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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
First post here but have been a long-time lurker, I appreciate all of the valuable info you guys have to offer and I'm interested in your opinion.

My father is skilled cabinet maker/finish carpenter and has been in business for himself since the early 80's. Until recently he's been able to pay the bills and work most of the time, for the last 5 or so years he's been barely scraping by due to economy etc, but has survived on whatever work his long time clients throw to him and my mom's paycheck. Due to health reasons my mom won't be able to work much longer and I'm concerned about how they're going to pay their bills.

I've had long discussions with my dad about raising his rates, more accurate estimating, hiring employees, building a better shop, etc but he seems to be stuck in his ways and 1980's pricing structure.

I used to work nights/weekends with him during and after high school but once I started working 24hr on call that pretty much stopped. After working in commercial HVAC and facilities maintenance for almost 10 years I feel regretful that I didn't stick with him and try to learn more. I'm interested in getting back into residential and am considering pushing him to generate leads and find work so he can make some money and I can learn a few things. I can't tell if he doesn't want to work or doesn't understand how to generate work. He seems to feel that raising his prices will lose him work, even though he admits having lost jobs due to being significantly cheaper than competitor's bids.

Long story short, I don't want to see his business die, I want to become his partner and find success for both of us, but if he wasn't my dad I wouldn't ever consider getting into business with him.

I'm sure there's at least a few of you who have been in this situation and I'd love to hear your input. Sorry for such a long first post.

Thanks.
 

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Contractor of the Month
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You have any business experience?

I don't want to sound insensitive...but don't quit a good job to polish the brass on the titanic.
 

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Livin the dream...
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I don't think you can solve this problem for him. He has to want it for himself, otherwise I think it will take you both down. Most places, cabinet making and finish carpentry are highly competitive, survival of the fittest markets. You have to put your heart into it to make it work. I'm sure others will be along with good advice. Hard to say much not knowing the full scope of the situation.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
You have any business experience?

I don't want to sound insensitive...but don't quit a good job to polish the brass on the titanic.
Unfortunately...not really. I understand estimating as I do it quite often/successfully at work, I've also read alot on this site, but that's pretty much the extent of it. There will also be a learning curve to pricing cabinet jobs vs heat exchanger replacements...

Feel free to be insensitive, I don't want to see him go down in flames but I definitely don't want to go down with him...
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
I don't think you can solve this problem for him. He has to want it for himself, otherwise I think it will take you both down. Most places, cabinet making and finish carpentry are highly competitive, survival of the fittest markets. You have to put your heart into it to make it work. I'm sure others will be along with good advice. Hard to say much not knowing the full scope of the situation.
Good advice thanks, somehow he's been able to find some long term clients that have kept him busy and has operated purely on word of mouth all these years, but I'm not sure if his heart is still in it.

My thought is that once my mom dies, he will have no choice but to get his business on track due to lack of $, and I'd like to help him put the pieces together before that happens.

Apparently all I had to do was type all of this out to realize it was a bad idea...
 

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All that is missing, typically, is fresh meat, New customers. Start marketing, networking for the business. Venture to guess his pricing maybe a bit high, so go figure out who'll pay and hunt 'em down.

Even if you did change the prices, got on board- with no marketing, not enough customers to support one yet alone two it's a doomed venture.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
All that is missing, typically, is fresh meat, New customers. Start marketing, networking for the business. Venture to guess his pricing maybe a bit high, so go figure out who'll pay and hunt 'em down.

Even if you did change the prices, got on board- with no marketing, not enough customers to support one yet alone two it's a doomed venture.
I would say his prices are too low but he's definitely missing the marketing for sure, no advertising on his truck, I asked him for business cards to put on bulletin boards around town and apparently he doesn't have any. I suppose I'll have to try to get the ball rolling for him.
 

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Maker of fine kindling
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Is he up on all the latest trends in the cabinet world?

Is he using the best hardware?

Finishing? Is he doing all that himself too?

Does he have a decent sized shop? Over 2000 ft?

What about shop drawings? What does he submit to the clients for approval?

Mostly I'm wondering if his work is still stuck in the 80's or is it just pricing.

Lucrative cabinetmaking is done with a pleasant and professional experience for the client from the first contact through a call back that may happen years later. The people that can afford that are pretty knowledgeable about the latest trends and hardware. They also appreciate renderings and accurate measured drawings. Above all they will only be comfortable awarding a large custom job to you or your dad if you show up handling yourself with confidence and good ideas.

If his work is stuck a few decades back, you have a long road ahead.

On the positive side, I wish my dad was healthy enough to work with me. I had that for a while in the mid eighties and we had a blast. A happy family business would be a wonderful thing.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Is he up on all the latest trends in the cabinet world? - I doubt it

Is he using the best hardware? - Depends on the client,I'm not aware of him ever using anything cheap unless specifically requested

Finishing? Is he doing all that himself too? Yes

Does he have a decent sized shop? Over 2000 ft? It's roughly 1500-1700 ft but it's not an efficient layout by any means

What about shop drawings? What does he submit to the clients for approval? Still doing hand drawings, I've now got him playing around on google sketchup as a starting point

Mostly I'm wondering if his work is still stuck in the 80's or is it just pricing. Everything about it, he'll build whatever the customer requests but as far as introducing new/trendy ideas? no way

Lucrative cabinetmaking is done with a pleasant and professional experience for the client from the first contact through a call back that may happen years later. The people that can afford that are pretty knowledgeable about the latest trends and hardware. They also appreciate renderings and accurate measured drawings. Above all they will only be comfortable awarding a large custom job to you or your dad if you show up handling yourself with confidence and good ideas.

If his work is stuck a few decades back, you have a long road ahead.

On the positive side, I wish my dad was healthy enough to work with me. I had that for a while in the mid eighties and we had a blast. A happy family business would be a wonderful thing.
See answers above in red.

Thanks for your input, you bring up some good points. While he is professional and courteous, I think his customer service/salesmanship is lacking. I feel I can help in that department, I just feel uncomfortable with it since I've been out of the game for several years. I've done several kitchens of my own since we stopped working together but they were all for investment properties on a shoestring budget, nothing to be very proud of.
 

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More than pushing brooms!
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Welcome to 2013

All that is missing, typically, is fresh meat, New customers. Start marketing, networking for the business. Venture to guess his pricing maybe a bit high, so go figure out who'll pay and hunt 'em down.

Even if you did change the prices, got on board- with no marketing, not enough customers to support one yet alone two it's a doomed venture.
This.

Welcome to 2013, digital marketing is King. Fortune 500 companies are investing HEAVILY into it, and even Funeral Homes have websites. His online presence can be simple, but it needs to be effective or he will be out of business. These days, almost everyone goes online to research and make purchasing decisions. I am willing to bet a lot of his business decline has been tied to the fact that he has such a weak online presence while his competition is running strong.

www.wix.com - get photos of his work, his contact details, pay for him to have a site for Christmas and promote it. Facebook can't hurt either. None of this is highly technical - however it is all now vital: like it or not.

Marketing > Sales > Build.... without the marketing how are you even getting to the sale or build process? In this day and age, business practices such as this one are dying from a lack of marketing, not a lack of quality. It's painful to watch. The good news is, you are helping and can turn this around! A site, and domain through this service will run you around $80 - with free website templates that are easy to adapt and use for your own business.

For NICE & CHEAP printed material like business cards, just go make him some at www.vistaprint.com - and give them to him as a Christmas gift while keeping some for yourself to pass out. A pack of a few hundred color business cards will run you around $20 here.

For $100 you can effectively set your Father up and help turn this around. Of course, once you make these marketing tools, they still need to be used and updated.
 

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Maker of fine kindling
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No one will be able to tell you if this is a good idea or not. The guy that can answer it happens to be wearing your shoes today.

That being said, what I can offer you is this. I have a pretty successful shop and a business partner. What I think makes it successful is that we both have very distinct roles with very little overlap. My strengths compliment his weakness and visa versa. But we both know our way around the shop and are well versed in cabinetmaking procedures.

Sounds like you have some experience in the field so you aren't starting from scratch. Sounds like you both need to grow in areas and that is not all bad. Could be fun to do together so long as you stay kind with one another and offer support where needed. But above all you both need to be honest and you both have to have similar work ethics.

You have a chance to spend a lot of quality time with your dad if this is to all work out. It may not be an easy path or it may be full of wonderful victories. That guy that has your shoes should know. You should know your dad well and yourself better. Be honest with yourself about this.
 

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It's not easy to teach an old dog new tricks.
 

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I have a quick question - Does your dad know what you are thinking and if so does he want you to get involved?
Parents don't like their kids making plans for them. You can ask my 92 year old mother. LOL

If he is all for the help I think that is great.
I agree that he / you need a web site to show past work and let the people know you are with the times. It does not need to be anything great - just a show place is enough.
Keeping in contact with past customers is a must.
I hope he kept a database of past customers. Send them all a Holiday card. Add a few business cards to each envelope. Every customer is special and a note to the same in each card goes a long way. An example - Happy Holidays Mr. Smith. By the way how did your daughter make out at collage. Is she now an accountant......
Mrs Jones I bet your Christmas cookies taste better being made in your new kitchen...
Cabinet making is hard because you only need one kitchen. Of course there are built-ins and misc cabinets but it is a better idea to expand and do other carpentry work as well as cabinets.
I'm sure the others here have more and better ideas to share.
Bill T
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
No one will be able to tell you if this is a good idea or not. The guy that can answer it happens to be wearing your shoes today.

That being said, what I can offer you is this. I have a pretty successful shop and a business partner. What I think makes it successful is that we both have very distinct roles with very little overlap. My strengths compliment his weakness and visa versa. But we both know our way around the shop and are well versed in cabinetmaking procedures.

Sounds like you have some experience in the field so you aren't starting from scratch. Sounds like you both need to grow in areas and that is not all bad. Could be fun to do together so long as you stay kind with one another and offer support where needed. But above all you both need to be honest and you both have to have similar work ethics.

You have a chance to spend a lot of quality time with your dad if this is to all work out. It may not be an easy path or it may be full of wonderful victories. That guy that has your shoes should know. You should know your dad well and yourself better. Be honest with yourself about this.
Thanks, I'm sure it will not be easy but I think it's worth a shot. We did work well together previously and got along well. I only bailed out because he told me there was no money to be made, I'm hoping to change his mindset.
 

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Dirtleg:

I had a buddy in Michigan who collects a healthy automotive pension with health care. He built a new house with an attached cabinet making shop, all paid for. You cannot compete on price against these guys.
 

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The Ultimate Wire Hider
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The "Law of the Lid" will prevent you from taking your dad's business to the next level. This law, according to motivational speaker John Maxwell, simply states that the organization cannot go any higher than the mindset of the leader.

If your dad said, "I want to build and sell titanium cabinets for the International Space Station but I don't know how." you could certainly help him get there. But because he is under the belief that his business model is still relevant and there isn't anything wrong aside of a temporary slump in the demand, then there isn't much that you can do to change that.

Short of having an intervention, he is going to have to find out on his own that his ship is going down. You don't have an obligation to tell him this especially if he doesn't want to hear it.

If you want to save him, just bust your butt in the things that you do well, save some money, and prepare a safe landing place for him when/if it all comes crashing down.
 

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Maker of fine kindling
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Where are you located? Is it near an area that has a healthy demand for custom cabinetry?
 

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I've been though a similar situation, my father in law had a successful business for 20+ years. In 2008-09 it went downhill bad and he had to shut it down, it was a combination of economy and some mismanagement. I worked for him for 3-4 years after he asked me to leave a very good and stable job that I had worked my way from entry level to department manager running an engineering department of a modular home manufacturer.

In late 2009 we started a new business together as partners and are doing fairly well. He has and has kept a very good reputation through out the struggle with the old business. Very good with the customers in the field and very good at making sure everything is on schedule and done to our high standards. That being said, is not and does not want to be good at the office/business side. He's not great with technology and doesn't really care to be. He said he's too old. I have trouble keeping him in the office for more than an hour or two. Doesn't want to have anything to do with insurance, health insurance, a/r or a/p other than looking at it on the computer screen. Sounds like kind of the same thing you have.

Sorry about the long intro story, but wanted to give you a little background. If you feel strong about changing career paths and feel there is market share out there why not give it a try. You will just need to be the more business focused half, that is my role in our company. Sounds like I'm pretty similar to you also, I know what needs to get done, how to do it also but not as well as my father in law. Works out pretty good for us both. Let your father be the field guy and help when you are needed and you run the office, books, marketing, etc.

Good luck either path you choose!
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 · (Edited)
The "Law of the Lid" will prevent you from taking your dad's business to the next level. This law, according to motivational speaker John Maxwell, simply states that the organization cannot go any higher than the mindset of the leader.

If your dad said, "I want to build and sell titanium cabinets for the International Space Station but I don't know how." you could certainly help him get there. But because he is under the belief that his business model is still relevant and there isn't anything wrong aside of a temporary slump in the demand, then there isn't much that you can do to change that.

Short of having an intervention, he is going to have to find out on his own that his ship is going down. You don't have an obligation to tell him this especially if he doesn't want to hear it.

If you want to save him, just bust your butt in the things that you do well, save some money, and prepare a safe landing place for him when/if it all comes crashing down.
Sadly you might be right, but I do think he is on the cusp of opening up to change. He's running on his longest slump ever with no end in sight. If nothing else, I think he's open enough that if I can successfully implement some new ideas and put some cash in his hand, he'll be ok with it.
 
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