Monthly Archive for June, 2010

I wonder how the big showrooms are doing

I have to think the current economic conditions are making it tough for the traditional kitchen showroom.  On websites that deal with a more academic approach to the economy, there is a lot of debate on wage and price stickiness (see for example: econlog).

My recent experience is that wages are not very sticky.  They are not sticky because I can get hired to design and remodel kitchens at wages well below those of early 2008.  What is sticky are the costs associated with all the other elements involved in running a showroom and producing a fine kitchen remodel product.  Very few showrooms have renegotiated leases in the last two years that have lowered their rent.  Very few showrooms have unilaterally cut employee wages.  I know from experience that the cabinet manufacturers have not cut their prices

So in my opinion, prices that support the provision of work are the sticky elements in the economy.  Even if I reduced my wage below zero, I would still have a hard time finding customers willing to pay what is necessary to support a showroom and staff.  Hell it’s not my opinion that prices are sticky, it’s my experience.  I had to close my showroom and lay off all the employees.  Any small business owner has a hard time negotiating price reductions.  The phone company isn’t interested, the electric company isn’t interested, the landlord isn’t interested, no one is interested in accepting a lower price for their products and services.  So the weaker players have to disappear in order for the remaining players to have enough business to support their operations.

Just a fact of life.

I would hate to have opened a 7,000 sqft showroom in 2006.  Just think of trying to keep that operation going.  You have pre-slump costs that have to be paid out of business that is off by 30 or 40 or 50 percent from peak years.

It hurts just thinking about it.

Some prices are unbelievable

So you want to remodel a kitchen.  Here is cost saving advice for the hard core do-it-yourself type.

Buy your drawer hardware from Ikea.  Look at this pricing!  You can buy a three drawer base from Ikea for $100.  I find that price to be well below the price of what you could expect to pay for one of the large drawers included with the cabinet.

While you will be throwing away a lot of stuff if you are building your own cabinets, the pricing makes the trip to Ikea worthwhile.  You can even have the stuff shipped to you.

Grass

The title of this post may drive some interesting traffic to my sight, but the real purpose is to highlight another company that makes excellent cabinet hardware: Grass.

Grass is a direct competitor of Blum.  They offer the Zargen drawer system that is a direct competitor to Blum’s metabox.  It is an easy to install and durable guide that has a full extension capability.  Grass also offers the NovaPro drawer system that is directly competitive with Blum’s Tandembox.

Grass, again like Blum, offers drawer guides for wood drawer boxes and also a wide variety of hinges.  They also offer a listing of online distributors for their products.

I say check ‘em out.

Blum

If you are unaware of the Julius Blum Co.  You need to familiarize yourself with them, should you decide you are going to tackle a kitchen project of your own.  Referred to as Blum, they are the industry leaders in hinges and drawer guides.

Throughout the Blum website is all sorts of detailed information on how to use their products.  The Metabox drawer system is a very high quality, but competively priced.  Of course, if you are going to have the very best in your home, nothing beats the Tandembox intivo.  Unless of course you add the Servo-Drive motorized drawer opening system.

I point this company out to you, because I really believe there are many of you who still desire a nice kitchen.  Well Blum is one company that makes good hardware for your cabinets.  If you go to your local supplier it will cost you about $80 for “D” size drawer hardware to do one box.  Your local kitchen dealer is going to charge you about $250 to $300 for that drawer to be installed in your kitchen.

I will explore this further, but I bet the best way to acquire Blum drawer guides is to buy Ikea cabinets.

What I See for the Near Future of Kitchens

Since the financial meltdown of the fall of 2008, I have been mulling over the future of kitchen design, kitchen cabinetry, appliances, etc.  What follows are my ideas of what the short term marketplace will look like.

We are not as rich as we thought we were.  The real estate bubble made many of us think our real wealth was greater than it has turned out to actually be.  There are many reasons for this circumstance and many parties/people to blame for the situation.  While I have my preferred list of culprits, that list is probably for another post.  What has not changed, however, is our desire for new and better things in our lives.  We still want to surround ourselves with cabinets, countertops and appliances that are better than what we currently own.  We still strive for the new kitchen that will make cooking, entertaining and family life easier and more enjoyable.

The problem with meeting those desires is that we have less money than we did just two years ago.  We are also, prudently, I might add, more averse to borrowing to satisfy our desires.  We want to, and in many cases, have to, pay cash for any new luxuries in our lives.  I still think for most people that a new kitchen is a luxury, for a few it is a necessity.  For those whose need for a new kitchen is a necessity, the same loss of wealth effects purchase decisions.

So, in order to get that new kitchen of your dreams, there is only one route to go: assume more risk.

By assuming more risk I mean taking a more active role in the entire project.  You will have to act as the General Contractor of your kitchen project.  You can shave 30% to 40% off the cost of the project by purchasing materials direct from the source.  You can save even more if you provide significant labor as part of the project.  Assuming more risk means that you are going to be the one who pays for the mistakes.  When I had my own kitchen dealership I was the one who had to pay for mistakes in the project, not the homeowner.  The reality of job pricing was such that every homeowner paid a premium for the risk my company assumed.  For any particular job, if things went well the company’s profit margin was robust.  If, on the other hand, things did not go so well that same job may have been completed at a loss to the company.  At the end of the year it was hoped that the risk premium more than covered the total cost of mistakes (Mistakes are here meant to be anything that required money spent on unforeseen problems, problems that were both my company’s fault and/or the fault of the customer, where the best course of action was for my company to just buy its way to a resolution).

So how do you go about assuming more risk?  You lay out your kitchen design yourself (or pay a fee to someone like me to do that for you).  You then take your list of materials to Ikea or the cabinet shop out in the country and buy your cabinets.  You either install them yourself or pay someone to put them in for you.  Ikea will likely have a list of installers.  The local cabinet shop will have a crew you can hire.  Purchase and install your own appliances.  Hire a countertop company to install your new granite tops.  Provide the granite company a sink for your new kitchen.  Make certain everything will fit.  Have a plan to address all instances of where two disimilar materials meet (such as the cabinets and the floor).  Select your paint colors and paint.  Make any plumbing and electrical changes necessary.

See, it’s not too tough!  You can also, as you plan your project, begin to understand why it is so expensive.  When I was operating my kitchen dealership, customers would spend hours in the showroom pouring over door samples, color blocks, and layout alternatives.  Who do you think paid for that time?  It didn’t come out of my pocket I can assure you.

So maybe taking on the entire planning process is too daunting.  You can always hire people to handle pieces of the project for you.

Also, think about the things you want in your kitchen.  Sub-Zero refrigerators are really cool, and they are the best, but at 2 to 3 times the cost of regular refrigeration, are they worth it?  They certainly won’t keep your beer colder than an LG or GE.

I will make this part of a series.  Further installments soon.

Online Business Reputations

I have been contemplating starting an online business offering as part of this website.  I will, for a fee, design a kitchen for you.  All you will need to do is send me measurements.  I will send you instructions on how to measure, so that we are on the same page when it comes to the floor plan and elevations.

I have, in the past, sent people to kitchen designers that will draw up a plan that they can then use to get bids for a kitchen project.  Most of the time, these plans maybe had a dimensioned floor plan and possibly dimensioned elevations.  My plans would differ in that in addition to the dimensioned floor plans and elevations, I would provide you with a materials list that you could use to either make cabinets or order custom made cabinets from a local supplier.

Getting back to the title of this blog post: how do you determine whether or not an online business has a good reputation?  I am an old guy (in terms of the internet) and notice that I am increasingly willing to spend ever larger amounts online for products and services.

Are you?  Your comments will be appreciated.

Update: I have decided to go ahead and start offering the design service.  Please see the Kitchen Design Service page.

My Pool Repair Bleg

So what started out as an attempt to repair an obvious vacuum side leak has become a much larger project.  We were losing over an inch of water a day.  Since I have time on my hands these days I decided to tackle what I thought would be a simple repair.

I was able to determine that the skimmer was leaking.  So I started digging.  I also borrowed a chipping hammer.  I broke out all the concrete.  Broke the skimmer into several pieces too.

Eventually the water line on the pool was below the bottom of the skimmer, the skimmer was out and the new problems became obvious.  Water was still leaking out of the pool at a rapid clip.  Look at the photo, there is a crack in the plaster and now with the water below the crack, we can see that water is coming back into the pool through the crack.

So now I have drained the pool.  Look at this photo of my daughter goofing around in the pool, you can see that the water is still coming into the pool.

I also found a big blister in the plaster.  Here are two photos of pieces I chipped out.

and:

These pieces are about 1/4″ thick.  I took a plastic hammer, determined the outside boundary of my plaster bubble and ground and chipped that all out.  Here is a photo of the resulting damage:

Sorry about the contrast.  It is about 2′ in diameter.  The concreate/gunite was all wet and black when first exposed to air, I am guessing that was mould?  Today’s weather is bright blue skies and over 100 degrees here in Dallas.  The spot dried out quickly.

I have ground out all the cracks in the plaster.  Again, here are some photos showing my work:

and,

These cracks have been ground out to about 1/2″ depth and are about 1/4″ wide.

Here is a photo of my plumbing manifold:

I have two vacuum lines.  One is from the main drain/skimmer and the other is dedicated for a vacuum cleaner.  The two pressure lines are for the return jets and the fountain.

My plan is to separate the main drain and skimmer basket and plumb those separately as the two vacuum lines.  I am going to convert the dedicated vacuum cleaner line to a dedicated pressure line so I can hook up a Polaris type cleaner.  I have had both cleaners and much prefer the pressure type.  I also have an automatic/electric vacuum cleaner that I can use on an occasional basis.  It too is a hassle and I look forward to the day it is not my primary cleaner.

If you have made it this far, you’re awesome.  I have two questions: first, does my plumbing plan make sense to you; and second, what should I do to resurface the inside of the pool?

I was thinking for filling both the cracks and the uncovered blister area with hydraulic cement and then painting the pool.  Or, should I just plaster over the cracks and blister?  My plaster is ugly, but it is about 1/4″ thick.

In exchange for advice here in the comments, I will return the favor as I only know how, I can offer advice/counsel/information on kitchen remodeling.

The pool is in Dallas, the soil here is expansive clay.  So the cracks are likely to reappear or there are going to be new cracks.  We will water the outside of the pool this year in order to minimize ground contraction.