I am wondering how custom cabinet makers feel about letting someone else install their work. My experience is that the custom guys always do their own installation, whether it's about quality control, complicated assembly, or proprietary trickery (and maybe money). Do you allow the hands of a stranger to be the last to compliment your good work?
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor B:
I really don’t like installing because it's not a real back friendly task, but I do prefer to do my own. I very rarely let the employees go without me - only on the small get-in get-out stuff.
The myth that the large shops are in-flexible is just that, a myth. I deal with one company from Texas that I can phone in field dimensions two days before a load is scheduled to be shipped and they will have the piece built, sprayed and on the truck no problem.
I am on a first name basis with every employee in the small shops I deal with because I spend so much time in their shop trying to get what I need to get the job done. The big shops I usually deal with have a project manager who I may see once or twice on a six month job, and all contact I have is by phone call, fax or email. Sometimes I don't hear from the shop for weeks. The shop drawings from small shops fall into two categories - bad and none.
Then there are deliveries. The big guys ship an entire project in two or three 54' trailers. The truck shows up at the job site at 7 a.m. and is unloaded and on it's way by 9 a.m. I recently did a job with a local custom shop that would send a pickup truck with three or four cabinets in it once or twice a day and often the late delivery was at six or seven p.m. It was a twenty minute round trip from the site to the loading dock.
With all this being said, even though my main business is installations I have a shop and will on occasion take on a small job. I work out my shop drawings on a note pad and the back of a sheet of plywood, and I use my pickup truck for deliveries and will fix my mistakes and omissions on site on the fly, but then I install my own work so it doesn't really matter.
There are times when I really need the small shops business. I think that small shops should do their own installations, however, there are times when despite the frustrations, I really appreciate the work they send my way.
If I start to grow my business larger, I would hire a personal installer that worked directly for me, and did things the way I wanted them too, unless they were so good they didn't need much direction.
Like I said, I was an installer for a cabinet company before, and it worked well. I would show up at the shop and load the trailer up with cabinets. Or I would drive directly to the job each morning if the cabinets were already delivered. Then the other guy and I would install them. We were employees of the cabinet shop and we had to do it like the boss said, or we would get replaced.
When you outsource assume nothing. You have to figure that the person doing the install has the skills to do it but has no idea what it is actually supposed to be done. You need to have full detailed prints and all your parts labeled. The smaller and more obscure the part, the more important it is to make sure that the installer knows exactly what it is for. You also want to meet them at delivery and go over the project as it is being delivered.
If you stick with the same install crew, it doesn’t take long for them to see how you do everything. At first it will be slow and non profitable, but in the long term outsourcing will give you the ability to keep your guys in the shop producing if you can find the right crew. I am still looking for the right match.
The thing that makes commercial jobs run smoother is the amount of detail that is provided. First you have a full set of architect’s prints than you usually have to supply them with a full set of shop drawings for approval. With all that considered, union installers can do the job right. They have the skills and they have the information.
I had installed cabinets and storefronts with prints that were provided for me to do the job properly. There was no confusion or mistakes, and I installed them precisely according to the prints, and it worked like a charm. But outsourcing work to a good company is hard to find. If you find a good company, then you may want to stay with them for every job you take.
I would guess though, that the best use of your equipment and people is under the roof of your shop. If there isn't enough work for a full time install team, then it means pulling shop people off that money work to venture out into the great uncontrolled worksite adventure, while machinery sits idle.
All I can think to suggest to one in this fix is be good to your subcontract installer if you are lucky enough to have one worth his salt. It seems that makers who know they could install the work really resent paying a good installer for a good job. Think about your priorities, and enjoy the shared success.
With that being said, I have found that the biggest problem with small custom shops using outside installers is the learning curve in communication of the information required to do the job. By definition, the small shop is fairly inefficient and tends to produce using superior knowledge and abilities in one or a few people, whereas the large semi-custom shop has a group of people usually with narrower skills operating more efficiently.
The using of an outside installation team for the small shop takes on the same type of growth challenges as adding a couple of employees in the shop. Until owner/management knows their skills and limitations, there are going to be screw-ups. The question is, are you both financially and emotionally able to handle the stress levels brought on by making that growth step?