Whether to Give Clients your Drawings

Here's an extended discussion about appropriate policies for control of shop drawings and design layouts. May 26, 2010

Here is an interesting subject that usually brings great battles. I know it does in my store. The rule is, which I do not follow, is never give a client your CAD drawings. The general thought is to not give away your design expertise for free. Besides, they might take those drawings and shop them around. I donít feel elevations can be shopped. The layouts can be shopped because it has all the box sizes on it. But my feeling is if you feel your price is good then let them shop. If your price is as good as you say then they will be back. Nearly all cabinet shops give free basic design service. If the customer is making multiple changes then we would charge maybe $200 and apply that to the purchase. The big box stores charge $300 to do a drawing and that never ever includes a home visit but rather homeownerís measurements. A home visit to verify costs another $250. I was just told this weekend that I am like a starving artist because I do so many 20/20 drawings compared to the amount of closed sales. What does everyone else do?

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor G:
We don't give them away. We used to but not anymore. Elevations can be and are shopped all the time. It is very easy to scale off of them. A sink base is almost always 36" wide. Now you have your scale. Where are all the jobs you draw in 20/20 and don't get going?

From the original questioner:
Good points about the scaling. What I meant is when I go measure a kitchen or if someone walks in with dimensions, I do put it on 20/20. All I have to do then is click on the product and then quick price. Then I subtract out the discounts from that list price. Sometimes I donít even draw it. I just place all the boxes in the screen just to get my price. I am using all stock boxes from a major manufacturer so you know.

From contributor Z:
You can scale off anything . Given the many standard dimensions this industry has itís easy to do. I have done it myself on many occasions. I do not give out any drawings until I get a deposit. I do not charge for drawings because I keep them. On occasion I will give out a perspective view, but only when I'm pretty sure of the sale.

From contributor J:
Most of my customers are referral. Most of the time we are very close to making a sale with the aid of the drawings. At that point if theyíre going to shop theyíre going to do it anyway regardless of what they say. I give them the drawings based on who they are. Most of the time I get the job and sometimes they do use the drawings to shop around. For the ones who seem to be using me for free design advice and drawings I will give them a 3-D view, very basic without dimensions. Sometimes for the creepy builders that seem to be just shopping around I give them a full set of drawings with wall to wall just 1" to narrow, and some runs of cabinets running into a window too close, sink center off by a inch or two, etc. If they hand them to their local garage hack cabinet shop he can build the cabinets twice for all I care. One guy a month ago had me to his house twice and then came out and told me I had the job several times. As he was leaving he stole the drawings (as I didn't offer to give him the final drawings). He never called, so I assume he used the drawings he took.

From contributor S:
I make flooring not cabinets, so this is my question. If most of the jobs are referrals aren't they coming to you guys because of the craftsmanship? Yes they can shop the drawings but isn't it the work you do that brought them in to begin with. Now I can see if itís a cold call tire kicker you wouldn't give out prints. Is it that cut throat out there?

From contributor J:
Yes it is cut throat out there. I lost two good jobs to under bidders, but that's the way it is. It used to be that if someone underbid you if was that they built a cheaper cabinet. I hear this from other shops and those who sell doors and hardware are also telling me it common to have someone under bid jobs at very low prices. A friend is a flooring contractor and he bids materials at cost and a simple labor only charge, that's the only way he can get work.

From the original questioner:
We offer granite but could care less if anyone wants it. We sell it as a convenience at $26 SF and others are blowing our price away at as low as $16 SF. I think these guys are happy selling a $5000 granite job for cost plus a $200 pay day. I see the other cabinet companies offering all kinds of discounts too. Our most successful ad campaign is to offer free installation on any kitchen purchase. We pay the installers $20 per box. A small 15 box kitchen would cost us only $300 but the customers love it.

From contributor K:
Look at this way - how many drawings come into your place to price out? If you do get any, I'm sure you can figure it out scale-wise. One of the best ways to deal with this is to tell them that you charge $xxx.xx dollars for drawings, but they are the complete set, but if they use you, they get credited back 50-75% of the drawings costs or the equivalent in product upgrades (which is what they will choose). Let them know the big box stores charge for it too. Have a sample package available to show them. Being that you are a price-seller, and that is your emphasis, go for the close and tell them you want to keep the schedule going and that your guys are working and that you want to earn your business. Ask them - "what can we do to earn your business today?" After they hem-and-haw, tell them about keeping the guys working and if they take advantage of your product today, you will give them the installation for free (which I think you are nuts to do), which has a value of $100ft or $x,xxx.xx, which is less than the big box guys charge.

From contributor D:
I had a client in a few weeks ago and after one visit to the jobsite and about 1.5 hours of cad drawings to be able to price the job out, she came in the showroom and liked my design and after all the questions and selections she said that I know I do not get any drawings until I sign a contract. Wow - that was a first. I ended up giving her the drawing because she respected my time for the drawing, but I had a good feeling that I had her interested and she finally signed up for the job! I guess it is a gut feeling to give or not to give.

From contributor X:
I'm a firm believer in doctoring my drawings such as combining metric and imperial measurements and scales. Looking at the drawings they look normal but building them the measurements do not work out. Nor are the measurements accurate. The last contractor that got a hold of my drawings got a surprise when his cabinets did not fit properly. He let me know it to via the grapevine and I let it be known what he did. If you pay the price for my designs than you are paying for accurate drawings and the right to them I'll throw in the cutting list if the price is right.

From contributor T:
Wow, interesting thread. It's a problem I've struggled with for years. In the past it was no biggie as I landed 90% or better of the jobs I designed. Now they smell blood, and shop around with my design. Recently an interior designer took my drawings for an entertainment center to her cabinetmaker that I'd befriended with advise. He built it but screwed it up, now I'm not only re-doing it but have picked up several other cabinets for the house. The homeowner actually asked me for a copy of the drawings to prove to said cabinetmaker that he screwed it up. I happily complied.

From contributor M:
Not to digress, but who in their right mind would build a set of kitchen cabinets off of someone else's drawings without checking the layout? I sure wouldn't.

From contributor R:
It's refreshing to know that over the years more and more of us are really moving more to being professionals in our trade. CADís are time consuming. I don't give away my time to just anyone without knowing beyond a shadow-of-a-doubt that the return will cover that time, which is rarely the case. We are professionals and need to be treated as such. One is treated as one earns it. Giving away your time is non-excusable and is not the way to earn the professional respect one is trying to gain. In some cases, it can be rewarding, that is if you really know the customer and what you expect to gain from it will more then cover the cost of that time as I mentioned above. All of my repeat customers expect me to charge for either the house call, consultation or the CADís and that has rewarded me with the respect as a professional that I seek. I charge for my time, because it is the right thing to do and most of my customers respect me for it. Those that don't, well they are not the ones I would won't to work for anyway.

From contributor U:
As a rule, all of our drawings are our property until such time as the job is deposited. The cost of the drawings is included in the price of the job - at a pretty much break even rate. But if the potential client balks at our price and wants to shop around using our drawings, they can purchase them at a higher rate. There are, of course, exceptions to that rule. Contractors and designers with which we have established a good relationship over the years are often allowed to take a set of drawings prior to the job being deposited. But as for a walk-in we don't know? We've seen too many of our kitchens being built by other shops. By the same token, if someone brings in some other shop's drawings, we get a hold of them and let them know, out of simple respect for our competitors.

From the original questioner:

Contributor R - you are so right. We should be treated and compensated as professionals. Only thing is it cost money to be professional. And we all know that there will always be someone who is not professional who charges half what we do and the unsuspecting uneducated public is pretty much price shopping these days.

From contributor B:
No money equals no drawings. We offer a discount when prospects bring us drawings by others. It saves us time in the development stage and all we usually need to do is confirm field dimensions and maybe make a tweak or two. I understand a lot of companies use the drawings to come up with pricing and totally understand and respect the need to do that. Just don't give the drawings out without some kind of financial commitment. More often than not you will be hurting your chances of getting the job, especially now.

From contributor R:
I know well that there are those that charge half what we do. Keep in mind that it isn't just these days that people are price shopping. People price shop all the time even in good times. What you have in our trade is expenditure of discretionary income. In good times that is abundant and nearly everyone has it, some more some less. However, in bad times it is only those that have it that are shopping and they are very few. It is these that have a tendency to be the most trouble to any trade and not just our own. They have the money and they know it's bad for us. That can turn some of them into buzzards looking to dine off something or someone who is dead in the water or dying. You just have to be very careful. Don't give up the drawings without some compensation and don't be afraid to ask for that compensation when confronted. Stay the course and be the professional you are and everything will work out. You'll also be the stronger for it.

From the original questioner:
What do we say when we donít give our drawings and the customer says but all the other cabinet people gave me one"?

From contributor K:
I have to admit that I've been guilty of letting the customer take drawings when they have not officially given me the project. My question is that don't you have to provide some type of drawing to make the sale? If you do provide that drawing do you really expect the customer to look at it in your showroom and within a quick glance say thatís good, I'll buy it? Who does that? When buying a large item (cars, appliances, cabinets, etc.) I like to study the sales literature available at my leisure in my own home. In our case, that would be the shop drawings of the cabinetry. I would not buy something that I cannot study on my own and I don't expect my customers to do that either. Every now and then I can sell cabinetry without drawings but itís the exception and not the rule.

From contributor R:
Simple, "That is our company policy". Believe me, if a customer can't respect your policy and if whether or not you get the job is based on what someone else has given them the drawings or not instead of your talent and knowledge, then politely part ways. If you show them something different and they are pleased with what you have over someone elseís layout, then they will gladly compensate you. If not then all they probably want to do is take those drawings back to the other shop that charges half as much and have them do the job the way you designed it. My customers are always welcome to make an appointment and return to my office anytime during business hours to review what I have designed. Everyone who was really interested in pursuing the project did so, or compensated me for my time in return for the CADís.

From contributor S:
I am in LA and have lost jobs to other cabinetmakers that I found out later were priced just over my costs. I always say that I can sit home and watch TV and lose money easier than working. That being said my policy is to tell the customer that I will get them a ballpark price first and see if they are still interested in using me. I have a spreadsheet that helps me bid the cabinets quickly. I spend a lot of time on my drawings and want to be able to use them to get the approval signatures. I sometimes will do drawings for customers that I have worked for before but have even gotten burned a couple of times doing that. What I do is put in my contract that I get the first major draw after the drawings are approved. That way the clients or potential clients understand that the drawings are "free" but they take time to do.

From contributor B:
I almost always do a 3-D color rendering for potential or past clients either after a site visit or from their designers/architects drawings or sketches, regardless if I'm asked or not. Why? Because I believe that since we sell more of an idea than a widget I need to make cabinets that don't exist yet as tangible as possible. As cabinetmakers we ask our customers for half down (or whatever) for something that requires them to trust that we will not run off with their money and that they are going to get what they think they are going to get. The least I can do is give them a rendering. In my case, I don't need to spend a lot of time to detail everything because I don't machine or build from that software - it's simply a marketing tool and things are probably going to change anyway. Do I get them all? Of course not, but if and when they go to another shop that blows of a dusty sample door sample or laminate chip and gives then a sketch on a scrap of paper I know who I would choose.

From contributor K:
To contributor B: what type of software are you using for this 3-D rendering? How long to you spend developing this drawing?

From contributor B:
I use eCabinets. I probably spent 6-8 hours working on the attached sample over a few days because I simply don't spend enough time using it on a regular basis. Now that I've done a few other drawings recently, I could probably do the same is 3-4 hours. If you used it daily, I imagine it would be more like an hour or two at most. Itís far from detailed and a little rough around the edges but I think it gives Joe Customer much more of the info he is interested in that the most detailed set of shop drawings that he very well may not be able to get a 3D mental picture from. Whatever it ends up costing I think it's well spent marketing money.

From contributor I:
I use my cabinet making software for pricing. It's also used in helping me make sure I'm quoting a project that actually fits in the space allotted for it. I occasionally show customers my drawings, especially if they are customers I'm wanting, and I am up against something getting the project. They only see it on my laptop screen - I do not print them out, so it is impossible for them to personally take it from me. It is done during the actual quote presentation. The only exceptions I've made to that in the past couple years are an interior designer and a remodeler that I trusted to treat me fairly. As well, I never spend an ounce of my time with someone (even giving a quote to them) who hasn't been grilled fairly well on their expectations.

From contributor H:
I used to always provide a scale drawing without dimensions to sell the job - until last year when I got completely screwed over. A customer had me do four revisions to get it just right. I quoted a fixed price based on the plan and lost the job. The deal was closed before I even walked through the door. I was used as a price check and free design. I was absolutely speechless. So now the new policy is to only provide a free estimate. I will do a 3-view measured drawing with a 50% deposit or a design fee which I will credit back towards the project should they choose to move forward. I have not had one prospect question this policy.

From the original questioner:
Interesting story. Some of you are starting to sway my thinking of giving out drawings for free. You swayed me the most into not giving them out.

From contributor S:
Here is another story. I did some work for a guy who had plenty of money. About a year later he wanted me to add some matching cabinets in his kitchen and new cabinets upstairs. I got the impression that he didn't want to go with anyone else as he liked my work and work ethics before. I thought I would be a nice guy and draw up the renditions of his kitchen and upstairs. I did a full as-built drawing of his kitchen and added the new cabinets. He got a little annoyed that I didn't get his existing cabinets just right and made me correct the drawings (not that it made any difference in the concept of the kitchen). I drew up the contract and went to his house for the third time to get the check. I did what I needed to do and then he asked me to look through mouldings he had in his garage. If you have the check in hand get out of dodge as fast as possible. Five minutes later he came into the garage and asked for the check back. I never heard from him again. Since I didn't have a signed contract (he needed me to make a few small corrections) I knew I didn't have a leg to stand on for charging for the design and drawings. Live and burn! Don't give them away for free unless they take you an hour or less to do is my advice.

From contributor K:
On the front of our pricing schedule we have a section to hand-draw a 3-D lay-out that we show to the clients to get their juices flowing. We tell them that after we get the project going, they will receive the drawings packet after full measure (this also coincides with the check clearing and rite of rescission has expired a week later) so we don't waste our time. If we are not able to close the sale that night, the pricing schedule and the drawing leave with us... If they ask about keeping the hand drawing, we simply tell them that we can't leave it as it contains confidential pricing information available only to us and active customers, but that we can provide a complete set of drawings for $xxx.xx. That tells you two things.

1. They liked the design.
2. They are going to shop.

At this point, I use that my advantage. I will then do a Columbo and with a smile on my face, start asking questions like - "Well I can see you like the design, and I assume you like the product (and I add - " I mean who wouldn't, we offer all the best as a standard, not an upcharge) do you feel comfortable with our company?" If yes - "So then really it comes down to your comfort level with the price, right?" Now, if it comes down to a focus on price, I missed something along the lines, so I will have to find out where I went wrong.

Then I say - "industry statistics tell me that the average person sits through two, maybe three of these presentations. The reasons are they hear you should get three estimates and pick the middle, which is good advice, and to give you a sense of comfort, we find that we are generally in the middle category. But personally, it's because I think people don't want to have to sit through too many presentations (with a little laughter). So how can we avoid you having to sit through any more presentations?" If they say the anticipated "better price", what I will tell them is simple - "If I dropped my price now, wouldn't you feel that was shady? People who do this either build in a price drop, are not clear on their costs, or are too desperate for work. None of these are good. The truth is, the reason we have this pricing schedule, which is something sorely missed in our industry and very rarely used in front of a customer, is that we know our costs and what we need to keep the lights on and at the same time, provide a great product... if we start deviating from it, we affect the viability of the company. What we can do is find ways to bring the cost down by using items that can save you money ( ply boxes vs. solid wood dovetail, euro-glides vs. stainless steel undermount, etc.). Is that something you are interested in, or would you rather keep all the products?" Now, of course, they are going to say - "I want to keep the best and get a better price" - to which I will say - "Wouldn't we all (laughter)".

But I am very confident in our pricing and more importantly ability to do what we say, and more importantly I want to give you the same level of comfort in our price, as you have in our company and product.

To prove my point - what I want to do for you, and we do this for those who are happy with everything else but also want to make sure they are getting a good deal is this; we will provide a pricing guarantee. If for some reason you are able to find two other companies which will offer the same product, apples to apples, at a better price, we'll match it". Can I tell you in all the years we've done this when needed to close a deal we have never had someone call us on this. If they don't close after this, it is time to move on, as chances are they won't. You'll be surprised though every once in a long while, but in most cases, they were simply not your customer.

From contributor F:
This has been an interesting thread to read. My impression is that most who have responded are doing primarily kitchens. I do a couple kitchens a year, but my work is much more varied - interior doors, entertainment centers, bookshelves, etc. So for me providing drawings is just something I do. No details or dimensions on them, though I suppose anything could be scaled, but it would take about as long to design from scratch anyway.

Something I've found more important to closing the sale is word of mouth. Instead of giving them the hard sell, I explain what I'm going to do for that price and provide them with several referrals. I acknowledge that they'll likely get several estimates besides mine but that they should also request referrals from my competitors as well. Talk to people who they've done work for in the past. As has been mentioned here quite often, sometimes the lower bidderís quality is less than what people desired, in such cases are they going to provide a referral? Sometimes your best salesperson can be someone who's just happy with the work you've done.

From contributor K:
I agree, soft-sell is the way to go. One of the best things you can do in conjunction with this is to use third-party information that reinforces your position on pricing. For example, one of the things you can do is to tell them - "I buy things too, and want to know I am paying a fair price, so one of the things most people do is read up on what they can expect to pay. Well, I've got a file here from different sources talking about exactly that" (I then pull out articles on what you can expect to pay, cost vs. value reports). This way it is not just you saying it, it is a third party saying what you are saying, so it reinforces your credibility with regards to pricing, putting them more at ease and increasing your chance of closing the sale). The more established trust, the better chance you have of closing the sale. If you are at a referral, all the better as you not only have the articles on pricing, etc. but you also have the credibility of being referred.

From contributor C:
I have given drawings away and lost jobs to competitors lots of times. I didn't put a lot of effort into the set I gave them either, just enough detail to show them where everything is. Clients pricing products usually don't want lots of time invested into a set of drawings given to them with your price. An hourís time should be enough to get the job done. It lets them know you listened to them, plus more. I believe in giving the client drawings.

From contributor K:
You said it best when you said - "I believe in giving the client drawings." Just giving completed drawings to prospects (those who have not entered into a financial agreement with you, but are interested in you and your product/service) benefits only one party and it's certainly not you and your family.

From contributor T:
It sounds like you guys are giving away your first born if you provide drawings. Their cost is included in my pricing and recovered if the job is sold, and the overwhelming majority are sold. It's certainly more productive handing out drawings than handing out marketing dollars I hear of being spent. Drawings are one of the most important things I use in closing a deal and I've always gladly emailed prospective clients drawings so we can literally be on the same page when we talk, whether by phone or email. I'm relatively informal, more of a handshake kind of guy and can close a deal (to my satisfaction) over the phone. They usually need the drawings for me to do that.

From contributor O:
I usually give a potential client a concept drawing so that they can visualize what I'm trying to sell them. I don't spent much time on the initial drawing. If they want to go forward with the project I then will produce a set of plans that I can build from when I receive a deposit. The sketch does not give away any state secrets. It is time and money well spent if someone is interested in a project. If they take it down the road, oh well, their loss.

From contributor K:
Any cabinet/furniture maker worth his salt can decipher most drawings in 10-15 minutes. That said, I wouldn't work off another shops set of drawings anyway, as I don't see any benefit in it. I would want to do a site visit myself. What benefit is it to the client to even have drawings other than to shop them around? Negate it altogether by having a sample set to show them, and the point to the screen and tell them (if you are not closing them that day), that they will be provided a set of drawings like the sample of their project after we do final measure once we have an agreement.

From contributor S:
Like others have posted, I design for free. Or it is better said that I include it in the price of the job. I only allow two revisions after the deposit is made, and I do no revisions until I get the deposit. My deposit is 10% of the initial estimate and after that they can have the drawings. I usually give them a couple copies so they can draw and comment directly on them. It saves me time when we sit down for the revisions. On jobs that I know will require a lot of design time I add a designing fee and still get the 10%.