Dealers Discuss Design Retainer Policies

Kitchen & Bath Design News recently posed the question to dealers and designers in the kitchen and bath industry: “Does your firm secure design fees or retainers? Why or why not?” Following are some of their answers.

“After 36-plus years in the business, I’ve done a lot of things wrong, learned from those mistakes and fixed them.

When I first started looking at design fees, I charged about $50. I was so self-conscious about it that often I ended up giving the money back. Now it’s evolved to the point where I don’t have a problem charging a client 10% of the preliminary estimate of the project as a retainer. In some cases that can add up to tens of thousands of dollars.

Retainers cover my cost to put clients’ plans on paper. They can shop with them and obtain other bids, all based on the same plan. If someone decides to go somewhere else, I’ve gotten paid for providing the road map.

I believe that many of us have obtained enough knowledge over the years that we shouldn’t feel ashamed to charge a fee. In fact, many of my clients have told me that the retainer is the best money they’ve spent, and that in some cases I’ve saved them tens of thousands of dollars by steering them in the right direction.”

Max Isley, CMKBD, LGC
Hampton Kitchens of Raleigh, Inc.
Raleigh, NC


“About a year ago we restructured our service fees based on our market and client needs. In addition to our in-home consultation fee, we’ve added a showroom consultation fee and we also now include construction plans and interior design services with our design fee.

We decided we just didn’t want to give away free advice anymore. When people come in, we shouldn’t just give away our knowledge and then have them turn around and take it somewhere else. We have a showroom and people would come in with pictures and images and want us to put together an entire room for them, for free!

We are still more than happy to talk about our products and the pros and cons of each to people who come into the showroom, but that’s where the free advice ends. If someone wants us to put a room together, we charge a showroom consultation fee at the rate of $100 per hour. We’re now getting paid for our time, even if someone decides not to purchase from us.

With our restructured design fee, clients get three professionals in one package, which starts at $1,500. They get drafted plans, interior design and a list of construction work to be done based on National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) forms.

We’ve found that the restructuring has become a great qualifier. It sorts out price shoppers and those who want to do projects themselves. We offer turnkey, stress-free renovations and we’ve found that clients understand the value of our time and they’re willing to pay for the service.”

Angela Simoneaux Poirrier, CAPS
Acadian House Kitchen & Bath Studio
Baton Rouge, LA


“With the economy, a lot of things have changed. We now charge a $100 budget consultation fee where potential clients come into the showroom to discuss projects and put together wish lists. Based on that, we develop a budget, then a project proposal. Once we’re at this stage, we charge a non-refundable retainer fee of 10%.

My hope is that more companies in our industry will charge for their services. I think our biggest downfall is that designers, contractors, kitchen and bath designers, etc. are afraid to charge a fee. We are professionals and we bring value to our projects!

I think our clients also feel they’re getting more if we charge for our services. The saying ‘you get what you pay for’ is true. Doctors, lawyers and accountants charge for their services and I feel that charging for our services positively portrays the extra value we provide our clients.”

Leslie Copsey, co-owner, CR, CKBR
SCC Kitchen, Bath & Home
Rogers, MN


“We’ve always charged a retainer. It used to be a straight fee that was applied to cabinets, but now it’s variable based on what is appropriate for each project.

With a kitchen remodel, there’s a lot of work that is done up front. Kitchens are the most expensive rooms in the house, and people keep them for a very long time. Everything is built into this room, and every kitchen – and every client – is different.

My feeling is that when clients are committing thousands of dollars on a project, the best money they can spend is in the planning. I feel strongly about charging retainers. In reality, it’s good faith money.”

Denyse Barbas, CKD
California Kitchens, Inc.
Burbank, CA


“I charge a retainer on a case-by-case basis. In the past, a lot of my work was done by referral. Because of that, it’s more difficult to just start charging a retainer when I’ve been working with someone for 10 to 15 years.

If clients just walk in, I’m more likely to charge them a retainer. I can give estimates based on the space, but I won’t do much development work unless a retainer – which is based on the estimate – is put in place.

For the most part, I believe I do it right for my business. I’m known for the service I provide and the insight and knowledge I have. I try to make a project as easy as possible for my clients, yet get paid for my time.”

Nelson Lavelle, owner
Kitchens of Distinction by Nelson
White River Junction, VT

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