Why would you want to buy your cabinets from a shop located in your own town?
When there are so many national manufacturers out there, with every conceivable style and finish available, it might initially seem like a waste of time and money to try to source product locally. You can make more money and get more reliability from the bigger suppliers, right? And many of the larger cabinet companies are hurting for work right now. You can possibly get an even better deal these days.
But wait a minute: There are several good reasons you may want to consider the local option – if you can find the right shop.
First of all, while buying out a manufactured cabinet may be more predictable (in terms of a fixed price list and a defined schedule), you may run into more limitations on what you can design. That curved walnut island cabinet may not be available from your regular supplier. You may be restricted to particular dimensions, while a local shop will build whatever sizes you want – without fillers or scribe strips. You may want a particular paint color – with a hand-brushed look – and your mass-producing manufacturer will only give you pre-finished, sprayed-on lacquer.
Consider lead time, too – a local shop may be able to turn your project around quickly, especially if you’d like to get your final measurements from rough framing (rather than pre-ordering everything before the work starts). Things may end up being built more accurately this way.
Then there’s the problem of factory-generated mistakes – how long will it take you to get a part remade, or a replacement door sent out? Or how about something you mis-ordered yourself? You didn’t order enough crown molding, for example, or not enough kick facing.
While a small problem may be easily fixable and won’t affect the momentum of the project schedule, if you encounter a big problem – an oven cabinet is the wrong size, or the wall upper over the stove is too tall – you may be looking at stopping the job while the problem is being taken care of. A local shop may be able to take care of a fix a lot faster than a factory located a few states away – and probably much more quickly than a supplier in Europe. That means your job can keep moving along, rather than grinding to a halt, which can mess up your schedule and your client’s.
So let’s say you’ve found what looks and sounds like a good local cabinet shop. Before you entrust them with one of your projects, though, you’ll need to check them out carefully. How long have they been in business? Are they reliable and do you want to entrust them with your project?
Find out, above all, whether this local shop does your kind of work. If you’re a residential kitchen designer, you don’t really want to hire a firm that does tenant improvement work or fast-food restaurant fixtures.
Ask the owner or foreman of the shop for names and contact information of other designers they’ve worked with recently, and call those people.
Does this shop communicate well? Do they do detailed fabrication drawings so you know what exactly you’ll be getting? Do they change designs without saying anything? Did the finish turn out as expected?
You may want to ask the shop for some names of end users and clients they’ve built projects for. Call those people, too, and ask them, “How was the process and what was the final product quality like? How about the warranty period or guarantee?”
If you can talk to builders the shop has worked for, you may be able to find out even more specifics – how does this company do with keeping to the job schedule, for example. Will they install their work, or is that something you’ll have to handle? How are they about dealing with mistakes? Are they responsive, and do they fix things fast? In general, do they overpromise and under-deliver, like so many small businesses? You want the opposite!
How about the money side of things? Does the shop ask for more than 50% of a deposit up front? (If so, this could be a sign of financial weakness.) Do they generate change orders all the time, or are they good about sticking to the original quote? A builder will be quick to point out any problems in this area.
Visit the Shop
If you’ve found a local shop that seems promising, and its references check out, it’s always a good idea to go and visit them in person before you give them your work.
Do they have any kind of showroom or sample area? This could be important if you’ll be bringing any of your clients with you to talk about the work. The shop’s Web site can help, but physical, touchy-feely stuff is good, too.
Is their shop really small and cramped? Only one or two people working there? This could be a bad sign for your project. If they’re too small an operation, and have more than a couple of jobs going on, that could mean your work may get put to one side if you’re a new customer.
Is there a reliable foreman or second-in-command person? This may be key if you’re just depending on a creative and energetic owner to do all of the work.
Do things look relatively clean and organized – swept up and uncluttered? Reasonable shop housekeeping is a good sign that your work will be run that way, too.
How about the equipment in the shop? Does it look old and decrepit? While a shop doesn’t need brand new equipment everywhere, there are a few basics that they’ll really need to produce good cabinets these days: a good saw to accurately cut out parts, a decent edgebander, and maybe even a point-to-point machine.
Even if you don’t know what to look for, ask about these machines. If the shop doesn’t have them, they may struggle fabricating your work out of the modern plywoods, melamines and veneers.
Finally, when you’re interviewing the shop owner, ask him or her about the shop’s experience working with designers on custom jobs – how do they like it, has it been mutually rewarding? How has the money side of it worked? Can you mark his price up, and will he mind you doing that? Will you be getting any kind of trade discount?
Is a local shop worth considering? Perhaps not for every job you do, but for some it may be just the ticket – and, as an added bonus, don’t forget that buying locally, close to home, may be a much greener way of running your own business!