Missing A Deadline In A Big Way, How Would You Handle This?


From original questioner:

Well I've finally stuck my foot in it deep enough that I'll need more than a garden hose to wash the crap off from this one. I'm in my 6th year of business as a small custom cabinetry shop and have never messed up this bad before.

5 weeks ago I took a job from a local builder who does luxury houses, 3 - 20mill each house. I've done a bit of smaller work for them before and all has gone well. When I took the job I informed them that I had 3-4 weeks of backlogged work to complete before I could get on to their job, and would complete the job for delivery for third week of September. Well, the 3-4 weeks backlog became a full 5 weeks, and the truth of the matter is that I also didn't allow enough time for shop construction on for this luxury job, I think because I was concerned if I told them it wouldn't be ready for delivery until October, I'd have missed the job. At the time of bidding, I was told that depending on how this one went, it would likely open up about $100K - 125K / year of additional work from them, so I leaped before fully looking.

Fast forward to a few days ago, in the back of my mind I know already that I'm going to be in trouble with this deadline,... when out of the blue the job superintendent sends me a text message stating that they're going to need the pieces about a week and a half early. No genius needed here to see I'm in trouble. I asked to sit down with him over a coffee and explain my situation but he was to busy to do so, so I sent him a email affirming that I am at maximum capacity at the moment on his job and the third week of September is perhaps even a bit optimistic. I offered a sincere apology for any issues this may create for him and that we will be working hard in an effort to keep as close to this deadline as possible. The response I received was that they want them as soon as possible.

I would sure appreciate hearing from those that can give a little guidance. One thing that I am working on is to find a shop to farm out all the drawers and doors for the remaining cabinets on this job. That will buy 3-4 days. Other than that, I've pretty well got my bed to lay in now. If you haven't gathered, I'm the gentle-mannered type that always works hard to leave the customer very pleased with both the product and experience of dealing with our shop. Most of our clients are not in the luxury market, but rather the middle - upper class. I may have entered the wrong fishpond here on this job guys. Any advice that will help me navigate this and heaven forbid start to sleep again at night would be greatly appreciated.

From contributor Pa

Anyone who says they have not been in this position before is lying...

#1 outsource

#2 look at the job for yourself and make sure they really are ready. Residential usually runs behind schedule.

#3 Don't try to hire more people outside of a helper. It will make matters worse not better.

#4 Find out what the priorities are. (not what they say they are)

#5 Do not do a little bit on all the jobs. Just finish one and start on the next.

#6 Make it happen, this will be one of them there "defining moments", just rise to the occasion.

From contributor St

Pat, thank you for the excellent points.

From contributor Bi

Most of all, be up front with them. If you let them know your honest timeline and that ends your future business with them, chalk it up to an expensive lesson and move on. But waiting until the last minute to let them know you'll be delayed will surely end the relationship anyway.

From contributor Ca

If you are disciplined you can make use of an inexperienced helper. Maybe even two.

Let them know right up front that this project is not about enhancing their skill set but rather about getting product on the truck. If you live to fight another day you will focus on their training but right now you are just trying to get product on the truck.

They can catch boards on the last pass through the saw. Depending on how you put your boxes together they can probably be of assistance here too. Half the work is just setting the screws off.

If you build your own doors they can be taught very quickly how to paint the glue onto coped ends or wipe out glue after the doors have been clamped. With a helper like this you can build the doors in 2/3 as much time.

They can sweep the floor and keep the scrap box knocked down and ready to receive more scraps.

In short, make them your shadow.
If they are unnecessary for 1/3 of their day have them read the newspaper. Don't worry about keeping them busy. Just worry about making YOU more productive.

#5 on Pat's list is also very important. To the extent possible finish one cabinet before going to the second cabinet. This will free up capacity and decrease management costs.

#2 & #4 are kind of the same thing. These guys already know you are jammed up. Have a meeting with them to see if their finish carpenters can assist in installation.

Break the job into areas that affect countertops and areas that don't. There will be a 10 -14 day lag from when the base cabinets are set until the countertops are installed. Build the base cabinets first and do the wall cabinets during countertop phase.

Hire a company to do delivery. We haven't delivered a cabinet in fifteen years because there are others who are much better at this than we are.

Don't worry about the impact of this on your relationship with these contractors. You could do everything perfect for them but their species is not wired for loyalty anyway.

Tell them this is going to be your strategy and ask them for suggestions on how to improve it. Hold your head up during this meeting.

From contributor Mi

How many hours a day are you working? We recently did a job where 5 hours of sleep was all we could afford to get the job done....
This is a good lesson to learn and know that no matter how hard, it will not last forever,,unless you make the same mistake again.

From contributor JM

We run into this on a regular basis. Not because we do anything wrong, but because our builder "forgets" to order cabinetry, or whatever. He knows what we want for leadtime, but he doesnt care.

What we try and do, is as Cabmaker points out. We focus on getting the bare minimum in the house so granite can template. This gives us an additional 2 weeks to get the rest of the work done. It sucks, but you can make it happen.

And as Michael points out. You can fit 2.5 to 3 weeks worth of work into 1 week.

From contributor Da

As others have said, determine what they really need and when. If possible, determine a sequence also. Make notes as to dates and what is happening. You can always go back to those and point out things that did not happen, but only if they try to put your back to the wall.

I would be extremely skeptical of of a deadline that moves up. First - not your problem, you have to work with the original. Secondly - no residential project ever runs quicker than they plan - they all run slow. I have seen 6 month projects take 2 years. Builders are notorious for shorting the real delivery time by 50% or more. They just want you to jump, and to have you wait, instead of them remembering to get the cabinets on the job.

I once ran a shop that the owner wanted everything to be ready when the builder said he needed it. 3 months later, we were swimming in undelivered completed work, and were scrambling to find enough space to stack it all up. No one needed it when they said they did. We then had the salesmen determine delivery, the completed work sitting diminished to almost nothing, and all was well.

From contributor Ji

Complete the bathrooms and any closet cabinetry first. This will allow them to proceed with trim installation and templating the countertops.
Deliver the kitchen last, bases installed first to allow for templating for tops.
BTW 125,000 sounds like an awfully short budget for a 3mil house and the offer sounds a lot like a carrot to get work on the cheap. Who's been doing the cabinetry prior? What's that relationship currently? Just a couple of questions.

From contributor ri

Get on the phone quickly. I guess I didn't see exactly what work you bid. Order precut cabinet boxes made from prefinished plywood, as well as doors and drawers. Order the doors and drawer fronts prefinished. Pay short order delivery charges if possible. Then start cutting custom at your shop. Tell your family you will see them in a month, and sleep at the shop.

From contributor St

Thanks for the advice fellows. I'm a small fish in the market when it comes to these large projects, but I have a reputation for quality work. Its a national holiday here today, I'll be making some calls tomorrow morning to try and outsource some of this workload. I'm currently operating @ 90/hours a week, and this is the absolute max I can handle. I've been at 90/hrs for a number of weeks now. This particular job is for all the closets in the house, 2 medium-sized master walk-ins as well. All built like high-quality lacquered kitchen cabs, but in closets. I'm more comfortable with kitchens, its a process I know. This closet work is a bit more finicky than I thought it would be. I billed it as 25K, but I'm thinking it should have been closer to 30+, I probably bid a little too aggressively considering its all ply with solid hard maple edging and multi-coat color matched lacquer. When I was in to quote the job 5 weeks ago, they had just finished all of the crown and wainscoting and were applying treads to stairs, spraying out doors, etc. Maybe this idea of having custom closets made for their schedule when they didn't bring me in to measure until this stage was unrealistic on their part? Like I said, I really don't have much exposure to this type of customer.

From contributor Mi

Every school has a tuition,,including the school of hard knocks...
If we fail the class we must pay the tuition again..
I hope you will only have to take this class once..
Best of luck,,post some pictures when complete.

From contributor ke

I am wrapping up the same kind of pinch situation this week. I got the first customer to install his project without the doors while I outsourced the doors. While that was being done, I have the next one ready to go.
One of the main things I did was to stop doing finish work. If the gc has the capacity to get the finish work done after install, push for that. I can't compete with the painters price and I can stay busy making sawdust.

From contributor Ji

"I'm currently operating @ 90/hours a week, and this is the absolute max I can handle. I've been at 90/hrs for a number of weeks now"
You may want to look at that statement for just a while.
You've been working 90 hrs week for a number of weeks, not adding extra help, and taking on more work, and taking that work at aggressive pricing?
And now the builder is being unrealistic?

From contributor St

Jim, sorry if I gave the wrong impression. I'm fully holding the blame stick on this one, after all, I'm the one that messed up my scheduling and told the builder a date earlier than I should have, and as Michael points out, I'm paying a 'tuition' to being schooled in this right now. All I meant by my question is, in a normal high-end build, is it reasonable that the builder would start the closet bidding process when the molding is done and the stair treads, handrails, etc. are going in. I got the impression that there may have been a previous company lined up that walked away. I'm trying to learn here. This is different than the working-class residential market that I'm used to.

Hiring or not hiring staff is something I have been struggling with and is something I will have to figure out one way or another. So far, I have not had enough month to month continuity of work to keep a second guy full time and haven't been able to find a part time person who would be comfortable with a reduced schedule. I ethically would have a hard time with hiring an employee for a couple of busy months, on the pretext of full-time employment, only to know that I'll most likely be laying them off when everything slows down in the fall and winter and employment options become scarce.

From contributor Jo

Agree with all of the above and want to add one more thing: double down on safety precautions for you and anyone helping you. This is the opportunity accidents look for.

And while you're beating yourself up, remember this: good judgment is the result of experience, and experience is the result of bad judgment.

Good luck -- this too shall pass!

John Costin
Veneer Services Unlimited
Custom Veneered Components for the Woodworking Industry

From contributor Bi


To your question about the bid process, I would tend to agree that a previous company had been involved. If the GC waited that late in the process to get closet bids, he's a moron. More likely, something went south with another cabinet guy and he had to rebid.

I've known some "high-end" contractors that were far more crooked than I would have ever believed. Even after a signed bid/contract, they would tap dance around final payments and try to renegotiate the price. In their mind it was how they made their money. Part of the learning process is figuring out just how straight and honest the GC really is.

Have you talked to any of the other subs on the project? Most guys will be pretty forthcoming about their experience with him.

From contributor Pa

"double down on safety precautions for you and anyone helping you. This is the opportunity accidents look for"


Anything beyond 10 hours is not going to get much done.

From contributor do

I used to work 16 hours a day in the shop just to keep up with workload. Stock up on energy drinks,jolly ranchers,sweet tarts and whatever other candy you like. Get some good music on and make it fun. Think of it as a challenge. What does not kill you makes you stronger. But be safe. Highly respected is the hard working man that gets the job done. A dying breed. Good luck i am sure we have all been in the same basic situation.

From contributor ri

Oh man, high stress mixed with caffeine and sugar is the quick road to ill health. It will age you incredibly quickly, and lead to adrenal fatigue. I did it to some extent and almost completely lost the health battle when I turned 55. Now at 62, it's spinach/pineapple/flax seed smoothies twice a day, and protein (like chicken or turkey) between meals. Lost 35 pounds and haven't felt this good in a decade. Don't make this high stress situation worse by ignoring good health. Although I like the music suggestion. AC/DC works for me!

From contributor Ki

Two paths so far - "double down and work like madman" and "work smarter, not harder" Both are accepted work models, though one is perhaps dated and the other gaining in favor, spinach/pineapple notwithstanding.

I would add avoidance. In another post, the OP stated he gave up on time and materials as a way of pricing. A number of other posts recently endorse this new (?) form of business management, despite historical evidence suggesting it is mandatory. However, this may also mean that you do not know how much time to dedicate to a specific job. Therefore, you don't know how many hours need to pass before you start another job, or how many days/weeks/months worth of work you have in front of you.

Therefore, you cannot make accurate predictions, and the problem you state will become a daily way of life. Though perhaps a shortened life.

You can price and do things however you want, of course, but to not have a running tally of hours committed, and a back feed to tell you whether those goals are being missed, met or exceeded, means you will lose these battles all the time.

From contributor St

"And while you're beating yourself up, remember this: good judgment is the result of experience, and experience is the result of bad judgment."
Thanks John, its a good reality check that this isn't the end of the world, it might just feel that way for a few weeks.

Bill, good points. From what I have gathered the GC company is not crooked, but they do look for the fanciest / highest quality option at the cheapest price on every step of the process. Lots of unusual things like crews taking twice the length of time to install tile but they do a good job and are cheaper than everyone else, and countertop guys who beat everyone else by 30%, but have call backs on more than half of their jobs with this GC, yet because of the price are used like clockwork. The eventual finished workmanship of every trade I see is of a very high quality.

Thanks guys for the safety reminder, that is probably the most important message I need to keep in mind right now.

I have outsourced all of the dovetailed drawers to a shop that while new to me, is trusted by my neighboring cabinet shop.

I'm working on extending my workers comp today so I can get some temporary laboring help in here on the next few weekends. Right now my worker's comp covers my wife and I only.

Kilgore: current plan, work like a madman and then once I can breath again, go back to trying to figure out this 'smarter / not harder' idea. As for my quoting, that post was actually meant in reference to Ken's thread where he was working without an unspecified quote / budget, and billing time and materials. When I quote kitchen cabinets I have a formula that figures out time and materials pretty close, minus any little specialty items. On a job like this where its a house full of closets, I got the materials right on the quote, but I completely missed the mark on the time. There's been more time used in both construction and drawing / figuring out components (my computer software only handles standard types of cabinets, not closets). I won't do another job like this until I have very carefully implemented a new software system that handles closets as well. In fact, Mozaik is on my radar to look into after I get through this. I need to get a better handle on production times.

From contributor Pr

Stephan said, "After all, I'm the one that messed up my scheduling and told the builder a date earlier than I should have".

This is about handling a critical rush order when many orders are already in progress on shop floor. Find out various options like outsourcing some operations of the rush order or the current orders, increasing the available times of bottleneck resources, delaying the current orders, etc. If you are using a good production scheduling tool that can facilitate fast and extensive what-if analysis of workflow (with the help of dependable workflow prediction), you may be able to try all possible options available to you and select the best option within 30 minutes. All possible scenarios can be analyzed within minutes in this manner. We need to generate various scenarios using our experience and knowledge and evaluate their merit. In my opinion, what-if analysis of workflow with respect to various possible decisions will be very useful for efficient production management in custom manufacturing. It is not easy to make the best decisions in custom production without being able to predict the potential consequences of possible decisions.

Powerful scheduling tools offer the necessary capability for workflow prediction and what-if analysis. But, many production people narrowly look at such tools just for assigning work to resources over short time periods like a day or week. They do not look at these tools as an intelligent decision support system in production management.

From contributor Ri

Not unusual at all for the closets to be looked at late in the build. Builders often tell their customers closets are not included when the homeowners notice after the walls are painted and the delayed closing is looming. We are used to getting the call when the landscaper does, and we usually have to armwrestle with them for the few dollars the builder has left in the customer's pockets at this stage. You cabinet guys have it easy - you get to work with the client as soon as they sign the builder's contract!

From contributor ca


Stop whining. You get to measure AFTER drywall is in place. We have to anticipate where it's going to end up and figure out how to make the cabinets work when it doesn't end up where they said it would.

What is truly ridiculous is how General Contractors and many other trades get to do their work on a "cost-plus" basis while we have to fix bid our work. All the capital an electrician or plumber needs will fit in the back of a cargo van. We have to support thousands of dollars in fixed overhead on top of a half-million dollars in capital.

How many ways are there to sweat copper? How many ways to wire an outlet? These guys have finite problems to solve. The GC just needs a cellphone and a strong case of ADD.

From contributor Ro

Honesty is the best policy. Doing your best is usually good enough. Never enough time to make it right but always enough time to do it over.

From contributor Ri

Been there done that. Big custom jobs I usually end up doing all of the woodworking manufacturing. I had a builder that did the same door, trim and cabinet package a few homes in a row. Then after I had doors built for the next one the designer tells me all has changed. First I asked the builder to get a finish carpenter sub to do all of the install. I only had time to build a mock up door and one other size for the designer which the sub had to move from opening to opening as he set the jams, closets where trimmed without doors. I talked to my lumber wholesaler to find other shops that could help. Also found some things on Craig's List. There is always a workaround. But you don't even have time to read all these, get to it, Good luck