In prior blog posts, I’ve written about fragmentation in the countertop industry. Fragmented industries are those that are dominated by smaller and mid-sized businesses. Without a handful of large dominant businesses to set pricing standards, a wider variety of possible pricing exist for the same product or service. This can be good for consumers in industries where pricing is easy to come by. With countertops, all pricing is custom to the unique nature of your project, which makes it harder to come by.
In general, this isn't a great situation for consumers. When a knowledge imbalance between seller and buyer exists, leverage lies with the seller. But for the customer armed with knowledge who doesn’t mind spending the time to do the work, it’s a good opportunity to work a favorable deal.
I represent a company that makes it easy for customers to find pricing and purchase countertops. To a large extent, CountertopSmart automates many of the processes I describe below. Our site optimizes for the most customer savings, and in doing so, we take the effort out of the process. The information below is intended as advice for customers who have the time and resources to go it their own. As always, we never advise optimizing for savings if doing so jeopardizes your project timeline.
To begin, it’s important to understand the basic economics of how countertop sellers make their money. By understanding these concepts, you’ll be able to view the transaction through the lens of the seller and reach the best possible outcome.
Rule 1: The more efficiently your countertops fit onto a slab, the more profit margin a fabricator makes, and the more you stand to save.
When you buy countertops, you’re paying for the installed product that ends up in your home. You are not buying the stone slabs that are used to create the countertops. You may be paying for those slabs, but you are not buying those slabs. It’s an important distinction.
A stone slab is a canvas with fixed dimensions. Countertops come in an infinite amount of possible sizes and shapes. It’s the countertop fabricator’s job to buy enough slabs to yield all of the shapes in your countertop project, so the more efficiently your shapes into a single slab, the better your price.
Rule 2: Most slabs are not efficiently used, and material is left behind. The likelihood that a fabricator can use or sell this leftover material at a future date can affect the price you receive today.
On average, 20% of every stone slab that is purchased goes unused. If the fabricator thinks that he/she is unlikely to sell the leftover “remnant,” then it’s you, the customer, who will absorb the cost. If the fabricator has a better chance of selling that leftover material, he/she can offer you a better price.
With these basic tenets established, let’s examine strategies to reduce costs:
Tweak your design for efficiency
After you receive your initial countertop quote from the fabricator, ask them if you can lower your cost by being more efficient with the slabs that the fabricator must purchase.
Is the 12” overhang on your island pushing your project onto a second or third slab? What if you reduce that overhang? If you remove a 9” base cabinet from your layout, will it help? From a design perspective, is there an area of your project that could use a different material (like a wet bar)? If you use one of the fabricator’s available remnant pieces for this area, perhaps the rest of the project will fit nicely into the available slabs.
It’s important to remember that countertop fabricators understand that the more your costs increase, the less likely you are to move forward with the project. They’re just as peeved as you that your project won’t fit efficiently into the available slabs, so it’s on their best interest to get creative and find a “workaround.”
This is a conversation that fabricators are happy to have, and they’ll likely have excellent suggestions that can save you money. The downside of this strategy is that it requires flexibility on your end, so are you prioritizing price or perfection?
Discover a more suitable slab size
Slabs come in different sizes depending on the type of material or the manufacturer of the material (in the case of engineered stone like quartz). If you need a slightly larger slab size to efficiently yield your project, ask the fabricator to recommend material options that are similar to your selected material but which come in larger slabs. In an apples-to-apples price comparison, you may be able to get a more expensive material at a lower total installed cost if the slab sizes work out better in terms of yield.
Ask the fabricator where they get the best deals
The key to this strategy is to understand that it’s in a fabricator’s interest to consolidate as much of their buying as possible through a single source. The more buying power a fabricator has, the better price you get.
Most fabricators have a single preferred distributor that offers a wide variety of natural stones, as well as a preferred supplier/brand of quartz, e.g., Silestone, Vicostone, MetroQuartz, etc. If you want quartz, ask the fabricator which line they get the best pricing on. If you want natural stone, ask the fabricator to recommend a distributor where you can view slabs.
Remember, if you’re looking for the best deal, it’s not in your interest to ask a distributor to recommend a fabricator. The fabricator isn't going to repay that distributor’s referral by pushing you towards another distributor’s offering, even if that’s where they get the best pricing.
Go for a popular style
As I discuss in rule 2 above, you’re more likely to get a better deal if a fabricator feels that he or she can sell the leftover slab material (i.e., “countertop remnants”) from your project. It’s far more likely for a fabricator to sell popular styles of stone, so they’ll place a higher value on those remnants, equating to a more competitive quote on your project.
This advice seems obvious, but it may not be for the reason you think. Remnants of unique, natural stones may sell quickly, but as part of isolated projects like a single master bathroom. Typically these remnants can’t be used in conjunction with other slabs of the same material. There is too much inherent variation in color and pattern across slabs.
Remnants from popular styles of quartz, which is man-made, can occasionally be utilized in future projects as part of a whole (e.g., the section to the left of a stove on a kitchen project). These remnants may be purchased for one-off projects, but they may also save a fabricator from ordering a full slab on a future project. Thus, these types of remnants carry more utility to a fabricator.
Negotiate the right way
If you’re going to get a fabricator to do you a favor on price, you need to build rapport. Engage with the salesperson, and be clear about the budget you’re targeting. Be proactive and genuine in your effort to entertain the fabricator’s cost-saving suggestions, whether by exploring comparable styles or tweaking your project to fit more efficiently into the dimensions of a slab.
As long as you're making a good-faith effort to hit your budget and so long as you’re maintaining a polite and respectful disposition, the fabricator may be more willing to make concessions. At the end of the day, these are small business people, and this is an industry driven by referrals.
Negotiating the wrong way
Below is a list of strategies that you should avoid when trying to work a deal:
Do not blast out quote requests
It’s not a good idea to email your drawings and request a quote from every fabricator you find online. You want a fabricator to be invested in your project. Blasting out quote requests will return in-kind quotes at standard retail margins.
Do not pledge referrals
You’re a real estate agent, interior designer, contractor, Instagram influencer, etc., and you’ll send the fabricator a ton of future business… yada, yada, yada. They hear this all the time and no one's biting. A referral should be reserved for a job well done.
Don’t tell them their business
Pointing out that the fabricator will be left with a sellable remnant and should therefore come down on price is not a winning strategy. They’re not hiding that fact, and this should not be treated as an ace in your pocket. Their calculation is whether or not they’ll be able to sell that remnant, and you’re not going to convince them that they will.
Do not nickel and dime
If you haggle over every line item, it raises a red flag and signals to the fabricator that you’ll try and negotiate after the fact. It’s unfortunate, but some people manufacture issues to try and get a reduced price after a countertop has been installed. If they sense you’re one of these people, they will build a “headache allowance” into your quote.
Do not try and create a bidding war
“Well, the folks down the street are offering it to me at this price…”
That line might (but probably won’t) work at an auto dealership. It definitely doesn't work with countertops. Countertops are not a product you can drive off the lot. It’s a construction project, and the work will still need to be performed. As above, if you’re trying to play hardball now, it signals to the fabricator that you’ll do it again at a future date after the fabricator has committed time and resources to your project. You can accomplish a better outcome by foregoing these types of tactics.
CountertopSmart is dedicated to automating all of the variables that are factored into countertop pricing in a way that makes it easy for you, the customer, to design and purchase a countertop project that meets your budget.
If you aren’t happy with the prices reflected in the automated quotes that we generate from our fabricator partners, we hope you’ll at least benefit from our advice and will use our site as a resource for your countertop questions.
And on that note, If you have any countertop-related questions that you’d like us to respond to on this blog, please reach out to us at <[email protected]>.