You take what you need and leave the rest.—“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”
If the sentiment from Robby Robertson’s preceding line resonates, it should. This mindset derives from a fairer time (seems like yesterday—wait, it was yesterday!) when we could all afford to be more particular about what we bid on. And even though the looming lean times may tempt us into bidding anything and everything in an effort to maintain volume, we might be wise to reconsider the reactionary “shotgun” approach. In fact, astute bidmeisters are taking what might be considered a counterintuitive tack by being even more particular about what they bid during a downturn.
Now may be an appropriate time to review some reasons to back away from a project. There are several.
Calendar. I’m referring here to awarded jobs on the backlog. There’s a trick to it, but veteran exactimators keep an eye on their firm’s manpower-loaded log of future (and ongoing) projects in order to maintain a fairly constant number of field employees. Many bid document sets do not include a master schedule, but a simple request for an estimated start date will usually net the needed info. If a large anchor job is looming, little “quick hit” jobs may provide stepping stones to “manning up.” Conversely, small TIs will be passed up when manpower is operating at capacity.
Size matters. Clearly, the job should fit with the current operational capacity of the sub that’s bidding it. If the backlog already carries one or more multimillion-dollar anchor jobs, it might be wise to consider a pass on bidding that other monster project that shares a schedule overlap with the bird in the hand. Sudden expansion can turn a promising project into a losing proposition overnight. Conversely, it might be a waste of time for a larger commercial outfit to bid on small retail TIs that are notoriously open to low-balling trunk-slammers. Size considerations almost always factor into a decision whether to carry or punt, one way or another.
Too many players. Hard-bid jobs where the prospective GCs number more than four discourage most savvy bidmeisters. They understand that each GC has his own two or three favorite subs that bid all of his work. Clearly, the odds of landing an award diminish with the addition of each GC to the roster. While some drywall subs might feel obligated to provide pricing to a friendly GC, passing might be a better alternative.
Outta sight. Many drywall subs refuse to bid any out-of-town work, period. Others make some exceptions, but for all bid-log decision-makers, distance is an issue. There are just too many unknown and unknowable factors. Difficulties in managing from afar and added expenses such as travel time, fuel, lodging and per diem are all significant disincentives when considering jobs to bid in the hinterlands. Consider too that these wild-card cost issues involved with estimating distant work are items that a competitor may or may not calculate.
Ambiguous bid docs. OK, I should say really bad bid docs because most of the plan sets that design teams are turning out these days are pretty bad, and a sub who opted out on all poor plan sets would bid precious little work. Some drawings, however, are ridiculously cloudy, and their degree of ambiguity is good cause for rejection. Most contractors and estimators recognize that contradictions and errors on the plan pages present a greater risk to the bidder, and risk is a cost factor that may not be recognized by the competition. Why waste the time? Take a pass.
Crunch time. Determining the amount of time needed to develop an accurate bid effectively has been hampered by ever-shrinking windows of opportunity. The temptation to stretch the resources of the estimating department thin to cover all possible prospects has been the source of some serious anxiety, as of late. Still there are instances in which responsible gatekeepers will recognize that two days is probably not enough time for one estimator to turn out multiple scopes on a $3 million bid. Again, pass.
These are just a few issues that decision-makers must consider when selecting projects to bid. In any case, during this current climate of certain uncertainty, commercial drywall firms will be trying to gain the most amount of work with the least amount of human resource. Given this dynamic, a policy of carefully choosing the most likely prospects for success over a “shotgun approach” just makes sense. In other words, gatekeepers need to know when to walk away—and when to run.
Vince Bailey is an estimator/project manager in the Phoenix area.
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