RTA Cabinets – Is the Low Price Too Good To Be True?



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RTA Cabinets: Pros and Cons

Innovation RTA Cabinets

What Are RTA Cabinets and Are They a Good Choice for My Tallahassee Kitchen Remodel?

From making your kitchen functional and easy to use to adding style and character, cabinets play a leading role in your kitchen. In a kitchen remodel, they also generally make up the largest percentage of your budget, usually 25-35%. Because of this, it can be tempting to cut corners when it comes to cabinetry. RTA, or Ready to Assemble cabinets seem to be an obvious choice. But are they really the r ight cabinets for you?

Ready to Assemble cabinets are easy to find. They are heavily promoted online by companies like CliqStudios, The RTA Store, Kitchen Cabinet Kings, Kitchen Cabinet Depot, and others. You can also find them at big box stores and in most local cabinet showrooms. They’re popular and they’re everywhere. Why is this? One word: cost.

Why Are They So Cheap?

RTA cabinets are manufactured mostly in China and then shipped to the USA disassembled or flat packed, kind of like IKEA cabinets. One reason they are so inexpensive is because of something called “dumping.” This is a common practice in China where the government heavily subsidizes the manufacturing of certain products so they can be sold at a very low price in foreign markets. In fact, many Chinese companies are currently being sued by US cabinet manufacturers for dumping RTA cabinets into the US market. 

But dumping is not the only reason for the low cost of RTA cabinets. Other reasons include

  • the cabinet boxes are constructed of lower-cost, lower-quality plywood.
  • the doors and drawer fronts are made of lower-cost, lower-quality softwoods.
  • the hardware for drawer glides and hinges is also lower-cost and lower quality.
  • RTA cabinets offer limited door styles, colors, and sizes, which reduces inventory costs.

Then Why Are They So Popular?

RTA cabinets are popular with homeowners because they are inexpensive and easy to get ahold of. You can buy what you need at a big box store and don’t have to deal with salespeople or showrooms. Ready to Assemble cabinets seem like an easy yes.

RTA cabinets are very popular with builders and retailers, too. Why would this be the case? Because with RTA cabinets, builders and retailers have a much higher profit margin. They make more money on the cheapest cabinets than we do selling and installing the better-quality ones. In fact, the profit margin for RTA cabinets is 25-30% more than the profit margin for high-quality brands.

Some online retailers and showrooms take advantage of this fact and advertise their RTA brands as “similar quality, lower price” compared to high-quality ones. (We think this practice is deceptive and would never do it.)

Many builders like them because they can be bought direct and are easy to store since they come flat-packed. Because they’re readily available, RTA cabinets can be installed quickly and keep the building or remodeling process moving, which is appealing to both builders and homeowners. Unfortunately, many builders don’t know enough about cabinetry to tell the good ones from the bad. In fact, we know of some builders in town who are building million-dollar homes and putting these cheap RTA cabinets in them.

What Makes Them Low Quality?

RTA cabinets can look good, and as we said, even some builders are fooled into thinking they are better than they are. To the untrained eye (and if you believe all the marketing hype), they look like quality cabinets. In fact, websites and salespeople capitalize on their good looks and use buzzwords that they know people care about like “all-wood construction,” “dovetail drawers,” and “soft-close hardware.” 

But what they don’t tell you is

  • the “wood” is low-quality ½-inch softwood plywood with paper-thin veneers. Plywood comes in many grades, and RTA cabinet plywood is a low grade. It’s thin, not made of very many layers of wood, and uses softwood instead of hardwood.
  • the doors and drawers are made from cheap softwoods like poplar or rubber wood. High-quality cabinets are made of hardwoods like oak, cherry, or maple.
  • the soft-close hardware is a knock-off of more reputable brands like Blum or Grass.
  • the dovetail joints are loose and ill-fitting and are held together with lower-quality glue. Poorly-built drawers are often the first things to fail in RTA cabinetry, and although they may be dovetailed, it’s actually better to have good-quality pin or dowel drawers than poor-quality dovetails.

Ready To Assemble Cabinets: Pros

There are some good reasons to consider RTA cabinets. In certain situations, they may be the best choice for you. We call them our “Five-Year Cabinets” as we believe they have a lifespan of five to eight years. By comparison, we call our semi-custom brands like Bellmont our “Fifteen-Year Cabinets” because they can be depended on to last fifteen, twenty years, or more. RTA cabinets

  • are inexpensive. They are by far the lowest-cost option on the market. They may be right for you if cost is the most important factor for you, or if you’re putting cabinets in a rental or a laundry room.
  • have a short lead time. Since they are flat-packed and stored in large warehouses, they’re more readily available than semi-custom or custom cabinets. They can be delivered in as little as three weeks. Typically, semi-custom cabinets take six to seven weeks to be delivered.
  • are easy to store. Since they are boxed and flat-packed, they can be stacked. This may be important to you if you need to order them ahead of time and store them before installation.
  • look good for a few years. These Five-Year Cabinets do their job well for a short time. If you’re outfitting a rental property or flipping a house, they might be the right choice for you.

Ready To Assemble Cabinets: Cons

We believe that in most cases, RTA cabinets are not the best choice for your kitchen remodel. If you are going to remodel your Golden Eagle or Southwood kitchen, why not spend a little extra money to install long-lasting, beautiful cabinets instead? RTA cabinets offer

  • limited sizes. Rather than the ¼ inch increments that higher-quality cabinets offer, RTA cabinets only come in 3-inch increments. This means that you may not be able to fit them exactly into your space as you want to.
  • limited colors and door styles. Often, there are only six or seven color options available, and a handful of door styles. These are usually “on-trend” colors and styles that are popular at the moment but will go out of fashion fairly quickly. For something that’s as big an investment as kitchen cabinets, it’s usually wise to choose timeless, classic options instead of trendy ones. Compare these limited options to the hundreds of styles and colors available in quality brands, and the choice is easy.
  • limited options. If you want to really customize your Tallahassee kitchen, you will need options that RTA cabinets just don’t offer. They don’t have many choices when it comes to more specialty cabinets like tall pantry cabinets, corner cabinets, organizers, and other things that your designer might recommend to you.
  • a hidden assembly cost. While the initial cabinet cost is low, you have to factor in another $25-$30 to assemble each cabinet. This can really add up; for a small kitchen, it could be $600 or more.
  • a lack of customer support. Since most RTA cabinet lines are not part of a dealer network (most are sold by online vendors or big box stores), it can be difficult to get problems resolved.

Are RTA Cabinets Right For Me?

There are a few situations in which RTA cabinets might be the best choice. If you’re trying to remodel your kitchen on a budget, they may be best for you. After all, if your current cabinets are in bad shape, new Five-Year Cabinets may still be a significant upgrade for you.

If you are installing them in a rental, a mother-in-law suite, a laundry room, or somewhere else where they won’t be as heavily used as in a main kitchen area, the cheaper cabinets may suffice. You may not want to invest the money in high-quality cabinets in a low-traffic area.

We don’t recommend buying your cabinets online unless you’re only buying one or two. And the best advice we have to offer you is that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Low-cost products are usually low-cost for a reason. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy them, but that you should understand all the pros and cons before you do.

What We Recommend

If you’ve decided that Ready To Assemble cabinets are the right choice for you, we recommend a company called Fabuwood. We carry this line in our showroom because we believe that they offer quality cabinets and reliable service. We searched for many years to find an RTA cabinet company we could stand behind, and Fabuwood fits the bill. 

If you’d rather invest in higher-quality cabinets, we believe that semi-custom cabinets are often the best option. Read more about them here. The best way to be sure that you’re investing in high-quality cabinets is to work with a reputable local cabinet dealer. They can help educate you on all the options so you can make the right choice for your home and your budget. 

If you have more questions about what type of cabinets are right for your kitchen remodel, give us a call. If you’re ready to begin remodeling your Tallahassee, Killearn Lakes, Killearn Estates, or Betton Hills kitchen, we’d love to help. Contact us today.

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