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The Price Is Wrong (Part One)

Oh me, oh my, do I feel high… — from Scotch and Soda, a traditional lounge-lizard song

You dread making the phone call, so you procrastinate. You sort your emails, catch up the bid log, and make some superfluous adjustments to the database. You download and convert several sets of plans and rename the pages. You make another pot of coffee and fill the salt shaker in the break room. You indulge in every time-waster in the book, but you’re just putting off the inevitable. The phone keeps staring you in the face, reminding you that you promised to follow up on last week’s bid today.


All of this neurotic foot-dragging owes to a grating suspicion that the news at the other end of the line is not likely to be the kind that inspires dancing in the streets. Quite the contrary. But the post-bid pessimism you now exhibit stands in stark contrast to the upbeat note upon which this endeavor began.


It was a straightforward job: a 40,000 square-foot tenant buildout in a familiar building cluster for a friendly GC. Basically, it was a wide-open cube farm with a single full-height demising wall that partitioned the unit from other tenants; all other interior partitions parsed several clusters of rectangular offices comprised of straight-running, uninterrupted, under-grid walls. The exterior scope consisted of simply furring the concrete tilt panels to just above ceiling height. The ceiling was a plain-Jane 2-by-4 grid supporting a semi-load of square-edge tiles at a height of 10 feet. Long story short: It was every screwgun-totin’ gypsum junkie’s dream—a walk in the park for production, and you were getting on board the gravy train.


You flew through the takeoff due to the repetition of conditions, and you ascribed some fairly aggressive but very doable labor productivities to the work. You got dynamite material pricing due to a recent reduction in pricing across the board and ideal stocking conditions. Moreover, you were able to minimize lift rental owing to the dearth of full-height walls. You were dizzy with elation when you brought the estimate to the table for a bid review. It would be a winner from the get-go.


But several things happened during the bid review that blind-sided you like a slow-to-throw quarterback in a full-force blitz. First, the production manager disputed your aggressive labors, claiming that he was tapped out on productive journeymen, and that performing the job with mostly new-hires would be sketchy at best. He managed to talk your productions down to a snail’s pace on a molasses track, and threw in some unneeded stocking to boot because he “got stung on the last one.” Astonishingly, he had you insert some hefty lift rental costs, allegedly because his guys “can’t skateboard on Perry scaffolds anymore.”


Then your branch manager informed you that a quick-start job did not conform well with his master schedule—that he was looking more for backlog down the road. He had you assign to your “gravy-train” job a markup that would make Donald Trump blush like a schoolboy.   Adding insult to injury, he had you include some questionable contingencies to your general conditions: parking, engineered shop drawings (for an interior job!), off-hours premium and LEED® costs. You send out your heavily laden bid with all the joy of a child watching his treasured toy sailboat being whisked out to open sea.


Now, a week later, you dread making that follow-up phone call to the general contractor because you’re pretty certain that you’re high—“higher than a kite in flight,” as the song goes. In fact, you wonder if your bid even got any more consideration than a terse chuckle and a toss in the proverbial “round file.”


But maybe, just maybe by some fluke, your competitors suffered some of the same sort of humiliating add-ons as you did. After all, many of the excessive inclusions were afforded by a healthy local market that was common to all. Then maybe, due to some freak warp in the universe, you wound up being the only bidder. It’s happened. Maybe pigs can fly.


Hell, it’s just a phone call, you tell yourself at length, bolstering your confidence. What are you afraid of? You boldly dial the phone but hang up before the first ring. You remind yourself that it’s early yet and GC’s estimators are notorious late-risers. You wait until late morning, but then there is that early lunch your boss planned. When you come back, you figure the GC will be having his lunch. You wait until around 2 p.m. and dial again. This time, you wait for it to ring and the receptionist picks up.

What was said and what you did will be featured in next month’s installment of Estimator’s Edge.

Vince Bailey is senior estimator at Berg Drywall of Phoenix.

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