An intimidating process
They had no idea how to start, and no frame of reference for many of the components that go into creating a kitchen. They knew there were a lot of dollars – including their home value – at risk in the process and as many bad remodeler stories as bad car salesman stories.
They came to us because they trusted the Home Depot brand and were used to shopping there for the rest of their house. It was comfortable, convenient and reliable, if not luxurious.
My job description called for selling them cabinets, fixtures, appliances, countertops and installations, but a whole lot of education and decision-making had to happen before that stack of papers would eventually get signed. (Another similarity to car buying, I might add, is the absurd amount of paperwork involved.) The cabinet displays were where I always started – and where the car analogy was born.
We didn’t sell Ferraris or Porsches at the Big Orange Box. (They still don’t.) We had five cabinet lines – from serviceable to relatively superior, which made it pretty easy to communicate. These are our “Yugos,” I’d share, pointing to the bare bones cabinet line. They’ll get you from Point A to Point B, but you’re only going to get the basics, no upgrades.
This is our Mercedes line, I’d share, pointing to a cabinet brand with more luxurious styles and finishes, plywood construction and some customization. Pointing to another, I’d say, here are our Toyotas: good quality construction, reliable quality and more affordable. If you can’t afford the C Class – or it doesn’t make sense for your home value – we can get you something nice and well-made in a Camry. It won’t have all the bells and whistles of the Mercedes but it will stand you in good stead. (My builder put the Toyotas into my home and I’ve been very happy with them, I’d share.) This approach made cabinet shopping as familiar as car shopping and far less stressful. It also let me know where my new client wanted to be.
Home Depot's "Toyota" brand -- American Woodmark
I would then go over the different options that were available, making standard overlay vs. full overlay door styles as understandable as coupe vs. sedan and engineered vs. plywood construction as easy to follow as cloth vs. leather. No, the comparisons are not apples to apples, but they are simple. And the simplicity put people at ease.
You get what you pay for
I explained why someone would want full-extension soft-close drawers by demonstrating those then Mercedes-only features on the display, much as a car salesman would demonstrate a self-closing minivan door. The convenience and comfort are pretty comparable, actually.
Just as with cars, there is a strong relationship between what you pay for cabinets and what you get. This has less to do with basic durability – I lived for close to a year in a sublet with 13-year-old IKEA cabinets that were in very good shape after who knows how many tenants – than it does with finishes, features and customization.
If you’re looking for a 14-step, hand-distressed paint and glaze, you’re going to pay top dollar for that workmanship. You’re also going to pay top dollar for a custom color, custom door design, custom width, shape or height. The Yugos (or Kias now) and Toyotas won’t offer you that.
Top of the line classic Dutch Made Custom Cabinetry
I’m happy to see that features like soft-close cabinet drawers and doors -- once exclusive to upper-echelon custom cabinets -- are becoming more widely available today at the Toyota level than when I started out, but you still have to go to an independent designer or showroom to get the Ferraris, Porsches, Maybachs and Jaguars.
Another car comparison point is financing. Our clients really liked the deals designed to put them into a new kitchen they could easily “drive off” the showroom floor. Credit isn’t as easy today, certainly, and homes are no longer the ATMs they were before the housing market crashed, but cars and cabinets are still big ticket items that are often financed in some form or other.
One of the major ways in which car and cabinet shopping differs is depreciation. Your car loses value as soon as it’s driven off the lot, whereas your home tends to appreciate in value over time, and improving its kitchen smartly adds even more value.
Have I got a deal for you
Another big difference is sourcing. New cars are typically purchased at new car dealers or through a buying service that negotiates with dealers on your behalf. New kitchen cabinets may be purchased through a home center, cabinet showroom, local custom cabinet shop, architect, designer, builder or contractor. The variety of sources adds a level of complexity and confusion – especially since most cabinets don’t come with sticker prices, require knowledge to combine into a sound, safe kitchen and someone with additional skill to install in your home.
Window pricing -- but no custom features -- at IKEA
Bottom line, new cars and kitchen cabinets are major purchases you’ll be living with for a long time. Be sure that what you’re buying in both instances fits your needs – like the mini van, rather than a Maserati, for the suburban soccer mom – and your budget. Be confident that the person guiding you through your purchase cares about your concerns, respects your investment and is knowledgeable in their specialty.
PS: Please feel free to add your own similarities and differences in the comment section!