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Is the customer always right? Am I in the wrong?

by Arkitect96
posted 10-05-2018 03:17 AM


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54 replies

54 replies so far

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lumbering_on

578 posts in 886 days


#1 posted 10-05-2018 03:33 AM

I used to own two businesses, not in woodworking, but I’ve fired a few large customers because it was worth the piece of mind. If you’re losing money on him, then it could be a case of throwing more money down the toilette and that isn’t worth it in my mind. However, it’s your money, so you need to make the decision.

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Woodknack

12817 posts in 2776 days


#2 posted 10-05-2018 03:37 AM

I’ve been in your shoes. You have been honorable and reasonable and there is no reason for you to continue eating the cost. They have benefitted from your aggressive pricing for years and it’s time for them to step up and be honorable and reasonable or end the relationship. And if they pull out I would make it clear they pay or you will place a lien on the end customer, that should get their attention. If he chooses to continue the relationship, which is unlikely in my experience, from now on everything is spec’d by their guys – everything; and don’t lose any more money for their benefit.

-- Rick M, http://thewoodknack.blogspot.com/

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JAAune

1864 posts in 2713 days


#3 posted 10-05-2018 05:51 AM

A few lessons to take away here. One, never underbid a job unless you’ve got a real plan to make the same work become super profitable in the future without having to raise prices. Once you set a price low, you’ll never be able charge double for the same work later on. For example, it’s okay to bid low to land a job, work overtime to get it done, then use the profit to buy equipment that doubles the speed of production on future jobs. But don’t bid $1,000 for a $2,000 project just for the sake of landing a contract.

Second lesson is to never allow a client to push you into using a design or materials if you’re not willing to guarantee the end result.

I adopt the Carl Sewell approach of swallowing the losses then moving on. By accepting the project without any written disclaimer, it’s your reputation that’s going to suffer if you don’t do the repair. Remember that you’re supposed to be the expert and the expert is responsible for educating the client about the pitfalls of lower grade materials. If you stand your ground, you may keep a few dollars but the loss of reputation could cost more than that.

That being said, it sounds like you’ve a nightmare client. I’m willing to work with picky clients. I’ll also work with cheap clients. But anyone that is both picky and cheap doesn’t have a shot at hiring me. Stand your ground on future bids and the client will probably cease to bother you about new money-losing projects.

-- See my work at http://remmertstudios.com and http://altaredesign.com

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clin

1035 posts in 1392 days


#4 posted 10-05-2018 06:08 AM

Well, here’s a nice long response to go with your long post.

In the end, I don’t think it is wrong of the customer to expect the color of the tables to stay roughly the same for much more than a month. Unless you had specifically warned him that the color might not last and had him sign agreeing to take that risk, then that’s on you. You’re the expert.

However, I think you were very reasonable offering to upgrade and he only needed to pay the difference. After all, that’s what he needed to pay anyway. However, you agreed to eat this.

As for the cracking, commercial restaurant tables should not crack. It is expected they will get sat and leaned on and should handle that. So whether you built them badly or they failed becasue someone sat on the corner (poor design), I think that’s on you. Now, I’m not saying anything is okay. If the offensive line of the local football team all decided to see how many guys can fit on a table, then that’s abuse and not your fault.

I think you made a mistake not designing to the legs or bases they chose to put some of the tops on. Or again, should have a signed statement that they are buying table tops and they assume all risks associated with the mounting etc.

I can’t say whether your construction is faulty without more details.

In general it sounds to me like you were working with materials and a design for outdoor tables that you didn’t have enough experience with. Unless the customer agrees, in writing, to accept an unproven approach, in an effort to save money, then I think it is on you.

From his perspective, he’s not paying for an R&D effort on tables, he just wants tables that will hold up a reasonable amount of time (some number of years). I do not think you owe him construction from high end wood for free (maybe free labor, but not materials), especially since he chose not to pay for that in the first place.

I’m definitely not a customer is always right type of guy. But, I don’t think he has been unreasonable. And in the end, you agreed to to eat the first fix. And I think an initial error was to not have in writing that the cheaper approach was unproven and might not work and therefore you are not liable. My guess is he would not have agreed to that, in which case you stick to your guns and some other guy would be fighting this battle.

I think you have two choices, come up with a permanent fix or simply refund all his money on these tables and quite while you’re behind. Note: I do not know what legal obligations you may have, so that of course is a consideration.

It sucks, that’s the problem with custom work. Sometimes it just doesn’t work well and you lose your a$$ on a job. But, you’ll be that much smarter the next time.

-- Clin

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therealSteveN

2885 posts in 970 days


#5 posted 10-05-2018 08:01 AM

I adopt the Carl Sewell approach of swallowing the losses then moving on. By accepting the project without any written disclaimer, it s your reputation that s going to suffer if you don t do the repair. Remember that you re supposed to be the expert and the expert is responsible for educating the client about the pitfalls of lower grade materials. If you stand your ground, you may keep a few dollars but the loss of reputation could cost more than that.

That being said, it sounds like you ve a nightmare client. I m willing to work with picky clients. I ll also work with cheap clients. But anyone that is both picky and cheap doesn t have a shot at hiring me. Stand your ground on future bids and the client will probably cease to bother you about new money-losing projects.

- JAAune

Bam, right there is the answer.

Just gonna post this part again, in case you didn’t read it all the first time through.

“Stand your ground on future bids and the client will probably cease to bother you about new money-losing projects.”

-- Think safe, be safe

View CWWoodworking's profile

CWWoodworking

506 posts in 575 days


#6 posted 10-05-2018 11:17 AM

This is gonna sound like I’m an ass, but you made a product that failed. The rest is just details.

What type of jointery did you use?

As for as the logistics, you might want to hold your ground on that. People in businesses have people that can run them To you. But fix the problem.

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Fred Hargis

5555 posts in 2889 days


#7 posted 10-05-2018 11:43 AM

I am 100% behind the “customer is always right”. That said, I wouldn’t ever do anything for hire because I believe that….and I won’t put up with it.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

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BlasterStumps

1308 posts in 835 days


#8 posted 10-05-2018 12:53 PM

looks like they might be stacking the tables with the metal bases when cleaning.

-- "I build for function first, looks second. Most times I never get around to looks." - Mike, western Colorado

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msinc

567 posts in 899 days


#9 posted 10-05-2018 12:55 PM

If you have to “discount” your prices to get a customer…..then you have “gotten” nothing to start with. In fact, you are cheating yourself!!! You must charge accordingly and appropriately, period, end of story. The reason is simple, and it sounds like you haven’t got to this point yet, which is a good thing in a sense. When you charge people and provide a service or a product the court will look at it like you are the expert and in exchange for money it is your responsibility to take care of the customer that comes to them for relief. The court does not and will not consider the fact that you did it for nearly nothing to start with or that you have lost money on the deal, so you must address this issue at the very beginning with a proper and correct estimate and a bill that covers every thing you did, every second of your time and every molecule of material you used.
The old “if I do this cheap to get my foot in the door” is seldom a sound business policy or tactic. Once you operate that way two things happen and neither is good for you…first, you end up with a portfolio full of “cheesy” something-for-nothing customers. And second, they will expect, demand and not allow you to later charge a fair amount that allows you to make money. In short you get them when you are working for free, as soon as you try to get things “on track” they go to the next do-it-for-nothing.
At this point, I doubt this customer is ever going to be the type of valuable customer you want/need, so why stay??? I suggest you have a sit down and offer some options that will close this issue for both of you. Offer to give him his money back and you keep the items. He walks away with his money and you with the items you can sell and recover something. He is going to bad mouth you anyway, probably already is. You are better off to get away from a customer you have now “trained” to come on back and get more than to try and salvage what promises to be a constant money losing arrangement for you. Best of luck.

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Arkitect96

31 posts in 1799 days


#10 posted 10-05-2018 01:08 PM

Thanks for all the feedback guys. Much appreciated.

Clin – I agree with most of what you said. Regardless of the owner being somewhat cheap and not wanting to pay for the more quality material, I was the one that suggested the finish when pressed on how to achieve a darker finish. That was a mistake in more ways than one. The first being that it didn’t hold up. The 2nd being that I shouldn’t have suggested it in the first place and stuck with my gut. For this reason, I felt I was in the wrong and didn’t hesitate to take the hit and replace the tables. However, I don’t feel the poor design is on me as I did not design any of the furniture. This was done by the interior designers . Every piece of furniture was spec’ed down to the nth degree (minus the material and finish of the outdoor tables). In the RFQ all of the details were on paper and CAD drawings with height, thickness, material, etc. were all drawn out. I was not shown the base to be used on the 3×5 tables, only that the interior designer was ordering them and would take care of it. The reason the RFQ is detailed so meticulously and is usually a 30 page stack of papers for around 10 items is so the architect, interior designers, and owner can cover their a$$. If something isn’t right, they can go back and make sure everything is to their spec’s and if it’s not, then the builder is liable. Same in construction. I have my degree in architecture but they aren’t paying me to design, only build to their specs. We did sign a document stating the furniture would be built to their specs and that is what I did. I feel it should work both ways and cover our a$$ as well. You are right in that this is a learning experience and I am definitely using it as such and will try to be smarter the next time around. Thanks for your advice.

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JayT

6211 posts in 2607 days


#11 posted 10-05-2018 01:08 PM

My thinking is always that the customer always knows what they want, it does not necessarily follow that they are always right. That is why we hire experts. I may know what I want in my will, but that doesn’t mean I can tell the lawyer how to write one correctly.

I agree with the others that mention putting yourself in a tight spot because of compromising to get the contract. If you know cypress won’t hold up, don’t agree to build with it because of a budget. Politely state that you understand the budget constraints and cannot put his customers and your reputation at risk by using materials or construction methods that are borderline or untested.

For the current situation, I’m with JAAune and clin. You are the expert that agreed to do a commercial project and the purchaser should have a reasonable expectation of longevity and durability. The loss of $$$ is far less costly than the loss of your reputation. Take it as a learning experience and be more prepared to say “NO” in the future when a similar situation arises. Chances are that if you had politely and respectfully stood your ground the first go ‘round, the customer wouldn’t have been able to find anyone else to do the job on his budget, either.

-- https://www.jtplaneworks.com - In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.

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Arkitect96

31 posts in 1799 days


#12 posted 10-05-2018 01:09 PM

JAAune – very sound advice. I agree 100%

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Arkitect96

31 posts in 1799 days


#13 posted 10-05-2018 01:18 PM

BlasterStumps – unlikely. These aren’t the kind that stack. There is banquette seating on one side though and it happens to be on the sides that cracked. My thought was that people are using the corner of the table to push themselves up and out of the banquette since you have to slide down to get out if that makes sense. I think the table top cantilevers to far out and is not supported by the base properly. Normally I’d say its my fault for not building a piece of furniture that could hold up to the rigors of restaurant use but I did not design the table or detail its construction. Nor did I build or specify the base that the table top sits on.

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tomsteve

953 posts in 1615 days


#14 posted 10-05-2018 01:46 PM

ive burned myself a few times by allowing a customer talk me into building something in a manner i wasnt comfortable with.

now i listen to what customers want and if what they want doesnt go with what i know i will offer suggestions and why. if they still want it their way they are free to find someone else.

i dont work with difficult people any more- especially ones that receive their woodworking experience from anna white and google.

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Richard Lee

242 posts in 1171 days


#15 posted 10-05-2018 01:50 PM

Did you allow for the “Breadboard Ends” to move, if not looks like its tearing itself apart.

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CWWoodworking

506 posts in 575 days


#16 posted 10-05-2018 02:01 PM

OP, are those boards pocket holed together?

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GR8HUNTER

6110 posts in 1108 days


#17 posted 10-05-2018 02:02 PM



Did you allow for the “Breadboard Ends” to move, if not looks like its tearing itself apart.

- Richard Lee


I AGREE ^^^^^^^^^^^^ a problem here with cross grain :<((

-- Tony---- Reinholds,Pa.------ REMEMBER TO ALWAYS HAVE FUN

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BroncoBrian

875 posts in 2354 days


#18 posted 10-05-2018 04:10 PM

1. That customer is being cheap and decided not to take your recommendation. You should have made him understand that from the beginning.

2. Yes, you are wrong. I do not think the customer is always right, but I think that EVERY contractor who thinks “discounting work for a rich guy will help my business” is wrong. It won’t.

Think about this guys life. Customers have little to gain by recommending contractors unless you have done something to really wow them. To do that, you have to charge a fair and profitable rate so that when this happens you can solve the problem for them. Charging a big customer more and doing something extra for them goes a lot farther than charging them less and screwing yourself and them long term.

Your furniture, your materials. You cannot let someone’s made-up budget determine your quality. If there were three tables and they said it was too expensive, I would have offered them fewer tables.

-- A severed foot is the ultimate stocking stuffer.

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Aj2

2285 posts in 2194 days


#19 posted 10-05-2018 05:06 PM

I also see a corner that’s likely to fail. With wood that is expanding and contracting in 3 different directions.
No way that’s going to fly on a outdoor table.
Customer is always right.

-- Aj

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YesHaveSome

155 posts in 654 days


#20 posted 10-05-2018 05:47 PM


However, I don t feel the poor design is on me as I did not design any of the furniture. This was done by the interior designers . Every piece of furniture was spec ed down to the nth degree (minus the material and finish of the outdoor tables). In the RFQ all of the details were on paper and CAD drawings with height, thickness, material, etc. were all drawn out.

I was a millwork engineer for a while and one thing I quickly learned was that interior designers know nothing about engineering. We’d get designs from them and it was up to us to engineer them so they worked. If that wasn’t possible we went back to the designer and gave them their options. If you weren’t comfortable with the design you should have said something and then gotten something in writing covering yourself should the items fail at a later date.

I’ve written and reviewed a lot of “project” contracts (not woodworking, but relatable) and the most important thing we put in were assumptions and exclusions. eg, We are assuming this, this, this, etc and that, that, and that are not in our scope/our responsibility and here’s a bunch of stuff that could happen based upon the preceding.

That said, there were plenty of times we didn’t cover our asses well enough and we had to bite the bullet and lose thousands of dollars. The most important thing we stressed to our employees at that time is that this was a learning experience and there is no failure in learning. It only makes us better. Now, make the same mistake again, and we got issues.

I empathize with your situation but I would probably bend over on this one for the sake of your reputation but I would never work with that client again and I’d tell them why that’s the case.

-- But where does the meat go?

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PCDub

142 posts in 640 days


#21 posted 10-05-2018 06:59 PM

I am not on this customer’s side. I’m mad just reading your story about the job!

For how long is the customer going to keep coming back to you? If employees drop the tables and crack the tops in two years, are they going to call you and say “your tables aren’t good enough”? How do you know that employees did not drop those tables already, and the customer is simply trying to get you to take care of it, since they managed to talk you into doing previous work on your own dime?

Those don’t look like wood movement cracks—especially the edge trim cracks—that looks like impact damage.

Besides, since you did not design the tables, you are not responsible if the design is bad. You are not responsible if they place your work on improper bases, ones that compromise their structure/stability. You TOLD them what the tables needed to be made of, they refused.

I like someone’s suggestion above that you get your money back, take back the tables, and let the customer try to find someone else to make them. You do not need this customer, no matter how much money they have to spend.

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bmerrill

50 posts in 469 days


#22 posted 10-05-2018 07:07 PM

The customer is not always right, but they are always the customer.

I agree the damage on the edge looks like its from some impact.
Could have come for the stacking of the tables for clean-up.
A restaurant/bar owner would expect the table not to do this, as staking tables and chairs on tables is a normal part of typical clean-up.

Repair the damaged piece, reinforce as needed and move on.

-- "Do. Or do not. There is no try". Yoda

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rustfever

770 posts in 3706 days


#23 posted 10-05-2018 07:37 PM

You are receiving your Masters Degree in the school of hard knocks!

-- Rustfever, Central California

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bigblockyeti

5746 posts in 2116 days


#24 posted 10-05-2018 08:05 PM

They’re beating the crap out of furniture you didn’t design and expecting you to be responsible for the resultant failures. Tell them to pound sand!

-- "Lack of effort will result in failure with amazing predictability" - Me

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BalsaWood

150 posts in 1554 days


#25 posted 10-05-2018 08:27 PM

It looks like someone smashed something into the table. Even with bad design, I wouldn’t expect cracks that large from wood movement to develop in pressure treated ash in just a few months- but that is just what I think.

View clin's profile

clin

1035 posts in 1392 days


#26 posted 10-05-2018 09:09 PM



Thanks for all the feedback guys. Much appreciated.

Clin – I agree with most of what you said. Regardless of the owner being somewhat cheap and not wanting to pay for the more quality material, I was the one that suggested the finish when pressed on how to achieve a darker finish. That was a mistake in more ways than one. The first being that it didn t hold up. The 2nd being that I shouldn t have suggested it in the first place and stuck with my gut. For this reason, I felt I was in the wrong and didn t hesitate to take the hit and replace the tables. However, I don t feel the poor design is on me as I did not design any of the furniture. This was done by the interior designers . Every piece of furniture was spec ed down to the nth degree (minus the material and finish of the outdoor tables). In the RFQ all of the details were on paper and CAD drawings with height, thickness, material, etc. were all drawn out. I was not shown the base to be used on the 3×5 tables, only that the interior designer was ordering them and would take care of it. The reason the RFQ is detailed so meticulously and is usually a 30 page stack of papers for around 10 items is so the architect, interior designers, and owner can cover their a$$. If something isn t right, they can go back and make sure everything is to their spec s and if it s not, then the builder is liable. Same in construction. I have my degree in architecture but they aren t paying me to design, only build to their specs. We did sign a document stating the furniture would be built to their specs and that is what I did. I feel it should work both ways and cover our a$$ as well. You are right in that this is a learning experience and I am definitely using it as such and will try to be smarter the next time around. Thanks for your advice.

- MikeyCZ

If the actual construction was dictated by the customer and all you were doing was building to their specs, then that’s on them not on you. Or if their contribution was just to the look of the tables, and the joinery and support structure was up to you, then of course you have a lot of responsibility.

A lesson I was taught years ago was that in business you should strive for win-win outcomes. While I’ve not had a wood working business, I have had my own business for 30+ years and done a lot of custom things.

And sometimes, I bit off more than I could chew (within budget) and that was on me. Keep in mind that doing a good job of fixing a problem can actually get you a more satisfied customer than having had it go right the first time.

-- Clin

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MrRon

5501 posts in 3639 days


#27 posted 10-05-2018 10:49 PM

Chances are that if you had built the tables from ipe or teak, they would have cracked eventually due to rough handling. They might have just lasted a little bit longer. It is obvious to me the design was not fully investigated, especially the bases. If the overhang is too much, that is a recipe for eventual failure. My advise is to chalk this up to experience and move on.

Is the customer always right? Yes as to who is paying the bill, but like anything in life, there has to be “reasonable” allowance made for unforeseen events on both sides. You are in the middle of doing a job for a customer and your child is killed in an accident. With much grief, is the customer going to hold you to a completion date? or let it slide out of compassion. I think the relationship between the customer and craftsperson needs to be based more on good will and less on legal concerns. We have all heard of the time when a promise and a handshake was all that was needed to seal a deal. I wonder where it has gone. I have personally done jobs of a commercial nature and for friends and paying customers and have always used the handshake as the contract. have even offered to make up a contract, but the customer never wanted it. The handshake was always enough.These were jobs that were in the hundreds of dollars, not thousands. I can see when looking at large jobs involving a large amount of money, contracts are necessary. Good intentions can easily go wrong causing loss of money (not good).

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bruc101

1343 posts in 3938 days


#28 posted 10-05-2018 11:05 PM

“Never” marry a project and be tied to it forever. Always cover your a**, and if you can’t, move on and let someone else have the headaches. The money is not worth what could turn out to be a frustrating headache and possibly costly for you. And, we “never” do the wishy washy thing with a client.

We had a proposal sent to us this past Spring by a big name architect to do the wood in a corporate office. One look at his drawings and a conversation with him, all five of our daughters said…nope.

They must have inherited that “nope” word from one of their grand dads. They said “nope” many times and 72 years later we’re still in business with the 6th generation 18 year old great and grand daughter already fully vested into our business, and will be going into architectural engineering in college after this school year.

Good luck on satisfying the client.

-- Bruce Free Plans https://traditionalwoodworking.org

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CWWoodworking

506 posts in 575 days


#29 posted 10-05-2018 11:16 PM



“Never” marry a project and be tied to it forever. Always cover your a**, and if you can t, move on and let someone else have the headaches. The money is not worth what could turn out to be a frustrating headache and possibly costly for you. And, we “never” do the wishy washy thing with a client.

We had a proposal sent to us this past Spring by a big name architect to do the wood in a corporate office. One look at his drawings and a conversation with him, all five of our daughters said…nope.

They must have inherited that “nope” word from one of their grand dads. They said “nope” many times and 72 years later we re still in business with the 6th generation 18 year old great and grand daughter already fully vested into our business, and will be going into architectural engineering in college after this school year.

Good luck on satisfying the client.

- bruc101

I have regretted jobs over the years, not once have I ever regretted saying no.

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Aj2

2285 posts in 2194 days


#30 posted 10-05-2018 11:34 PM

Lots are saying the table in the pic was damaged from poor handling. The pic I’m looking at shows no sign of anything hitting the table only a crack. The edges are square is see no dents.
In one pic the board next to the one with the big crack looks to be cracked in its face.
One just cannot make out door furniture like we do in door furniture. No wide boards no big areas with glue .

-- Aj

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000

2859 posts in 1295 days


#31 posted 10-05-2018 11:43 PM

Looks like abuse to me. (Probably from sitting on the edge.)

Thermally treated wood becomes more brittle than untreated wood.

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Richard Lee

242 posts in 1171 days


#32 posted 10-05-2018 11:45 PM


If the actual construction was dictated by the customer and all you were doing was building to their specs, then that s on them not on you. Or if their contribution was just to the look of the tables, and the joinery and support structure was up to you, then of course you have a lot of responsibility.

I agree partly, if youre building to their specs, you should point out any possible flaws. But if they insist then get it in writing.

- clin


View CWWoodworking's profile

CWWoodworking

506 posts in 575 days


#33 posted 10-06-2018 12:30 AM



Looks like abuse to me. (Probably from sitting on the edge.)

Thermally treated wood becomes more brittle than untreated wood.

- jbay

I sold furniture for 20+ years. Seen a lot of abused furniture. By trucking, warehouse, and customers. Nothing in those pics suggests abuse. Just looks like a bad design if the goal was no cracks.

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chrisstef

17922 posts in 3402 days


#34 posted 10-06-2018 12:33 AM

80% of your problems come from 20% of your customers. Lose the 20%. They aint worth it.

Id tell this guy straight up “im going to fix these for you But youve got to promise me one thing”.

“Ok. Whats that?”

“Dont ever call me again.”

He’ll either go ape sh!t or he’ll know you mean business. Either way its going to be a win win.

-- Its not a crack, its a casting imperfection.

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000

2859 posts in 1295 days


#35 posted 10-06-2018 12:34 AM


Looks like abuse to me. (Probably from sitting on the edge.)

Thermally treated wood becomes more brittle than untreated wood.

- jbay

I sold furniture for 20+ years. Seen a lot of abused furniture. By trucking, warehouse, and customers. Nothing in those pics suggests abuse. Just looks like a bad design if the goal was no cracks.

- CWWoodworking


So you think those cracks just happened by themselves?

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Shamb3

39 posts in 577 days


#36 posted 10-06-2018 12:53 AM

Some clients will abuse you if you let them.
My experience is with custom software customers. There are always people who take every minute of support and free changes they can possibly wring out of you eating up all your time.

I would not upgrade his tables for free. You were more than generous in what you offered.

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JCamp

981 posts in 946 days


#37 posted 10-06-2018 12:58 AM

Personnally I think u were more than generous building the second set of tables. I think if I’d been you I’d told him that I would just stain the originals since he DID pick the wood. I would not replace/repair the second set of tables. I’d remind him that HE was the one that wanted to cheap out and build from the inferior wood and that is now on him. Inferior materials = inferior tables, and since he made the decision based on price not quality it is on him not you. Note that stating that will likely loose u a customer but to be honest I don’t know that you can afford to keep him. Lol.
I would suggest in the future when customers try to save money by cheaping out on lumber that you then inform them it will be sold “as is” with no type of warranty

-- Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might

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CWWoodworking

506 posts in 575 days


#38 posted 10-06-2018 01:04 AM


Looks like abuse to me. (Probably from sitting on the edge.)

Thermally treated wood becomes more brittle than untreated wood.

- jbay

I sold furniture for 20+ years. Seen a lot of abused furniture. By trucking, warehouse, and customers. Nothing in those pics suggests abuse. Just looks like a bad design if the goal was no cracks.

- CWWoodworking

So you think those cracks just happened by themselves?

- jbay

The third pic is the one that looks wonky. That board looks about 5”. Fastened across grain and it sits outside in elements. If you zoom in, it looks like it cracked where a pocket hole was driven in, although the op hasn’t said what type of joinery was used. But any joinery across 5” ash sitting outside is asking for problems. It’s just a bad design for outdoor wood product. Especially a regular old hardwood.

View Richard Lee's profile

Richard Lee

242 posts in 1171 days


#39 posted 10-06-2018 01:17 AM


Looks like abuse to me. (Probably from sitting on the edge.)

Thermally treated wood becomes more brittle than untreated wood.

- jbay

I sold furniture for 20+ years. Seen a lot of abused furniture. By trucking, warehouse, and customers. Nothing in those pics suggests abuse. Just looks like a bad design if the goal was no cracks.

- CWWoodworking

So you think those cracks just happened by themselves?

- jbay

Yup, wood will crack if you build it to.

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MrRon

5501 posts in 3639 days


#40 posted 10-06-2018 01:53 PM

Outdoor furniture is exposed to the weather 27/7. I would never expect an outdoor table to last forever, regardless of the wood used. Being in a restaurant will expose it to mishandling by restaurant crew. Any restaurant I have been in has always been a rustic setting; ordinary picnic style tables with benches attached. They last maybe a couple of years and are just replaced. Original investment is very low. I don’t think the owner has a good understanding of how wood furniture behaves in an outdoor setting. If I were building an outdoor table, I think I would use a material like Trex; not terribly attractive, but it will stand up to the weather better than any natural wood. It does require adequate bracing and a small overhang. I might suggest to the owner to let you use Trex. How about covering the table with a tablecloth; then the wood (any kind) can be used.

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WoodenDreams

610 posts in 307 days


#41 posted 10-07-2018 05:23 AM

One thing about a customer that you found out was that they want something inexpensive , but with high end results. such as wanting to pay for 3/4 thick table tops, but expecting 5/4 results. When bidding you need a disclaimer stating the difference of quality between structure sound and economy. and maybe not offer the same guaranty between high end and low end products. And keep the pricing with enough difference to help express “do you want quality or low budget” by the price. And have it in writing that there’s additional fees to repair or restore items, From possibilities of abuse, neglect of care, or cleaning solvents & materials. Most businesses use ammonia or bleach based cleaners, or bleach/water mix with some fragrance added to keep the bleach smell to a minimum. to clean off the surfaces. This will effect the finishes on the wood. On all of my invoices is a highlighted disclaimer “Due to natural wood grain variations, final color results may vary after stain and finish are applied.”. Customers are always right, But you should be able to tell them your side of the story. It’s your reputation at stake. You may need to burn a serial number under the product and attach a picture with the serial number to your files of the delivered item. Lane had a serial number installed under every chest and furniture they built. Once you build something at a low-ball price, your customer will always expect a cheaper price, even with the high end builds.

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Arkitect96

31 posts in 1799 days


#42 posted 10-08-2018 02:11 PM

I’m glad this post could spark such a lively debate. Sorry I haven’t been able to respond. It’s been incredibly busy in the shop and the office and in addition to design, woodworking and metal fab, I am also a firefighter. The 2am in the morning calls are starting to stack up and all I want to do is catch up on sleep over the the weekend. Regardless of your position on the problem, I appreciate the feedback. I think it’s very important to look at a problem from all angles even if they don’t align with your perspective. I really appreciate you guys sharing your knowledge and what a valuable tool the LumberJocks forum has been.


OP, are those boards pocket holed together?

- CWWoodworking

No, dominos were used for the joinery. The oversized mortise setting was used and the boards were glued in the center 1/3rd. Underneath the table top were runners that run perpendicular to the top boards. This was to make sure the boards stayed flat, flush and even with each other. Glue was not used to attach the bottom runners. Only oversized holes and stainless steel screws. I knew the outdoor table design would be a problem from the get go but instead of telling the designers to scrap the idea, I took it as a challenge. Maybe naively so. However, that being said, it just doesn’t look to me like the wood is tearing itself apart. Especially in the 2nd pic that shows the board furthest to the right pushed down and out of alignment with the other boards. Expansion and contraction doesn’t cause that. It looks to me that people are sliding out of the banquette seating and pushing down on the corner of the table to get up and out. That portion of the table is unsupported by the generic restaurant table base and therefore has cracked. This is also backed up by the fact that 2 out of the 3 tables with the generic base have cracked and none of the tables with the custom base have done so.

Also, those three tables were modified after I delivered them. The first time I delivered the tables, the generic base had not come in yet. I installed everything else but had to leave the 3×5 table tops for the contractor to install. The contractor added 3/4” plywood shims that were glued and stapled about 25-30 times in each board. Way overkill in my opinion and should not have been glued. When I replaced the first set of tables that were faded, I once again had to leave the 3×5 tables for someone else. I was never told about having to build out a flat spot on the bottom of the tables for the bases to sit flat. I was told by the client I only needed to replace the tables and didn’t need any tools.

If the client wants me to design or redesign the tables I expect to be compensated as such but I was not. I was only paid to build to specs provided by the architect and interior designer.

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Arkitect96

31 posts in 1799 days


#43 posted 10-08-2018 02:28 PM

Also, as far as the underbidding goes, it wasn’t exactly like I way underbid so I could get the job. It was more like I went out of my way to find a way to make the budget work. Even though it was a lot more work and I would get paid roughly the same.

For example, another table for the restaurant, the large live edge table was originally supposed to be built by someone else. The owner wasn’t happy with the price and told me it went up by a couple thousand dollars from the last restaurant. The guy probably realized the amount of labor and cost was more than anticipated and adjusted his price accordingly. Without me asking, the owner told me how much the other guy bid and asked if I could beat that price. After crunching the numbers I told him that I could not. That my bid came out exactly the same as his. I left it at that. Coincidentally, not long after, I met a guy who had opened his own sawmill and was looking for customers. I asked if he had any slabs that would meet the size requirements and he did. However, the slabs weren’t nearly as nice or as finished as the slabs that were in the previous bid. The new slab was less than half the cost and I figured a little extra effort would put me ahead and create a bit of goodwill with the client. At first yes, in the end not really.

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BroncoBrian

875 posts in 2354 days


#44 posted 10-08-2018 03:02 PM

Mikey,

You are working your butt off on this. Kudos to you.

I’d be cautious to please a customer with the price. Every customer expects near perfection no matter what they paid. The discount is forgotten as soon as you agree to do the work. No more goodwill. Only liability to stand behind something you might not be able to.

Scrolling through this today I agree that the abuse comments were not justified by the pictures. And I was willing to bet $1000 that you used dominos! Did you set the domino to the maximum width the allow for horizontal expansion? The crack looks exactly like it should if you did not. A breadboard has the same mechanical issue.

-- A severed foot is the ultimate stocking stuffer.

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CWWoodworking

506 posts in 575 days


#45 posted 10-09-2018 05:11 AM

Hey Mikey, if just pushing down on the edge causes a crack, it’s still a defective design.

When i was in my teens, I used to like beer and to dance on tables. Danced on a double ped one night with an approximate 20” overhang. No cracks. I guess my point is that it takes a ton of stress to crack a good 5” hardwood board. Like way more than just pushing on it.

My advice is this. Tell him you will fix it free of charge only if it is done the way you want it. Teak/ipe, your base, your construction, no exceptions.

He pays for the cost difference of the teak/ipe.

If he balks, tell him we tried to half ass it twice. Let’s do it right this time.

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tomsteve

953 posts in 1615 days


#46 posted 10-09-2018 01:53 PM

im not the smarest but this has pretty hard blow written all over it- a blow as like if the table was knocked over and the corner hit the floor.

this photo looks like the split goes right through the end board,too.

looks like youve had a great experience of a tough customer who doesnt know the customer isnt always right.

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christherookie

126 posts in 3442 days


#47 posted 10-09-2018 03:16 PM

As a business owner myself (not in woodworking but in a service industry), I can give a few pointers.
1. If you underbid, MORE THAN ONCE, that’s on you. Never use price to win a project, use the quality of your work. I can understand doing a small project for a small price just to get in the door but that can lead to the customer expecting to pay less from then on. It’s better to offer a service for free such as, if you order X from me, I’ll do the ABC work for free. Just make sure it’s a small bonus that doesn’t cost you much.

2. Working based off specs can force you into a corner. This is where a contract/warranty would have been helpful. In your case, talking about the cracking and the under-support, “the tables will be delivered as per requirements but the durability is based only on the design specs provided and therefore any problems or alterations can be provided at the cost of time and labor as designated my me.”

3. As for that coloration problem and rebuilding, I’m not going to make a judgement on what happened as I’d need to know all the details. The mistake was trying to same them money where quality could be suspect.

4. Your reputation is based on the quality of your work and by that I mean the work you create the FIRST time for the client. If they ask to save money with a cheaper wood and you know it isn’t ideal, then simply say, “no.” They are paying you for your knowledge and wisdom. Never downplay that. They are often driven by cost but you must be driven by quality.

5. I’d drop that client. Unless you have a contract binding you to do the work, I’d tell them the relationship is not working out and they need to find someone else. Yeah, they might get mad, but that’s ok. They can threaten anything. that’s ok. No contract, no worry. There will be other clients. :)

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AmishElectricCo

1 post in 261 days


#48 posted 10-09-2018 05:22 PM


I’ve done a few projects for this client who owns a chain of really high end, expensive restaurants. A few of the projects were slightly to massively underbid because I actually really want to build the cool stuff that the architect and interior designers come up with. I convince myself that it will pay off in the end with repeat business and will add projects to my portfolio that don t normally come around in my rural area. Also, the fact that the owner is a very shrewd negotiator that has a way of letting you know that he ll find somebody to do it within his budget without actually saying it.

This was your first mistake. You have sealed your fate as “the cheap guy” to this client and he will forever beat you up on price. Lowballing on price in the hopes of getting future business/referrals rarely pans out. Even when it does, you’ve still been referred as “the cheap guy.”

Others have already said it, but it bears repeating: you are the expert. You are the trusted advisor. If this guy’s restaurant is truly high end, then he charges a premium price himself. He’s abusing you because you’ve let him and he will continue to abuse you. First and foremost, make 100% certain that he has paid you for all previous work. Not a single red cent outstanding. Make it clear that no additional work will be performed until he’s paid up. Sounds to me like he’s looking for any excuse not to pay you. After, and only after he’s square with you – submit a proposal for the tables done the right way. No cheap materials. Full price – no discounts, no favors. If he refuses, then part ways.

The customer is hardly ever right. Most of the time, they don’t know what they want until you show it to them.

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Arkitect96

31 posts in 1799 days


#49 posted 10-10-2018 05:04 PM

Ok. So I plan to fix this for the client. No labor cost to fix but plan to ask for the cost of the materials…again. But this time if he refuses I will refuse to fix it. Since he wants me to fix it on site, I plan on cutting the cracked ends off with the track saw. This will shorten the length of the table but oh well. I will prefabricate some L-shaped supports for under the table top to secure the top boards to the border boards (vertical boards). They will be secured with exterior screws and oversized washers and oversized holes to allow for expansion. I will domino the ends of the top (horizontal) boards again but will not use glue in the center this time. The dominos will only be used to align the top boards and keep everything nice and flush with the top of the border. The L-shaped supports will not be attached to the sides of the border only the ends and will be shorter than the width between the sides. In other words, there will be a slight gap between the ends of the L-shaped supports and the border at the sides. I will domino the side and end border boards back together and glue and clamp. All in all, the slatted top boards will be attached to the L-shaped supports (and center support) and the L-shaped supports will be loosely attached to the border to allow for movement. All holes for screws will be oversized. The idea is to get the top to float independently of the border. What do y’all think? Will this solve the issue?

Also, I will get the dimensions of the generic table base and come up with a way to attach it with oversized holes as well. There were two runners (underneath the slatted top) spaced evenly on the previous version but this time I will only have one runner in the center so the bases can be secured on either side of the center runner and there will be no need to shim for it to sit level. Hope that makes sense. I’ve attached a few drawings for reference. Thanks for all the help.

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diverlloyd

3511 posts in 2253 days


#50 posted 10-10-2018 05:47 PM

I would go ahead and tell him you want all you work paid in full. Since he owes you still and is using the products that he owes you for.I don’t do rent to own half up front half on delivery is the minimum. By his own admission he said you all agreed on a price for the tables and he isn’t paying anymore.if he isn’t paid in full then take a uhaul and load them back up let him be cheap with someone else. You are now out a ton of time plus aggravation. He needs you you don’t need him.

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