The Kitchen Designer

Beware of laptops in the night

I'm really connected. Probably a bit too much at times. You'll see why soon. I have my iphone which handles my email when I'm away from the office, and my laptop in the bedroom on the night table. It's my routine to ease into the night with my laptop. Call it recreational time on the computer (mostly) and then, much later, an aid to avoid "trying" to get back to sleep.

Then, there is my work schedule. It is full time during the day and as desired in the off hours, which ends up being when quite a bit of work gets done, truth be told, and communication with clients is also done during off hours, holidays and weekends (as I choose,)

Last night I woke up around 2 am, which happens quite frequently, I reached over to the laptop to check my email (as I'm far from the only one writing messages in the night) and I see an email from my client Marty (Denise and Marty) telling me that I did great design work for them over the last 1 1/2 years on various parts of their new home, but they are electing to purchase their cabinetry elsewhere...because they can get it cheaper.

I worked for Denise and Marty for 1 1/2 years planning their kitchen, second kitchen, master bath, closet, and hallway cabinetry.  It is finally time for Denise and Marty to order their cabinetry. I worked during business hours, and typically, we corresponded, sometimes for hours, on Marty's timetable which was from 6 am or after 8 pm. During the course of our working together, I uploaded literally 247 drawings on to a project website and we had countless conversations as we tweaked the plans...for 1 1/2 years. I made three trips up to the middle of New England from Long Island and conversed with their contractor and architects on many occasions. At the end, the drawings were highly detailed, really, nearly finished working drawings. They printed them out and used them for the trades...and I'm sure, for this other cabinet company.

At the start, I charged my normal retainer of $5,000. We corresponded over a special project website I maintained, and I told them that I do not normally provide my drawings (for this reason) to my clients but this was a large project and I asked them to make a commitment that they would work with me to eventually order the cabinetry with me. They agreed. I thought they were trustworthy people and our relationship was always a very good one. They proved not to be trustworthy.

Time went on, more time than I expected, and I just did not take the time to revisit requesting additional design fees which was my error. However, my retainer did not specify that my service was for a set amount of time, so I honored my retainer agreement and kept working. I'm REALLY big on honoring written agreements. If you don't honor a written agreement, you have chaos. I felt secure.

I guess I must have about 200 hours of design time into their projects (Denise and Marty were very indecisive.) Even at a fair $150 per hour (I'm not a beginner and just yesterday I accepted a check for an hour's consultation in my office at $175) that comes out to $30,000 of my time.

If you're going to drop that bomb, why do it on a Saturday evening? At least wait till business hours. And, why not pick up the phone to speak with me?

Which reminds me...we were in the middle of the process in regard to getting the price more in line where he (Marty drove everything and wanted expensive features in the kitchen and other areas, thus, we were initially over budget) wanted it and I had just come in under the budget on Friday as requested, after making material adjustments, and there could easily have been more work to be done to drop it even further. This part is as much of a "process" as the design process.

The Numbers: The original agreed upon budget was $193,000. The "dream scenario" as a result of all our work, came to $227,000. Gradually, adjustments were made, and the latest adjustment provided last Friday, was for $177,000.

You don't bail when there's been good faith service up to that point. You just don't. You communicate. And, a week prior, I had said that we could explore other cabinet companies, make substitutions, whatever it took, we'd figure out.  As the price kept dropping as a result of these substitutions, he was very grateful and enthusiastic. The end point was my providing the (latest) final number, ending up below the budget.

There's A LOT that I don't write about in regard to what happens in my business. THIS needs to be out there.

This type of thing will not happen again, I'll tell you that.  

Here is the email I received last night at 9:30 pm, which I didn't see till 2 am:


  Hi Susan,
  Your design work to date has been great!
  And I am certain that your "value engineering" would be just as terrific.
  However, it will not be necessary.
  We will be using another supplier for the cabinets.
  First and foremost you were always our first choice.
  However, due to our diminishing budget, time, and energy, we
  have selected another supplier providing a turn-key solution, at
  a price we can afford.
It's ok. There are far more important things in life to be concerned with than this. Yet, I also know that I need to go through a brief (it will be brief) process to expunge this bad stuff that was handed to me, truly, for no reason at all.



Posted by Susan serra, ckd
over 11 years ago


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