Establishing a level of understanding with your customer is essential to your profitability and your customer’s satisfaction. They do go hand-in-hand. Depending on the situation, your customer may be a homeowner, contractor, interior designer or architect. One of the most important things you should remember is that you deal with woods, finishes and cabinetry every day; your customer may or may not. During the sales process you could be using terms and phrases that they don’t understand and may be too embarrassed to ask you to explain.
Never assume that your customer knows the difference between the cuts, grades and variations that are present in the various species of wood. Never even assume that they know what a satin finish is. Showing and explaining exactly what they can expect to see will greatly reduce the potential for problems after the job is delivered. Your sample should include the natural variations in figure and color that the grade of wood allows. If the project warrants it, consider making a sample that shows the variations in color as “no darker than,” and “no lighter than.”
The best time to address these issues is before you quote a price since these are the criteria that you use when you calculate your costs. There can be a big difference in cost between a satin finish and a gloss finish or using A grade maple versus AAA maple. It always amazes me how easy to please a customer can be before they sign a contract and then how specific they can get afterwards. Don’t let your eagerness to make a sale jeopardize your potential to make a profit. Think of all of the nightmare situations you have run into over the years and address them in your sales presentation and then your contract.
The subject of color always holds some potential pitfalls. Color is a sensation and is always a matter of interpretation. It is also an area where educating the customer can be beneficial to your bottom line. Did you ever have a client who says that they want a color something like a “fruitwood” and could you make them a sample? A good way to handle this situation is to hone in on the color that the customer perceives as fruitwood. Ask them if they have a picture or see a sample in your showroom of something that might be close. Only agree to start making samples if they agree to time and material charges for the samples. Don’t leave your custom color match charge open ended. Explain to the client that they get only so many samples for a certain charge otherwise you could be making samples with a little bit more red for days. Remember also that it is not just the time remaking the samples; it’s also the time that it takes to meet with the client, or to deliver the samples to them. Most architects and designers make you come to them so travel time should be considered in your price.
As in the previous example, be careful when you quote a job that requires a custom color match without seeing a color sample first. If you do, make sure you have some type of caveat in your price quote. I once had a designer ask me to quote a job from the prints and then they will provide a color sample later. While discussing the project I asked her “What does a car cost?” She looked at me with a puzzled expression on her face. I explained that while Chevys and Mercedes are both cars many factors contribute to their difference in price. The same is true with wood finishes. Different colors or “looks” can require multiple finishing steps and each step has a cost associated with it. I agreed to provide a quote that would state my price as natural with a satin topcoat or with a simple wiping stain and a satin topcoat. A caveat stated that when I received a color sample I would present a stepped sample and provide a quote for any additional finishing charges.
Beware of situations where the customer wants the job built in one species and picks a color sample on another species. A common example is the customer wants the project built in birch but chooses a color that is on cherry. If you want a piece of wood to look like cherry, use cherry. You can make birch the same color as cherry, but it will never look like cherry. Another example is when they build a cabinet out of mahogany and then use poplar for the crown. It amazes me that people will try to save $200 on a project by using a cheaper species of wood and then find out that, at best it’s going to cost them $400 to make it look like the original and at worst, they are going to be disappointed in the results. If it was so easy to make poplar look like mahogany why would people buy mahogany?