From original questioner:

Ok, so I thought after some lengthy time researching how to's and do's and dont's as well as the pleothra of information on the web, I would admit that I am more overwhelmed than before.

I have been in the custom woodworking industry for 2 years now, and have had success at the small scale. I have always wanted to grow to something large when the time was right. For the last year, I have done custom residential and small commercial jobs. Finally, the opportunity came in the form of a lead from a commercial installer, who needed a workshop to build the cabinets. I am in the bidding process now, and I'm completely lost. I don't know how to exactly read the plans, or figure out all materials needed, much less how to submit the bid properly. I would love to have this job. I have tried to reach out to other shops in the area to help with the bid and planning process, however they are all covered up. It seems like a great time to step up into commercial cabinet work, as there is a huge boom in my area and will be for a long time. I am simply overwhelmed and not sure where to turn for help. I am willing to pay for and estimator and draftsman, would be cheaper than the software I assume. But I cant even find those companies in my area. Im in Dallas/Ft. Worth area and my workshop is located in southern Oklahoma. Any feedback is appreciated. The job I'm bidding on is a 112 room hotel.


From contributor Pa

Chances are good that you will only be bidding on the lobby and more custom areas of the Hotel. The rest typically goes to China.

You have to be able to afford to not get a draw for 60 days or so on the first part of the job.

You should be able to talk to the construction company estimator or architect to ask questions.

But this job might not be a good fit for you.
There are a lot of pit falls to this type of work that you do not want to learn the hard way.

From contributor ri

Sounds like you are a bit early in your career to take on the work. It's been my experience, that when you get the call in a round about way that you did, they are looking for a low bidder or someone to take advantage of. Is there a real reason they called you? Owe too many other shops? Shops won't bid for them because of bad payouts, late payouts or just bad working relationship experiences. There is no way you could bid that job accurately enough. Why do you need a draftsman? Are there no detail plans? I suggest you get more small commercial jobs under your belt. Commercial work will not accept late delivery, without heavy penalties. You'll need more insurance, maybe bonded? No idea just how much you are bidding, but there are red flags all over this thing.

From contributor Da

Ever the cynic, I would say that there is more than one GC that preys on small, young shops and invites them to 'step up to the big time'. Gets their numbers, gets them to sign a contract, and then clobbers them with all the things you never though to ask. Just before you go bankrupt trying to fulfill the contract, he has already lined up a shop to clean up after you.

Take your time and plan to grow - don't grow in a large spurt. And Pat is right about the project going to China. there are hunters out there working full time to find this kind of work and then bid it with all the conditions in their favor. You would not stand a chance.

From contributor Ji

Great advice being given so far.
I too am in the Dallas area. I have been approached by GC's in the past to bid on the casework for some local hotels.
First red flag is who has been doing their work prior? Are they willing to pay according to my terms?
I passed on the handful of projects offered. I spoke with various tradespeople that wound up doing them, and found that they all wound up settling for pennies on the dollar, months after the projects were completed.
I also spent 9 years as director of contractor sales for a fairly large privately owned lumberyard. We furnished the framing, roofing, windows, exterior doors on some of these type projects.
They were always razor thin profit margin projects, then wound up in court on all that we were involved with, on top of that.

From contributor Ja

I should include that this lead came from a friend of my business partner, a trusted source. He got the info from one of his workers of the past 12 years that is good friends with someone who works for the construction firm. This person who works for the GC is not directly involved in this job. Basically, he is hooking up my business partners friend, who wants to partner with me to establish a workshop/install crew relationship. So, this is a lead on a good job to do, from a trusted source. Assumptions that a GC is looking to screw me over should be thrown out the door, and I also have ways of protecting myself in this situation. Been there done that. Does anyone have anything constructive to say if I wish to persue this job?

From contributor Pa

Not me, this is what you are saying:

"I have been in the custom woodworking industry for 2 years now"

An apprenticeship lasts 4 years

"I am in the bidding process now, and I'm completely lost."

Yet you want to put a price on the job.

"I don't know how to exactly read the plans"

This is a competitive bid and in some cases you are responsible for everything on the plans whether you bid it or not. At the very least you should be good at looking at prints.

"much less how to submit the bid properly."

You will be under contract to do the job whether you lose money or not, if you fail someone else will be contracted to finish the job at YOUR expense, and he will not bid low, he will bid high because he has the job no matter what at YOUR expense

"or figure out all materials needed"

The materials are going to cost x amount and will not be less than x amount unlike your labor which can be for an ever smaller amount per hour.

". I have tried to reach out to other shops in the area to help with the bid and planning process"

They don't want to train their competition?

"as there is a huge boom in my area and will be for a long time. "

That is another funny thing about construction it dries up overnight. Which is about the same time you get yourself setup to do higher production.

"I am simply overwhelmed and not sure where to turn for help"

You came to right place, you just don't want to hear the answer. No one is purposely pissing on your parade they are just giving you a dose of reality. Of which I would say few are harsher than the one you are looking at. Commercial construction is more litigious that any other field. The first step to learning something is finding out that there is something to know and that you do not know it.

I would suggest you look at joining the CMA or the AWI.

From contributor Ja

Pat, I think you are correct in many aspects of you're thinking. I have looked into joining both of those institutions, and do plan on doing so in the very near future. What bothered me was the automatic assumption that I got a lead on a job and not being in the industry for a long time that it was a bad job. I completely understand the concerns you related. When I was approached about it, it was looking for a reference to another cabinet maker that could handle the work, as I sometimes outsource jobs to larger more established companies. I'm very aware of the areas of concern, and never had any plans to take on this job by myself. The first thing I did was looked to sub it out. I get job leads all of the time, I'm a person of resources. This just happens to be the biggest job lead I have ever ran across in what I understand could be a very lucrative field. What happened to tradesman helping tradesman? I appreciate everyone's insight on this, but telling me it's over my head and I don't know what I'm getting into is something I already know. This is why I'm reaching out. Looking for help, a resource where I can find someone willing to take on what I can't do and get paid for it. Yes, some of that will be providing me with some education on the planning and bidding aspect of the job. That's what I'm looking for. They can have the majority of the profit. I don't expect to make money off their work, that's what General Contractors and democrats are for. If it turns out that the job won't pay what's needed, then back to the grind of residential and small commercial. I'll look at this again when the opportunities arrise. But as a ambitious 32 year old who is trying to build on my already reputible business, I'm not going to pass on something just because I don't know how to do a certain aspect. I will learn how and pay for others to do an aspect until I become proficient. So long as us in the industry don't look out for our trade, jobs will continue to be imported.

If any contractor in the DFW area is looking for work and is reputable with refrences, and is willing to work with a growing company, please let me know. It's not a competition, it's working together for the better of both of us. I'm won't do things the wrong way or under priced.

Also, since I made this post this morning, I have found a cabinet shop who is considering this, but no commitment has been made. Perhaps I should have put that I'm willing to let another cabinet company have certain aspects of this job or even the job as a whole so long as I find some benefit in doing so. Maybe I'm just not completely jaded yet from the industry and I love working with wood and in my shop, that I'm eager to do whatever it takes make things work. If that eventually means not taking this job and working to grow, so be it. But not trying when asked is something I won't do.

Thanks for commenting.

From contributor Pa

Maybe that is a way you can do it then? They should be able to bid the job?

What part of the plans do you not understand?

What specifically are your questions?

Have you even tried to understand them?

From contributor Ja

When looking at the plans, I'm having trouble with the finish schedule and matching certain specific areas. The narrative is very vague, and no RFI have been issued at this point to my knowledge. There are parts to it I'm not sure if I'm being asked to do or not, such as accent pieces and acrylic panels with wood trim. I don't see preferred hardware list. The plan also mentions the millwork specs for the reception desk are awaiting finishing from the architect. How do I know when those are available?

I have also never used CAD for my work. I'm kinda old school, and use grid paper and hand drawings. I have done this very well in the past.

As far as trying to understand, I have read numerous articles on understanding plans, but the majority talk about residential plans or smaller commercial plans. Those I understand fine. These are somewhat different to me. I have watched plenty of youtube videos on understanding plans as well as attempted to use trade institution resources. The majority of the latter offer classes at later times.

I completely agree that these are past the point of someone like me even should attempt at this point. Classes and instruction as well as some apprentice work would be needed before I should even attempt a job of this magnitude. But also as I said, the install crew has been granted the job, with the stipulation they find a workshop to build the cabinets. I have the capability to actually build them, and high-end tools and the know how to do it. Its the admin side of this where I struggle. Surely, there is somewhere to turn for help. Could be a lasting relationship, could be a lucrative job for the right sub. Could be I'm spinning my wheels because they want cheap labor. I may not know that until the bid is shot down. What I do know is the install company is top notch and do very good work. They are not cheap either, and neither am I. I dont think the hotel GC is going to be cheap on this as well, because not just anyone gets the job on a this brand of hotel. Its not a cheap motel. Everything in it is quality. Yes, some things will come from China, and if I must provide them, I will buy from China. I already have a source for that.

I guess what I'm really looking for is if you were in my situation, and eager to learn, get a job, pay for bonding, sub out whatever is needed, not worried about actually making profit so long as the job gets done and I find a valuable benefit such as learning how to do this sort of job for future reference, how would you look for that knowing that this area is covered up in work right now, and the actual job is out of the area. I have things covered such as shipping, insurance, bonding, licensing, install, vendors, space, etc.

If I could simply hire a company to do the admin side, I would have already done that. I know there are estimators and draft companies out there, but it needs to be more than that, in my opinion. I need something that has stake in this as well, I think. Maybe even I need sleep too. These 18 hour days of summer heat in my shop and small breaks to work on this as well are taking a toll. But hey, it's technically Friday as of 5 minutes ago, like that matters in this trade though!

From contributor ji

I stand corrected.
I believe you should go for it. ALL IN.
I didn't realize that you had been "connected" thru essentially a random facebook person.
Good friend of a business associates ex brother in laws second cousins wifes pool guys uncle is about as ironclad as you could hope for. Any problems I know he'll step up.
Best of luck to you.

From contributor Pa

"When looking at the plans, I'm having trouble with the finish schedule and matching certain specific areas. The narrative is very vague, and no RFI have been issued at this point to my knowledge. There are parts to it I'm not sure if I'm being asked to do or not, such as accent pieces and acrylic panels with wood trim."

Call the architect.

"The plan also mentions the millwork specs for the reception desk are awaiting finishing from the architect. How do I know when those are available?"

see above

"I have also never used CAD for my work. I'm kinda old school, and use grid paper and hand drawings. I have done this very well in the past."

The architect is going to demand pretty spiffy shop drawings with a plan view, elevation, end view, sections, and I like to use a 3d view as well on D size paper, usually drawn in Auto Cad

"I guess what I'm really looking for is if you were in my situation, and eager to learn, get a job, pay for bonding, sub out whatever is needed, not worried about actually making profit so long as the job gets done and I find a valuable benefit such as learning how to do this sort of job for future reference, "

So you are a millennial? You seem sort of flippant? Which is fine as long as you pull it off, otherwise you are likely to eat some humble pie.

If you team up with someone who knows what they are doing, and make sure you do not miss anything (big if), cover the usual contingencies, can finance the job, have done a cash flow chart, submit a quote that covers these especially the exclusions, can deal with the time frame/schedule, don't get stiffed by the contractor especially on the last draw, none of your subs flake out on you, you might be ok but you had better be a Good Student.. but so far I see no reason to believe you are.

From contributor ja

The question is basically "IT IT WERE ME" Ok If this is a Nice hotel and some fun good looking work is required, Maybe,,,,

If it is a Chain looks nice but quick build then run do not walk to a safer pasture. if there is a boom (going on here too) Do some break rooms, small commercial lobbys, get your feet wet. in the early 90's I was offered a 1.5 mil job in an exclusive house "Man did I drool", yet I asked the same questions and a really wise fellow simply said "it is the big ones that eat ya" I listened to the stories as the house was built of the problems the changes the late payments and arguments... and the eventual closure of that shop..

I have never forgotten that fellow said and when the big ones showed up I was ready.

From contributor Bi

All the previous posts are correct in their cautions.
That being said, if you send me your email address , I might be able to help.

From contributor Ev

For years I chased a high-end remodeler in my area. I had a connection in the office, and they seemed interested in using our cabinets. They are a solid operation, with some very good people. I thought if I could land one project with them, it would be my big break.

Turns out, nobody wants to work for them because their attitude toward paying their subs, frankly sucks. I got a project with them, and they forced me to agree to net 30 terms. All that meant was "we will pay you when we are good and ready". I spent many sleepless nights waiting for payments, and grief with my wife when I had to bail out the business. They eventually paid, but also weaseled out of paying for a few hundred dollars worth of work that wasn't clearly defined enough in the change orders.

I'm now about to sign a second project with them, and after reading their waiver a little more closely ("I agree to give up all rights to lien and stop notices") I think I might walk away. It's a good project, but, "Fool me once"...

One thing you might look into is one of these firms that will pay you up front for your invoices, then pursue the payment themselves. They charge a fee of 6% or so but that's not much more than the interest on your business loan.

From contributor Al

I am going to disagree with Pat on calling the architect for answers, in a competitive bid that is the worst approach (see my unless later). The reason we don't want to speak directly to the architect is we ar bidding to 1 or more GC's so we need to send an RFI so that ALL BIDDERS have the same answer.

If you have a personal relationship with the architect and call and ask a question, after you get an answer you comment with something like you will follow this up with a bid instruction or addenda to all.

Documents have an order of precedence, it is usually from lowest to highest
notes, schedules, plan, elevation, section, large details, larger details, written specifications, so the specification take precedence over everything.

Its quite typical to put one note on a plan that says see the finish schedule with a 24 x 36 xyz as noted and the note said typical so there might be 10 or 100 with a single reference. There may not be a detail or a plan or an elevations.

You need the ability to understand the AWS for manufacturing details.

Is the project LEED, is it FSC, is it NAUF.
there are so many questions that you need to know to look for. Take a area of the plans and force yourself to draw that they are asking for to the point you know how to build it, every time you come to an item you can't answer, you need an RFI or you need to read more of the plans.

Typically hotels and motels are not "high profit" jobs. These guys know how to shop, I doubt there are any people plotting to put you under, it costs too much to the GCs reputation.

That said you will get thrown under the bus if you fail to perform and if you bond well the bond will pay to get the work done at your expense and whatever assets you pledged for the bond will go to the bonding company.


From contributor Ga

"I'm now about to sign a second project with them, and after reading their waiver a little more closely ("I agree to give up all rights to lien and stop notices") I think I might walk away. It's a good project, but, "Fool me once". "

When are people going to understand we're in the business of making wood products, not lending money.....For the life of me I can't understand why AWI or some of the other organizations don't fight for a fair contract for the woodworkers....(Fair being PO for the materials, Sub contract for installation)...

From contributor Al


what's the language the precedes and follows the partial sentence? Post a PDF or jpeg of that part of the contract


From contributor Ga

I was quoting Evan from above...

From contributor Da

Paul Downs - a successful shop owner, New York Times and Woodweb contributor, has a saying carved - I believe - into his desk. it says" Luck favors the well prepared". (I hope I got it right)

That is worth some reflection. You sound like you are anything but prepared, but you still want the growth, even if it is instantaneous. You will then need a whole lot of luck.

Do what you want, but there is a wealth of experience and professionalism above. You cannot buy this kind of advice anywhere.

From contributor Jo

My understanding is that you know the guys who already have the job ...... yet they can't tell you what to build? These well connected sources that you will trust your business with can't have a simple phone conversation with you to get answers?

When GC's "want" us to bid to them they do everything needed to help us get the info.

If you are going to stick your neck out you need to be in close contact with the source who is responsible for paying YOU. All the rest of the contacts and leads will not be able to help you.

If you are big enough to handle this job you should consider hiring a experienced estimator. They can help you learn as well will have connections to more jobs like this. A good estimator will most likely be able to help with project management as well.

Good luck! don't let greed cloud your judgement;)

From contributor Pe

Having been in this business for more than 30 years, running and owning firms large and small, a few words of advice. I am currently running a small 7 man operation in the DFW area doing both commercial and residential work. I get at least 5 requests for bid a day, many with attractive jobs, that I don't respond to for one reason. These guys all expect me to be their banker as I'm sure your hotel builder requires. These types of jobs require a level of sophistication that dictates that 1st and foremost, you read the contract. If you're willing to absorb the pay if paid, liability for everyone else's actions and no lien clauses that are frequently found there, your chances of long term success are greatly reduced and dependent on luck. Plans for bidding these days are frequently light on detailed information. If you don't know how to respond to these situations, you should understand that you are putting yourself at hazard in getting involved. Because you will learn. The expensive and hard way. Final advice, partner with someone you can trust who does know the dance and learn from them.

From contributor ri

I'm not sure what you bring to the party if you are looking to partner with someone else. Why do they need you? They can bid the job just like you can, but maybe even better since they will do the majority of the work. You have to admit your first post doesn't instill the idea that you have great experience on this scope of work. Does it boil down to the idea you can do a little bit of work and make your profit, but then profit off other's work? I really doubt there will be that kind of profit margin that a middle man can add in.

From contributor Ar

James, ...for what it's worth from 38 years as a cabinet contractor in commercial and residential...The School of Hard Knocks is always enrolling new students and re-enrolling graduates. There is so much prudent information that has been given to you in the responses for you to digest and consider. I'm certain that you feel the pressure "to jump" at this unique opportunity. There are others coming if you're patient. I admire your enthusiasm, but the old adage "learn to walk before you run" might be warranted, no insult intended. Do not long jump into this unless you team up with a very trusted advisor (not a partner) who knows all the things you don't, because the sharks rule in the waters you are getting into. At least you are aware of your limitations, but there is no mercy in business, absolutely none. Keep to your plan of growing with great advice from professionals who have been down this rabbit hole before. Best of luck, but be prepared. I'm sure that many of the responders wish they had been better prepared and understood more of the hidden facets taught in the School of HK, myself included

From contributor Al

Evan sent me the text he was concerned about, I believe the language was from the unconditional lien release they expected him to sign after payment and was either an exhibit to the contract or the actual document he was to send in after payment.

I suggested he review the link below as well as look at ASA


From contributor La

I've only got 30 years in this business so probably haven't learned enough so far to give good advice. I see red flags all over this. You are trying to play the game w/o having learned the rules.
Fold your tent and go to work for the biggest, best company that you hope to someday match. Learn on their nickel. Far faster learning curve and lots cheaper.

From contributor Gl

I didn't think that you could graduate from the school of hard knocks. I think it it life long learning.

From contributor Pe

As for not using CAD, well it is the 21st century and any of the firms we work with would not even consider a hand drawing. Anyone coming into the business either needs to be able to do the CAD work or farm it out. GCs can be real pains so you need to document everything and have it signed off on. Read the prints, if you can't don't do the work, if you can draw what you propose to build in CAD and submit it for approval, be sure to pay attention to any red lines that are made. If it is a complex project redraw and resubmit. Once you have an approved set of drawings get the deposit before you order any material or go further. We get 50% with the remainder upon delivery, no retainage. Not 40, 30, or 25% because the GC says he has a lot of work for us, screw that, get 50% no less. Deliver on the day specified, do not be late. When you arrive with the load locate the foreman and ask for the check. If the foreman does not have it ask if he was informed that you would be delivering today and that payment was to be made on delivery. If the GC is not on site get the phone number and call, state that you are at the job site with the load, first and only or last which ever it may be and are awaiting the check before you unload. Do not be surprised if you are told to "go ahead and unload we will mail the check". State that that was not the terms agreed upon and that you will take the load back to the shop and will return when the check arrives or is at the job site, but that you will add an additional delivery charge. Be precise and professional in business and expect the dame from a GC. Commercial GC are usually better to work with than housing. The housing GC tends to run on the subcontractrors money as long as they can always promising more work if you can give them terms or shave your price.
CAD? yeah you gotta have it these days or your days are numbered. You need it for the documentation and professionalism it brings to the table.

From contributor La

Lots of luck Pete, You won't be getting any jobs around here!