Charging for Design Drawings

Here's a long thread presenting some strongly held and well-articulated views on design drafting, bidding, sales, costs, and how to charge for design work. October 13, 2010

I started the new year out with a new policy. No renderings for the job until I get the contract signed and a down payment. So far, 3 bids out with no results. It's hard to give someone a bid (they are averaging from $4,000.00 - $5,000.00) without them seeing what they are paying for. But too many times I have given bids with a rendering only to hear "thanks for the design." Hope I made the right decision

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor Z:
It's a tough call. In busy times, I'd refrain from drawing it up... Sort of like holding it for ransom. Or start with a simple drawing and not do revisions without the down payment. Perhaps leaving out all the dimensions.

Now, on a very large kitchen, I did an elevation with call-outs, because I felt the need to illustrate the details that were responsible for the price. It was a quick draw, with KCDw, and I'm taking a chance. But I want this job, and the more I look like a pro, the better. This will at least make the competition shoot for apples to apples, giving me a fair shot.

I used to print my drawings on red paper, thinking the color wouldn't fax. I don't know if that really works.

I recently bid on a plan done by a factory cabinet company and the client wrote the cost he said the quote was on the plans he gave me. He wrote the cost at about $10,000 less than what I thought the kitchen would really sell for. I got close to his number, but he still found someone to "substantially" reduce my number.

It's all a dirty little game. They play theirs, we just gotta play ours. And make enough to stay in business. In the end, we can't give it away. If you're sending out bids and hearing nothing, maybe including a simple drawing would fill some of that dead time sitting by the phone?

From the original questioner:
I thought of showing the client the drawing on my laptop and then, if they sign the contract with a down payment, I could give them a copy. I guess I need to write up a company procedure and send it with the bid.

From contributor A:
We’ve all lost jobs and our drawings were used. For the most part we don’t create any drawings until we have field measurements, which require a contract, deposit or purchase order. However, there are occasions where we have to create sketches or technical drawings for the client to understand what we're referring to, or for us to produce an accurate bid. We have the same policy, but it isn’t cast in stone.

You may want to watermark your preliminary drawings and include a Copyright Infringement Statement. It's well worth the few hundred dollars spent with your attorney. All of our drawings include both. And of course there are no guarantees that your drawing won't be used. It would have to be some pretty incredible and extenuating circumstances for us to enforce the policy. Since your ego is the only thing that wins in court.

From contributor K:
You are absolutely on the right track using the laptop in the home. The next step is to do the presentation in the home, with contract in hand. Measure it right there and design it right there. The average person will sit through 2-3 in-home appointments before making a decision. You want to be the first presentation and the last. People have no idea what's involved and if you can make the process easy for them, and give them reasons to use you, you increase your chance of closing the deal that night.

If you bring a portfolio of your work with you, use real photos (not printouts), and add a line underneath that shows the street and city (not the number of the address) of the project. It shows that these are real projects versus something copied off the internet and printed out.

Set yourself up as the expert, from your company image to measuring and designing a kitchen and inputting in your laptop ASAP (within 20-30 minutes). They don't know you and want to know they are in good hands.

From contributor L:
Give them the option at the beginning. Tell them there will be design going on. We will show you on our screen what you are going to get. If you want copies, we charge for design by the hour and our fee is $XXX. If you sign with us, the fee will be absorbed into the project; if you just keep the renderings, we will send you an invoice for our design time.

From contributor R:
I do similar to contributor K. Show them a design on the computer with a contract in my hand. But this takes two trips for me. First appointment we talk and I measure. This takes about 1.5 hours to get all the information and options they want. I take that information home and generate a computer rendering and price from it, generate a contract, and set a presentation appointment.

I bring my laptop and we look at the kitchen from all angles while the contract is discussed. I then ask for the job.

Most people can't imagine what things will look like. A picture is a very powerful sales tool. Clients are impressed with a computer presentation. When they ask for a print out of the rendering, I either hand them the contract and say sign here and it's yours, or tell them I will sell it to them for a refundable amount of $250 if I get the job.

From contributor H:
I also show them the drawings, but keep them until I get the deposit. Then they get copies of everything. I also tell folks, go to the box stores and bring me their drawings or quotes. We'll do an apples for apples comparison. If I can beat or match them, I will, and if I can't, I tell them why I can't. I have gotten jobs this way even when I was more expensive.

From contributor M:
I think you made the right decision. While I don't like to bash the consumer too much (because we need them), they are becoming more and more slimy all the time.

I do a couple quick renderings and maybe even revisions, but they get no copies in hand until the contract is complete. This is all done on the laptop or with printed drawings at our shop or their home.

What gets old for us about this whole process, though it's no different for any product, is that you are perpetually trying to educate the customer. It's a very tedious process and we have even come across situations where a customer decides they are willing to accept the lesser product after receiving the free education. The only hope is that they do it early in the process rather than late.

What we often find is that when you go the "apples to apples" route, they can't even find an apple for comparison. That's to say they go to the boxes or other sources and can't find anything of comparable quality to what we are supplying. At this point they begin to wonder "If it's okay for everyone else..."

We operate in a pretty rural area and have a reputation of being over the top, though we are often well below. I once had a guy tell me the only tools needed to build a house were a chainsaw, a hammer, and a shotgun. The chainsaw to cut your boards, hammer to nail them together, and a shotgun with "punkin balls" (slugs) to shoot the holes for your water lines.

From the original questioner:
It just amazes me that people will call (these people know you, know your work quality, their friends are the people you do work for) and give you a project to bid on and then don't give you an answer.

What the heck? They asked their friend how much was that; they know how your prices are. It just frustrates me that people have no consideration of your time. What do they think, you just hit a magic button and the design and price pops out?

From contributor L:
Yep, pretty sure they think that. They also think a cabinet is made in 15 minutes and your gasoline and rent are free.

From contributor O:
I may be cynical, but I don't think the consumer gives a crap about our costs. They just want it cheap and would just as soon screw you out of your drawings as not. Most consumers think buying cabinets is like buying a refrigerator. They shop for the cheapest.

From contributor M:
I just flat out tell people, I could have 4, 5, 6, 8, or more hours in a stick for stick quote. We do general contracting as well as shop work, so this relates to big projects. I make it clear that the quoting process is expensive and I can't give that away for free.

I know it's crude, but we often get to the contract using rough per linear foot or square foot pricing. I make it clear that these are simply rough budgetary numbers, but they let you know where the project will end up. Often I give three ranges, one for low end, one for mid to high, and one for extreme custom. I let the customer choose to move forward or not based on these budgetary numbers.

It's a luxury to be able to do this, as we do not need work, but I do aggressively pursue every job offered to us regardless of whether we need it or not. I don't overprice if we are busy. I price every job fairly and if we are booked, you go into the queue.

From contributor I:
I understand the frustration! I lost two whole house jobs that way. I still design for free and give them a 3D color perspective, no dimension. That way when cabinet shop B wants to bid, they at least have to do a little math. I don't think not giving them the bid and a drawing would work. Customers have come back a year later and said they are ready. Very few people are ready to drop 20k on the spot without some thought. This is where the sales part of the job is so important. Know your competitor's cabinets and point out why yours are better. That will have more of an impact. It's getting harder and customers are doing their homework; we need to do ours too.

From contributor K:
How many of you have an actual price list? We do full remodels also, and I can tell you not only how much your cabs are, but the electric, plumbing, flooring, sheetrock, etc. Pricing based per item, LF or SF. If you don't offer these services yourself, you should develop relationships with your subs, whereby you can quote out their services based on standardized pricing and negotiate the rates. Not working off a price list is most likely why it takes longer to price things out.

From contributor G:
The questioner has it. You can easily do that with larger scale drawings, which make better presentations. You just need to learn, when the client reaches for them, to say "I am sorry, but company policy forbids me from releasing these drawings to you until we have a signed contract, unless and until a design fee, fully applicable to the project cost, is paid." If they say that so and so needs to see them, "They are available at our office anytime." Or, if appropriate, "I will be happy to bring them and meet with so and so, but I cannot release them without payment."

From contributor T:
To save my valuable time and driving expenses, I do a lot of my estimating and design by e-mail. I do watermark my drawings and send them without dimensions. If I get the job, that is good. If not, I have not lost a lot of investment with visits, meetings, etc.

From contributor B:
I do the apples for apples thing all the time. Customers bring me their 20/20 layouts, thinking they have one up on me.

From contributor A:
I didn't mention this earlier; but there have been a few dozen times we simply charged a fee to do the design work and if we were awarded the project, we gave the customer a credit back. I don't recall ever losing a job when we used this method.

From contributor N:
I've never quite understood all the fuss from guys demanding dollars for a few prelim drawings. After some elementary qualifying, I donate drawings on a regular basis, and usually, but not always, close the deal. Businesses donate dollars for all sorts of marketing just to generate leads, much less close a deal. If a few drawings will help close a deal, it's good time and money spent. In my book it's better money spent than marketing money.

From contributor L:
It is not the drawing. It is the time that goes into the design. If you went to a designer to have the conception of your kitchen drawn up, it would cost you a lot of money. Yet because we are not "designers" (there is no legal description of designer; anyone can call themselves that), we are expected to hand off our hard work and talents for nothing more than to get the job?

Just thinking of it that way is absurd. Your time is worth something. Giving these drawing away for free will bite you in the butt. You work on the drawing for a couple of hours, then hand it off to the client along with a price. They reject your price and you don't get the job. Two years later they ask you in to bid on some trim work. You go in and there is the kitchen you designed. They got someone else to make it. They were able to charge less because the client just handed them your concept and said price this. Of course he can do it for less - he didn't have any work in the design.

I have clients that go through 4, 5, 6 different renderings before they know which direction they want to head in. You can spend 20, 30, 40 hours making these drawing/designs only to have the client go, "Eh, I don't like it. What else you got?" And expect you to come up with more ideas, for free.

If you charge them for this, they want to have input, to speed the process up because it is costing them money to have their ideas put on paper. It is just the fair thing to do for both parties. You want the job and they want the design. They will end up with the design they like, but will you end up with the job?

From contributor O:
Hand out drawings with the proposal? Never. I have bid off 2020 drawings from the big box stores many, many times. It made it pretty easy to quote. I'm not foolish enough to help my competition do it to me.

From contributor N:
Maybe I don't have the trouble qualifying that some of you have, or maybe I just don't have trouble getting some prelim drawings out. Whatever your problems are, I don't understand your fluster.

From contributor L:
I'll make it simple. You do work, any work, they pay you for your efforts.

From contributor N:
Including drive time, I'd say an on site appointment consumes about 3 hours. What do you charge for that "work"? Do you give them that bill before you walk through the door, or before you leave the shop?

From contributor Z:
Good to see so many cabinet shops out there are not having problems getting jobs these days.

Every potential client takes a weighted approach in my view: Have I done work for them before? I might make my markup higher, plus give them free plans. Are they a referral? Same as above. I see a better chance of getting these jobs over competitors. Is it a cold caller? Probably not.

In the end, the more I need the work, the more likely I'll sweeten the pot. A new client last year had meetings about their kitchen for 3 months, to which I said I'm not revising anything without a deposit. I did the job. I would rather be seen as a guide to take them from dream to actuality, whereas others may be seen as not getting involved without "show me the money." And as we all want their money, short of by gunpoint, I will do whatever I think I need to do to get it.

From contributor L:
If I give you my price, it would make no difference to you. It needs to be based on your business. Why do you assume you need to go to their residence? At this point, with no money exchanged, they are looking for you to do something for them. Why should you be put out? They can come to your shop.

You need to figure costs based on your shop rate. If you don't want to make a profit on it, you can charge less and break even. But why should you use your time when they may not even be a client, just a tire kicker?

I currently do not charge (sort of) to have the initial appointment. The only reason I do that is because some schmuck decades ago decided to do free estimates and it has trickled down and now everyone expects free estimates from people who work in wood construction.

When is the last time you saw a plumber or an electrician do a free estimate? They don't. They charge a service fee. Before they walk through your door they let you know that it is going to be $75 (or whatever) to just look at your problem. It is usually taken off the bid if they get the job, but if they don't, they have been paid for their time.

Why is it different for us? Why is our time worth nothing? Why should we give out our valued services for nothing other than to have the opportunity to bid on a job?

Many of the contractors on forums I frequent have been starting to charge for estimates. It has been helpful to their business practices. Has it lowered the amount of estimates they go on? Yes. But those people are likely just tire kickers anyway. The jobs they do go out to bid have a better pick up rate than when they weren't charging. A client that understands your time is valuable is the kind of client you want.

For a service call, I charge $1.00. I have had people refuse to let me come out because of this. These are likely not customers anyway. That they think my time is worth less than one dollar shows me this. They are showing how cheap they are right at the beginning.

From contributor W:
I never do drawings without a deposit. I usually meet with the potential client at my shop. Get as many specifics as I can - wood species, finish, design elements that are important to them. Give them a bid based on their drawings. I do tell them that my bid is not the final price. If they add or subtract boxes, the price will change. If they change finish or hardware, the price will change.

The way I bid I know exactly what cabinet types, how many, how much crown, how many finished ends, and any other accessories the customer wanted. I also know what I have bid for each room. This really helps when I go to do the drawings and give them a final price.

As far as I know, I have never lost a job because I wasn't willing to give away my drawing for free.

From the original questioner:
I will tell you what the frustration is. I bid a job that included an entertainment center and mantel. I got that bid. I also ran about 150 feet of cable to the flat screen at no charge (this was done over a drywall ceiling in the basement).

The client then wanted some kitchen cabinets. I made a design and handed over the drawings after 3 changes were made. They gave the job to another shop that was only $300.00 cheaper.

Don't ask me how, but they wanted me to come over and look at another job. I did and asked to see the kitchen. Guess what? There was my design. I wonder where the $300.00 difference came from?

From contributor N:
I understand what you and others are saying. It's just not been that big of an issue for me. Granted, wasted time is a consideration, but design theft is a non issue. We're all probably able to incorporate neat little unique ideas into a design, but generally speaking, design work is not rocket science. We usually aren't doing patentable design work that's going to be stolen from us.

My frustration is hearing about bids that total close to just my materials cost.

From contributor T:
I would rather give away my drawings than sit alone in my shop with nothing to do because my competition does not charge for design and I do. I too have taken advantage of other shop or designer drawings when a customer brings them to me. What are you going to tell a customer? I am sorry I cannot use your drawings out of respect for my competition? In summary, let it go. Others will use your drawings and designs, but protect them if you can, and use the drawings and designs of others.

From the original questioner:
I guess it is just a vicious circle and unless we do something about it (like make it an industry standard to charge for a bid), the beast will always haunt us.

From contributor L:
If it isn't HD or Lowe's drawing, I ask them if they paid for the drawings. If they say yes, I accept them; if they say no, I refuse them. I explain that those drawings are copyrighted property owned by the company that they got them from. If I lose the job because I do this, I don't really care. Because as soon as you make a drawing for them, they are gonna pass it off to another wood shop to get a lower price. What comes around goes around.

From contributor G:
It used to be that you had to get three written estimates for repair work if you had an automobile accident. That made it a mathematical certainty that, on average, a repair facility would have to write up three bids for every one they got. Most did not charge for estimates. I understand that drawings take somewhat longer to do, but isn't it a reasonable business position to take that for every kitchen you do, you will draw three, and just figure that in as part of the overhead? (Remember that repair shops that didn't engage in the free estimate game didn't get the work ever. I believe they just figured the cost of three estimates into every job estimate, got on with life, and didn't get upset about what you had to do to get work.)

From the original questioner:
The auto industry has a labor book that they look at. It tells them how long it should take to do a job. We don't - everything is on a custom basis. First we have to think about it, then get an idea in our head, then draw it, check the price of lumber that goes up and down like a darn seesaw, find hardware, figure how long to produce. I think it's a little different than the auto industry.

From contributor L:
And who is going to pay that overhead?

From contributor C:
I do free drawings on occasion, if I feel it will get me the job or that it is expected of a professional shop and the job warrants the time spent on it. I will, however, add them to the total job cost. Sometimes the time wasted is so minor that it doesn’t bear a second thought.

I have not been asked to review and bid on other's shop drawings, but I have been asked to replicate designs or aspects of designs featured in magazines or catalogs using custom measurements.

I have not done replications of others' work, and I would not feel comfortable doing outright copies of others' work (unless antiques or the sort). There are many instances where the drawings set me apart from competitors with far more experience than me. They lack the modern convenience of a laptop and the knowledge to use one (except as a cash register) or they rely on an outlet to sell their factory goods for them. This is fine if the consumer can live with "standard" or doesn’t mind going to a big box or Ikea and going with their design.

A lot of the time they don’t fit because the homeowner supplied the numbers or they want things switched after delivery of the stock chipboard cabs. These are not my customers, although I get calls for quotes or “can you fix this” jobs all the time.

If I could charge for drawings consistently, that would be great. The truth is, if I charged on some jobs, the customer would walk and never know what I am capable of. This is a seller and it's not easy money, but money (read time) well spent.

My dilemma is becoming consistent with policy and looking forward; hard to do when you’re only a year and a half full time and a one man shop.

The other dilemma is I do a lot of e-mail quotes from referrals and that could require a rendering or two to nail down the job, although for the most part I give five or six quotes for every three I earn.

From contributor G:
Contributor L, "And who is going to pay that overhead?"

Obviously, the jobs you do get. (It is the same answer as who pays for the overhead of having a showroom. It is the customers who buy, and not the people who come in and don't buy. Who pays for the gas for the car of a traveling salesman? The customers who buy, not those who don't. Are you suggesting that we only allow people into showrooms if they pay admittance or that salesmen charge for sales calls? Of course not.

All I suggest is that some businessmen may reasonably consider drawings in the same way. If you do not, fine by me!

Do you charge people if they call you up and ask you about a project they might be interested in having you bid? Who pays for that overhead (your time, the phone, the office you are in)? Who pays for advertising?

Always the same answer. The customers who buy. (And I realize that if the cost of that overhead - the drawings, showroom, gas, telephone, advertising, your time talking to prospective clients - exceeds your ability to cover those costs (and others), you are out of business. However, if you sit in a shop and will not speculate even to the point of picking up the phone or answering the door unless you collect up front for that overhead, then you are out of business.

In the end I can see the charge from drawings argument from two ways, and I guess I would resolve the question by charging if the market will bear it, but if that leaves you sitting alone without any jobs, perhaps you need to get some drawings out there.

From contributor L:
Charging people who buy your items and adding in the cost of people who do not raises the prices of your items. You may price yourself out of all your work.

A person calling up on the phone and wasting a few minutes of my time is a lot different than spending hours on drawings and a presentation and not getting paid.

It is obvious that you value your time less than I value mine. It is the way you wish to do business and that is fine by me. But you are giving away money. You are perpetuating the free estimate mentality that has brought the construction industry down to people believing that our time is not of value.

From contributor G:
That is untrue.

From contributor L:
I'm not trying to shoot you down, but you seem insistent that it is okay to give your work away for free, and it is not.

Let's say you are working for someone as an employee. The guy tells you when you go home, you have to do these drawings. But he isn't going to pay you for them. Is it fair? Would you do it willingly? I would hope not. This is the same thing.

I have given a lot of stuff and my time away for free over the 20 years I have been in business. Do most people appreciate it? Nope. They see it as a game. See how much stuff they can get you to do without you getting paid for it. See how much they can knock your price down and still get what they want done for less than you need to run your shop with proper profits.

Don't undersell yourself. You have a talent that a lot of people don't have. It is worth money, and you should be compensated for it, on whatever you do.

You have equipment. That has value, even if it was paid for years ago. You have paid a lot of money for this stuff, learned how to use it and maintained it.

I don't know how you do your drawings/renderings. But you had to learn how to do it so the presentation will make a sale. You put time and effort into the renderings. It sounds like you go to their house as a norm, and that should be compensated for.

Try an experiment and charge the $1.00 service/estimate charge and see how many people really value your time. You will be surprised. $1 is worth about 1 minute of your time. Yet you are willing to spend hours with them. And they are unwilling to part with that $1.

From contributor S:
Sometimes you just need to play the game. To insinuate that by giving free estimates the construction industry has cheapened itself makes no sense. Because everybody does it means that nobody has a disadvantage.

I have been making a six figure income for over 15 years in my small 4 man shop, and continue to do so in this economy. And all the while a part of our marketing has been to provide creative hand drawn cabinet designs when necessary.

Notice I said "when necessary." In order to give a bid, somebody has to have come up with a design. Sometimes this is done by the architect, sometimes by another designer, and sometimes it's us. It is often our creativity that sets us apart.

There is also something to be said for the relationship that you develop when you're working on a design with a client. It's an intimate thing. You are asking them very personal questions about lifestyle choices, design tastes, who cooks in the family, do they eat together, etc. You can't help but form a bond during this process.

Who else is sitting with your client while you're sitting with them? Nobody. Develop their trust, get them emotionally involved, make a connection. They want to give you the job. Don't blow it by being an ass with "this policy" and "that policy."

I fell into this business 20 years ago with no business training. I was lucky to end up in a trade where I am graded on a curve. I don't have to be a brilliant businessman to succeed; I only have to be better than my competition.

From the original questioner:
You must have a better experience with people than I do, because this potential client I have will look you straight in the eye while he is lying to your face. Are you dealing with contractors, designers, architects, or homeowners? There is a difference

From contributor K:
People who have been in business 5 years or more should be able to provide a quote while meeting with the client. If you are unable to do this, I would respectfully suggest that you need to hammer out your prices and come up with a list.

I use this as a selling point. I'll say in effect - "Here is something that is sorely missing from our industry" - and then I'll produce our price list. I go on - "We'll provide you with a price tonight, and this will either make sense for you or it won't, but unlike many in our industry, we don't pull a number out of the air and hope you bite at it."

We can do this because we know our costs, and the amount of profit necessary to maintain our business. It's the first red flag that goes up when someone cannot provide me a price. Don't you know your costs? The Big Box companies know their costs, right? When we do an in-home presentation, we are there to get the business, not dither around and hope for it. Give them the confidence to choose you on the first call.

On average, we spend about 1 1/2 - 2 1/2 hours on a presentation, and that includes either manual drawings or computer drawings.

One easy way to avoid the whole leaving the drawings thing, is to either attach your manual drawing page to your price list (which you can't leave behind) or don't bring a printer. If they ask for drawings after seeing it on your laptop, tell them that "Absolutely, we provide drawings! Once we go under contract, we actually provide you with not only one but a total of three sets of drawings - 3-D, Elevation and Overhead. We provide you with a view of all angles of your project. These will be provided next week, when we measure everything down to the millimeter and reconfirm all your choices."

If they ask for drawings without an agreement, my first question would be "Why?" There's no reason not to charge for them. If they are looking for goodwill, you just gave it to them in the form of a free estimate. How much do you plan on giving away?

From contributor S:
I admit that we don't go to these lengths with everyone. If somebody I don't know wants us to come look at their kitchen remodel, I politely ask a few questions to qualify that client first. All I need to know is who else they've called to tell me whether it will be worth our time or not. So in all fairness, we pre-qualify our clients before spending the time to do any design work, but once I've established that they're in our demographic, we'll do the work.

From contributor L:
Most of the clients I see for kitchen remodels don't really know what they want. The options I can produce are so varied that I don't see how I can have a definite price list. If I wanted, I could figure things out pretty quick. And it would be a ballpark figure. But what I have learned is if you give them a figure of $15K and then you go back to the shop and find out that your wood supplier has increased your materials over the past week, you are looking at 20% more in materials costs. The clients I have usually have weird hardware choices that I have never used before, therefore never priced before.

When you give them a ballpark figure, that is the number that sticks in their head. If you go down, that is great (for them). If you go up, they call you a thief. Doesn't matter if you are giving them a fair price or not.

Another thing is the pain in the butt factor. Some clients need a lot of hand holding and guidance. This is hard to figure out in a single meeting. It can be a costly mistake to give a normal price to one of these people.

It is great to know that you have a handle on your prices. I don't think I will ever be able to give them a price on the spot and be comfortable with it. Contributor K, do you do custom cabinets, or do you use standard customizable cabinets, or standard boxes that you get from someone else? Big difference. If I made standard boxes I could easily come up with a price list. But every cabinet I make is different from any other cabinet I have ever made. Totally custom.

From contributor Z:
There is no way I would give a customer a ballpark number on a first visit. With all of the variables involved, especially with finishes, my follow up price would make me look like I was out to squeeze them for more, or I was already not being considered because I was so high. And to come down from that would look like I was padding or I had no idea what I was doing. Both are losers. If I have learned anything in this business, it is never give a price without thinking everything out in advance. Everything I do is custom, with no cheap components. I want to be as on the money as I can, with the information provided.

From the original questioner:
Just curious, where are all you guys from?

From contributor K:
Contributor L, I'm glad you asked that question. We make custom cabinets, we make all countertops (except for stone), we do full remodels (including exterior work), we do refacing (when we have to), backsplashes, custom furniture, tiling, flooring, etc.

As far as costs for wood go, that is a no-brainer. You don't charge only your cost for materials - work it into your SF or LF pricing. If you buy your doors, etc. from a supplier, they don't give you a different pricing schedule each time you call. They have one that they update annually. Works the same with you, but you need to know your costs.

I honestly don't understand how people can work without a pricelist. You call your suppliers every time you prepare a quote? I mean, they could have changed their prices, right? Makes no sense. Your COGS should already take this into account. Anomalies like the gas spike a couple of years ago have to be added, but think about it. If you are paying $2 BF for oak, a 20% price hike would make it $2.40, and that is only going to impact your profit variably.

Of course, you need a profit to account for such a difference. Unfortunately, many shops are stuck in a cycle of robbing Peter to pay Paul (even during good times), and the concept of a company profit that is separate from their personal pay, which should be included in their costs, is something they hope for but don't implement. If you know your prices (and this takes effort), it is much easier to plot your path to an income.

From contributor L:

From contributor M:
West Virginia.

Contributor K, to me, pricing a very complex job in a single meeting screams of vinyl replacement windows, Sears siding salesman, used car salesman. Pricing single elements if they are stock or perhaps semi-custom, for sure. This would be things like tile, carpet/floor covering subs, drywall and finishing.

If I were a homeowner sitting down with you for the first visit on a very large complex job in which you were going to handle the entire project (GC or doing it yourself), and you were able to crank out a quote in a 2 hour meeting, I would run for the hills.

We regularly do very large complex projects that involve massive restructuring all the way through to 100% custom millwork, custom cabinets (made by us or subbed to another local shop). I know my prices and have databases tracking my costs, both recent and from many jobs ago, but there is absolutely no way I could generate a detailed quote and proposal on the spot in a 2, 3, 4, or 5 hour sit down. It is simply impossible.

Most savvy homeowners would easily put two and two together that your numbers will have to be extremely inflated to produce a quote in minutes to a couple hours for anything other than a small job.

Furthermore, the design process itself is one of revisions on top of revisions. If we are talking all off the shelf components (plug and play), that is one thing, but with large quantities of custom work, or even one of a kind work, there is simply no way. I don't think any part of this thread relates to spec homes or cookie cutter construction, not that I am saying that's what you do.

Perhaps your clients are vastly different that those I have dealt with for the past 20 years, but I doubt it. I'm not trying to stubbornly hold onto antiquated ways. As I am sure many here do, we regularly do work that may require a day or even a week of contemplation, engineering, design, and planning, just to figure out how to build what the customer wants. Only then can we even begin to price it. This type of work is quite common for us. And odd/custom doesn't mean a blank check - it's often quite the opposite.

While I don't mean to sound insulting, your position screams of naivety to me. I consider myself extremely good at quoting. I rarely lose a job we quote, but that is really due to other conditions. Many times when I am walking around a job for the first time, I have a number(s) in my head for materials, labor, subcontractors, and so on. I also have a number for the overall project. These numbers become instinctual based on experience, but they are not to be trusted. In the days following, these numbers will usually be off only slightly from the actuals that come in. That said, no database of pricing can handle the complexity of our average job. There are just too many variables. This doesn't even take into account that there may be something on a given job that you only do once or twice a year, maybe less. Having current pricing for everything at all times is impossible.

Again, I could easily do it if I inflated my quote, which my market would have to be willing to bear. That would be nice, but it just aint reality.

From contributor L:
Nicely put.

From contributor U:
We are a 10 man shop, and we give out our drawings and 3D renderings. I get a high enough percentage of my work and it is my job to bring in work. To me it is no different than paying the guys to sweep when you are slow. As long as at year end, the numbers are good.

From personal experience I am not sure why you are spending so much time drawing jobs. Typical kitchen (20k for cabinets), meet customer for approx 2-3 hours, including measure up. Preliminary CAD drawings in Cabinet Vision, includes renderings, 3-4 hours (usually includes 3 layout options in plan view only). CV also does my quoting and when I get the job, I have drawings and CNC program written. 7 hours = $350.00. Not that $350 is nothing, but I can lose way more than that missing a part of a commercial job when quoting or a small mistake in the shop.

I get 60-70% of what I quote, and I don't get many tire kickers.

From contributor M:
Your numbers are right in line with ours with regard to time to draw and costs associated with the drawings and sit down. We, however, are not CNC.

I can only assume it comes down to the ratio of quotes to jobs landed by how personally one takes it when a customer slaps them across the face.

The 350 is easy to overlook when the work is flowing, but when things get competitive, I am sure it gets annoying. By these numbers you are talking a day at the desk for every job landed. That's easier to swallow when you have 10 guys in the shop.

Being directly involved (and doing) much of each segment myself, it would be very rough if I had to do four losing quotes for every 6 I landed. I just don't think I would physically have the time to make and produce 28 hours of lost quotes, and do the 4 hours of paperwork per day.

From contributor L:
A lot of our differences are coming from the number of men working on any particular job. I am a one man shop. I do everything. So those 4-5 hours I am working on drawings, there is nothing else getting done besides answering the phone.

If you are the guy doing the drawings, and that is all you do, and you have 10 guys producing product, I can see giving up some of your work in trade for getting jobs. But for us smaller shops, 1-3 men, there is less time to do the drawings versus getting money making production done.

Most of my drawings are done on my time away from the shop. When I am at the shop I want to get 10-12 hours of woodworking done and not have to deal with paperwork. When I go home I deal with family until about 10pm and then I put in a few hours on drawings. So these drawings are done on my "free" time. Time I could be watching TV or sleeping. But they have to get done and I want to get compensated for that time.

Contributor B, are you the owner of the 10 man shop? And what hours do you put into the business a day?

I figure I put about 90 hours a week into my business. 60 of them are on actual production work and the rest on something else, such as drawing or figuring out how to make something work.

From contributor P:
I almost always provide drawings with my proposals, by hand or eCabs. I've never charged for them directly, but consider it part of the cost of doing business.

I think there's room for both approaches (and anything in between). The customers who took my drawings elsewhere and got a lower price? Probably not the right fit anyway.

I do try to qualify clients before I invest design time. If I feel unsure, I'll ask outright if they've ever contracted with anyone to do custom cabinet work, and if they have a specific budget in mind. I have no problem giving out a price range early on if I have something to go on.

From contributor K:
Contributor M, just because our experience is different than yours doesn't make it naive; it makes it different, and I would argue more productive. You are also comparing large, complex jobs to the items discussed in this thread, which are drawings for kitchens. If you can't quote a kitchen on the same night, I would suggest you can do better. I am certainly not the only one here who is doing it.

The majority of homes out there are pre-2000 construction and not McMansions, and if you're doing the type of business you are describing, you should already know the limitations and advantages in that.

With the exception of a full remodel, which involves more product samples and choices that have to be defined than is feasible to be carried, if you have the databases you claim and know your pricing as you say you do, I don't know why you are not able to quote one call. I am speaking of kitchens, furniture, bathrooms, countertops, electrical, plumbing, flooring, etc., even minor remodels. The other exception would be for exotics and their availability. While I am measuring and pricing, our customers are watching a CD reinforcing our company's products and services. People don't run for the hills when you demonstrate you know what you are talking about, use soft-sell techniques, and put them at ease in the areas they are concerned with (i.e. - company, product, service and price, in that order).

Perhaps it is in the way you are pricing. Maybe you are figuring out each item's cost, and developing a quote from there. All I need is an empty room layout and a tape measure, and the numbers fall into place. The advantage of a price list. On average, it takes me 15-20 minutes to do a simple 3-D line drawing, whether we are talking kitchens, furniture, bathrooms. I've done so many of them. I have a laptop and design on it also, but there's something old-school that people relate to when you bring it to life on paper.

It sounds to me like when you take on a project, you need to get quotes on electrical, plumbing, etc. We don't, as we already know our pricing for these ahead of time, and they are already in our price list (with our markup, which is less than what the customer can get it for themselves). We sub out electrical, but we have guys we've worked with for years, with whom we have established pricing, so we don't need to get a quote from them.

Now approach this from every aspect of your business. This is knowing your costs. Otherwise, you are just reacting and I guess spending a lot of time quoting.

As far as design goes, when I walk into a room, I don't even see what's there. I see an empty layout, and after identifying what the customer is after, the design falls into place. You are the expert guiding them to what they want (assuming they don't have a magazine article or internet picture of their own).

For perspective, there are two different measures taken in our company - one for pricing, the other for installation, and at the second measure, everything is confirmed and any changes made up to that point are incorporated.

On the first call, we are there to write the business. But as far as being compared to Sears, they too have a system in place - they know their costs and can provide a quote that night.

Regarding inflated prices, we are not the cheapest in our market, but we are not the most expensive either. There will always be someone cheaper and more expensive in your market; you just have to decide which brings you to your goal.

From contributor M:
Points taken, however I think your post speaks a bit to what I was alluding to. To quantify the type of project I was referencing, I was speaking to your statement: "We do full remodels also, and I can tell you not only how much your cabs are, but the electric, plumbing, flooring, sheetrock, etc. Pricing based per item, LF or SF. If you don't offer these services, you should develop relationships with your subs, whereby you can quote out their services based on standardized pricing and negotiate the rates."

While again I have no idea who your customers are, I can tell you that this is, and would be for almost every contractor I have ever been around, a very tough statement to back up in a complex job unless you have a lot of "fat" in your pricing. If your area allows for that fat, power to you. Or perhaps you are able to push your subs into doing any work you misquote based on your volume - I have no idea.

When I say a complex job, I mean basically any project beyond cosmetics. That would be a project requiring modest to in-depth modifications or additions to structure and mechanicals. This would include work outside your company (other licensed trades). That could then be followed by a job not having off the shelf trim and millwork, cabinetry, and other finish components. Like I said earlier, carpet, tile, sheetrock, wallpaper, paint, and so on are easily priced.

I am very well versed in the other trades, but I am in no way a master of them. I can count dozens of times that I have gone in to a job and thought a simple HVAC expansion was possible, only to find that the duct sizing or unit size was not capable of handling it. Plumbing expansion that would require a new main to be run back to the meter as the homeowner wants a 12 head body spray. Electrical work that involved code aspects I was not versed in and had no business trying to learn. And so on. This is just one aspect of an overall project. I have no business telling my subs what I quoted for their end of the project and why, and further, expecting them to honor my pricing. If we are talking about adding a couple GFIs in a kitchen, or pulling a sub panel to an addition, I can see it, but even then I would have to have a built-in buffer for unforeseens or be willing to go back to the customer later, which is not an option.

This of course doesn't speak to the design and engineering aspects of a project. What if the customer wants to take out 18' of load bearing wall between their kitchen and dining room and the city requires an engineered drawing to be submitted prior to issuing the permit? What's the engineer going to spec? On and on. While I don't mean to trivialize things, this is all just day to day stuff and it happens right down to the footers.

Your approach speaks to what I meant by spec home or plug and play construction. This is what the industry has been moving towards for thirty years. We all see it in the big box model of business. Component based pricing for each individual aspect of the project. It may well be the future of construction, but it is what our customers are trying to avoid. We find with component based pricing that the cost of building skyrockets, as these pricing models do not take into account if they are done as a stand alone item or part of a 1 year project. The cost of installing 40 square feet of ceramic is totally different if you are going to the house for that one room or you have 5 other rooms of ceramic in the job as well. You can of course have column pricing for these items, but when you're GC'ing, it gets very complex given all the individual components.

While it makes perfect sense economically, this plug and play pricing has a negative effect on the residential marketplace. I feel it stems creativity and pushes customers toward what is cost effective for the contractor to build as opposed to what they really want. It nudges, and in many cases forces, a customer into a box. This is brutally clear in the McMansions you mention. Poor designs, poor layouts, but they have all the "must have" components. Spiral entry, decadent master, commercial kitchen, etc. They are often homes assembled out of a catalog, like picking options for your Mercedes. A good design doesn't work like that.

While it likely works for you because of the bottom line, it takes the dynamics out of the process, which is the very thing our customers thrive on. Our customers have always raved about the creative process and the ability to think outside the box, letting the project evolve without the constant fear of over the top change orders and penalization for modifying the original plan. There are costs associated with changes, but these are often way overblown.

It's clearly just two different ways to look at the process. There are two basic types - creative, and those motivated by the bottom line. I am the creative type with a firm eye on the bottom line. You likely have a better bottom line. I feel I have a much more loyal customer who is in love with the process and the end result. This reputation is what has kept us from feeling any of the economic bumps for many years.

From contributor K:
I thought I had clarified that full remodels are different, as well as exotics and their availability. My point in the statement you quoted was that you should know what your subs are going to charge you for the norm based on the SF of the home. Anything beyond the norm would of course be subject to additional process for quoting purposes and therefore unlikely to be closed the first night. However, we stopped paying subs by the hour a long time ago.

If all you do are complex remodels, we are not talking the same thing. We do full remodels also, but the majority of our business is interior remodel and some commercial work (which is an animal we have yet to tame).

When it comes to mouldings, people don't lack for choices. When a customer chooses a door style, we cannot show them every door out there on a sales call, but we can provide whatever door they want. If they like this edge, with this raised panel, etc., they get it.

Other than the exceptions of full remodels and exotics, if you know your costs, including subs, there is no reason you can't quote one call for most everything else. Our approach has nothing to do with plug and play construction (although that is a valid business model), but there are many cases where you have repetition in basic design, but you still make it unique, as the customer is not adding SF, whether due to budget or code, and there is only so much you can do in a certain footprint.

On a personal note, we thrive on the creative. It keeps it fresh. When you fabricate and install most everything you do, it's hard not to be creative. If you can conceive of it, we can most likely create it. Making money and being creative are not mutually exclusive.

From contributor F:
I'm a 2 man shop now, just outside of Boston. 8 years in business and just hired my first employee last month. I don't do just kitchens, and although it seems as though that's the commonality in this thread, I don't believe the original post made this about kitchens. I do custom woodworking - kitchens, vanities, interior doors, entertainment centers, bookcases, etc. I have no standard product, therefore it would be far more time consuming to set up a pricing guide, than to price my jobs individually.

There is no one way that is going to work for everyone. No one is right or wrong.

I price jobs individually and usually give drawings without dimensions to prospective clients. Many of my clients have disposable income and are not likely going to be shopping me against box stores. For this type of clientele, service is a priority. They need the attention they cannot get from a box store and they are usually willing to pay more for it. They may shop me against another custom shop, but this is where reputation and references usually give me an edge.

Lower priced stuff usually comes from builders and they generally already have the design; I just provide the price. Again, they may shop my price around, but I've established a good reputation. Sure there are plenty who will go with the lower price, but those who've learned the hard way will generally find a shop they trust and stick with them.

If you want to put a policy in place and stand firm, then by all means. But in an economy where there is little solid ground, standing firm may not be easy. So if what works for (fill in the blank) doesn't work for you, well... just don't be surprised.

From contributor Y:
In another context, my wife recently advised me: "be like a tree; bend!" Since we work with trees, I think it is excellent advice.

Each prospective client inquiry calls for a slightly different response, though generally I come down on the side of providing a hand-drawn elevation with my preliminary pricing. Last week I bid a 10k entertainment unit, hand drew the sketch and scanned it in 15 minutes. It was based on a similar project the prospect referred to on my web site. I don't do kitchens, so library walls, TV and fireplace cabinetry are fairly compact in comparison to draw. Not only did I not get the job, but they wouldn't even reply to my request "so what price range do you want this to land in?" This was likely a typical case of sticker shock. That's part of the terrain and if you can't get used to that, you're going to be frustrated a lot.

The primary mission of first contact with a genuine prospect is to win their trust. And you're less likely to do that by being all cagey about not providing even a rudimentary sketch without charge. Another thing I've started doing with my first or second e-mail contact is provide my references, and encourage the person to contact them. Only serious prospects and do that. This definitely works!

Now I'm bidding on an entertainment cabinet where the client provided a crude isometric and I promptly provided a 5k ballpark. (Notice, he didn't charge me to view the drawing, which made quoting the job much easier for me.) Got a quick reply "what can you do to bring the price down?" So I drew a scaled drawing for my own use to try to squeeze the price down some. But because they live nearby, I won't just send the drawing. Instead I'll invite him to the shop to discuss my ideas. If I don't win the job in that meeting, I probably won't let the drawing go - it all depends. Overall, I've found recently that providing a quick drawing makes my proposals more accurate and professional, and has helped me land jobs I would not have gotten without the sketch. So it's pretty much SOP now.

Believe me, I got here reluctantly, trying to follow the "never give drawings away" approach, and I still try to get some ballpark pricing out on the table before even doing a crude sketch. But for me the other approach is clearly more effective. Here's how I look at it: Would I rather bid 4 jobs with a quick sketch and get one, maybe two? Or bid four jobs with no sketch and get zero? I've found that a bid with a sketch is simply more likely to get me the job, so it's a no-brainer.

Entire kitchens? I can see how that is a whole other kettle of fish. Be like a tree: bend!

From contributor Q:
Our company provides a design deposit to our prospective clients. The deposit is typically based off the bid amount. If they sign the contract, the deposit is credited towards the job. If they walk, we are compensated fairly for the work performed. If we didn't use up the entire deposit amount, we send them an itemized invoice with a check for the remainder not used. We may do a very preliminary drawing here and there, but nothing of note goes to the client until that deposit is paid.

In terms of quoting, I think it will always be different strokes for different folks. From the shops that price cabinetry by the running foot to those that cost out all the way to the door bumpers. I have seen shops with the most elaborate software costing systems go out of business while the pencil and paper lineal foot guy is still chugging, and vice versa. If it works for you and it works in your market, then it works.

From the original questioner:
I was in contact with the client and he was considering looking at that put together crap, and he is still getting bids and doesn't plan on doing anything till late summer. This guy wants to do his whole house - all the interior doors, new trim, base and casing, granite tops, new tile floor. He is out of his mind - he wants a bid on work to be done 6-7 months down the road. Have to let him go. I feel for the guy who takes this one on.

From contributor J:
I just met with a couple that wants a bid on a knotty alder galley kitchen. About 26 lineal foot of cabinets, with crown, finished, 6 extra drawers, decent hardware, etc. My basic bid not installed would be $3800. The shop that is going to lose the job left a set of plans with bid for the cabinets and finish. Their bid is $2800.00. What? That's where it's getting around here. They're going to be fired because they're too laid back, slow to return phone calls, and they now have two large homes to do for a builder, so this couple is getting placed at the end of the line. They want service but are unwilling to accept the fact that he was working for change. I looked at it - it's a one week job, and I would make enough money to make a house payment and a truck payment, so I said I would match the bid, and my quality would be better (he takes shortcuts, and I wonder why?). They didn't jump on it - they said mail us the drawings, or drop them off. It takes 50 minutes to drive to their house. They want multiple drawings and bids to get an even better deal.

I'm going to do a written estimate with all the details, and send them a photo 3D or two line drawings off my Cabnetware program, and that's it. I could waste a couple more hours and do a nice color set of drawings off my KCDw program, but what they see is dollar signs. They're the kind of new customers I see here all the time. If they could buy gas for 50 cents a gallon, milk for 30 cents, or a steak dinner for $1.99, they'd still ask for a discount. Sounds a lot like the Great Depression.

From contributor F:
To the original questioner: I'm confused. Are you saying that the potential clients are odd because they're getting bids on a very large project 6-7 months ahead of time?

For much of my work, that's the norm. I have a fair amount of small jobs that take that long. I just sent a final bid for a large job that's been in the works for a good 6 months and we won't even start on it for another month. The project itself won't be done until the end of summer.

A lot of my work is in the city, high rise buildings and such. Anything beyond a simple built-in is usually connected to some other remodel work, meaning permits need to be pulled, architects hired and so forth. Some jobs scoot right along, but it's certainly not uncommon to be looking at jobs many months before the first deposit checks go out.

From the original questioner:
I didn't make myself very clear. The client knows me, knows my work, and is a very good friend with the family I do a lot of work for (their business and homes and mom). He wanted me to give him a price on an entertainment center and a built in shelf unit. He says, "I want these to look nice." He also wanted a price on replacing the interior door. The going rate to replace is about $100.00 per door - that's a given. He was also going to do exterior doors, tile floors, and granite tops for the kitchen (but not the cabinets).

I don't understand the 6-7 month wait for an entertainment center, the shelf unit, and the interior doors. First of all, the prices for material could change in two weeks. This is not a big project by any means.

From contributor J:
Put in the bid that it's good until whatever date you want. That's the first thing that pops up on my Cabnetware contract. Good until 03/02/10. I have to change it or click okay to move forward. Give him 30 days, then type in material costs can and will go up. This bid is subject to change. Maybe he will go for it now and not wait, to save some money. Who knows.

From contributor K:
Contributor J, here is where I think you went wrong. You dropped your price from $3800 to $2800 to try and buy the job, thinking about your mortgage and truck payment. All this does is set the thinking in the customer's mind, if he drops that much, we must be able to get it cheaper.

Every bit of that $1000 drop came out of your pocket. Your material prices are not going to drop 25% like your bid, and your other shop bills aren't going to either, which means you need to make up the difference elsewhere. The net result is that, as of now, you didn't get the job anyway. They didn't jump at it, and it could be another month before they make the decision, so the justification of the mortgage and truck payment is out the door.

The most you should ever drop (if you play the price gimmick game) is the company profit, which is above and beyond what covers your bills including your pay. Drop beyond that, and you are paying for their product, as every dollar past this profit point has to be made up to cover your expenses and your pay. These do not go away just because you are buying business. Otherwise, they are not your customer and you should walk away.

From this point, the way I would handle this one is simple - "Mrs. Client, I matched the quote you got from that other shop because I thought you would jump at it because you were getting our service with the price you liked - a winning combination from a customer's perspective. It's not something we normally do, but I thought I could help you out and fit your project in between upcoming projects. My question to you is why didn't you jump at it? I mean a 25% discount off our regular price, for the service and product which we are known to provide, is an excellent value. Our regular prices this year already reflect the current economy, so what more could I have done to get your project rolling?"

Don't say another word until they answer. Remember, when you drop the profit from your pricing, you are selling the job at cost (your cost includes your expenses and pay). If you don't change this mindset, you will always find yourself in the position of buying jobs for reasons like the mortgage and truck payment, which don't always materialize.

From contributor H:
I'm bidding at my normal prices with some extras thrown in and I'm getting some work, but not much. I'm losing 8 out of 10 jobs to low bidders. One cabinet shop will bid each job at $1000 less than my bid, each and every time, and they get the work. They have much more overhead than I do, so they will hopefully not last too long. I will take the job, as it's very straightforward, small and will keep me away from the soup line for another 2 weeks.

I don't care about these people and their mindset. People like them will always look to take advantage of everyone. They will find yet another lower bid, so I may not get the job anyway.

If Bear Gillis on Man Versus Wild can eat bugs when things get tough, I can eat hamburger.

From contributor K:
It's very human not to want to be on the soup lines, but look at the restaurant industry, where everyone and their mother is dropping prices. I was just reading an article on Olive Garden and how they resisted doing that and are increasing profit focusing on service and delivering a great product. The restaurant industry is all about word-of-mouth. There's a lesson or two in there.

I encourage you to look at why you are getting the 2 jobs out of 10, instead of focusing solely on participating in the bidding war. Those 2 out of 10 that you are getting, are you farming their warm market? People like to show off their new product, and they usually do so within the first few weeks.

You said it best about the other cabinet shop. They are buying business, but they didn't get those 2 out of 10. That is where your focus should lie. Low bidders were around in good times and in bad times. Don't join them. There is someone in your market right now, charging more than you and getting it.

One thing you should always tell someone focused solely on price is, "There's always a reason why they are the low bidder and why the experts warn against them. Why do you think the experts warn you not to take the low bidder? They are usually the ones you read about or see consumer specials about. It's not the ones who know their prices and operate their businesses responsibly that you have to worry about."

If you don't have business, your job 100% of the time until you do is to focus on getting the business, not cleaning the shop, or entertaining thoughts of soup lines, etc.

From contributor H:
My focus is my soon to be online furniture business. I may have two items sold (out of my area, 110 miles out) via the internet. We have started the website, and have another new .com address, but it's not online yet. Each piece sells for about $1900 and goes up from there. As I build cabinets and furniture, I'm working on this new venture. Others that sell this product are doing well and don't compete all that much with cabinetmakers. I have no plans on selling well made cabinets to cheap people for very long. It's dog eat dog right now, and we have an alternative plan in place.

I did talk to another shop that will not lower their prices, but they have more connections and from what I can tell, their overhead is high, and they are optimistic, but in reality may not stay around. I would rather stay around a little while longer and work all the angles.

From contributor U:
Contributor L, nope, not the owner, but that is the plan. I have been with the company since I was 18 (now 32), and the owner is getting closer to retirement and wants me to take it over. We just put a CNC in to stay competitive.

We also do commercial work and quotes are always free because you are bidding on work. A commercial quote can have many addendums, site visits, requests for price break downs etc. In most cases, price wins; sometimes shop reputation has an effect if prices are close. Are you not doing the same thing when bidding on work from homeowners?

As a 1-2 man shop it must be hard to meet the customer, do drawings, and have them walk. But this is how you choose to run your business. When I was thinking of leaving and starting on my own (before we agreed that I will buy the business) I knew I would need 2-3 employees just to pay the bills and have enough time to run the business. I give you credit for doing what it takes to keep your shop going.