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Cabinetry Company Designers VS Hiring a Design Professional/Consultant- What To Do?

Yes, it has been a long time coming- another blog. My intentions are there, I will blame the busy end to this year for my lack of blogging! New Years reso- more blogging!

This question comes up a lot during my consultations. I find that the Renovation/Cabinetry Industry can be so very convoluted for a lot of my clients, so hopefully my biased ranting will clarify a few industry standards and help aid you in the first steps to take when considering a Kitchen and Bathroom remodel or build.

Here is usually how it goes down;

You walk into your local cabinetry supplier- usually classified in industry terms as a 'stock' or semi-custom' design showroom- You roam around the showroom- someone asks if you need a hand- you say 'no, just looking.' (???? Trust me almost everyone says this) but really who just goes in to 'look' at a Kitchen and Bath Cabinetry outfit? I say ask for help! Start asking questions of the sales staff- they are usually on a salary/commission income- so that is what they are there for! You will begin to feel if there is a rapport with the company and here is your chance without having to make any sort of commitment first, to ask the company for an understanding of their procedures. Now before we go any further you MUST keep in mind that most of these companies will NOT come to your home for a site consultation until there is a deposit/commitment value paid by you- the potential renovator- so you better make sure that you are happy with your chosen 'Designer', products, finishes, customer service, referral, testimonial and contract information before signing over the cheque. Keep in mind most deposits or retainers are non refundable and will be applied to the first payment when it comes time to order. If you are not happy with the experience and have paid the deposit chances are you are out the moola and back to square one in the process. The reason I place quotation around the title 'Designer' above- is due to the SHOCKING fact that a large majority of the people who will be 'designing' your space when choosing work with these outfits are.....wait for it......NOT EVEN DESIGNERS...GASP!!! How was that person so knowledgeable about cabinetry, finishes and the process?! How could they trick you like that? Because they are sales people- they are people who have sold insurance, cars, used cars, cell phones ETC. BUT that is their job- that is why the outfits hire them- they are seasoned sales people! A cabinetry company in most case will higher the potential employee with a sale background before a design background. Fake it till you make it baby! This is why I suggest taking the time to talk to a showroom 'Designer' or sales person while you are 'just looking!'. Ask leading questions and make sure that you fully understand what you are committing to.

Now- there are those other cabinetry outfits, usually refereed to as the 'high end/ custom' design and installation companies. As a walk in client to a 'high end/designer' showroom you will notice a different 'designer' feeling and experience....however it is sad to say again- at the end of the day- you are dealing with a sales person first- and a designer second. You may find with a company like this- your time line for design planning could be consistent with how the designer has gauged your interest or level of commitment t other process- again dealing with a seasoned sales people- however when choosing a 'high end/custom' outfit you are also more likely dealing with an actual educated Designer which has value in itself. Some of these companies may come to your home- no fee- in order to get the preliminary design planning started. Be fully aware that your cabinetry estimate will be reasonably high due to overheads, commission pay outs etc. I suggest this is something to ask through a phone call or visit to the showroom- do not, I repeat- do not expect this to be free, just a bonus when it is- however you must keep in mind the time of the professionals during a free consultation. These Designers in most cases are not being paid to come to your home, so be efficient with your time, and be respectful and honest in your answers to the pre-qualification questions they may have over the phone or in your home with you as they are determining whether you are serious about taking on the cost of the project or not- these are all sales training methods used by cabinetry outfits to which they expect their staff to adhere to upon the 'pre-qualification' stage. You will need to share your budget and you may also be ask to provide the names of the other companies you are also getting estimates from. For a commission sales person the sales consulting and travel time/design and pricing work load that goes into each design can take anywhere from 5-12 hours. One could imagine how difficult it could be to want to put in the time and effort for a design and estimate if a potential client is giving all the wrong signals and not being honest in their answers to the designers pre-qualification questions. I get it no one wants to be 'pre-qualified' or 'labelled'- but seriously don't be that client- you will be so much happier with the process if you open up and give honest answers to whomever you are beginning the process with! Make sure with respect to yourself and the professional involved- do the leg work to know who will be wasting your time and who's time you might be wasting, because the staff at the the vendor you chose to visit are already making that determination of you the minute you walk in the door and they start to ask questions!

Now in my experience most cabinetry companies are in support of each other charging a fee for an onsite consultation. Really why wouldn't they be? This may come across as rude and vile, but don't you think it is a bit ignorant to feel you shouldn't pay a fee for a professional design consultation or a set of kitchen or bathroom plans? As they say in the industry- 'if you are not willing to pay a consultation or design fee you are not willing to pay for the renovation'. This is how consultants, sales staff and companies gauge you as a potential client- people working on commission sales need to 'weed' through potential clients in order to get to the 'right' client- so they can pay the bills! However in my experience so far working as a sales person first, designer second- sales can take precedent over design and the renovators wants and needs, it can be hard to commit time to the process as you are always hunting down the next lead. End of the day the focus is yet again- selling the companies product and getting that contract signed ASAP. I have found that this is not always a win for the client. A designer working for a company on commission or commission/salary will not always have your best interest in mind-they have to answer to a boss to you know! Its a dog eat dog world in the cabinetry commission sales industry, the stress and pressure are high. The only people these sales people/designers are working for is 'the boss man'- and that is not you at the current moment. Keep in mind when I use terms like 'selling the companies product' this extends into counter tops, contractor, fixtures, tile etc. A lot of these companies will choose 1-2 suppliers/ trades that they will recommend to you the potential renovator (AFTER a deposit is paid), resulting in a 'middle man fees' OR 'kick backs' that will be included in your estimate as a hidden fee. This allows the companies and the trades to keep each others hands in each others back pockets at your unexpected expense.

Now here is where the VERSUS part comes in. When you chose the route of hiring a Design Professional or Consultant you are hiring someone to work for you- period. Most Design Consultants will have upfront fees or design package pricing that will be made clear to you at the time of the initial consultation/phone call, most of this information can be available for review on their websites. The idea really is to have an option to buy the design plan in order to source out multiple cabinetry, counter top, backslash, flooring, contractor estimates based on your vendor preferences. You can also include most 'add on services' with a Designer/ Consultants service list- an 'a la carte' experience so to say! Established Kitchen and Bathroom Design professionals will have relationships with multiple cabinetry companies, counter top suppliers, contractors etc. and can help you to establish a relationship using their suppliers based on your budget. There may be fees attached to this as well- so make sure this is clear across the board. What I like to say often is a Design Consultant is there to help you work with your budget not to work your budget over.

I have to say- in most situations I find the clients that are happy and willing to pay the up front fees of a Design Professional are usually clients that have renovated before, or what I like to call a 'seasoned renovator'. These are clients that have been through the steps as listed above- having dealt with the 'pressure cooker' sales/designers experience and most choose not to re-live. I also find that the fees that are hidden in your cabinetry contact VS working with design fees up front can be a dramatic difference in cost. For example a design/sales person/design can make up to 10% on the sale of your job SO a $30,000 equals to a nice pay day for a successful sale! Design fees with a consultant can be much less and can include many more options that what you would experience with a cabinet company as discussed above. Bottom line is you are NOT tied into one specific product or seller- you have the freedom to take your business to any where you choose! I feel this is very a very important part in consideration for the investment you are about to spend on your home. Always have a great rapport with whomever you are working with, expect to pay professionals for what they are worth and most importantly you get what you pay for. Free works for some, but not for most! Find that person who is as dedicated to your renovation needs as you are, because with the right person consulting you, your renovation experience and finished results will be worth it!

Happy Planning!


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