I have a client that was unhappy with a master vanity that we installed in his house. He told me that it looked cheap. It was not a good day. One of his problems was that the maple we used didn't look like cherry. We had a conversation about material costs and I told him that we could make maple the same color that he wanted, which was a "cherry" red color.
When we delivered the piece, it was the right color, but he was unhappy with the grain. He said to me, "You said that you could make maple look like cherry." I told him that it was still maple and I couldn't do anything about the grain and I mentioned again that it matched the sample that we gave him (in maple) as well as the sample he provided us to match (which coincidentally was maple). Then he went on to say that he thought certain things would be built a certain way and that there would be a door here, more useable space, etc. As far as that goes, we had the drawings that they saw and had a copy of that (to me anyway) clearly marked out what was what. I pointed that out to him and he said "What does that mean? I don't know what those lines mean."
This person is remodeling a house that he bought. He was referred to me by a builder we work for, and has seen our work before and been to our showroom. He just sold a house in the 4 million dollar range that he built and he said that this remodel was not to be on that level (this is one thing that set my expectation prior to bidding). The bid gave options in material and options in extras, and in all cases he chose the less expensive material and none of the options. So, the job was bid at one level set by the homeowner and the work was performed at that level. Now we are told that is not good enough and we need to do things over. In addition, we are told by the architect that we need to provide full or half scale details of every cabinet and every condition in the cabinetry. I told him that this was not typical for us and that the project was not bid this way and that we had provided sufficient detail to the customer as well as to him to determine exactly what the cabinetry would look like.
So here I am with a job stalled (and now late) that we can't complete (there's still a kitchen and an entertainment center to do) and I have a client that has unreal expectations for the amount bid. I refuse to lose money on the job and do it at another level than that bid, although I am loath to walk away from the job and return deposits, even less materials. It's a lose-lose situation at this point.
What would you do? I could build everything like it's going under a microscope. Some people do this, have a great reputation and may or may not be making any money… When I go under, at least I gave a bunch of rich people a great product at the expense of my family and health. I could bid everything to cover every contingency and price myself out of most markets - maybe. I am very frustrated. I feel our prices are reasonable for what we do. Lately we have been averaging about $80,000 in cabinetry per house and doing okay. The job in question was about $40,000 for the kitchen, entertainment center and master bath vanity and wardrobe cabinets. All is pre-finished with Tandembox SS drawers, euro cabinetry with end panels, etc. - good stuff. It is not on the level of studio furniture, but would compare favorably with companies like Siematic.
From contributor A:
Been in your shoes before. If you can step back and analyze the situation with a detached business sense, the answer is easy. It is very difficult to do that when you're right in the middle.
The answer: You should drop whatever you're doing right now, drive to the jobsite, remove the vanity and return any monies collected from the client. Tell them that you will not be able to make them happy and they should find someone who can. This goes for the kitchen and entertainment cabinetry, too.
Now I know you're thinking, holy s#^@%. My reputation will be shot, I'll lose money on the materials used, labor invested, etc. You won't be able to do anything about your reputation, you don't actually know what effect the client and architect will have… It may be 0 when they start to chisel on some other vendor. Better to lose a little money now than a lot later.
Between the lines, I see a client with above average means looking to squeeze anyone he can. You have speced a SieMatic-like cabinet without the price. Euro build, tandembox, etc. There is a reason SieMatic charges double for the same stuff. Markup/overhead and management/massage. He neglected to tell you that he's really expecting top quality, just feels he can value engineer out some of the layers of cost because he's found a better source - you.
If you want to make money like a businessman, concentrate on making what you make best for people who appreciate it, and are willing to pay for it. If you want to be the nice guy, the can-do person, go-down-with-the-ship type captain, that's very noble, but the banks don't take those for deposit.
I deal daily with this sort of client. Haven't worked in a house or condo under $1 million in over 5 years. Not all of our clients are happy, but all of them are paid in full. I'm sure you can find some to talk bad about us. I hope they tell their friends. Like usually finds like, and I hope these problem clients don't send us anymore of their likeminded friends.
The client I had like this, I figured he suffered from OCD and had to have everything perfect, which is impossible to achieve. I am convinced he contributed to my heart attack. Walk and be in better health.
I actually got right back in the face of the architect who I was having the problems with. (Tackle it head on before you walk away. These people have probably had no one stand up to them before. Remember they also need us.) Every time I installed something, she would come by and say it wasn't done the way she wanted it, even though it matched the drawings. I was constantly second guessing myself. There were numerous other additional requests. It was getting bad. Then after I got sick and tired of feeling like this, I called her up (with a prepared dialogue) and told her what the problem was. I talked to her like I would anyone else and didn't back down. It got heated and I knew there was a possibility that I would lose them as a client. If you don't tell them, they don't know. As a creative cabinetmaker, I do not like confrontation, but I was doing this more for me, my family and my business. Initially they were pissed at me, but we agreed to new terms, the air was cleared and I have never been busier with the architect.
It looks like you should stir up the pot here and even if you lose the client, you can walk away knowing that you did the best you could with the situation. Also, I hate to say it, but it seems that you let yourself get painted into a corner with the maple/cherry thing. I'm getting to the point now where I can smell a rat after a few conversations with a potential customer. A gut instinct is hard to beat. If you are confident in your abilities and your product, you should act like it. Don't eat this vanity. Send them a bill and keep sending it until it's paid. Add an interest charge to the bill. Act like a large business.
I agree that this client will be impossible to please. Therefore, the rest of the job will almost assuredly lose you money at the price you've quoted. In regard to the rest of the job, you either kindly pass on it, or raise your price due to the new expectations.
As for the vanity issue, although it might be tempting to remove it, I would negotiate a reduced price and leave it at that. There's a whole litany of things they could attempt if you remove it, from back charging you for the damaged wall where the screws entered, to breach of contract and holding up the job. Leave the vanity, cite a change in standards and expectations for your decision to pass on the kitchen, and move on.
In retrospect I would never have agreed to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. If they want it to look like cherry, then that is what I make it out of. Cost is tough.
"You said that you could make maple look like cherry."
Did you? If not, then according to everything else you wrote, the customer got what he bargained for and so should you - your money. If you did say that, then you owe him what he bargained for.
1) Your drawings are your contract. Of course, have a written one as well.
2) If there is an architect, he is the one to do the drawings. If you are asked to do the drawings, the client and architect are to sign off on the drawing. They must sign on the drawings themselves. Remember, it's your contract.
3) No matter what, get 50% upfront and it's nonrefundable. This covers most, if not all, of your cost.
4) When the cabinets are built, have the client and/or the architect come to your shop and approve the job to date and sign off on it.
5) Do the finish work and have the client come to the shop and approve the finish. Get paid for the job.
6) Now if you have to install, you know that the job is good to go, you have been paid for it, and all you have to do is worry about getting paid for the install.
It sounds like a pain in the ass to do all this, but I haven't lost any money (well, almost any). The architect cannot pass the buck-blame game to me, and the client has more respect for me. And yes, even the rich have come to my shop and jumped through the hoops I used to jump through.
I would also check with an attorney to cover your end. Obviously, different states have different laws regarding contractors and these situations. It sounds like this guy does have money and could afford to finance a lawsuit. Be careful!
I know in California I couldn't pull that vanity out without permission. I hope you don't already have contracts signed for the rest of the jobs with this guy.
That is right about the lawsuit potential. I had one evil customer who let me install the cabinets complete, all the while giving me verbal punch lists, which I did. When I said "enough, this is perfect, time to pay," she tells me to take the cabinets back, give her all her money back. I laughed at first, but long story short, ended paying her $10,000 (half the contract) because I did not have a "loser pays attorney costs" clause in my contract. It would have cost me at least $10,000 to defend myself, and no guaranty on how the outcome would be. So I took my attorney's advice and decided to settle. You can bet my contract is much longer now.
I have learned time and again, when a customer gives you the idea early on they will not be picky in order to get a better price… red flag! Those same customers are the ones who find every fault, real or imagined, in order to not pay you in the end. There is only one way I know to deal with this type: cut your losses and run!
The ones that I've had the most trouble with are the rich. They have a Champaign taste and expect to pay you with a beer budget. Get half up front or risk them finding fault with everything and expect you to dance to their jig on your nickel.
As to the architect wanting total detail drawings, you have already explained the project was not bid as such. If the architect would like or the client would like, you can order the drawings made up at a cost of $X for this add-on.
Do this in writing. You may lose the client, you may P.O. the builder/architect. But it's business, you've done all you agreed to and offered to do more and met the client's demands. In court, the client would lose, you documented everything. In life, you lose a job, a client, get badmouthed a little, but you don't lose your shirt, business, and be badmouthed by your wife and children for losing the house too.
The customer is almost always right. The customer gets what they pay for. If they want more, they pay more, simple. You protected yourself in every manner you could and even did the sample panel. I wouldn't walk from the customer. I'd ask for my money as agreed and if it happens, let the customer fire me and walk away himself. I still have my honor, integrity, and the check. If you get a refusal to pay, do a lien, send the notice and wait for the check to come later. You still did everything by the book and above and beyond reasonable for the unreasonable.
If it can be salvaged, it's worth it. Cost of client acquisition is skyrocketing. Client retention is even more important these days. One happy person might tell someone about you. One unhappy one will tell everyone bad things. I saved one client, picky and dingy, by just being nice, firm, stood my ground, and she bought more. I kept missing deadlines, I was buried and couldn't keep up. The quality was impeccable and she did like what she had. She was just freaked about the time frame and wanted to cancel the rest of the job and redo a table top free. I explained everything, spent some schmooze time with her, charged for the table again, charged her for the doors again, she added some work, and still is waiting for that entertainment center (8 months now) that should be ready next week (supposed to be last month). All from communication, politeness, professionalism, and being firm but nice.