Kitchen

DIY Kitchen Fitting

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Is being a kitchen fitter a good job?


If I was asked that question 20 years ago I would have said yes without hesitation and even today I would still  say yes. My only hesitation is with the way of the world currently, you will soon need to have a qualification to hold a screwdriver but that seems to apply to every other job so it is just an occupational irritant.

If you can overcome the slow periods when you first start up and while you are waiting for your customer base to build you can have a thoroughly enjoyable career. Kitchens will be in every household for as far into the future as l can see and they need updating once in a while so the business is there and constant. As a kitchen fitter you just need to be good, reliable and honest to keep the work coming in.

What do you call good?


From a customers point of view, good is a combination of many things. You could be the best fitter in the world but if you are also the slowest it will get passed on to friends and neighbours. Equally you could be the fastest fitter in the world but not the best. Ideally you need to be good and fast. Bearing in mind you will be working in the hub of the household and the longer you keep it out of action the more frustrated the customer becomes.
Punctuality is also a measure of a good kitchen fitter, turn up late more than once and you will see the customer roll their eyes in a resigned look. Tell the customer at the quoting stage what your hours will be and stick to them unless you are going to collect supplies for that particular customer.
Tidiness is another area to be tight on – leave the kitchen tidy and safe overnight and you give the customer no cause for complaint. Bear in mind that many customers will have children and pets so even one screw on the floor can do damage in your absence.
For many years my working day has started at 9.30 am. This suited me as l could drop the kids at school, it also suited the customer as it would give them a fair chance to use the kitchen, breakfast the kids and get themselves off to work before l even turned up. I would work until 5.30 and tidy up until 5.45, again this is a reasonable time for the customer to arrange their dinner etc. Of course if the customer has no children you can start when you like but do try to consult them at the time of the quote to agree on a time that suits everybody.
On an average kitchen you will arrive on day one, remove the old kitchen and assemble some or all of the new units. The customer will think you are really good as they can see how much work you have done. The following day you will fit the cupboards and probably have the worktop on and the sink and hob in place. Again the customer will think you are great because you have done so much. The third day you will do lots of little jobs that aren’t so obvious and the customer might well wonder what you have been doing all day. The fourth day will be the same and the customer starts to get impatient as they can see 80% of the kitchen done in two days and you have spent the next three not doing much (apparently) This is the way all kitchens go and if you explain that to the customer before you start they will know what to expect. I’m not sexist but in my experience of fitting kitchens you can normally feel the wife or mother itching for you to finish so they can put everything back in the cupboards and tidy again.
In summary, be reasonably fast, do the job well, stay punctual, leave it tidy and be courteous at all times. Imagine it was you having a fitter in and act as you would like them to.

The pro’s & con’s of independent kitchen fitting
Pro’s
 

As a self employed person you will enjoy all the benefits of being your own boss the main features are:
You control when you work and how much you earn
You will never get made redundant
You don’t have to do anything you choose not too
Your hours of work are as flexible as you make them
You shouldn’t have to work weekends or bank holidays, unless you want to
You get immense job satisfaction from 90% of the jobs you complete
You build skills you didn’t have when you started
Generally, you are working indoors, its warm, clean and tea is made for you
You meet lots of different people from different walks of life and get to be quite well known in the community.
You build up a massive tool collection which means when you work on your own home you have everything you could possibly need.The Con’s

There is always the possibility of lulls in the amount of work available
Administration, you need to do everything from write the quote to filling in your tax information (l actually enjoy it so it is not necessarily a negative)
Frustration at times from shortage or damaged parts
You don’t get sick pay or holiday pay so you need to work these in to your daily rate to cover them.
Sometimes you may need to work long hours to get the job finished if you have promised it done by a certain date
Apart from the above, there are no real negatives to the job.

Do you use the router and jig to cut solid wood worktops?
 

Although the router and jig are used to cut solid wood worktops l would strongly recommend that you avoid them where possible when you first start up as a kitchen fitter. You really do need lots of experience in cutting solid wood worktops before you can honestly charge customers for a good service.
Once cut, the worktops then need to be finished to produce smooth surfaces on the ends and around sink cut outs etc. They then need to be treated with whatever oil is required. Bearing in mind that the tops can cost between £40 and £70 per metre, mistakes can be expensive. In my experience for every 30 laminate worktops fitted, one will be a solid wood one and you can run your business with a lot less stress by avoiding them at the beginning of your new career.
If you are honest with customers and tell them that you do not cut them but you are able to fit them, and also tell them the reasons why, most customers are understanding. It doesn’t’ mean that if you can’t cut solid wood worktops then you can’t fit the rest of the kitchen. Many suppliers of solid wood worktop will cut and finish the worktops to size and all you need do is to fit them in place. I have used that very approach on occasions and ended up fitting the kitchen and simply fitting the pre-cut worktops.


How do you cut granite worktops?


Granite, slate and marble tops are not cut on site by kitchen fitters. They are supplied cut and polished to templates measured by the particular supplier or in conjunction with the kitchen fitter. Once cut they are simply laid in place on top of the base units on a bead of silicone or whatever the supplier suggests. Any cutting of these worktops should always be left to the supplier as mistakes can be very expensive to rectify.
These worktops are quite good as they cut down the fitting time by at least a day as it means you won’t have to cut the worktops.

What tools would you recommend as a must buy, and are there any little tools you have found to come in handy?

It is difficult to become a kitchen fitter if you cannot produce mitred joints for worktops. Not many people like the joining strips so you would be hunting for work if you relied on just kitchens with joining strips.
The main specialist tools are a Router, 900mm worktop jig, 4 soft jaw clamps and a large square
A good Jigsaw, a sharp handsaw & at least 3 workbenches or workmates are essential too.
At least one good battery drill/screwdriver is also imperative. I use a Bosch GSR9.6V Drill Driver 9.6V. It is small enough to tighten screws inside a 300mm wide cupboard and powerful enough to drill most holes in wood. I have one which is over 5 years old and l find it rare for the battery to go flat even after a day of assembling units.
My best buy is a hobby plane – l use one that is not much larger than a matchbox and it is invaluable for trimming laminate once glued to the bare end of worktops. You can usually find them at market stalls or car boot sales where they sell cheap tools and they cost less than £5.
The rest of the tools are standard and all are included in the book. One of the handiest tools to have is a biscuit cutter, you can pick them up for about £40 but it saves endless time in setting the router to do biscuit joints on the mitred corners. See Tools Needed page.

How do you calculate the price, is it on how many units, time taken, the type or manufacturer?

Only experience will give you the knowledge to price a job and even then you might get caught out. The method l have always used is to estimate how many days it will actually take me then add one days cost on top. That doesn’t give much leeway for unforeseen items but if you finish a day early you have made an extra days money. It’s a swings and roundabouts game, some you win some you lose but it evens itself out with experience.
I would say that 80% of kitchens that l have fitted are “standard”, that is to say they are standard cupboards in a standard kitchen with laminate worktop. I would tell the customer 5 days to fit it while thinking it will take 3 1/2. If it is fitted in 3 1/2 days the customer is happy and you could offer them a small discount, not the full amount though as you will need the money for the next “swings and roundabout”
I have priced jobs in the recent past at between £170 & £300 per day; I am fast though and can fit most kitchens in 3 1/2 days. So, if l charged £1000 for 3 1/2 days the customer would be happy at the speed of it and also the fact that B&Q and the like would charge twice as much and take twice as long. Most of it is about organisation and planning so when you turn up you know from the start exactly what your plan of action is.
As to pricing it by type of kitchen – there really isn’t too much difference in standard kitchens as regards the time it takes to assemble and fit them, beware though of any kitchens bought cheaply from certain Internet suppliers. Really cheap kitchens are a nightmare to fit so do ask the customer where the kitchen is coming from; again experience is your only gauge. In the early stages of your kitchen fitting career be prepared to work for as little as £50 a day if you have quoted incorrectly and it takes you longer than you planned. Don’t start rushing it, just get on with it and learn by your mistake for the next quote.

What if the kitchen is incomplete or damaged, do you do the running around to get the spare parts?

Not very often. Make it clear at the quoting stage that it is the responsibility of the customer to provide the correct parts. Mostly nowadays it is simple to phone the supplier to get a replacement and with most units you can simply leave a gap and fit it once it arrives. I always put in the quote that the invoice is payable on completion unless parts are missing in which case it can remain unpaid for 7 days. If the item has not arrived by then it is not unfair to expect 80% of the payment with the remaining 20% payable when the missing part arrives. This gives the customer the assurance that you will come back to fit it and gives you 80% of the bill. Of course, if money is no object to you it can simply be paid in full on final completion.

Do you strip out the old kitchen…if so…what’s the price and who organises the disposal.

Normally it is the job of the fitter to dismantle, remove and dispose of the old kitchen. Most kitchens can be removed and the kitchen cleared in about 3 hours. Most council tips will charge you to dispose of trade waste and l always offer to dispose of the kitchen for an added extra of £75. This covers the cost of the council charge and the hour or so it takes to transport it. Always offer the customer the chance to dispose of it themselves and most will take it to save  £75. It’s not a loss to you as there isn’t much profit in disposal anyway.
So, price for disposal would be half a day plus £75. Include the half day in the original quote but make sure you clearly mark the £75 as a separate item.

Who organises the Electrician, Gas Man or Plumber?

Either the fitter or the customer. Most customers will have their own preferred tradesmen and it’s handy because it means that they know the layout of the services etc. If the customer doesn’t have a regular tradesman then it will be up to you to supply one and ask the customer to pay them direct rather than you bill the customer and add a mark-up on for yourself. That way if there are any problems the customer can deal direct with the person they have paid. I would strongly advise you to do the plumbing yourself. It’s easy these days and outlined in the book. If you are not qualified and carry out electrical work you will have to get the householder to contact the local council who will have to come out and certify your work. All gas work must be carried out by a registered fitter, to date plumbing can still be undertaken by anyone.

If it’s flat pack do you build it up…if so…how much do you charge?


Yes the fitter assembles it. Again the cost is included in the overall quote. Allow 20 minutes maximum per unit to assemble. I always aim on the first day to have removed the existing kitchen and assembled all of the units, on average 7 base units and 10 wall units.
Assembling the units is simple, fitting drawers, doors and other accessories takes more time but is usually carried out at the end of the jobHow long should it take to fit an average kitchen of say, 7 base units and 10 wall units?

 

As long as there are no nasty surprises, 5 days maximum. 1st day removing and assembling.  2nd day fitting the cupboards and maybe cut worktop to length, 3rd day fit worktops, sink and hob and doors, 4th day fitting drawers , doors and generally finishing off. Of course you have allowed 5 days so you can either carry on at full speed and get finished or take your time and use up the extra day or so.Do you have any liability insurance…if so… how much should I be covered for?

 

You must have liability insurance – talk to the insurance company, tell them exactly what you are doing and they will cover you for a million plus for around  £150 per year

In your experience what has been the best form of marketing?

I aim at standard kitchens in standard houses. I find the best way is a small advert in the local paper; this attracts people as they know you will be cheaper than a company with a big glossy ad. Once you have fitted some kitchens, word of mouth kicks in and personal recommendation will be a large part of your workload. Keep the adverts running all year as people get to know of you just by seeing the advert every week. Sign writing the van is good too although l found lots of my time being taken up by being asked questions from passers-by, which is fine if you have time to spare.

What size of van would you recommend?

If you are organised you should be able to work well with a van the size of a Berligo (small van).  You can fit everything in it and worktop on the roof rack if you ever need to. The choice is yours though, it just suits me and makes me stay organised to have a small one.

Do you have another trade to fall back on when work has been slow?

I don’t have a particular trade to fall back on but lm sure if l needed to earn money l could find some type of temporary work. I have the book and a couple of other interests which keep me very busy. If you are planning to start up l would advise possibly working for an agency where flexibility allows you to fit kitchens until you are busy enough to go it alone.

Do you recommend becoming VAT registered and seeking any legal advice on setting up the business?

To start your business, inform the tax office that you are going self employed as a sole trader. Do not register for VAT as you will then have to charge your customers VAT. It is quite an advantage not to charge VAT as on a £1000 it adds another £200! You don’t need to register unless you are turning over £63,000 or more. As your turnover will only be your wages it is unlikely that you will need to register… for a while. If you keep your business to purely fitting and not supplying you should not need to register for VAT. Do check with customs and excise though.


Can you give me a ball park figure on the potential earnings?


Its hard to estimate earnings for a kitchens fitter. It depends how good you are, how fast you are and where you live. If you have a dense population you should be able to work for most of the year. If you estimated   30 kitchens at £1000 each minimum you would have the least you should be earning. You could charge a lot more or a lot less. Not many fitters earn £60,000 these days but you can earn a lot if you put a lot of effort in.In your honest opinion do you think a course in kitchen fitting is worth it?

 

I have never been on one so l can’t honestly judge. I know people that have been on them and it is a split decision. Some say it was very useful and some say it wasn’t. I would suggest if you have had long experience of DIY you will only benefit from the worktop cutting and pelmet cutting side of it. Consider how much it will cost you to get hold of some cheap worktop and practice on it with the router as opposed to the cost of a kitchen fitting course.  Read the book too, it’s worth at least a 2 year head start.Is there an association of kitchens fitters that I should join?

 

If you do a search on the Internet you will find companies that will take your money for joining a federation or association. I have never seen any real benefit of joining them as they usually offer services such as insurance, advertising etc. In my opinion if you need to join anything then the Federation of Small Businesses is as good as any. It puts you into contact with other small business owners in your area and is a good way of networking if you are that way inclined. Their logo on your letterhead or sign written on your van gives customers an added confidence in you. View their site here

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