September Pro to Pro

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Have a question and looking for feedback from industry peers? This month KBDN listens in on dialogue between industry professionals as excerpted from the KitchenBathPros.com online Designer Discussion Forum.

Over-the-Range Microwave

Question

What’s the verdict on the over-the-range microwave? Our company seems to be designing more and more with this device in many of our mid-range kitchens. Personally, I hate placing the microwave over the stove and avoid it at all costs. To me it looks cheap, ineffective and seems dangerous. Where is everyone putting this product?
– Jkelkitchen

Response 1
I never use it, but my kitchens tend to be medium to large in size. I am doing a small kitchen right now and it didn’t even come up in the conversation, I didn’t consider it and the client didn’t ask. Instead, we’re using one as a second oven – a microwave/ convection – and will try to recess it into the wall to be flush with the wall cabinets, complete with trim kit. There is a mudroom behind the kitchen. I’ll tell you, it’s the one appliance that always gives me the biggest [design] problems.
– Susanckd

Response 2
I think whether you use over-the-range microwaves may depend on your clientele. Having designed for builders and remodelers for years, I believe it’s a cost-effective way of situating a microwave in the kitchen. This was in the $250,000-and-up to about $350,000 housing price. The budget for kitchens and baths is, of course, usually ridiculous. In higher-end homes, the kitchens always had wall ovens, cooktops or Viking or Wolf ranges, probably two dishwashers, two sinks, etc. and I never used a microwave above the range.
– KarH

Response 3
Unless it is a down-and-dirty kitchen that is being built for a pittance of a budget, I don’t feel there is any good reason to use them in this application. Not trying to be snooty, but there is no substitute for good design and these fall into the poor design category as far as I am concerned. I would rather see one sitting on the counter than over the range. Microwaves are so inexpensive these days that you can easily put one in a base cabinet or a wall counter for not that much cost. Then you eliminate the safety factor (pulling hot things out at eye level!) and gain a much more efficient exhaust fan. Plus, as a bonus, you get a fabulous place to do something creative with the backsplash.
– Chrisc&d

Response 4
I will not put a microwave over a gas range at all. I’ve seen a few too many burned-out microwave doors (browned, with rippled plastic on the window) to be comfortable with this scenario. Plus, what does a child do when reaching for the door? Lean on the range! We have to always put safety first.
– KellyM

Response 5
They just don’t belong there anymore. I like to put them near refrigerators since most of the time you take something out and then reheat it. I haven’t even had anyone ask me to locate one over the range in years, and if they did, I would steer them away from that. It is a dangerous location, as mentioned, for kids, and for potential hazards.
– Crazycabs

Improving Client Communication

Question

I have this client who doesn’t get back to me. I’ll email numerous times, I’ll call, and he only returns my messages when it’s something he’s interested in. He happens to be a stay-at-home dad.

My problem is that I’m not afraid of controversy, which means that I’m comfortable with talking to him about it and stressing that I’d appreciate a response. To me, it’s a matter of mutual respect.

Any words of wisdom? By the way, we’re in the middle of the design process, and I think he really hates conflict of any kind.
– Susanckd

Response 1
I felt like I just had to respond – and I am in no way defending this guy – but I may have another way of looking at this. I know it’s frustrating when people do not return your e-mails or phone calls. But, I also know that when I am home with my three-year-old, I am probably like your client. My e-mail never gets responded to and the phone doesn’t get picked up if I am tending to my son. Never mind the call returned! My stressful kitchen designing career pales in comparison to being a mom. My days off are so much harder than my “real” job.

So, if this guy is doing this “job” full-time, it might be the same situation for him.
– Cappy

Response 2
My son-in-law is a stay-at-home dad for five children. My phone calls to the family are humorous at best. If I can actually speak to an adult for two minutes it’s a phenomenal phone call. Being Mr. Mom can be very stressful!

It creates stress for us as designers, when we feel a sense of urgency and no one else does. It’s also hard for a designer to work at someone else’s pace. Obviously he has no idea how valuable your time is. Of course, charging an hourly fee, as attorneys do, would change that picture. I had to pay an attorney for phone calls, and if I missed a call, I imagine I would have been billed.

I would try to look at this with humor. Just think of him, running around after the children, and all of the chauffeuring he is doing. Hopefully, things will turn around and he will be more responsive to you in the future.
– KarH

Response 3
I figured I’d get this advice! His two kids are either in or beyond middle school, so they’re not super young, and he’s mostly home. I think he does keep himself really busy around the house. He’s also a chef by trade. So, okay, I’ll be tolerant.
– Susanckd

Response 4
Is it just that he hates to be put “on the spot” to make actual decisions? Maybe he trusts you and just wants very specific simple choices put out there for him to respond to. It would be natural to assume that because he’s a chef he wants to be more specifically involved than a normal client.

I’m working with an interior designer on her kitchen right now and I’ve finally realized she doesn’t really want me to defer to her so much. She finally told me she found doing her own kitchen to be so stressful that she just wanted to be like a “normal” client.

On the other hand, are there money or power issues here that he’s having? How much does his wife want the new kitchen? Does he have to run everything past her and get approval? In all three of the projects I’ve been involved in with stay-at-home dads this has been an issue. If he were a stay-at-home mom would you be analyzing it differently?
– Khat

Response 5
I’m not sure about any of these questions! I don’t detect power or money issues. I don’t know what his deal is. Since this post, he got back to me saying that he’d like to study the plans with his wife, that our short meetings don’t allow him to do that. I’m glad he got back to me and we’re talking about ordering the kitchen.
– Susanckd

Response 6
Maybe he just wants to take his time. I have a client who travels all the time so I have been in this situation. We have been working on his kitchen for nearly two years now – whenever he finds the time to get back to me. I haven’t heard from him since February, but I know he will be back when he’s ready for the next step. It doesn’t bother me at all when I don’t hear back from him.
– Pderas

Response 7
This one made me get back in touch with a couple of clients who are waiting for me!
It is easy to let one or two things go when concentrating on another thing, and I’ll bet your client means no disrespect.
– jenG

Response 8
It happened again. He e-mailed me with questions and I e-mailed him back twice with information and my own questions. I haven’t heard anything back. It’s common courtesy, and this is making me nuts! Trust me, I have other things to think about, but when I think about this, I almost think that there is a larger disrespect that I have a problem being on the receiving end of. Although, that’s all part of it too – we can’t legislate respect!

I’m considering saying “no e-mail, only phone” since I’m not getting answers back on my requests. That is probably too argumentative for business though.
– Susanckd

Response 9
I have had these types of clients also. My remedy is that I give as much as I get. If a client does not get back to me with answers or specs that I need to proceed, then I don’t proceed. After a bit of a wait I call again and let them know that no progress is being made until they respond to my requests. That usually works, and I don’t get all worked up about it.
– design Diva

Response 10
I have been using a service called ReadNotify. You add .readnotify.com to the client’s e-mail address and get an e-mail back when they open it. I have added it to all my clients’ e-mail addresses, because sometimes e-mail doesn’t go through. It’s a reasonable annual subscription for peace of mind.
– Pderas

Response 11
Thank you, I appreciate your input! I’m wild about this “readnotify” thing, although I did read one negative thing about it interrupting e-mail in some way. Do you know what that might be?
– susanckd

Response 12
I have a read receipt on my email program (it is free) and I only use it when I get a client that is bad at getting back to me. Susan, you get retainers, right? I can understand why people don’t get back to me, because they have nothing invested yet. But with a retainer?

If a customer is particularly bad at getting back to me, I will usually call or e-mail them, letting them know that in order to proceed with their project, we’ll need to schedule a meeting in the showroom to further discuss things. The serious customers will call me back in their own time. In contrast, the “price shoppers” and “tire kickers” do not get back to me. But after I don’t hear back from them, I will move on with other jobs that I am working on.

Unfortunatley, there’s just not much you can do with inconsiderate people. I happen to be a mom of a young child and I have recently had work done on my house. An e-mail is easy and fast. If I am too busy to write out an accurate reply, I will at least e-mail them with a ‘thank you’ and tell them I will get back with them by a certain date. Maybe being in retail/sales has made me sensitive to this situation.

There have been plenty of times where I have even taken the time to e-mail companies that I decided to not use and at least thank them for their time.
– Kompy

Dishwasher/Range Combinations

Question

I am working with a client on a small Cape Cod-style kitchen remodel. Because of space constraints, my client wants me to put the slide-in range next to the dishwasher. I have never done this before and wonder if this is okay?

Has anyone done this before, and if so, is there anything specific I need to know?
– karlat

Response 1
In exceptionally small kitchens we have done this, although we aren’t big fans of it. I’m not sure what the code is on this, but whenever we have done it we have used a dishwasher end panel (usually 1-1/2") to separate the two appliances.
– amykitchens

Response 2
I agree with the previous post. I hate to put a dishwasher next to a range. My suggestion is to have the installer build a ledger-board behind the dishwasher and you can run a 1/2" base end-panel, or a 3" box column on the side of the dishwasher next to the range.
– KarH

Response 3
I was going to suggest something similar: A 24"-deep panel, with a 3" or 4" return on one side, that is 1-1/2" wide.
–susanckd

Warehousing Cabinets

Question

We are currently holding three large projects in our warehouse (an outside delivery service warehouse). We have paid the manufacturers for the cabinets, but since clients have not yet taken delivery, we have not asked for any money, even though the cabinets are here. This is not great for cashflow. I am curious how others handle this type of situation. Do you make clients pay even though their cabinets are sitting in storage or do you just deal with the short term cash flow issue?
– Susan27

Response 1
Two to four weeks are usually included in the price. This helps with scheduling flow on both sides. After that the cabinets are considered “delivered” to you and payment is due. If you’d like to continue storage that’s fine, but you pay the storage company monthly by volume, and we don’t deliver until that’s paid up.
– Antss

Response 2
I’m reading this as it’s not just the storage that you haven’t been paid on but the cabinets themselves. As you stated, some builders get way behind. I think it’s prudent to address this in your contract. Our contract reads that balance is due when the cabinets are received at the warehouse and that extra storage charges are to be paid by the client. The warehouse we use will hold them for two weeks. After that, storage charges will accrue. If the job is being installed by one of my recommended installers and it’s only going to be a week or two and I have a decent profit margin going, I usually don’t bill for the extra storage. But the client does have to pay for the cabinets. I always find this a bit uncomfortable because I’m asking them to pay for product they don’t actually have or have control over. So, I make sure to cover this aspect very specifically when I initially go over the contract with them. I’ve actually gotten very little resistance when I ask for the check. If I did meet resistance, I think I would suggest that they rent a storage space or POD to hold the cabinets until they need them. You may want to revise your contract to address this!
– Khat

Response 3
Thank you, these are very helpful comments. I think we just need to “have the conversation” at contract signing and include it in writing in our contracts.
– Susan27

Correct Installation Pricing

Question

What’s everyone paying and charging on installations? We are mid- to high-end, although not as high-end as some of you. How are yours figured? Ours is by the piece: every cabinet, every section of molding or toe kick, and every overlay at $75. Then there is disposal, plumbing hooks ups, flooring, electric, etc.

I just want to get a sense of things. On a typical remodel, mid-range kitchen, say 25-30 feet most times I see installs at $5000-$6000.
– jakuvall

Response 1
We use a point system for each and every piece. The bigger the piece, the more points its worth. We then add all of the points up and then multiply it by a dollar value based on a standard or full-overlay cabinet. Moldings costs are based on the type of molding. For instance, an undercabinet/crown molding is about $50/$80 per 8' piece while a toe kick can be $25 per. We also add in a point for each mitre cut the installer has to do. Appliances are also determined by a point system.
– Wintman

Attracting Builder Sales

Question

Our retail business is slower than usual. I am hearing from a lot of other dealers in our area that things are abysmal. We are starting to aggressively go after builder and contractor business. I want to price attractively, but I don’t want to give away the ranch, either. Of those of you who sell to builders/contractors, what is the typical markup you use when selling direct to contractors and builders? If you sell to their clients and pay a commission to the builder, what percentage of the sale (or the profit) do you give back to the builder? Lastly, does anyone have any other creative way to attract builder business. Around here, it’s pretty cutthroat, and I really don’t want to undersell just to get the business. Does anyone give any kind of other-than-cash incentives?
– stevenwangel

Response 1
Stay away from builder business if you are going to bid low range. Keep in mind that builders want to use your money for 30-60 days and a lot of builders may never pay. Check it out first. The best way is to deposit with COD on delivery, with a builder discount maximum of 5% in order to stay competitive with lumber yards and other dealers.
– ootb

Response 2
I opened and designed a showroom for a builder-center store. My company owns 13 stores, and we began by selling roofing, siding, and windows, and we only sell to builders and contractors.

When I opened the showroom about five years ago, we ran at a 25% markup. Of course kitchens were not the majority of the business. It can be a hard game to play. Builders and remodelers may need to have the kitchen held for an extra two or three months due to weather or job lead times. They also want to run on an account as there never is money up front. So, you are paying your cabinet company bills before the builder or remodeler pays you.

The only way to handle them in a kitchen company is to get the money up front, and charge for storage, if you don’t have room to store the cabinetry. You would also have to increase the margins. I was extremely careful and measured every job. They can be a wonderful bunch to work with, but they are very shrewd with their money.

Years ago, when I worked in a custom company environment, a builder helped put a 30-year-old kitchen company out of business. He was ordering $75,000 worth of cabinetry for his houses, and stopped paying his bill!
– KarH

Response 3
I agree with a lot of the above statements. Most builders are looking for a deal, which is even more true in this economy. The builders worth working with are the well-established builders that are willing to forego the “deal” in order to provide their customers with a high level of customer service vis-a’-vis you and your company. These are probably the builders who are known for their professionalism, consistency and (granted) somewhat higher price.

In my opinion, these are the builders to go after and build relationships with over the long term. Forget the guy looking to use you as a way to save a buck, to give them free designs that they can price all over town in order to prolong their cash flow by using you as a bank. It is simply not worth it, in my opinion.
– susan27

Response 4
All great pieces of sage advice. We are going to proceed with caution. Same as with the retail kitchens, if you smell a rat, it probably is!
– stevenwangel

Countertop Installations

Question

I have seen photos of raised countertops that appear to be supported by Mockett-style standoffs above a lower countertop. How is this possible? Since the countertop would be cantilevered over the standoff, this appears to be an engineering miracle. What am I missing? Has anyone done this type of look before?
– susan27

Response 1
One company I know of does this with raised glass countertop applications. They are using a stainless steel Mockett-style support. I will send them the dimensions of the glass surface I need, and they work up the support system for it. The glass is usually in an elevated level, above granite, or quartz material.
– KarH

Response 2
It sounds like the top fabricator is doing the engineering on the standoffs then, yes?

I am interested in this application as well. Our granite fabricator is now offering glass, but doesn’t seem sure on the support requirements and who should be figuring them out. Thanks for the information.
– kforn

Editor’s Note: Material for Pro to Pro has been excerpted from the online Designer Discussion Forum at the KitchenBathPros.com Web site under an exclusive agreement with Kitchen & Bath Design News.

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To join in this free kitchen and bath industry discussion forum, sign up at KitchenBathPros.com, or contact Susan Serra for more information at info@kitcheninteriors.com.

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