Presenting A Quote

There are reasons to sell the job face to face, in person. April 10, 2005

I recently started my own business designing and building custom furniture and was wondering how others handle presenting a quote to a customer. I meet with the client to find out what he wants, then do a design and work up a quote. I then mail him a package with the drawings, quote and a letter explaining things. I feel sometimes that it would be easier to explain the design in person but I don't want him to feel like I'm putting him on the spot. So far this has worked for me but does it seem impersonal to just mail them a quote? How do others handle this matter?

Forum Responses
(Business Forum)
From contributor A:
In this wonderful world of automation I personally like it when a salesperson takes the time to come and see me rather than just mail me the information. Likewise, I make it a point to go to my client’s house to talk to him. I usually leave him with pictures, renditions and a few samples of materials I plan to use if I get the job. Everything is explained and he has it in writing too.

I think of it as courtship and just as a young lady would be more willing to go out with a man who took the time to visit with her rather than just write her. Your client will be more willing to spend money with you as he is getting your personal attention and he (if sensible and considerate) will realize that your time is valuable to you and will appreciate it.

From contributor B:
I do the same. Given the fact that you make custom furniture, just as I do, I can't imagine trying to convey my ideas/drawings to a client from his sketches or verbal wishes, without being face to face. Don't feel like you're putting him on the spot. I explain my drawings, materials to be used and cost and simply leave the ball in his court. I conclude the meeting by saying "....and again, I can make this for you for $2300. Please let me know one way or the other if we have an agreement as soon as possible, so I can schedule construction accordingly.” This gives him wiggle room if the price is too high or if he’s just not sure. He can simply call me to say yes or no. More often than not, he'll say "go for it" right there and then.

From contributor C:
I think by far the best way to sell your work is face to face. No two-dimensional piece of paper will ever convey all the charm, knowledge and desire you possess to make his project the best at a wonderful price. He would be crazy to go with anyone else!

Every woodworker should get all the experience he can in the selling world by blowing off all that dust, trimming the 'ol beard, and, with a fresh coat of Speed Stick, getting out there in that sunshine and selling yourself. You can't have too much experience in that department. Just don't blow the deal by driving over the family dog!

From contributor D:
I think that your method is feasible as long as you get the client to your shop at some point. I have done what you have done for nearly 20 years now and it works as long as the presentation is neat and professionally done. Drawings should clearly show what you intend to build, and the letter of explanation should be on letterhead and well written (although you don't seem to have any problem with that based on your post). CAD drawings are more impressive to clients than hand drawings. The price quote should include cost of the item, a brief description, and when you plan to deliver it. Payment terms should be spelled out. Some will advise more explicit contracts, but I haven't found them necessary (and I have completed more than 2000 jobs).

If you start the sales process with a visit to the customer's house then try to finish it in your shop. Having the customer in your shop gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your superb craftsmanship with current work, and a neat and organized workplace. Many of the people who want custom furniture are heavily invested in the idea of the craftsman, so a visit to the shop helps them get excited about the project.

I think that there's nothing wrong with sending the proposal by mail. Make sure that the letter closes with an invitation to call and ask questions. I will make one follow up call about a week later to make sure that he received the package and to ask if he wants to schedule a meeting to go over the proposal, but I don't like to present the package and then stand there and watch him go over it - too much pressure for everyone involved. Getting it in the mail allows him to review it at his leisure. If you and your shop have made a favorable impression then the client will be willing to work though any desired design changes. What you will find is that some clients want to place the order immediately - some take a few weeks, some a few months, and some a few years. Also, remember that it takes time to get a business like this off the ground, and be sure to treat every client like gold.

From contributor E:
A lot of communication is non-verbal. Your customers will understand you better and you will pick up on those areas that make the customer happy and those that are bothering the customer. Facial expressions and gestures tell a lot. Therefore you must learn how to control your own expressions for the benefit of the sale. This is the salesmanship part of your job.

From contributor F:
Your customers are not just buying your product, they are buying you. Custom means custom, and your custom is different than anyone else’s. Plans can be anyone's, but your plans are yours. Sell yourself.

From contributor G:
I agree with the face to face approach. I would suggest you show them the drawing/sketch, and then take it home with you if they do not give you a deposit then and there. Some clients will shop your drawings to other cabinetmakers and look for the lowest price. Personally, I give the clients a price and a detailed written description. If they agree to go ahead with phase one I then charge a 10% deposit of the anticipated contract price for shop drawings, then 50% to start production once the drawings have been signed off on. This way if they choose to shop with my drawings, I already have my drafting fee paid for. There are also frequently changes that take place during the design process. This method provides the option of re-pricing after changes in the drawings have been made.

From contributor H:
I agree with much of what I have read here about the face to face meeting being the best. I require a deposit before leaving the drawings with the customer so that my design time is at least paid for in the event he shops for a lower price.

From contributor I:
I think the only way to sell a job is face to face. I would never mail a bid to a customer. I only give out drawings after I have a deposit. I agree that giving away your drawings to someone to go out and shop with is a bad idea. I use e-Cabinets for my design and estimating. It can take up a good 3 - 4 hrs of time. I sometimes print the colored rendition and use it during the presentation but don't leave it if I don't get a deposit.

Most of the time I bring my laptop and show them what the kitchen will look like - then there is no issue about leaving the design. The customer is buying 3 things:

1. The price
2. The design
3. You

Many times I have not been low and still got the job because I sold me or they liked the design better than the cheap guy. If you are high and the design is the same you can still sell yourself and get the job. You can't do this by mail.

From contributor D:
I think that the best way is somewhat different depending upon what kind of product you are making. The OP said custom furniture, which isn't as much of a commodity as kitchen cabinets. I've been making custom furniture for 20 years and I have had very few occasions where I even suspected that a client was shopping the drawings. I don't worry about it anyway, because the designs I make aren't easy to replicate. Those of you who only give the drawings after payment, and don't even leave a copy - think what kind of message that sends. Right off the bat you are telling the client that you don't trust them. Maybe in the cabinet business that's an appropriate response, but I personally wouldn't operate that way. Establishing a rapport with the customer includes considering their convenience - mailing a set of drawings for their review at their leisure seems to me to be basic consideration for the client. Custom furniture is a different business than cabinets, though. It's been interesting to see all of the different methods of presentation.

From contributor B:

To contributor D: You said "The OP said custom furniture, which isn't as much of a commodity as kitchen cabinets." The definition of commodity is: article of trade, anything meeting a need.

Having straightened out that point, I have also been making furniture for about 25 yrs. If I gave my drawings to someone and they decided to check around to get a better price, what better way than to bring my drawing along to save them from describing their wishes to someone else? Would I know about it? No - how would I?

Secondly, you say "I don't worry about it anyway, because the designs I make aren't easy to replicate". I think any furniture maker worth his salt could easily replicate what you draw. It may not have the same type joints, glue, screws, whatever, etc., but it'll come out looking just like it. Pick out any EC, table etc. in a magazine and I can replicate it.

Leaving a bad taste in the customer’s mouth by showing we don't trust them because we don't give them our drawing(s)? Tough. Ask any professional to come give you an estimate on a project. Then ask him if you can keep the drawings. It's just smart business. If the client doesn't understand, I don't need his business.

As far as cabinetmaking and furniture being a different business, they are not really all that different. They are both a business that involves what each of us hopes to be - a unique product that sets us apart. My drawings are like lyrics to a song - unique. You can look at them, but like Lennon and McCartney, you either buy the record or you'll have to pay royalties to use them.

From contributor J:
I get money up front before I come to you. I have personally tried every above mentioned option and have come to the conclusion that money up front has many, many advantages. It was explained to me quite some time ago that having some of the customer's money gives you something tangible to talk about when you meet. I could go on about the many advantages but I will leave that up to others to consider but the one greatest advantage of it all is the option I have of returning the deposit and walking away with all of the marbles that I brought with me. I am referring strictly to custom work only because there are always alternatives but I make sure from the start that I drive and this way I know where I am going and I don't miss the exits.

I know what you are thinking but look at it this way. I can not do all of the jobs but the ones that I do get receive my best customer service and I tell the client that the terms are the same even if they go to someone else first. Custom is one of a kind and I think that goes for the owner and client too and I do prefer face to face initially but after that it is not as important. Not every client wants to be bothered with all of the details. It clouds their minds and besides, if they knew what they wanted then they would not need me. This works for me and your individual results "may vary".