A Day in the Life

Vince Bailey

May 2007

So, the GC just called you back on that big casino project that you bid three days ago. Your scope alone is $3.2 million, and you want to land this one badly. You’ve never even seen this GC’s estimator, but recently he’s called you more often than your newlywed wife. He even suggested that your newfound friendship warranted "preferential treatment” in the bid you submitted to his firm. Then too, an early submission would be nice, just so he could work with your numbers and give you every "special opportunity” he could.

Then, from the moment you blanket-faxed your proposal to him (and four other firms) at 10-minutes-to-bid-time, the phone line went dead and the silence coming from your "new friend” became deafening. Your follow-up calls are routinely deflected by his receptionist. Surely this bid had soured as your last four efforts had. Backlog is light. Reports are due. You can feel the slimy suction cups of a stigma beginning to attach. That’s when the phone rings.

Now this clown is calling again to feel you out on your numbers. You rehash all your inclusions and exclusions because he ignored that part of your proposal to begin with. You break out a few numbers at his request and promise pricing on some of your exclusions, but he’s really evasive about letting you know where you’re stacking up in the list of prospects.

You begin to second-guess the GC’s intentions. He must be spoon-feeding your information to a preferred sub to beat his price down. Wonderwall Partitions bids this kind of work at cost, just to keep his low-dollar malcontent field hands from jumping ship. How can you compete with that?

The phone rings again and you fight to control your lurching bladder. It’s him again. He wants to know if you can jettison your acoustical ceilings portion of the package bid. This is a formality; it was a bid requirement, not a serious number. Yes, you can forfeit the ceilings. This is getting interesting. He asks if you can come down on your framing/drywall number. You recall that you more than covered yourself on shaftwall and subceilings, due to vague and contradictory details in the plans. You tell him you think you could lose some fat with some clarification. OK, he’ll get back to you.

You can’t shake that feeling that he’s sharpening someone else’s pencil. You’ve never worked with this GC, and he’s got a mixed reputation. You now start second-guessing your bid. You may have lost a huge job over a few thousand bucks! It’s happened before. If only he’d call back, you could tell him how much you’d be willing to reduce the price. No! He’s only playing you to keep his preferred "boy” honest. But you need this job to reestablish your "golden boy” status with your superiors. Truly, he just wants your best price to meet his budget.

The phone rings again and you start to wretch on the McDonald’s sausage biscuit you wolfed down an hour ago. It’s him. He’s telling you that you are apparent low. Pending negotiations on minor issues, the job will be awarded to your firm. But doesn’t he need to know how much you can discount your number? He laughs. He’ll tell you how much you need to cut. Anyway, congratulations. A letter of intent will be forthcoming as your directive to begin the submittal and procurement process. Let’s get together soon and blah, blah, blah … .

Hallelujah! You hang up on him while he’s still talking, and ecstatically trod the triumphant path to your sales VP’s office to let him know. Yes, once again you’ve proven your estimating acumen and your negotiating savvy. And let’s not minimize your role in this successful endeavor. Needless to say, kudos of a monetary nature will be in line with this victory. Please, no applause is necessary. It’s all part of your job.

But wait! You are apparent low. Your mind races back over every detail and assembly that you analyzed and entered into your bid. You stand in the middle of the corridor, and in two minutes you relive every beep of the digitizer. You are apparent low. Your breathing becomes shallow and your heart palpitates as you accept the full impact of the scenario: You are apparent low.

It all comes home, now: What the hell did you miss?

About the Author
Vince Bailey is a project manager/estimator for MKB Construction, a commercial drywall/plaster/paint contractor in Phoenix, Ariz.