Pros and Cons of Outsourcing Doors

Here's a detailed and lively discussion among cabinetmakers and door specialists about the key issues in outsourcing doors, including schedules, quality, efficiency, cost, and making good on mistakes. October 26, 2007

How do you guys that are outsourcing deal with the sometimes lengthy lead times that door companies have? What about the doors that are ordered wrong? The company I've outsourced from has a 2 week lead time, whether it be one door or a hundred. You can't wait 2 weeks for two doors just because your customer added a cabinet to the job at the last minute, can you?

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor G:
First of all, I don't mean to be rude, but why did you let them add it at the last minute? Did you charge them accordingly for the hassle you're now going through? Surely since they are the ones that caused this, they can be understanding of your situation. Perhaps you can install all the cabinets, then bring those doors over and hang them when complete? I've learned the hard way that our policies on what we allow the client to do can often impede our profitability. I firmly believe that any changes to the scope after the design phase (or at any point that you choose) should add to both the cost and schedule of the project. This can be stated in your contract and gone over at the beginning of each new job so no one is shocked.

From contributor V:
If a door is ordered wrong, then it's your fault and you deal with it. If clients add cabinetry after the fact, then they wait or pay a premium for rush orders. I deal with door companies that have a 100% up-charge for 2-5 day delivery. Pass that on to your client and they will wait.

2 weeks? What's 2 weeks in this industry anymore? Can you produce a full set of cabinets and tops in 10 working days 100%? If you can, then I suspect you have little else to do. Cut your door guy some slack. 2 weeks is not bad for a company that likely has several dozen or hundred clients.

From contributor H:
I own a door company.

Forget for 2 minutes the problem of waiting for remakes. Unavoidable problems you will have in making your own doors are quality and capacity. I have seen very few cabinet companies that can consistently make a quality door that comes anywhere close to what we can make. Be a man and try to prove me wrong and you will get sucked into a multi-year nightmare you can't get out of because you have invested a stupid amount of money into door making and now can't fess up to making a mistake.

You also won't have the capacity you think you should have. You spend all that money on equipment and now have a small crew making doors, but it isn't as easy as it seems it should be. High turnover, quality problems requiring way more remakes than you expected (or putting embarrassing work on your cabinets), lumber is expensive and inconsistent (unless you can buy by the truck like I do), dust control becomes uncontrollable without a huge investment.

Did you know that there are about 100 possible defects in a door? How long will it take you to find out about them all and correct and train your semi-nomadic work force to eliminate them all?

On top of that, adding variety in the way of tooling is very expensive.

I can't speak for other door companies, but if we have a steady, favored customer (easy to work with and pays on time, especially COD), and they need a couple of doors rushed because they were ordered wrong, we will do what we can to speed things up. If we don't like you (you pay late, can't communicate well, act arrogant or put your hands on the ladies in customer service), you will get the extra charges for expediting every time.

No, I'm done, except to say I've done a lot of business with cabinet shops that finally wised up and closed their own door shops. Sorry for the rant, but you would be making a big mistake.

From contributor S:
I use Cimino's Doors out of Holister, CA. Delivered in 5 days COD. Remake, add on 3 days.

From contributor J:
Wow, I nearly spilled my coffee this morning as I read contributor H's post. It was almost like he and I must have the same customers.

As a door maker, you cannot treat your product like a commodity. Quality comes before everything else, period. Granted, if you were making the same door style out of the same wood species at the same size, every day, you could possibly begin to treat it as a commodity. The sad truth, though, is that most door makers are custom makers. Send us your sizes, species and styles, and we will try to get them out the door in 6-7 days. If you make a mistake, that's okay. We will try to correct it and keep to the original schedule.

But that seldom happens. Instead, you sink millions into door making machinery and shop space. The widebelt, ROS, molders, shapers, dust collection, shop space, insurance (just to name a few) aren't cheap. Then you put a 19 year old reformed drug addict (give me a break) or a 40 year old alcoholic (is he really sober?) in charge of a machine and tell him to cut me a thousand parts and pay attention to the quality. Inside of two minutes, I guarantee you that the last thing on these guys' minds is quality. Add to the mix whether or not your crew will show up everyday, stir in whether or not the supplier will deliver the lumber as promised, and sprinkle a bit of your customer's wisdom, advice, or tantrums over the whole mess. You end up with doors going out that are poor quality, the wrong style or species, and definitely not on time.

I could go on and on, but it's Sunday morning and the kids are stirring. I plan to spend the one morning this week that I actually enjoy with them watching spongebob doodlehead!

From contributor B:
We build our own doors. One of the main reasons we do is because of grain matching projects, specialty veneer panels, and specialty woods. A ridiculous amount of time and money were invested in machinery and tooling over the years and we still don't come anywhere near close to being comparable in price to outsourcing. Equipment ties up a lot of floor space and a lot of man hours go into fabricating them.

Unless you are selling grain match and specialty woods and getting paid extra for it, you should definitely outsource doors to make money.

As far as change orders go, it is up to you to control the customer throughout the sales process. You educate the customer before the project starts by creating a customer checklist which helps them give you the information you need in a timely manner before and during a sale. Next is a contract that is used as a guideline to how the project will go. Last is a warranty that will address any issues after final payment is received.

Here are several copy/pastes from several different sections of our contract.

Pricing, payments, changes and extra fees:
7) As long as the original overall concept, size, details and finish of proposal remain unchanged there will be no extra charges for product. However any and all changes to original proposal shall be re-priced accordingly. Any changes that reduce the price will be taken off of final payment. Any changes that increase the costs before construction begins will be billed at the same percentage rate as laid out. Any changes made after full deposit is received shall be due in full immediately upon acceptance of changes.

8) As long as our standard operating procedures are followed there will be no extra fees for services provided. However there are many factors that will cause customer/s to incur extra fees. They have been laid out in detail in the following sections. Please read and understand all possible areas of costs increase associated with services that we provide.

5) After receiving full deposit and signed confirmation for drawings, product samples, and spec sheets, the delivery lead time will be as stated in original proposal. Any change orders after this point will increase the lead time of original proposed delivery date.

Drawing Services:
1) Drawings will include the following: Elevations, cross sections and floor plans that will identify all critical dimensions, details, and location of appliances/electronic components. Anything not specifically addressed as being provided by Millwork & More, LLC on the drawings or submittals are not included.
a. At first review, if any design changes are necessary there is no extra fee, however proposal pricing will change accordingly.
b. Any and all changes made after second set of drawings will incur a design fee of $150.00/hr and proposal pricing will change accordingly.
c. Any and all changes made after Millwork & More, LLC receives signed drawings and full deposit will incur a design fee of $150.00/hr and proposal pricing will change accordingly. In addition Millwork & More, LLC reserves the right to charge for 10% of any work deleted within 3 days of receiving 40% deposit. Any deletion of work after 3 days of 40% deposit shall be billed at a minimum rate of 10% up to 100% of value depending on the progress made at point of deletion. Any and all additional fees to be paid in full prior to construction.

Thinking about making doors in house because of this situation is addressing the result of a problem. Controlling the customer throughout the sales process is fixing the problem before it happens. It also insures you are compensated for the extra work and you get the lead times you need.

From contributor L:

We outsource to a large, excellent door company that provides a quality door on schedule every time. Changes are also handled well and as fast as could possibly be expected. The only time we will make our own raised panel doors is when it is an AWI Premium job requiring the panels to have a solid mitered profile with a composite core, then matched veneers hard glued on the face of the panel.

From contributor Y:
I recently began outsourcing doors and thought it was a really good thing until my last order. The order was for about 50 doors... out of those, 7 of them were beginning to separate at the glue line in the panel as soon as I unpacked them. They are open at least 1/16th of an inch now (they will be replaced soon, but had to wait another 10 days to get them). Two of the doors were made with straight tops instead of arched ones... 10 days on those also.

The big kicker was this - I had 4 large panels approximately 36" x 60". I was told when ordering them to sketch a picture of the panel orientation, so I did. It was very basic 4 panel construction with the panels all running vertical (grain with the length). I got a phone call about a week later from an incompetent person that couldn't understand the sketch. After a lengthy conversation, she finally understood what I needed (according to her). 3 or 4 days later I get another call from the same girl. She says if we make them this way, they won't be right. After another lengthy conversation, I faxed her another picture (it was the same picture as the first, just rotated 90 degrees so that it was standing vertical this time). She called me back and said "that was just what I needed!" Ha! After all of this phone tag and explanation over almost a 2 week period... when I got the panels, they were still wrong! They made them in 2 panels instead of 4, which made the panels almost 32" wide. It looked terrible, and I am not comfortable at all with a panel anywhere close to that width!

To cut to the end of the story, I called them the first of last week to correct the problems. They sent a truck to pick them up (which just arrived today) and they will begin making them when they get the ones that they made wrong the first time. In all, from the time I ordered the doors, until my order is complete and correct, has taken almost 2 months. I'm sure this is a unique experience... or is it?

This is a new company to me and I won't use them again. I had good recommendations for them on this site. They are a very large company.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. I ordered 2 raised panel gable ends with two vertical panels in them. I looked them over and they didn't look bad, so I finished them and attached them to the cabinet. This evening I was standing back looking at the cabinet, and something looked a little odd. I took my tape measure over to measure the center stile... yeah, it's out of square by 3/8 of an inch in 30 inches. Now that's quality I could never dream of producing if I built my own doors!

From contributor N:
I have been using Corona Millworks for a little over a year. Last week we received six doors that had the wrong edge profile. They had a rabbet around the back side vice a bead on the front. The error was that my wife ordered from the invoice for another job we completed for the same customer. The invoice had a typo for the edge profile code. After receiving the doors and noting the problem, I fully expected to pay for the replacements as well. Corona covered it and I had replacements in about 3 days. Their quality is very good. I occasionally get some glue spots and I normally have to sand everything to 150 grit because they are too smooth for my wiping stains. I can't touch their variety and I don't have the budget or space for all that dedicated machinery. I suspect that all the bigger door companies offer a similar quality product and great service. I am convinced that outsourcing is the answer most of the time. I make my own when it is a rush job and the customer is satisfied with the styles (just a few) that I offer.

From contributor Z:
As a cabinet door manufacturer since 1978, I totally agree with contributors H and V and even B. I get so tired of so-called "experts" who have built a few doors that have no grip on reality of time, equipment, and people necessary to produce a good product. You can make a lot more money by finding a door maker you can work with and buying doors out rather than spending your own valuable time trying to invent your own methods that will cost you in the long run.

From contributor O:
I get tired of posts telling someone that it can't be done - all the money and all the time it takes - yet they're still making doors, go figure. We make doors, up to 250 a week, and that's all we care to do. Are we going broke? No. It's what makes the most money. It's not rocket science - they're just doors. We do cabinets, but I'd rather do the doors, as they're a lot easier to handle than boxes. My son and I do all the work and make as nice a door as anybody else. The thing with doors is they're cheap to get into. 20k and you're on your way. Not bad for what it will make in return. And if you want to ease into it, you can. I look at most cabinet shops that buy doors from us and you'll see one or two man shops with a minimum of machinery in a small building. I can show you 25 in my area alone. You have to start somewhere. I just can't see paying someone to do what I can do as good and cheap.

From contributor M:
I've been building doors for about three years, after outsourcing for 15+ years. I build for other professional shops now, with a 5-7 day lead time, which I think is reasonable. Usual scenario - a phone call that I'll be needing some doors soon, as soon as I get the sizes and species figured out, I'll let you know. Second call 2 1/2 weeks later - I need the doors now! The cabinets are installed and the finisher is waiting on you to produce the doors so he can finish and I can get my check.

Why are they building the cabinet boxes, installing, then ordering the doors? I see too much unnecessary downtime/time crunch with that system. How about ordering the doors on the front end of the job, with a complete and double checked order? Much easier and cheaper on everybody. I like easy.

From contributor W:
Contributor R, I don't see a wide-belt sander in your shop. How do you sand your doors? How do you edge join your panels? And what brand is your door clamp?

From contributor O:
Our web page is not finished yet. We are setting it up for online ordering of doors for both retail and wholesale orders (it will put them into our door program) so there's no extra transfer of sizes. What you see in our shop is the door side and assembly. The other side is for the larger machines - widebelt, straight line rip, 24"planer, beam saw, line bore, cont. bore, 18" up cut saw, sissier lifts, dust collector, I'm sure I'm forgetting something. I built the door clamp copy of a Jlt. I need to add on as we're out of room and need a case clamp (edgebander setting covered up outside).

From contributor W:

Do you sand the panel scoops with an orbit sander, and do you hand sand the outside edge?

From contributor O:
I do concur with contributor M on the way doors get ordered. That's why we're trying to do the online thing.

We tried a profile sander and decided the DAs worked as well. We use the edge sander before edge profile.

From the original questioner:
Wow! I didn't realize my post would generate so much discussion. I've only been in the cabinet business for about four years now and I'm wondering if I should make doors. I have 4 shapers, 20" planer, panel crafter and templates, hinge machine, widebelt sander, Ritter door clamp table, radial arm saw, etc.

It's kind of confusing to me as to which way to go on this, because I have made money both ways. I'm a small shop (myself and 2 part timers), so if I build doors, it takes awhile, and I can't do as many jobs. However, more jobs do not always mean more money! It does mean more customers, more details, etc.

My door supplier is an hour away from my shop, so it takes that time to pick up the doors. (His shipping rates are high.) The quality is certainly superior to mine, however as in my original post, he will not work with me on small (2 or 3 doors) orders in regard to lead time unless I pay 5.00 more per panel.

I really appreciate all the feedback! And for those of you that bought door making equipment, but then switched to outsourcing, did you liquidate it? Does it sit silent on your shop floors?

From contributor H:
Almost all my customers have left their equipment set up so they can make a door quick or cut down a door and re-edge it.

From contributor L:
Seems like 5 bucks is a deal for a quickie!

From contributor X:
One thing that is talked about very little in these kinds of debates is the problem every shop struggles with, capacity. If subbing out the doors allows you to get two kitchens done in the same time frame as one, you've done more than just double your profit... much more. All your fixed costs were paid for by the first job. Therefore, the only thing that comes out of the second job is direct costs for that job, and profit. When you take this into account, outsourcing is well worth it for many small shops. If you want to ponder this concept further, I suggest starting off with reading "The Goal" by Eli Goldratt, then checking out his other books "It's Not Luck," and "Critical Chain."

From contributor M:
Excellent point/advice on covering your fixed cost and the related costs of the second job.

The reasons I started building doors were:
1. Lack of reputable contractors to fill my schedule (not a lack of contractors, just ones that paid on time). If I had a solid enough customer base and volume, I would outsource again to increase my turns while holding my overhead the same or less.
2. My volume on doors was over 80K gross the last year I bought doors (my supplier was 2 hours away - 4 hours I could be building something else.
3. I can make something quick if needed. Most of my customers use me for the same reason.

From contributor P:
We have been building our own doors since 1971. I have a four man shop, two door/frame men, two box men/installers, and me. We built 60 sets of cabinets last year. I am sure that a dedicated door company would build a slightly higher quality door than I can, but it sure is nice when you're installing a set of cabinets and accidentally damage a door to call back at the shop and have a replacement by the end of the day. I can't send the customer a bill if the cabs aren't finished yet, and I love those one day installs - in and out in 8 hours. If I ever scaled down to a one or two man shop, I would seriously consider outsourcing them, because I personally don't like building doors. I do, however, outsource a few MDF routed doors and I really hate having to wait on a third party vendor to finish out a set of cabinets. I am an hour from a big city and somewhat limited on door manufacturers.

The final decision is yours. If you're looking for timeliness and control, you have to build it yourself. If you can wait a bit, then send it out. You *can* build them yourself; we've been doing it for two generations and making money at it.

From contributor M:
How do you guys that outsource deal with the sometimes lengthy lead times that door companies have?

You *plan*. You layout next week's job this week, getting your door list turned in a week earlier. You do know what you're building next week, right? I assume you do, because you're approaching it from an angle of timeliness and control of your schedule. Go one step further and lay out the one for the week after that... Now you're really in control of the schedule. By the time you get this week's job installed and complete, and next week's job cut out and assembled and the drawer boxes done, the doors have been ready for you for about three days, waiting for you to pick them up or be delivered. As a byproduct, you also know if you have enough material, hardware, etc. for next week's job, and you're not spending your money on expedited freight because you don't have enough hinges or drawer guides.

What about doors that are ordered wrong?

Who ordered them wrong? Get yourself in the habit of ordering things complete and correct. Otherwise, pay for it with your time and your money. Mistakes are not free. If I build a door wrong, I eat the material (money) and the time (more money) to get it out to you (or me) on your timeframe.

Might mention that to the customer that just added a cabinet to the job. They didn't "just" add anything. How long have they had to look at and plan the project? Two weeks, two months, fifteen years? They just sat on the fence too long, until you were almost finished and had gone to work on what was supposed to be next week's job.

You can't wait two weeks for two doors just because the customer added a cabinet to the job at the last minute, can you?

Sure you can, unless Mr. and Mrs. Customer want to pay for expedited production and freight. They, after all, just added it at the last minute, screwing your plan. Last minute costs are always more than those on the schedule.

From contributor Z:
I could not have said it better. It seems that most customers expect everything to be like cell phone or email. They think we can instantly produce a product like an email, and that we are sitting around just waiting for their order.

I guess we should put the last phone call ahead of the customer we have already promised a delivery time. Or maybe we should have our employees stay late on a moment's notice and change their family plans to accommodate us and the customers. I think too many contractors are promising unrealistic delivery times to their customer and pushing that to us.

From the original questioner:
I understand that you can't allow customers to dictate your life and business, but I have done some entire kitchens (small though they may be) in the amount of time it would have taken to just get doors to my shop, let alone finish them! I'm talking from initial contact with the customer to shaking their hand as I leave the install. I have a job to do right now that is two vanities. Nothing fancy, but it will take me 1 day to build them, and 1 day to finish. I have plenty of time in my schedule to get these done way before doors are ready, and pocket my money. Should I order those doors and just wait when I could do it all in one day?

From contributor M:
Why promise someone a new custom built kitchen in two days? Again, someone is not planning. Again, someone's going to pay for not planning. You, or your wife and kids, your employees... Sounds like you have too much time - maybe direct that time to sales calls. You still deliver the job in one or two weeks, which sounds very reasonable to most people. Hell, I can't order a cake at Wal-Mart and get it in 3 days, or a box of stock hinges, much less a kitchen. But you could spend that 70k, and have the privilege to deliver in two-three days, then sit on your excess capacity for two weeks. I know a customer with a $2700.00 kitchen that would be grateful.

From contributor A:
Used to make my own, even did nothing but make them for other shops for a while. That was 20 years ago. Thought I might try it again, so went to IWF to scope out equipment. Settled on a basic package that would add to my present stuff for about 30k, but decided to do some more cost analysis when I got home. Long story short, a job that would cost me 2500 to do in house, I could buy for 2700. No way am I going to deal with the lumber company, waste wood, tool maintenance, labor (can you spell insurance, workers comp, social security, mood swings, etc), screw-ups on the floor, etc., for $200.

I can not understand how anybody builds cabinets without knowing what the doors will be. Some of our work is 6 months out and we know what every door will be before the customer is ever given a price.

But wait, it gets better. We also get them pre-finished! Wow! Is this country great, or what? And I make the same markup on them as if I had done them in my shop. I see the door company as the ideal employee. They do all that stuff I listed above that I would have to do, only bigger and better, and I never even hear about it. I've had some snafus, but nothing even close to making me reconsider outsourcing. Just my $200 worth.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
We currently do our own doors. We have a small two man operation where our closest door guy is about five hours away. We build a very high end cabinet and have no desire to make more than one kitchen every two weeks. We both make a very good living doing this and I get to see my kids grow up. I now understand the phrase "work is not my life it is something I do so I can have a life".

Comment from contributor B:
I outsourced my doors for years but when the cost of doors got to be $2000 on a $12,000 job and that did not include the paint grade MDF doors I found myself cornered into doing my own. I just cannot justify $2000 for something I can do in a week especially in today’s economic situation. Materials for this set of doors was only $300. I was able to buy new tooling to replace my worn out tooling and with labor still came out ahead. Now that I have been able to purchase some used equipment including a JLT door clamp machine and a wide belt sander with the help of this site and forums I have been able to streamline the process and produce a very nice looking doors.