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Competing with catalog prices

The other day, a friend approached me with a proposition. If I could match the prices of some bathroom vanities, I could have the work.

I went online to look at the catalog and I was a bit surprised at how nice the pieces looked. They were "furniture style" with turned legs, bowed faces and quite a bit of "not bad looking" carving. They included granite tops and double sink basins. Of course, the prices were so low that I would have been hard put to buy the materials for that much money, not to mention the cost of having the stone tops fabricated and the sinks mounted.

OK, so I know that these are imported from China or India or somewhere else in the world where labor is still cheap and regulations few. I know that the "not bad looking" carvings were either done by a CNC machine or pressed by a stamping mill. I know that most of the "wood" in the pieces is either a composition material or is some kind of inexpensive "whitewood" with a painted "cherry look" finish. But even so, the fact that such a piece can be sold in this country for so little money, even after tacking on the cost of shipping it halfway around the world, trucking it to a warehouse someplace in this country and then getting it from there to the customer's doorstep is still amazing to me. And if you throw in the cost of the stone and sinks, it becomes almost incomprehensible.

As a custom maker, I am often asked why my work costs so much more than this imported furniture. So I start talking about the cost of materials and the fact that I have to pay so much more for labor and all of the fees I have to pay every year just to stay in business, the insurance I have to carry, the high cost of living in this country, and so on. And I can see the customer nodding and understanding but I can tell that when it gets right down to it, I'm not going to get the job because my price, however justified, is still three times what this catalog piece is going to cost.

So my best hope is that I can connect with enough people who can't find "just what they are looking for" in an online catalog or that what they find is just a bit too small or a bit too big. Because, without that, I may still be able to get the work. But if I have to match those catalog prices, I am sure not going to make any money on it!


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