RTA (ready to assemble) cabinets make sense. An RTA dealer or manufacturer sends you cabinets flat-packed and you assemble them. You don't pay for a company to do the easy work of assembly. Plus, cabinets get shipped to you with less volume, saving you money.
RTA is a highly competitive market, with the potential for nice profits. If you play the game right, you can benefit, too. Here are some basics of the business.
Same Products, Different Dealers
Spend enough time looking at RTA cabinets online and it will start to feel like deja vu all over again: "Wait, didn't I see something called Sienna Rope 36A at the previous dealer?" Why, yes you did. You will find different RTA dealers selling the same product, often under the same name and product code. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. After all, you have the option of purchasing your Samsung Galaxy or Blue Diamond Almonds from multiple dealers. Why not RTA cabinets?
The only kink to this argument is that RTA cabinets aren't readily apparent as being under brand names. So the only way to compare prices is to do detective work and compare by features.
Some Dealers Are Just a Guy and a Laptop, Some Aren't
Welcome to the Internet age. While you might imagine a manufacturing facility teeming with workers, it might be more like a person with a laptop on a couch with a cat. If brick-and-mortar is important to you, then you shouldn't be ordering your cabinets online.
This is where site interface and dealer performance become so important. It could be that the big brick-and-mortar RTA company, complete with production facilities and warehouses, offers higher prices and poorer customer service than the laptop guy.
Features: Find an Apples-to-Apples Comparison Point
How do you know you're comparing the same product among different dealers?
First, some dealers tend to recycle names. Hampton and Sienna Rope are names you frequently see and may indicate that you're looking at the same exact product. Shaker is a generic style and might be a different product from dealer to dealer but still look much the same. Also, you might even be lucky enough to find the same product code recycled between dealers.
Second, compare every point of the features. Make sure that you're looking at the same cabinet dimensions, door style, box and door construction materials, and drawer slide and door hinge mechanisms.
They Get You on the Shipping
I think this is the most important point of all. Some "like" cabinets vary by only a few dollars among dealers. Yet shipping costs vary.
Be sure that you are comparing whole-kitchen shipping costs, not per item. Shipping costs per item are deceptive. You might find that a cabinet that costs $200 will have $350 shipping costs. But once you place an order above a certain amount, say $3,000, shipping costs are greatly reduced.
Prices Change More Rapidly Than You Think
As the saying goes, "prices are subject to change." Because RTA is a highly competitive business, prices fluctuate. The actual cabinet manufacturers may change their prices, which changes the dealers' prices. Or petroleum prices go up. Anything can affect prices. One company's prices changed even as I was researching this article.
Dealer Performance Matters
If you like the way the dealer operates, believe their customer service is good, and have read tons of glowing testimonials, you may want to go with that dealer even if their costs are higher than another dealer for a "like" product.
Solution? See if they have a price match guarantee. Most cabinet dealers--at least the more reputable ones--offer a price match guarantee.
The Process For Finding Cheap RTA Cabinets
- Determine Your Complete Order: The only way to price out cabinets is to come up with the full kitchen or bathroom worth of needed cabinets and price against that. Start with one of the bigger companies that have good user interfaces--try the RTA Cabinet Store to begin with. Print out your shopping cart (but do not order).
- Price Out Your Cart Among Dealers: Using that sheet as your touchstone, price out the same items at other RTA companies. You may not be able to find exact items, but unless you have exotic tastes I'm betting you can come quite close.
- Merge In Shipping Costs: As you go along, be sure to bring your order far enough along so that you can get estimated shipping costs. This often is the deciding factor.
- Use Price Match If You Like the Dealer: By this point, you have a good feeling for which dealers seem good...or not. If you like a higher-cost dealer, take advantage of price match guarantee. Even if they don't have a stated guarantee, approach customer service. Chances are good they will meet the price.