What to Do When a Customer Bid-Shops You

Pros give advice on handling the situation where a customer asks a cabinetmaker to price-compete with a low-ball bidder. (Note: The good guys won this one.) February 17, 2006

A client asked me to build this for her in MDF, painted white, with birch shaker doors, also painted white. She says she got a price of $3000 and asked if I can do better. I was about to quote her $7000, which I think is a fair price. The unit is 9' high, 18' long and 12" deep. Am I asking too much or am I going crazy!?

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Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor S:
If you're building an 18 feet long wall unit for only 7k, I'd have to say you're mad because it is worth much more than that. For an MDF painted wall unit, I think 600 to 750 a linear foot is fair. That would put my bid in at 10800 to 13500. Some would charge more. If you're doing the finishing, that is.

From contributor A:
I would ask her to see the $3000 bid on paper. I do not believe she has one and actually told a fib. She wants a Merc but has the budget for a Ford (with that employee discount). In my neck of the woods, that would go for about $8k construction, and $10k delivered and installed. Do you have any idea how long it will take to simply paint that sucker (15 minutes a shelf total cost out the door)? I would drop the price to maybe $6500 pre-primed, no install. Besides that, I only blind estimate on fixed price contracts. I do not want someone else's price in the back of my head, as it tends to bias me toward a lower price. Also, MDF sucks for cabinet jobs like the photo you provided. Way too heavy.

From contributor D:
I would tell her that she needs to get the other guy to build it for her. Some of the best advice that I have gotten was from the contributors of this forum and that was "don't buy work" and "don't play the price game." Price it as normal and if she wants it, she will take it.

From contributor T:
I agree - run, don't walk. If there is someone out there that will do it for 3000.00, they won't be around for long. Or give her a price of about 11000, then negotiate down to around 9000, or whatever you think it should be. If you have the time and energy, play her game.

From contributor H:
You want to see the other guys bid if it's that far off. How do you know you're bidding apples for apples? If you're bidding against a larger shop that buys their material at much less than you do? If they pay their help less? Your client is playing with you. I suspect the price they got is lower than yours, but not that much lower! I'd talk to them once more and try to get more info. If I couldn't, then I'd walk.

And everything is relative as far as what some of us would charge. In my area, about 4k is the most anyone would pay for 2 book shelves and a fireplace surround in paint grade anything. 3 hours from here, in NYC, you could get 7k plus for it.

From contributor R:
Finishing is 1/2 the work in that thing. MDF is cheap. When this happens to me, I always offer them an unfinished price. They think painting is just slapping on some paint, and I allow them to think they would be great painters. It gives them an unpainted Lincoln at the Ford price. If they are dumb, it's not my fault or my problem.

From contributor L:
The simple calculation that I use came out to just over 10K. That's only prime and install. 3K is about $18 sq ft. I don't think so... Tell her to jump at the 3K price and then you walk away. Just plain ole' good business advice for you.

From contributor J:
I have to agree with the other posters here, with one exception. I would not ask to see the other bid. It could come off in a bad way and it really does not matter at all whether she really has it or not. You need to charge what it will cost you to build it and not worry about other bids. I always make sure my clients know exactly what they are getting, quality and material wise so they can do the comparing.

If you want to go out of your way, give her your bid and advise her that you believe the other bid is unusually low and that she should get a few more bids before deciding.

From contributor C:
There's always a chance that some dipstick told her he could set up some cheapo pre-made cabs and trim around them for this $3000 price. She may honestly have no idea what they should actually cost. Tell her the price range you got on this thread, and to compare that to your price. I think yours is an excellent price, and she needs to be educated. If you get the feeling she is just grinding you on price, walk away. She will be nothing but continual problems. Life is too short to waste your time and talent on people like that.

From contributor R:
It may be some fireman that builds cabinets in his garage. I've seen people do jobs for $550.00 that I had estimated at $2500.00. I was not bidding high in any way. Just charging what was a fair price. I have learned that I can't sell high work for econo price, but I can sell mid grade for a higher price. The only thing that changes is the work load and the amount of free time that I have - work all the time or part time. For a workaholic like myself, a 40 hour week is part time.

From contributor K:
I was just in the same situation. The customer wanted a paint grade desk with bookcases on top. I bid somewhere around 6500. The guy said he owns a contracting business that builds developments and that the project should be 3500. I said to tell me who the cabinetmaker was that will do it for that price, because if he does a good job, I would like to sub out some work to him. Haven't heard from them since.

From contributor B:
You gave her a bid, then she gets another bid (lower), then she comes back to you and tries to get you lower, rather than just go ahead with the lower bid... She's either giving you a load of bull feces or she's trying to play you like a fiddle.

But y'all are sure in good markets because my price would have been $5,400 finished, and I guarantee I'd never get it unless it was one of my current/past customers. On bid basis - no way it would bring over $3K.

From the original questioner:
I told her that $7000.00 is my price and if I lower the price, I have to lower the quality and I don't work like that. So I left her with the estimate, told her when she's ready to have a quality job done, to call me. I also told her that there are many handymen that think they are cabinetmakers out there, and to be careful. She called me yesterday and said that I got the job and she's heard good things about me and my work. Persistence. Thanks, guys!

From contributor N:
I just read the full thread and your final post made me smile. Good job and congrats!

From contributor E:
Glad you stuck to your guns. I would have priced the unit over 7k primed and delivered and over 10K with lacquer and install.

From contributor A:
I'm glad to hear that 90% of the responses were about 10k painted/installed and 7k pre-primed. It's nice to know my pricing is on target. Thanks for the honest input.

From contributor O:
Glad to see you stuck to your price. Our price would have been $9500 not installed and $11,500 installed. Keep up the good work, get 50% down and COD 50% on delivery, and don't open the truck gate until the check is in your hand.

From the original questioner:
This proves that WOODWEB is amazing! Where else would all of us get so much information in such a short period of time? Woodworkers helping woodworkers - amen!

From contributor I:
In Utah, about 4000-5000. If I could get 8k for that here, I would be very happy.

From contributor Y:
Just as a reference point, here in NC I did a similar job and it came to $8,500. Lower cabs, 4 doors and the rest shelves. If you have the option... I sure would do this in ply instead of MDF. Both your shop and your back will thank you for it.

Whenever we run into the "I can get it cheaper" response, I simply say, I base our prices on the workmanship that we offer and will not lower them even when presented with a competitive quote that is lower.

From contributor U:
I came across a quote the other day that I would like to share on this subject. Don't know who said it. "Have no quarrel with the man who has a lower price, because he knows better than anyone what his product is worth."

From contributor Z:
20,000 is a fair price. She can probably buy something for 7,000 in IKEA.