Everyone likes a bargain, no doubt. Is everyone willing, for the sake of said bargain, to complete troves of research, take detailed measurements, drive hundreds of miles, wait in multiple crowded lines, jump through innumerable, seemingly nonsensical hoops and load their own trucks? Rhetorical question.
Warren, Ohio's Masco Cabinetry Outlet is for shoppers in the latter group. This biweekly Saturday warehouse sale is famous among Cleveland-area residents for KraftMaid kitchen cabinetry priced, on average, 60 to 70% below retail. Wall cabinets run $90; base cabinets $95; pantry cabinets $80 to $135; and doorless base cabinets $5 each (prices may vary slightly depending on special features). Bottom line for the math-challenged: An entire kitchen can be outfitted for less than $10,000—sometimes way less. James Whittaker decked out his Kalamazoo, Michigan, kitchen with an L-shaped cabinet set in wood finish for $4,000.
Note: KraftMaid keeps its distance from the outlet, not wanting to sabotage their full-priced business at the Lowe's and Home Depot down the street. Advertising is non-existent, and the locale itself, a nondescript warehouse tucked in the far edge of a random business district, has no signage.
The constantly-refreshed inventory consists mostly of returns and overage from Masco's nearby factory in Middlefield, Ohio. Most of the cabinetry is in fresh-off-the-assembly-line condition but can't be resold retail due to its semi-custom specs. "Cabinetry sets are essentially made to order," says Jamie Williams, an outlet regular who lives 20 minutes away in Austintown, Ohio. "Only so many kitchens are going to fit the precise specs of a returned set."
But a few might. And when broken down into individual pieces, possible configurations expand. As mentioned, however, there is a catch. To shop the outlet successfully, people must be prepared and willing to a.) put in several hours of pre-sale research, and b.) march along to a seriously convoluted system of rules when they get there. The Masco Cabinetry Outlet sale has more hoops than a rec-plex, and shopping it isn't as much a leisurely weekend browsing trip as it is a coordinated, calculated attack. (See sidebars below). Many an unprepared newbie has rented a U-Haul and driven hundreds of miles to the outlet, only to walk out confused and empty-handed.
Fifteen years ago, Jamie Williams was one of those newbies. He was midway through a redo of his own kitchen when he and his wife decided to check out the Saturday sale. The adorably naïve couple had every intention of scoring a new set of kitchen cabinetry for "used" prices. Three sales later, the couple had finally earned the experience and smarts required to find their buried treasure.
Several sales later (now moved on to renovating his home office and basement bar), Jamie found himself frequently helping other shoppers. Flocks of confused transients would form around Jamie and his wife in the outlet parking lot, shouting out questions. "That's when it occurred to us," Jamie says. "We could make a business out of this."
He began with a 16-page shopping guide, which he sold online for $13, and eventually evolved into a personal shopper service. These days, Jamie spends one or two Saturdays each month either guiding homeowners through the sale or shopping the sale for homeowners on his own. His fee structure is based on a single base fee + the number of sales attended + the number and type of pieces purchased. Storage and loading are offered at extra cost.
Part of James's $4,000 tab went to Jamie (bringing the actual cost of his cabinetry closer to $3,500), a price he considers well worth it. "I'd do it again in a heartbeat," James says. "Some of the retail kitchens we looked at initially were $20,000!
Michele Morin agrees. Her Columbus, Ohio, kitchen got a whole new look for less than $10,000, thanks to a Jamie-accompanied shopping trip. "The sale is crazy-chaotic," Michele says. "Jamie has a very calm, knowing way about him, which by itself was worth the service."
Jamie's best tips and tricks are such that only a seasoned outlet-shopping veteran could know (i.e, "If you haven't seen anyone milling around or measuring the cabinets you want, it probably means you're the only one who wants them"). But his big-picture perspective comes down to this:
PRE-SALE: "Be wide open to styles and colors—identifying the one or two you absolutely cannot live with—and be aware of all the possible dimensions and configurations compatible with your kitchen."
AT SALE: "Within the first five minutes, you should have tagged every single set that you think might possibly work in your kitchen. Spend the next 30 to 60 minutes determining which of those sets will actually work."
Once dimensions have been evaluated, most shoppers are left with only one or two possible choices. Personal preference and their place in line will determine which set they walk out with.
The other key to Jamie's success lies in his vetting of homeowners prior to taking them on as a client. "Of course, everyone gets excited when they see those numbers, he says. "But not everyone is cut out for this sale."
Jamie spends many minutes on the phone with interested homeowners, and many of them he ends up rejecting.
Don't be a newbie. Evaluate your cabinet-outlet compatibility with the help of our own tips and tricks.
Skip this sale if . . .
- Your kitchen reno starts tomorrow.
- You're limited to a single visit.
- You don't have a backup cabinetry source.
- You live in China—or even California.
- You're not up for big-time homework.
- You're married to a specific color and style.
- Painting is not an option.
- You have trouble making quick decisions.
Still in for the outlet? You've got some work to do. First:
- Make note of any colors or styles you definitely do NOT want.
- Measure your kitchen's wall height, the distance between adjacent walls, and the distance between any plumbing, soffits, vents and gas/electrical connections, and their adjacent walls.
- Map out all possible cabinet configurations. Determine whether rerouting/moving existing pipes, connections, and plumbing is an option. If yes, measure those hypothetical distances.
- Gather: Tape, rope, tape measurer, a small notebook, pen, a pack of blank mailing labels and a permanent marker.
- Write your last name on each label in permanent marker.
- Pack above supplies and measurements into a bag or purse to take to sale.
- Enter the outlet's address (3418 Elm Rd., Warren, Ohio) into your phone AND car GPS. Remember the warehouse has no signage aside from an old "DIY Warehouse" sign (confusing), so you must find your way via GPS and the tail lights of fellow shoppers.
Still in it to win it? Get to know the sale-day system:
- No earlier than 6 a.m. and no later than 6:50 a.m.: Arrive at Masco Cabinetry Outlet.
- 6:15 a.m. to 7 a.m.: Receive numbered wristbands upon entry. Take one wristband per person.
- 7:15 a.m.: A wristband number is drawn to determine first in line. The next chronological number takes second in line; third number third place, and so on.
- 7:30 a.m.: Doors open, allowing 150 shoppers in every 30 minutes.
- Make a lightning-fast assessment of the 15 to 20 sets on the floor, tagging (with your mailing labels) any that might work.
- If you are the first to tag a set, you must write "#1" next to your name. If you are the second, "#2," and so on.
- Spend the next 30 to 45 minutes measuring and mapping your most desired sets, ruling out the sets that will not fit.
- Of the two or three sets remaining, identify which set you want most. If you are #1 on said set, find an employee to mark the piece "purchased." If you are #2 or #3 on the set, you must wait until 9:30 a.m. to see if the shoppers ahead of you purchase the set (or until you see the set marked "purchased").
- Purchase your products.
- Relocate to the outlet's loading area to claim your purchase.
Masco Cabinetry Outlet
3418 Elm Rd.
Warren, Ohio, 44483
440.632.2106 (automated information)
The Cabinet Shopper (highly recommended for upcoming sale dates, general info and a worth-every-penny detailed Shopping Guide ($13).