Hardware stores usually have kitchen design centers and offer a well known brand of modular cabinet with different levels of quality and finish. You may get a better price at a large chain because of the volume they do. Our experience has been that we were unable to get a competitive bid from smaller hardware stores. We usually obtained a bid from the hardware store that supplied our lumber. It was never lower than the prices we were quoted from independent shops.
An independent shop’s entire focus is selling and installing kitchens and baths. They specialize, and often can sell products from a number of manufacturers. This allows them to search for a product that is not only appealing but fits your budget. As with any other contractor, get referrals and inspect recent or current installations. No matter how nice the cabinets are, nothing hides bad installation. Talk with builders that have used the cabinet shop installers. Have they been prompt to respond to callbacks, willing to finish their pickup and correct problems?
Some independent shops sell modular cabinets but will also build custom kitchens and baths. Building a full kitchen is a chore. I know. I worked in a small shop and had a hand in building a kitchen. It took a long time to finish and it cost the homeowner a ridiculous amount of money, not because my boss was cheating them, but because it is very expensive for a small shop to build cabinets. Custom work is time and labor intensive. The tools cost thousands of dollars. Shop space required is far greater, and the material costs are out of this world. If money and time are an issue, I suggest going with a quality modular cabinet. They can come in any number of sizes and styles AND they install in 1-3 days. A custom kitchen can take months. For some owner builders, however, the custom kitchen is a necessary part of their dream home. Follow your dream, but do so armed with information.
During the bid process, be sure to discuss all options with your cabinet subcontractor. Perhaps they have a larger shop and are able to customize or semi-customize your kitchen for less. This is why the bid process is so important. Also, don’t be afraid to take a drive a town or two over. You may find a shop that will give you a fantastic deal. Perhaps business is slow there and they want to keep their installers busy. You never know.
Is onsite measure necessary? Absolutely. Why, shouldn’t my approved drawings and kitchen design suffice? Yes, they should suffice, but they don’t. The fact is, homes are built with imperfect materials by imperfect people. Inevitably, there will be a wall that is ¼ to ½ inch out of plumb. Studs can be slightly bowed in or out. Maybe the plumbing is placed a few inches off where cited in the plans. None of these things are out of the ordinary or impact the performance of the home. However, they can have a tremendous impact on the cabinet layout.
Cabinet areas should be measured just after drywall nail or, in some cases, a cabinet contractor can measure during framing. Normally, it takes approximately 3-5 weeks to get delivery. Scheduling cabinets is a critical portion of project management.
Installation should commence the day of or the day following delivery. Installation is a 1-3 day process on most projects. The owner builder ought to have a clause in contract that holds the contractor responsible for stolen materials if installation has not commenced within 2 days of delivery and if it is not complete within 5 days of delivery. This will prevent boxes from sitting uninstalled on your project or growing legs.
Be certain to contact your countertop subcontractor as soon as the cabinets arrive. Two days notice is sufficient time for a countertop measure to be scheduled. If there are multiple vendors to be contacted, follow through.
Countertop delays are another killer for the back end of your project. It is much easier to hold a subcontractor to an agreement if you have communicated expectations and schedules to them.