Afterthoughts, Part 2

Vince Bailey / January 2019

Get back to where you once belonged…—Lennon and McCartney

“We would certainly be receptive to a number that includes ornamental precast!”
I cannot begin to count the number of times a potential customer has asked me to include an item in my proposal that falls outside of my normal scope of work, such as the one above. And judging from the comments I’ve heard from colleagues, my experience is by no means unique. In fact, I believe that a GC trying to bait a drywall sub into moving out of his comfort zone is about as common as cactus in the desert.
Unhappily, temptation to relent to such suggestions may be great, as circumstances dictate. That is, in many cases this request to augment the proposal comes pre-award with the “extended opportunity” offer almost sounding like an ultimatum. But a clever bidmeister will infer an offsetting condition that at least negates the pressure to accept on the GC’s terms, i.e., his insistence really belies a certain desperation on his part. He apparently has a deficiency in his own contract that he is anxious to fill in order to get 100 percent buyout. His “gaping hole” may stem from any number of conditions, but the most common scenario is that the deficiency is some specialty item that he has no familiarity with, and knows of no contacts in the area to perform the work. In his desperation, however, the GC may suggest that this specialty item falls in your scope of work due to sequencing concerns, that is, it is physically contiguous and chronologically concurrent with your work, and therefore you actually have a responsibility to include it. Such items might include wood, metal or stretch-fabric ceilings; wall coverings, such as acoustical wall panels or FRP; GFRG or precast column covers or cornices; wall protection (such as Acrovyn®), crash rails or corner guards; building expansion joints; dimensioned steel, flashings or ornamental metals—the list goes on.
My own knee-jerk reaction to the above situation is to dig my heels in and resist temptation to accept an unnecessary journey into the great unknown. But wait. All things considered, expanding scope is not necessarily a pitfall if the required information is available and can be considered in an unhurried and deliberate manner. After all, if I can find a second-tier sub in the area to perform the work, I’ve got myself a fixed cost that I can submit with a healthy margin. But that scenario is unlikely, or else the GC would probably do this himself and save the double markup, wouldn’t he? The more common situation usually runs like this: I can find a supplier of the special material, but I’ll have to install with my own labor. My instinct once again is to wave a red flag. I may have a fixed cost with the material, but my guys probably don’t have a clue regarding installation methods, and therefore I don’t have a clue how to price the labor.
A friendly competitor, a plaster contractor, tells a good relevant story about what can happen when we venture into unfamiliar areas of work. This sub was on the verge of closing a sale on a juicy EIFS job. There was only one hitch: The GC had no coverage on a precast parapet cornice that ran the entire perimeter of both buildings, and he was insisting that such a specialty item was integral to the exterior skin and should be covered by the EIFS contractor.
My plastering colleague did a little research and found a precast fabricator in the area. Even better, he was able to negotiate a direct-buy agreement. Better still, one of his foremen informed him that he’d done precast installation before and could advise on typical production rates. This began to look like a windfall, and my colleague quickly agreed to perform the precast work—helping himself to a healthy markup, of course. The foreman with the precast experience was assigned the quality control (color consistency, tie placement) of the units as they were turned out by the fabricator. All seemed to be humming along nicely—that is, until the first lot was turned out.
To begin with, delivery of the product was not included in the fabricator’s scope. It was an oversight on my colleague’s part, so he had to provide transport from the plant to the site, during which five units were broken—not a catastrophe, but certainly a setback. Then, after a stocking SNAFU (the shared forklift was down for repair, requiring a hand-stock up stairs to the roof), it was discovered that the ties’ placement did not conform to the parapet condition. Adding insult to injury, the third-party inspector rejected the entire lot due to color inconsistency and excessive pitting. Turns out the “experienced” foreman knew even less about quality standards in colored precast then he did about installation. While these snags were eventually rectified, the loss of 50 units erased any hope of turning a profit. Oh, and then there was the caulking oversight. …
Of course, this comedy of errors is an extreme example of what can go wrong when you take on an aspect of commercial construction without the advantage of experience. But all growth is a leap in the dark, as they say, and the silver lining to all of this is that my friend now has a good handle on the costs and possible pitfalls to providing precast as a complement to his EIFS proposals. And someday he might even make up for the loss he sustained.
Nevertheless, when I feel like I’m being pressured into adding unfamiliar scope to my proposals, I think of my plastering friend, and I proceed with great caution.

Vince Bailey is an estimator/project manager working in the Phoenix area.