My company, Westbrook Restorations, is a small custom remodeling general contracting company specializing in historic and vintage homes. I'm a master carpenter, and I've always had a workshop. I've learned to use the shop in a way that helps my remodel carpentry run more efficiently: I use my shop as an extension of Westbrook Restorations' remodel activities. I do a lot of custom carpentry such as window sash and jambs, historic moldings, replication and restoration work, mantels, posts, post caps, corbels, post wraps, railings, stairs, and occasionally a cabinet or two.
Should You Build Cabinets In-House?
Some contractors supply cabinets from their own in-house shops. Their shop supplies the cabinetry for their projects, and they have a crew dedicated to building cabinets. This keeps quality control high and response time quick. In order to justify the cabinet division of the company, their shop needs to have a high demand for cabinet projects. This scenario works for large contractors, or if your shop can also supply other contractors with cabinets.
However, if you are a small remodel contractor thinking of building your cabinets in-house, you may need to choose between the business of cabinetmaking or remodeling, unless you have a lot of cabinet experience, as well as all the tooling, and a refined business system that allows you to spend the time in the shop, without compromising your remodel client expectations. My experience is that the romance of custom carpentry cabinet building and shop work soon gives way to the realities of business ownership.
If you've decided to order cabinets, here are the three most important ways to ensure a successful project:
1. Create and Maintain a Good Relationship With Your Supplier:
Cabinets are focal point for any project, so it's important that the process goes smoothly from design, to ordering, to delivery, to installation. There's nothing worse for your reputation as a contractor than a cabinet that doesn't fit and a supplier who won't get back to you with a solution. For this reason, it's very important that you lay out a detailed process for ordering cabinets through a supplier long before you ever have to do so.
This starts by choosing a supplier and then developing a relationship with them. If you're looking for a great supplier, Dunn Lumber works exclusively with Canyon Creek Cabinet Company, a local company based in Monroe, WA and one of the nation's leading mid-priced cabinet manufacturers.
For many years my father worked with two cabinet companies here in the Seattle region. One was a semi-custom, mid-size supplier that could provide for most projects. They were fair on price for the quality and service received, but had some limitations. The other supplier was a totally custom, small, high-end shop that could produce anything. Their product was a lot more like furniture-grade cabinets.
Over the years my father developed different systems for working with both companies. He explained the differences between the two suppliers to his customers. They could then decide which supplier was the best fit for their individual projects. Back in the day, many projects we did were so unique that the only choice was a custom cabinetmaker!
2. Create a Verification Process
It's important that the client and you understand the details of the cabinet product received and the expectations surrounding the process.
A verification process is simply means having a way to make sure the cabinet specifications match the owner's expectations, your expectations, and the supplier's expectations. Have everyone sign the spec sheet and double-check the final order specification against what was originally proposed. It may seem redundant, but redundancies have a way of catching any irregularities or misunderstandings and clarifying expectations.
3. Stick to Your Schedule
Have your project ready to receive cabinets on the delivery date. It's that simple—and that difficult.
There are many volumes written about making cabinets, many talented custom cabinet builders, and many furniture craftsman. They're my heroes, and they never cease to be a source of inspiration. Find them. Develop partnerships with them. And always remember to finish your project in a timely manner.