1. Finish quality.
Has the “junk” in the finish been eliminated? You should expect clean finishes free of “grit” at this price. And a silky, smooth, touch-able finish.
2. Options in top coat sheen.
They don’t necessarily need to offer a 100 sheen lacquer, but anything from a sheen of 5 to 60 should be available.
3. Color options.
The complete Sherwin Williams and/or Benjamin Moore fan deck should be offered at no additional finish upcharge. And at significantly better quality than stock or semi-custom manufacturers.
4. Tall and wall cabinet heights.
Tall cabinet height in a custom line should go to at least 108”. And at least 54” for wall cabinets, if not higher.
5. Wood species.
The manufacturer should have the ability to source woods like Red Birch, Walnut, Rustic Maple, Alder and Chestnut. Together with more obscure species like Sapele, Narra, Crotch Mahogany, Curly Maple, Lyptus and Brazilian Cherry. Less experienced custom shops will struggle to source solid stock and veneers.
6. True flush finished ends.
Flush finished ends should be sanded flush with no seam behind the stile. If it’s not standard, it should at least be offered as an upgrade. Mitering the frame and side is a good way to accomplish this, and a good manufacturer will know it.
7. True custom.
“You draw, we build it.” Or we source it.
8. Appliance panels.
Manufacturer knowledge of how high-end appliance panels should look is critical, and they should be current with templates and specifications for the appliances homeowners are buying.
9. Decorative ends.
Ask about the manufacturer’s ability to do decorative ends, either applied as door, non-working front or wainscot end.
10. One-of-a-kind items.
You do not want to do business with a manufacturer who takes advantage of you by quoting high prices for one-of-a-kind items. Unique, custom items are a hallmark of a custom cabinet line.
11. Knowledgeable and helpful factory support.
Look for a manufacturer with customer service and engineering/technical departments that work side-by-side with you to get you what you want.
Aside from quality and consistent lead times, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of engineering support and customer service/order support.
While it may serve your ego to know the owner is overseeing your order, but this isn’t the way a well-run custom shop operates. A custom shop has enough challenges for the owner. Engineering, customer service/order processing should be run by a high-quality team. The owner should be managing the business.
12. Lead times.
Make sure their lead times are consistent and that they ship complete orders on time. They should be able to commit to a delivery week when your order is signed off. If their stated lead time is 7 weeks, but during busy times, can be 8-9 weeks, and they communicate these little shifts -- this is okay. What you don’t want to see is lead times go from 6 weeks to 12 weeks. This is an indication of chaos and a lack of resources to meet demand.
13. Consistent pricing.
You want pricing that stays consistent. At the very least, you should require a published pricing/spec book.