Volume 35, Number 6, June 2000



ASAP Estimating

how to increase the effectiveness of your bid process and save yourself valuable time

by Tom Minnon

It’s 4:00 Monday afternoon and you’ve just received a call from a general contractor (GC) requesting your quote on a job by 10:00 Wednesday morning. The GC faxed you “all the pertinent information” and you start scrambling to put a number together. Sound familiar? For many, this scenario is all too common in today’s business environment, and unfortunately often leads to disaster down the road. What can we do to improve the circumstances?

First, let’s examine why you’re in the situation of not having enough time to bid this job properly. Either you didn’t know the job was out for bid or you initially chose not to bid the job because of time constraints. A huge part of being successful in the construction industry is familiarizing yourself with your market area, including bid dates and times. Several job tracking subscription services are available to provide daily or weekly information on construction projects in specific geographical areas, as well as project information such as design, bid and construction stages. Some of these services are also available in electronic Internet versions, and are continuously updated and revised. These reports supply a wealth of information critical to your business, such as: the owner, architect, construction manager, if one has been chosen; project budget, name and location; project bid date and time and a list of other bidding, general contractors. You can also view or purchase plans and specs and find out criteria of the job, which is usually listed by division according to CSI’s Master Format. Also included in these services are bid, payment and/or performance bond requirements.

Upon bid completion, these services will usually post which GC was awarded the job, and often, what the three lowest bids were. In instances where subcontractors bid directly to the owner, those awarded subcontractors and bid amounts are also listed.

Taking advantage of one of these job tracking services allows you to know in advance bid dates and times, and will help in minimizing the number of times you find yourself bidding a rush estimate. When the GC calls looking for a price, you will know whether this job is still in the competitive bid process or if the awarded GC is bid shopping after the fact. You will also know if this is a design-build or negotiated contract.

In addition, you will have time to review the scope of the project completely without having to rely on information faxed to you by the GC. It may or may not contain everything you need to know in order to accurately bid the job. Having a complete set of plans and specs (including Division 1) is the only way to know the job, your scope of work and what your price should include.

Even when prepared with all this information, there will still be those occasions where you need to quote a job within 24 hours or are asked to adjust an existing quote. Throwing a number at the GC or telling him or her to take 5 percent off your last quote is not only setting you and your business up for a loss, but worse yet, a possible failure. Following are some things you should and should not do to ensure an accurate bid in a minimal amount of time:

• Know your suppliers and their products and part numbers. Submit a precise material take-off with all the pertinent information from the specifications. You are unlikely to get a quote from a supplier in a short amount of time if you simply send in a roll of plans and specifications. It is your responsibility to know the job and its requirements. The more questions the supplier has for you, the less time he or she has to quote the job.

• Give your supplier an exact date and time that you need the quote. This allows the supplier to know whether or not he or she will have time to meet your requirements, and inform you of such. Remember ASAP means “as soon as possible.” If an estimator has five jobs in front of him, he will most likely do the ones with specific time and date requirements, not ASAP. As soon as possible may take days to get to.

• Make your quote requests legible. Quote requests with poor handwriting and vague sketches will usually go to the bottom of the pile, for when the estimator has time to try sort it all out, or may not be considered at all.

• Don’t always “cry wolf.” Most every supplier can tell you about customers who have to have a quote right away. Be a partner with your suppliers and only ask for special consideration when it’s absolutely necessary.

• Don’t ask your supplier for someone else’s price. It’s unethical and puts the supplier’s estimator or sales representative in a very uncomfortable position. Besides, how would you know that your competitors’ number is based on an accurate take-off?

• Compose an estimating spreadsheet. This may be done using software like Microsoft Excel. Some manufacturers may even have their part numbers and descriptions in this format and provide it to you free of charge. You can also generate your own program.

• Learn to use one of the several estimating software packages. Most architectural aluminum suppliers have these available for a small fee or may supply them at no additional charge. Others are available on a lease basis or for a one-time charge with or without annual maintenance fees. These packages allow you to do an accurate aluminum and glass take-off for generating an estimate or you can fax the take-off to your supplier for their pricing. This software is helpful when you need to re-quote a job or do a new take-off because some of the rough openings have been modified or eliminated, or the aluminum finish has been changed.

The keys to success in today’s business environment are constantly changing. Successful business people know their industry, their market and their customers. They also know which tools are important to them, and use them.

Tom Minnon is sales and marketing manager for Structures Unlimited Inc. in Manchester, N.H. He has 25 years
experience in sales and customer service in the construction industry. Glaziers Guild appears monthly with rotating authors.


Copyright 2000 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.