Sold! to the Man with the Defective Plan

Vince Bailey

May 2008

If you’ve scanned this space more than once in the past 18 months, and you are not so blessed to count yourself among the construction elite (estimators), you’ve hopefully gotten an outsider’s sense of the depth of talent required by our profession. If you’re "in with the in-crowd,” you already know how many hats they make us wear—how many roles we have to play.

We mimic the onsite tradesmen, building the assemblies piece-by-piece in our minds and into our programs. We project ourselves into the role of the design professionals, and try our best to decipher what their intent is. We hold court for all sorts of obsequious material suppliers, tool salesmen, second-tier subs and other various jesters.

But I’ve somehow neglected in my scribblings to pay homage to one critical aspect of our profession, and it needs—here and now—to be appropriately recognized: We are salesmen. We are purveyors of a vital service. And like it or not, after we jump through all the other hoops of our trade, we must them light up the phone lines and hawk our wares.

I suppose I’ve skipped over the sales aspect of our job description because … well, I must confess that it’s not exactly my strong suit. So rather than pen a sermon on a subject that is less than inspiring, I’d like to share three experiences in which I (no salesman by any stretch) managed to develop some latent opportunities by selling several of our industry’s technical innovations to some otherwise-skeptical general contractors.

One GC begged me to come up with some creative ways to help him generate a recovery schedule. It happened that his predecessor trades had doubled their expected durations, and our framing and drywall would be starting nearly a month behind. To make matters worse, we were entering the rainy season and the roofer was behind as well, preventing us from completing our shaftwall framing and other "capture” situations that would subject our drywall to water intrusion. After making the obligatory pitch to work overtime on his dime, I suggested that we upgrade our shaftliner and capture rock by utilizing some of the new mold-resistant products now on the market. Eager to keep a productive flow going, the GC agreed to a healthy additive change order. Cha-ching!

On another project, the finish schedule called for a Level 4 smooth drywall finish—a common misconception among architects and GCs (as we all know, a Level 4 finish is not adequate for smooth wall). I bid the job per plans and specs (Level 4) and proposed two additive alternates—one for a skim coat, another for texture. The alternates signaled the general that the deficient documents had left a gap in his budget. I could almost hear the hand-wringing when the GC’s estimator called me on bid day. The owner was adamant; he wanted smooth wall. I was quick to offer a less costly remedy: substitute a high-build primer for the prime coat of paint that was already in my bid. I could effectively give them an industry-standard Level 5 finish for a fraction of the cost of a skim coat. Viola! I instantly became that GC’s drywaller of preference.

On still another project, a new middle school, the plans called for double-layered 5/8” wallboard on all corridor partitions to prevent the "mothers’ little darlings” from kicking holes in the walls. I offered to substitute one layer of abuse-resistant board in a value-engineering alternate. The deductive figure was eye-popping, and it landed me the job.

The upshot of the preceding scenarios is just this: Lucrative opportunities for selling new products to remedy plan deficiencies and project problems present themselves constantly. You don’t have to be a natural-born snake oil merchant to sell your service; you just have to be creative enough to open up the niches.

Vince Bailey is an estimator/operations manager for San Juan Insulation and Drywall, Durango, Colo.