While in preparations to pontificate and prognosticate and otherwise wax philosophical about the prospects for the roofing industry in 2007, I find myself too distracted by events of the present.
The main distraction came by way of a chance meeting with a commercial roofing contractor whose fortunes have recently taken a turn for the worse. Hit with a serious cash-flow crunch, his crews were being pulled off of jobs and material supply lines were rapidly closing. Some of the jobs are in default; others will be soon. It is all a big, stinking mess. This was not the first (or second or third) trip down this road for this contractor. Given his age and apparent abilities, it will not likely be the last. The bid process will once again reward him with contracts regardless of his past.
So long as commercial roofing contracts are awarded based primarily (if not solely) on the lowest bid, contractors who crank out the low numbers will remain in this type of a “pump and crash” cycle. They win tons of work over a period of time, building a huge book of business. For a time the scheme works, but eventually it catches up with them. In the meantime, owners, GC’s, suppliers, and legitimate competing contractors all foot the bill for the disaster masquerading as a commercial roof-contracting company.
When will we ever learn? Problem is that the main recipient of the pain of a bottom-feeding contractor is the legitimate contractor. Suppliers and general contractors do get hurt, but they tend to manage their business with the understanding that they will have a certain number of write-offs. Owners are often shielded from a direct hit, as they are often insulated by GC’s or bonding companies.
Some Good AdviceI cannot change the bid process in this country, but will offer up a little advice thanks to a lot of folks, in particular our good friend and contributor, roof consultant John D’Annunzio. If you seek work in the bidding arena, make sure that your bid is clean, crisp, and precise. You must bid the package exactly as prescribed. It is possible in most any situation, however, to bid the package as called for and to also include alternate bids and to itemize everything you plan to add to the success of the project. You may propose a winning solution that the owner or designer may not have even considered.
All requests for bids are not complete, and some seek a price without providing accurate or adequate specifications. You must take advantage of these situations to put the details in front of the owner to set yourself apart from the other bidders on the basis of something other than price alone. These “extras” will not matter to every owner in every situation, but if you do not introduce them into the process, you will be left with only your price to win the work. That is a problem for your roofing business, not a solution.
To put my money where my editor’s note is, I am going to invest a little in my freelance writing business today by purchasing a new digital camera outfit from a full-service photographic retailer. I already know buying a camera on the Internet will save me $250 on this equipment. Like your clients, I am not just buying a “thing,” I am buying a solution to a business need. To support that, I recognize that I will need service going forward - the type of service only a local provider can bring. I’m betting I will be more than $250 worth of glad I did not buy “low bid.”