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April 2015   

The GC really wants you to take the job, but you just don’t have the manpower to do it right. Your company is about quality and safety, so how do you turn him down without ruining your relationship and the chance to get future work?


You have to do the job if it is a steady customer. Find more good help, work weekends.
—Tom Olsavsky, Valley Acoustics Inc.

Be honest and up front with the GC and in the end they will appreciate you more than if they talked you into something that could or would bite both of you in the tail.

I tactfully let the company know out of modesty as to what I am able to handle that I won’t be able to take on a job of that size and be able to do the quality work that you appreciate from me.

I then recommend a company I have a relationship with that may be able to take on the work who I know won’t attempt to take the GC.
—Kevin, Owner, KL Drywall LLC, Minneapolis, MN

The smart contractor who wants to maintain his reputation for quality, safety and service will say "no.” If he breaks that code, he degrades his reputation and therefore some future work.
—Robert Aird, President, Aird Incorporated, Frederick, MD

I find it best just to be up front with them. There’s nothing worse for a relationship then telling them you can do something and then not following up on it. I have done this several times over the years and not had any problem. Let your competitor take the job and not perform. That way they ruin the relationship.
—Pete Dittemore, President, Sierra Insulation Contractors Inc. - Ontario, CA

Be honest and explain to him that you don’t have the manpower and that you don’t use subs because you can’t control their quality of work. You can tell him that you would be glad to recommend someone that does similar work and does it safely and with good quality. I think it is even good if you reach out to your competitor and explain the situation to them if the GC doesn’t know them. Nothing wrong with helping a good competitor, especially if you have an understanding that this is your customer.

Do it in person, be honest and thank them for the opportunity, and tell them you hope that you will continue to get opportunities. The last thing you want to do is put them in a position to ruin the relationship by hiring you, and you will not be able to deliver the level of quality and service they are accustomed to. Your best clients will appreciate the honesty and respect you more. If a client gets upset, fire them.

We have been so blessed, Builder Bob! We have recently been awarded every job that we bid in the last year so we are going to be too busy to take on anything new for the next two months. After that we will be looking for all the work you can give us!
—Brad Hollett, President, Accelerated Contractors LLC, Jacksonville, FL

You don’t turn down. Usually from the time you are awarded until the job starts, gives you enough time to set up and get started. You will not have all of your men on that job the first two weeks, which will give you ample enough time to add accordingly. Anything can be done if you work hard and smart enough.

The easiest way to turn down work is to put a 50% premium on the work. If they really want you, then they will pay the price.

The best solution is to be honest with the GC and let him know your time frame of being out in scheduling until a specific date. Assure him that if there is a change in scheduling you will notify him and work the project into the schedule as you value you him as a customer and his work is important to you.
—Wm. J. Fritz, President, Mission Interiors Contracting LLC, Houston, TX

The answer is, you don’t. First I blame our governor for doing nothing to stop illegals from starting businesses. And second the local builders for using them. The amount of cash that goes thru these companies is uncountable. No taxes are being paid by these businesses and our local officials seem to be doing better than ever. They want to raise taxes today to fund a new school. There should be opportunities for these people to raise their children and improve their lives. I could make a lot of money if I broke a few laws. The only way I know of to help a 25-year-old company like mine to compete is to bring in the IRS.

First, wholeheartedly thank him for his loyalty to you for turning to you for his construction needs and assure him that you value him as a client. Then honestly tell him that you have given considerable thought to the project and how you would be able to man the project given its size and complexity. After careful consideration, you feel that your ability to adhere to your rigid standards of quality control as you both have come to expect with your employee pool makes you unable to submit a bid for this large of a project. Again thank him for the opportunity to bid, and reassure him that you will keep him as a priority for jobs within your ability to properly man with quality personnel.

If you have a true relationship with the GC they will thank you for being honest about manpower and will appreciate that you are looking out for their best interest.
—Jason Gordon, President/CEO, Heartland Acoustics & Interiors, Denver-San Diego

Tell the truth. Novel idea in construction industry.

We have been in business for over 25 years and we have never turned a job down. We have always found the resources to get it done—not that we have not ever thought about turning a job down, we always chose to do it. Oddly enough, they historically have ended up being some of our better jobs. Fear of failing is a great motivator!
—Dennis Stiffler, President, DSI Acoustical Company, Lansing, MI

I try never to turn down work. However, when you can’t find the manpower, sometimes I will offer the job at a slower pace. Therefore, it puts the onus on the GC to turn you down. I try to fit him in but let him know it will take longer. If he can wait, then the business connection is good. If he can’t wait, at least you tried to compromise and accommodate. More often than not, if they really want you to do the job, they will accept a spaced schedule.

You tell the general contractor that it will take too long for you to do the job with your limited crew and it would not be cost effective for him. Tell him you appreciate the opportunity and would love to work on a smaller job if the opportunity arises.

I tell them frankly that I would rather not get in the position where my over-reach hangs us both out to dry. Sometimes they grumble, but generally they appreciate the candor and "big picture” perspective.

Tough question, but becoming increasingly frequent. We have taken jobs we probably should have passed on, and the relationship suffered in two instances, so you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. Guess we’d rather be cursed and still get paid for it, but that is sure to change if the economy gets any better. I’ve already turned down work that was too aggressively scheduled, though there were contract language issues on that one that also played into the decision. GCs had better realize the good old days are fast disappearing, and unfair schedules and contracts are not the way forward.

I would explain to the GC that I can’t adequately serve his needs at the current time. That if he is able or willing to wait a little while I may be able to, or I could recommend another to do the job and that with a little planning that I would be more than willing to help serve his needs in the future.
—Paul Bailey, Proprietor, Bailey’s Coatings and Finishes, Wakarusa, IN

Fortunately or unfortunately, that has never happened in the last 5 years, but I would not take the project, and [I would] be honest with him. If it truly is a good relationship, he should understand. Threatening not to give us work in the future for not taking a project for good reason is not a GC I want to work with anyway.

Well if the GC wants you to take the job at the discounted price that is closer to the low bid they used at bid time, then "no” is pretty easy. If they want your company on the job because of the quality and safety that your bid reflects even though your bid was not the low bid, maybe they might make some concessions like speedy payment or front money or whatever could make the deal. Then "no” has to be "yes” and you just have to go and make it happen. They call that "Growing Pains.” I like that pain. It’s been gone for the last 6 years while we deal with shrinking pains.
—Jeff Muller, Vice President, M&O Exterior Applicators, Inc., Frederick, MD

It depends on the GC. We have customers who, during the downturn, kept giving us the work. Now that the work is plentiful, it’s our turn to take care of loyal GCs (few, we all know). We sometimes ask for OT to handle; if they can’t pay it, we pay back and just eat the OT if we have not budgeted. The GCs that would sell their mother over $100 difference, we inform them we’re months out from taking any other projects and they would not be happy if we took on project any sooner. We hear, "but we used your money, you must take it …” Stick by your response. Unhappy customers do not make for a good reputation for your company, regardless if you think you’re helping them.
—Dan H., Diamondback Builder Services, Inc., Phoenix, AZ

My contract obligations in the next three months preclude me from doing your project rather declined then fail to perform.
—Ron Ballard

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