Contributed by Russell Harrison
In my last blog post we looked at the struggles a product rep has comparing a product that is specified that doesn’t match the drawings. Or, how we compare apples to oranges.
In this post, we’re going to take it one level further and look at one small thing that happens at the subcontractor level during the bid phase. Before I go there, I’m going to sidetrack into the glazing side a bit, but we’ll bring it back around to the metal panel industry we spoke about in blog post #1, I promise!
In a past life, I was a subcontractor in Oregon working in the commercial glazing realm. We would install anything glazing related in commercial buildings or high-end residences. That could be curtainwalls and storefronts, automatic door entrances, or even vinyl windows. The reason I bring this up is because it gave our team exposure to items from Divisions 5 (Metal), 7 (Thermal and Moisture Protection), or 8 (Openings). As our work was based around Division 8, this forced us to sometimes work with quite a few items outside of our realm of expertise and brought up a lot of questions internally. Anytime we had time to reach out to a rep and discuss the things we didn’t understand, we would do so. However, when our bid lead times were short, we’d have to make a lot of guesses.
Guessing isn’t an abnormal occurrence in construction estimating. Unfortunately, it’s quite normal. Controlling the amount of guessing for subcontractors is an area where we can all help.
Subcontractors, like most people involved in the commercial construction industry, have to clearly understand the work to bid a project accurately. As product reps, we try to work side by side with our subs to make sure they have all the information they need by the bid date so they can provide a thorough bid, but sometimes things happen outside of our control. A recent item outside of our control, and a very relevant example, would be our white-hot construction market in a booming economy.
During a construction boom, most estimating teams at the subcontractor level are working 60-70 hours a week in an attempt to keep up with the number of projects that are bidding. This doesn’t leave much, if any, time for other daily tasks. Estimators are typically very selective of what they will consider bidding during these times, will only work with general contractors (GC's) they like, will choose to bid jobs that are completely detailed and well specified, or will chose projects that fit into their available labor calendars.
For product reps during these times, it is far more difficult to get access to estimators to help them wade through unfamiliar or conflicting items on a project. Less time for a rep to educate means less understanding for a sub. This can result in less thorough and more inaccurate bids. To be fair, this isn’t anyone’s fault. We’re all doing our best to keep our heads above water when the construction environment is that busy!
One thing we try to do is schedule a page turn with the subcontractors, where we will flip through a set of plans to go through the architectural drawings to review all of the details and elevations. This is one great way that a product rep can help build a knowledge base and trust with the customer. I try to do these with subs that are taking on new scopes or working on products with which they are unfamiliar. Trying to carve out an hour in someone’s crazy schedule is difficult enough in a normal bidding market, let alone one that is on fire! An estimator’s available hours are valuable. Sometimes, spending time with a product rep, no matter how beneficial, just doesn’t happen.
If we can’t find the time to be able to educate a customer, the result will be guesswork on an estimate or bid. The most common phrase I hear when subcontractors are unfamiliar with products or when there are inconsistencies in the documents is “give me a cover number”. “Give me a cover number” translates to ”give me a dollar amount to make sure I’m covered just in case my guys need three times as much material as I think I need.” Also, it could mean “give me a dollar amount to help cover my labor since I’m not sure if every panel joint will need a backer rod and caulking. I know it’s crazy, but I’d better double my labor hours.” Cover numbers are never good for bid accuracy and only lead to job costing inflation.
Let’s take this one step further. If we assume a subcontractor’s estimators and installers are already working overtime in a booming construction market (remember, you’re paying a 50% premium on labor hours in overtime!), how does that extrapolate when using a cover number and someone adds 50% more hours to do a job? The answer is a GC and building owner could end up paying for 150% more labor and materials! Who doesn’t like paying 150% more than they should for something, right?!! Wrong!
This leads back to my first blog post about specs and drawings that don’t match. Something as simple as specifying dry joint panels, but drawing wet joint panels, can be the impetus for a cover number. Many subs will throw money at something they don’t understand, especially if they don’t have time to research it. You know, the GC’s biggest nemesis, the “cover number”. Anyone that can influence specs and drawings to match on a project is providing an invaluable service. You are helping subcontractors provide accurate bids and helping to keep construction costs in line and in this environment, that’s something we sorely need.
Let's Fix Construction is an avenue to offer creative solutions, separate myths from facts and erase misconceptions about the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry.
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