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A few years ago, while looking for ways to grow our small construction company, we began installing kitchen cabinets for the local Home Depot. Though well aware of the potential difficulties of dealing with a large home center, we wanted small, quick, profitable jobs that we could work on between larger projects. Our goal was to stay busy, and we hoped these jobs would lead to larger projects and repeat business.

It turned out to be a good business decision. Not only did the home center provide us with eight to 12 kitchen installations each year, but our business foundation has been considerably strengthened by the contacts we've established with homeowners, real estate agents, interior designers, and architects. The large addition we are currently working on can be traced back to a home-center kitchen we did three years ago.

But working with a home center means dealing with stock cabinetry and designers with varying degrees of experience. To sell our services in this low- to medium-priced kitchen renovation market, we needed a set of procedures that would minimize our risk and make our installations more efficient and profitable.

Working With the Designer

Early on, we learned that a good relationship with the designer — regardless of his or her experience — is an important part of the process. During our initial site visit, we spend as much time as necessary reviewing the design to make sure it will work with the stock cabinets typically used by home centers. Afterward, we help the designer tweak the layout so that the actual installation will go smoothly.

Site visit. The first thing we do when we receive a kitchen design from the home center is contact the customer and arrange for a site visit. At the home, we carefully measure the kitchen to double-check the designer's layout dimensions. We also find out if the homeowners want any additional work done besides the removal of existing cabinets and the installation of new ones (typically, our kitchen-renovation referrals range from simple cabinet replacement to full guts), which must be factored into the estimate.

We also discuss the schedule. A realistic time line up-front helps avoid unrealistic expectations later on.

As part of the initial design review, we note existing lighting, switching, and box locations, and compare them with any new electrical plans and appliance specification sheets. If the plans require any electrical work (most of them do), we'll ask the electrician to install undercabinet wires 54 inches off the finished floor and countertop boxes 44 inches off the finished floor. We specify that locations are measured off the floor's high point. And because so many of our kitchen splashes are tiled, we specify depth-adjustable countertop receptacle boxes.

To help identify and keep track of potential electrical, plumbing, and other problems, we've developed a checklist. Sharing this list with the homeowners during the site visit is a good way to let them know what to expect.

Kitchen Estimate/Installation Checklist

Cabinets

•• Measure all runs

•• Check cabinets will fit

•• Check sink base is centered on window

•• Check wall cabinets are symmetrical on both sides of window

•• Check refrigerator width and height to wall cabinet above

•• Check plumbing in existing sink base:

•••• Check condition

•••• Check if water supply is thru wall or floor

•••• Check wastewater alignment

•••Will refrigerator need a water supply?

•• Check location of range gas feed

••••Check to see if exhaust is vented and how

••••What material will the countertop be?

••••Will any appliances be relocated or added?

Demolition

••How extensive a demolition?

- Cabinets

- Appliances

- Floor

- Gut

Electric

• Will dedicated lines be needed?

- Disposal

- Microwave

- Refrigerator

- High hats

- 220 range

•••Will additional ceiling lighting be added?

•••Will under- and/or overcabinet lighting be added?

•••Are additional countertop receptacles needed?

•••Are there two countertop circuits in place?

• Kick heater

Plumbing

- Sink/faucet hookup

- Disposal

- Range

- Refrig water

- Kick heater

- Relocate radiator

Floor

• Will there be a new floor?

- Tile

- Wood

- Laminate

Splash

••What will the splash be?

- Tile

- Full

- Rock

During the preliminary site visit, the author uses a simple checklist to help manage common kitchen-cabinet installation issues.Estimate. After the site visit, we call the designer to discuss any problems we've identified, such as a sink cabinet that doesn't center under a window, or inadequate allowances for door and window casings. Sometimes we fax a summarized version of our checklist as well. Then it's up to the designer to make any necessary changes with the homeowners and amend the cabinet order.

We also generate a standard Home Depot estimate based on the initial plan and our site visit, which the designer presents to the owners. If the homeowners still want to proceed, they can then purchase the cabinets and the installation as a package, charging it to their credit cards if they like. Up until now, our work is speculative (close rates vary; ours ranges from 65 percent to 70 percent). Installers don't get paid until the cabinet installation is complete.

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Essential tools for efficient cabinet installation include an assortment of drills and drivers, Pony Cabinet Claw clamps.