I have a small custom cabinetry shop which produces mostly entertainment centers, home offices, bars and whatnot. I have done a few kitchens and have one in production and am wondering a few things. When you take on a kitchen job, are you just building the cabinets and telling the customer they will have to find an electrician, plumber and so on? Who exactly should be responsible for installing and hooking up new appliances? In your experience, has the retailer from which the appliances were purchased installed them? Does an electrician? Do you? As for the kitchen I have in production now, I told the customer to find a plumber, electrician and so on. I told them I would be happy to work along with whoever they find as to locations of appliance cabinets.
From contributor K:
You're on the right track. Iím a builder, remodeler, electrical contractor, cabinet guy, yada, yada, yadaÖ You legally canít subcontract other trades without a license, anyway. You know the old KISS principalÖ Stick to cabinets and let the other pros do their thing. That way, when the dishwasher leaks, or the GFI wonít reset, unhappy customers arenít calling you at 9:00 at night. Recommend good quality tradesman, let the homeowner pay the bills. Even though I can do it all, I donít. After 25 years experience, you learn to Keep It Simple Sweetheart.
By the way, I don't help other subs do their jobs, or help with their rough ins or trim outs. That's the builder's/designer's job to coordinate, unless of course I bill myself as such - then I'll need a check.
When I am asked to replace cabinets in an existing kitchen, I price out and sell everything. Electrical, plumbing, tile floors, hood vent, lighting, drywall, paint, appliance installation, cabinets, everything. Some I sub out, some I do.
I think this gives me an advantage over others that will not do this work. I have been told by some customers the reason I got the job was that I took care of everything and they didn't need to call anyone else in. I use it as a selling feature and it does work. I take the responsibility and I charge for it.
I agree - don't help the other subs. They don't really need it, appreciate it, nor would they likely return the favor.
I'm not saying that I do electrical or plumbing work, etc, but I have a good relationship with reputable subs that I can recommend to the customer to be sure the job is done right. Let the experts - electrician, plumber, tinman, etc. - do what they do best. Make sure the subs know you expect them to back up their work and everyone will make money and be happy.
I say go for it - choose a way to charge for the responsibility of managing the project, and make money.
Yes, there is a chance to make more money playing the role of GC, but you also accept more liability and problems. The reason clients come to me to have these jobs (plumbing, electrical, flooring, etc.) done is because they want to save money not hiring a GC. They have swallowed the big lie that "You can be your own contractor," or "You don't need a professional. You can do it yourself." These clients see a kitchen remodel go together in a half hour several times a week. When you, as a contractor that knows how the schedules of contractors work, try to explain that the electrician will be finished on this current job in two weeks, and the plumber can't get here for another 5 days, then you are seen as the bad guy. Reality has met their expectations, there will be no progress for at least another week, and this feeling is associated with you.
I give them good referrals and let them play GC and save their money. I do a great job and get out with positive feelings. If something goes wrong with another contractor, it is not my responsibility. Case in point. The job I am on now, the tile guy was about to do the shower. The shower was being redone because of extensive water damage. The tile guy noticed a small leak in the "new" mixing valve. I can't imagine the liability that I would have to assume. Just ask any lawyer. In a case like this, they will go after anybody they can. Even if you did not do the work, you will be sued and you will have to explain to a judge/jury why you should not have to pay half of the damages. You may be willing to take that risk, and I would hope that you are bonded and well insured. But I still don't see how to make it worthwhile financially and still cover the liability.
I think contributor I's statement is a gross exaggeration - no one does a remodel in a half hour several times a week, and I have never had a customer that had a preconceived notion of precisely how long the job will take. I advise them before they agree to the project approximately how long it might take, but leave it understood that what it takes is what it takes. If I do a proper job coordinating the subs, it goes smoothly; if I don't, it won't.
In any case, you have chosen not to take the risks involved with managing a job, and that's okay. But for those willing to take the risks of a job not going quite as planned, it can be worthwhile. A small percentage of jobs turn out as you have described and they certainly don't have to end up in a lawsuit if the tradesmen are the responsible people they should be. In the case of the bad valve, a good tradesman did find a problem and instead of choosing not to say a word about it , brought it to someone's attention and it got fixed. That's how we should handle that situation and no one had to call a lawyer, and the valve company will probably credit the plumber back for a faulty product, end of story. It is on you to select and recommend reputable tradesmen that will work responsibly on the job and, as a result, make money doing so! But it's not for everyone.
To the best of my knowledge in the state if Illinois, I am not required to be licensed. I do carry a $2,000,000.00 insurance policy as required by the generals that I work for.
I did a complete kitchen remodel last summer for a regular client. Decent sized kitchen. Ripped out cabinets and furr down on Monday, repaired drywall Tuesday morning, installed cabinets Tuesday afternoon. Drywall was finished Wednesday morning. Laminate was installed on countertops Wednesday night. New ceramic tile was installed on the floor Thursday, and grouted Friday morning. Appliances and sink were installed Friday afternoon, and she cooked dinner in her new kitchen Friday night. It went like clockwork because I knew all the subs and had commitments from them for the specified time. Did a bathroom remodel for them this summer and it took weeks to make it all happen. One sub doesn't do right and the whole thing is down the tubes! Because things didn't work like clockwork, I made no money on the bathroom and had lots and lots of headaches.
I would rather recommend good subs and let the homeowner deal with the headaches so I'm off the hook. However, even with a GC, I usually have to wear many hats. I recently went to install a kitchen and he had a light switch where the appliance garage was. The homeowner called the electrician, and he said he would be out the next day. Well, he didn't come the next day, or the day after that. GC called him and he promised again. Finally, 5 days later I show up after being assured it would be taken care of. Drove 45 minutes to the job only to find that he hadn't moved the box. Called him, and he said, "just knock that box out of the way and I'll come back and put in a popin box". I started to do that the first day when I realized there was a problem. I could have saved another trip and had the job finished 5 days earlier! You gotta be flexible and roll with the punches. If you can make a buck by going above and beyond being a cabinet builder, do it! If you can't make a buck, it is too much headache to fool with it.
The customer likes to have to call as few people as possible. They are going to need a GC, unless they can handle that task on their own.
Find a Sparky and a plumber who you can work with and have them estimate on the work directly to the client. Ask for a 10% finderís fee from same.
My thought: If you, like I, have substantial shop overhead expenses, i.e., machinery, skilled help, rent, how can a cabinetmaker justify the cost of the idled shop while out playing GC?
As for the gross exaggeration, I take this from my recent experience. I speak of the last several customers that I have had, as well as the potential clients who did not want to wait. Subs here are stretched to the limit with their schedule, and there doesn't seem to be enough qualified help.
And as for responsible subs... The house that we are working on is the home of a prominent architect in Dallas - one of his buildings is in the skyline. He hand-selected all of his subs. And if it were not for the fact that the tile guy could not get to the job until a couple of days after the plumber left, his helper might not have noticed it.
I have done both, just cabinets and GC. I can say that when I accept more responsibility, the potential for problems increases exponentially! There are builders and GC's out there who are making more money than I am. But I have found it to be less complicated and I keep more money in my pocket when I stick to what I am best at, making cabinets - not babysitting subs.
There is potential to make money as a GC, but if you donít have the license to do the work, and if you donít pull permits for same work, you are just opening a can of worms.
The other day I was measuring for a vanity while the plumbers were putting in the shower pan. I swear I did not know how much work went into putting a shower together, not to mention the liner or how to do the curb.
Had I hired a plumber and a tile guy to do a bathroom remodel for me, I would not have known what to look for to ensure it was done correctly. Had I done it myself, it would have looked very different and would probably have failed and ended up costing me a bundle to have it re-done by professionals.
If you find the work for the electrician or plumber, you get 10%. I'm not good at gambling, so I like to go for the sure thing.
So again, sell what you do, donít do what you sell. Not sure who said that first here, but it makes sense.
Contributor B, the reason most small shops get involved with other trade work is because they donít have work for the shop to do so they feel making money doing something different is better than doing nothing. The sad thing is that this often backfires. I know - it has happened to me before.
I did a job installing beams on a ceiling for a client along with crown molding and some other architectural moldings. Not sure how to estimate this job, I underestimated badly and to make things worse, I took way to long to do the work. Had I done nothing rather than that, I would have been better off.
Now that I think about it, had I stayed at home and sent the client 5 dollars a day, I would have been better off still. I learnt this lesson the hard way. Many others will follow.
We do what we do best. No commissions paid between each other. We set up parameters for who is responsible for what and when it needs to be done. This way everyone can concentrate on what is making them money and not have to do the other's job without making a dime.
On the surface it seems like no one is making more money. But we have now created double the projects we bid on in a year without spending a dime on advertising. And actually, having a team of subs working on the same jobs year after year makes everybody's end run much smoother and more profitable.
To the original questioner: No question about it, it is a challenge to manage construction projects and you are asking to wear many hats that aren't familiar to you. Maybe you need to start with a smaller project to get a feel for how it will go. I am successful at doing what you are asking and if you want to take the challenge, you will also be successful. If not, that's okay - stick to cabinets.
If you do go ahead, make every effort to keep things very professional and legal. Do what is necessary to protect yourself, but always do what is best for the customer, even if it means walking away from a job. Have good, reputable tradesmen that do what they say they will and are licensed.
Doing kitchens for homeowners without a GC does require someone to hold their hand, and if you are doing that, you are right - you must get paid for it somehow if you want to stay in business.
I guess also, I just want the newer guys to consider what a bear overhead is for even a small cabinet shop, and how it dictates practically everything one does after making the commitment to do this thing called cabinetmaking. That was the main thing I did not fully understand when I decided to make cabinets full-time. Sometimes I recall wistfully the days when I was "just" a GC, and how lean my overhead was with no shop and most of my work was "cost plus". Try building cabinets "cost plus"... that would be great, only I can't seem to find any customers who will go for it!
Common facts 101.
1. To be a GC you need a license. There is a very good reason for that. Having the license means you know how to do the work to code and that means your work will in truth increase the value of the property as opposed to possibly decreasing the sale potential due to code violations.
2. The client can refuse to pay you and there is nothing you can do about it.
3. The client is gambling your lower rates against possible poor workmanship. That penny pinching mentality that drives the client to gamble on an investment such as his property makes me very weary.
4. You are gambling that you will be paid, much as we all do, but knowing that if youíre not paid, you can't do anything about it.
5. Your subcontractors are gambling their work and materials knowing that if you are not paid, they can not collect from you.
6. Everybody is gambling that nothing goes wrong, because they all know that, should something go wrong, your cabinet making insurance is not going to cover it.
Personally, I feel that people who do take such risks are not seeing the whole picture and are tunnel visioning into just another way to make a buck. I think that if that was the point, this would be a very confused world. After all, whatís to stop me from calling myself a doctor and doing a little surgery on weekends just because it turns a buck?
A cabinetmaker makes and sells cabinets. An electrician runs wires and builds circuits according to plans. A plumber runs piping and installs faucets and such. A good plumber should be too busy doing plumbing to do cabinetry. Would you hire a possibly poor plumber to do your cabinetry? I think not.
That is why people ask about your overhead, because if you are out there playing GC, you are not in your shop building cabinets. If you are a cabinet maker, but you donít make cabinets because you are out being an unlicensed GC, then maybe you should think about it a little.
Cabinet maker = +1
GC = -1
Donít you think?
Whatever you do, donít refer to yourself as a GC unless you sat the exam and passed.
And remember, people work hard to own houses and such property. That property is, to most, the most valuable investment they have and we should not take that lightly.
Also, when somebody asks for advice, I think it is only the responsible thing to give them the correct answer (to the best of our ability). If the question was ďcan I smoke while I handle lacquer thinners?Ē, the correct answer is no! There will be those that say they do it all the time. Is that the smart answer? No!
I do have a client base that doesn't ask what things cost anymore, just if I can do it! I have been fortunate over the past 18 years to have developed customers with enough money that it doesn't matter what my work costs, and they know I am trustworthy enough to have their confidence, that I bill them fairly and do as I say I will, and have the expertise needed. When a cabinetmaker is working with customers on the middle to low end of the scale, I see it would be impossible to get the kind of deal I have gotten. This would certainly make it harder to convince the customer to work on cost plus, but I still think it can be doable.
As for the fears of a job going bad, I am confident I can get the job done right. I would rather take on the job at a known risk than to leave it in the unknowing hands of a homeowner to GC him/herself. I think you run a greater risk when you have a homeowner/GC running a job when they aren't any more qualified to manage things right than you think I am! Even if it is their house, it should be done right. Also, every day you go to work, you run some risk that you won't get paid. You minimize your risks by doing good work and treating your customers with respect, proving to them through your actions that you are on their side, looking out for their best interest.
Finally, my average monthly operating expenses equal $2,600.00.
I just picked up a kitchen the other day, my second in the 2 1/2 years that I've been in business. Part of me just felt awkward saying, "check with the big warehouse appliance dealers - they generally install the appliances" or "you'll have to find someone to run the electrical boxes to the new appliances" (the appliances that I moved somewhere else). The customer didn't seem to have a problem with it, I just don't want any customer to feel like I'm not giving them the whole package. "You want $20,000 and you won't even install the appliances?!" I don't need to hear that. I have a few connections for the electric and plumbing work, but I have to find a new one because these two aren't what I want in a business relationship.
That brings up another question. Should I charge a 10% finders fee or just give him the jobs with hopes that the favor returns my way sometime? I don't know. We'll see how this kitchen goes and I have an appointment for another one tomorrow.
Comment from contributor X:
I am neither a professional cabinetmaker or a professional woodworker, just an enthusiastic amateur. But I am a licensed plumber with 15 years experience in the residential and commercial construction industry.
To the original contributor:
1 - If you are new to doing a whole kitchen style job and would like the smallest amount of hassles possible, get the customer to hire a plumber,etc themselves. One of the biggest reasons is liability, and another is time. I routinely spend a half an hour helping clients who have no designer or GC pick out the style of sink that works best for them, and that is just the sink... You should see what it takes to pick a faucet. You could spend a lot of time trying to ask the right questions in order to help them get what they want. As a plumber, I have asked them all before and can narrow it down a lot easier and I can charge them for my time, which you may not be able to if you have given them a fixed price.
2 - Who hooks up appliances, etc? Generally anything that has to do with water or waste I hook up (including the electical part). The electrical part may not be legal where you are, but I have never had a problem with an inspector for doing this. What I mean by this is that if there is an ice maker in the fridge, generally the electician has already put plugs and cover plates on and after hooking a water supply to the fridge, I'll plug it in and roll it into place (yeah, I know - tough job, but some plumbers won't even do that). Dishwashers same thing, although the electical part is not as simple as plugging it in. When I work on a site where I know the electricians, they will give me the electrical parts I require to hook it up ahead of time, because they know that I will do it right. Actually, they just throw a handful of cable clamps into my toolbox every so often when I see them so I have them when I need one. Why do I do this? I have to test the water and waste lines for the dishwasher anyway, which requires it to be powered up. I can hot wire it or take 5 minutes and hook it up properly and be done with it, so why not just do it right? Same goes for garbourators, instant hot water faucets, etc.
3 - What should the cabinetmaker work with the plumber on? Hopefullly all the planning is done before the rough in is done and the location of everything is already nailed down. When that happens, rough-ins are all where they should be (providing I did my job right) and finishing is easy. What happens, though, is that a customer buys a vintage dishwasher off E-Bay to complement their vinyl couch and everything is out of whack. If you can work with the plumber to find a way to make it fit, you will have found someone that you can work with in the future. Generally, I require nothing from the cabinetmakers unless they are also the counter top people. The counter tops are generally cut out for sinks by them, and I do the faucet holes, etc. This may be different where you live, but is the norm where I live. The exception is stone counters - the counter top people cut the tops and bore the holes for faucets, and in the case of undermount sinks, install the sinks. Other than the oddball situations, you shouldn't need to help a plumber out for much of anything.
4 - Someone mentioned finding good subs to work with - great idea. If you can find some reliable people to work with, everything goes well and all issues are easily solved. However, I don't like the idea of being expected to pay 10% of a job for referals as has been mentioned by other contributors. Good business breeds good business and if someone is worthy of recommendation, I'll recommend them free of charge and hope that they do the same for me. The truth is, I see a lot of kitchens and baths in need of renovation and when I get asked if I know someone that would be good to talk to about it, I'm not going to tell them about the guy who charges me unless he is outstanding at what he does.
I do this mostly because they do not want to pay what it is worth to hook up or install.