Business, Finishing Why You Don’t Make Money

Why You Don't Make Money

I Believe…

Finishing is the most demanding job in any shop.


  • Finishing follows a very strict sequence of events, many having critical timing
  • There is almost no tolerance for error, and when there is an error it might not show up until 3 to 6 months later, after the project is installed
  • We have to fix or hide other people’s mistakes & oversights
  • If someone else’s job takes longer than planned, then that time is subtracted from the finishing schedule
  • We are totally at the mercy of the weather
  • We work in a smelly, caustic, explosive atmosphere
  • Our work is almost completely done by hand – we have no CNC’s or other labor saving tools.
  • Our tool budgets are usually the smallest. Most companies will spend more on an edgebander or wide belt sander than they will on their entire finishing department.
  • Most of the technical information finishers have about finishing is usually learned by word of mouth at they last shop they worked at …good, bad, or otherwise.
  • More than any other group in your shop the finishers will make or break your bottom line

The Status Quo – Don’t Rock the Boat

I think many companies simply expect or accept that the finishing department will fail or lose money. If you look at the grand scheme of things, you would expect business to demand the exact opposite, especially for something as important to the customer and your profitability as the finish.

Your finish should be a major selling point for your product. Let’s face it, the finish is the first part of your job that your customer sees and touches. Observe a customer the next time they walk into your showroom or you hand them a sample. What do they do…they rub their hand on it. This simple act alone is a starting point in the customer ranking the quality of your company’s products.

Custom shops should take a cue from the Big Box stores. Next time you are in one look at their cabinet displays. They sport some very sophisticated multi-step finishes. Most of these fancy finishes are on casework construction that many custom companies would consider as being inferior. The mentality of the Big Box, however, is that it is not so much the case construction, dovetailed drawers, or high-tech hardware that sells cabinets, it is the finish. They have seen the light. Finishes sell cabinetry. This is a fact.

Finishing should also be a profit-generating operation. The finish department operates with the smallest investment in tools and equipment, usually occupies the smallest floor space, and normally assumes the smallest material cost per job.

Once you acknowledge the importance of the finishing process the more likely you are to invest in it. Doesn’t it make sense that you spend some time and money on what should be one of the most profitable and marketable features of your product?

Many companies operate under the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” rule when it comes to their finishing department. I hear the “this is the way we have done it for years and we don’t have any problems” as the standard response when someone is asked why they do something a certain way.

The “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” theory only holds true if you are sure that it ain’t broke. There was a consumer survey that found that 90% of product failures are not reported back to the manufacturer. We have all been in the situation where we were disappointed in something and rather than contact the manufacturer we just said that we would simply never buy that product or brand again. Don’t think that this can’t happen to your products. You could have failures out there that are waiting to happen Remember, it might take 3-6 months for some finish problems to materialize.

The other thing to remember is just because it ain’t broke doesn’t mean it’s working as efficiently as it could be. Even a clock that is stopped will still give you the correct time twice a day. Companies that are the most successful are companies that are never completely satisfied with their success. They question their success and then they strive to be better. So the first step towards improving your operation is recognizing the need to improve.

Major Reasons that Finishing Departments Don’t Make Money

  1. Quality problems – re-work time
  2. Process inefficiencies – too many steps or poor work flow
  3. Lack of finisher training
  4. Lack of management training
  5. Poor pricing – underestimating what it takes to do the job
  6. Sales process – fulfilling customer expectations
  7. Material costs – cheaper is not always better
  8. Safety and compliance – it is cheaper to fix it before it breaks
  9. Material waste

People Facts

  1. Most people want to do a good job. They get frustrated when they are not given the opportunity or tools to do so.
  2. People adjust their process or techniques to make a bad situation work.
  3. Humans are creatures of habit. We feel comfortable with what we know and mistrust things that are new. We are resistant to change.
  4. If you don’t recognize and address the first 3 items you will never be profitable.