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Narrowing It Down

Looks like we’re in for nasty weather … — “Bad Moon Risin’,” John Fogerty

Since its inception in the early 1900s, “be prepared” has been the time-honored motto of the Boy Scouts. Now, unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past several months, your personal circumstances have been feeling the effects of an inflationary economy the likes of which we have not experienced in decades. And if you’ve followed this column recently, you’ll know that I am predicting (with a few notable exceptions) a serious downturn in construction activity as a consequence. I’m hearing much discussion of the above notion these days, which leads me to believe there is a good deal of veracity to it. Perhaps you have yet to feel the sting of this in your capacity as an estimator, but the wolf is at the door, and to borrow another adage, “forewarned is forearmed.” Therefore, thoughtful bidmeisters everywhere should be practicing proactivity. In fact, the degree of preparedness that a drywall firm undertakes in times like these may be the key to its eventual success or even its survival.


Of course, many outfits will wait until the full impact of the decline has hit before reacting, and the typical reaction in such cases is to resort to the shotgun approach—that is, to bid anything and everything in the pipeline in the blind hope that sheer volume will net some needed sales. As expected, paths pursued in desperation usually result in much added effort with little or no net gain.


But insightful exactimators will take a more measured approach. As anyone who is involved in the business development aspect of our industry will tell you, it’s all a matter of focus, which brings to mind an old time-management axiom. They say that 80% of your reward comes from 20% of your time invested. If you stand that on its head, the inverse logic says that 80% of your time spent nets only 20% of your success. However you look at it, it stands to reason that simply investing more time in more fruitful endeavors and less time thrashing around in the weeds will make you more effective in the long run.


And in these darkening times, a solid sales record depends on more than just volume. The time and thought that goes into developing and maintaining successful business relationships is a huge part of that fruitful 20%. A little thoughtful analysis regarding your business may prove helpful in focusing on development. Determine some of the following guidelines.


Who are my preferred customers? Look back a few years in your sales history and determine which four or five general contractors have awarded you the most work, treated you most fairly and continue to do so. Once you’ve determined this, focus your time and energy on servicing their needs first. After all, if they are your preferred (profitable) clients, you want to be, and to remain, their favored sub.


How do you go about focusing on their needs? There are a number of ways. Do all of their budgets, remodels and paltry projects with a smile. They probably are no more thrilled with the Starbucks renovations than you are, and they will certainly recall and reward the subs who hung tough with them through troubled times.


Moreover, you can impress the GC’s estimators with your pre-bid homework. Review the project docs early, work up a list of questions and call (don’t email) the assigned estimator to discuss any ambiguities there might be. Get his personal take on the project—what he might want to see in terms of scope and emphasis on bid day. Send in an early bid abstract (minus the numbers) a day in advance with a thoughtful list of inclusions, exclusions and clarifications that will help him make accurate comparisons. Complete the bid forms cheerfully, however convoluted and inane they might be. Your thoughtful proposal and thorough bid form will help them navigate through the fog on bid day, which may gain you favor in a close race for the gold.


Call the GC’s preconstruction managers to set up an appointment (or an activity) to discuss upcoming jobs. Remind them how important this mutually beneficial relationship is. Recount positive past performances on their projects. Inform them of new services (added scope) and innovations (for instance, the possibility of panelizing an upcoming project) that you can offer.


Finally, follow through in all your sales practices by adding more percentage points to the time that nets you the most success. If you do this now, you will undoubtedly be prepared for the nasty weather that’s bound to come.

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

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