Well, if they make a mistake that holds up a job, the customer won't sign off, and you don't get paid until the customer signs off. For instance, I can tell you a story about an entire kitchen that was ordered vanity depth by mistake, delaying the job and the installer's pay by 8 weeks.

However, if you can hustle and learn the ins and outs, you can make a good buck installing for them.

From contributor I:
I install for four Lowe's stores in the Los Angeles area. I can't give specifics, but another poster got it right. It's done on a point system. The points vary according to your area. If you can install fast and good, you'll come out okay. I'm booked sometimes three months in advance.

However, it takes about 3 to 6 months to jump through the hoops to get on board and right now in our area, there's a hiring freeze. The process is very difficult and the insurance companies hate doing this. One of the posters had it wrong, though. I'm on electronic funds transfer and I can be paid in as little as two days, but that hardly ever happens. It's supposed to be a six day float and they don't hold back any money. There is a system to getting paid. You need a certificate of completion signed by the customer or you don't get paid. Also, if the installation department is not good, then your pay will come very slow and it's hard to have crews when they pay slow.

I do a lot of installs in our area and could easily have a number of crews, but the reality is that every month there seems to be a new manager, designer, or somebody that's going to make my life difficult. There are some very good people over there, but they are far and few between. I just don't see how they make money at this because I spend a lot of time fixing other installer's errors. I'm their go-to guy for fixes and I know they hate to call me because it gets expensive for me to go out and fix up another job.

So some things are done by points, but you have some leeway for quoting... not much, but you can't get it all by their quote sheets.

Expect them to want you to do it all - remodeling, etc. I stuck to my guns and do installs only. In and out. Not months on the job, but days. I have a really experienced crew and we all work together just one job at a time, but we can do a couple good sized kitchens a week. The other days you're going to have to devote to quoting, paperwork, measuring new jobs and getting supplies, etc.

Think long and hard before climbing on board. If you can't stand corporate structure, freak out when things go bad, no customer skills and a short temper for newbies at the store, then just pass on it. You have to be patient with everybody, because everybody is always learning, even us! There's something new going on all the time. So if you can control your frustration level and have some money in the bank to pay your guys while you're fighting for your pay, then by all means, try to get in. I think if you polled most contractors who've installed for them, they last about a year and leave out of frustration. I've been there myself. However, I think I know the system and I try to work with them. All of our clients are very happy and we strive for a 100% rating. That's very important.

So as you can see, there's a lot more to installing for them than just putting up cabinets. It's a crap shoot. If your stores have a good ism and install department and good designers that aren't prima donnas, then you should do good. So get your application in and see what happens!