Another Short Story

This post is pointed at the members of the group who try to earn a living with their tools, brains and brawn doing wood working. In my career as a cabinet maker and custom closet designer, builder and installer I have made countless sales calls on mostly home owners with a sprinkling of commercial prospects.
I've been successful in a reasonable percentage of those calls but on occasion ran into a potential client who was short on manners and long on hubris. After receiving a fair bid they would say they could build it a lot cheaper themselves.
My answer was something like, Does it pay Bill Gates to mow his own lawn? I'm curious how some of you handle this type of know-it-all.
Joe G
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Really, the only way you *can* handle it is to say something like "If that's what you prefer to do, I wish you the best. Thank you for your time, and if you change your mind, you have my card."
And of course, *you* retain any plans or drawings which you may have made.
--
Regards,
Doug Miller (alphageek at milmac dot com)
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GROVER wrote:

My response would be "Sure you could. And when you're finished, divide the savings by the number of hours you put into the job and you'll know just what your time is worth."
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I've often thought about this and if really enjoy doing the work, then putting a value on your time is meaningless. If you're doing a particular project just so you can save money, then it's becomes a job. I do woodworking because I enjoy it and it because the projects that I work on are ones that needed around the house.
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Don't even try to debate this fact. The reality is that we all look at everything this way. I often have a preset idea in my head and when the quote exceeds it I indicate that it is a lot more than I wanted to spend, or I tell them on the phone right away what ball park I'm in. Maybe you need to ask you clients before the trip what they are expecting or have in mind. "Ball Park". Every time a look at a job for my home I determine what makes the most sense? Could I make more money working elsewhere to pay for a real professional to do the job? In some cases I've done the identical job for a client while I hire someone to do it at my house..
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GROVER wrote:
<snip>
> My answer was something like, Does it pay Bill Gates to mow his own > lawn? I'm curious how some of you handle this type of know-it-all.
The classic "I can do it cheaper" mentality.
You can't win that one, don't even try.
Lew
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On Mar 19, 11:58 am, Lew Hodgett

I agree. I used to be pissed off, then I was more pissed off because I felt like they wasted my time. Now I am still annoyed, but I don't take it personally.
This is what I do, and I certainly don't advocate it for others. If it helps you or others somewhat, mission accomplished.
- Go to the house, be as polite as possible, gauge the response. If they have screaming kids running around like banshees with one or the other of parents trying to quiet them down, or they are trying to make dinner with the TV blaring, or only one of the decision makers is there, try to get out after measuring. Leave a card; run away. They just aren't that interested, really just curious They are actually taking advatage of the "free estimate" after watching a weekend of HomeTime
- If you have both members of the design/decision/payment team on deck, get to business immediately after pointless pleasantries. Refuse coffee or drink
- Identify the materials needed and their availability, the amount of work, and the total time involved. Let the client know what the scope of the project is to give them an idea of what is involved to complete it
- Make sure they understand any complications, delays, that may arise, offer suggestions of anything that might help smooth things along
- Assuming you have been doing this long enough to know, give them a rough estimate (with the usual caveats) no the high side to let them know what you think it will cost
- ASK for feedback. You say - "I am not committed to that number and of course it could be lower... but is that a number that fits in your budget? Is that about what you expected?" If the answer is an adamant no, get a feel for what they expect(ed) and see if you have a product or service that will match their expectations. If you cannot find common ground, shake hands a leave.
- DO NOT work on that project any further because "they just might be calling you in the future" or "they like you the best" or "we would really like to know what it would cost on the bottom line (offered in a curious, not serious way)"
Remember, you do not owe them an estimate. Free estimates are not in The Bill of Rights, If they are not a good client candidate for your company, you DO owe them the courtesy of letting them know that you aren't interested or that you are too busy. Likewise, they owe you nothing for doing it (unless otherwise determined), and most likely you won't hear from them again unless you get the work. I can count on one hand how many times I have had someone call me out of plain consideration to tell me they went with another contractor
I think part of the contracting process is to see if you and the client are a good fit. I am long past giving the absolutely nastiest, cheapest, low bid I could generate. Someone is always cheaper anyway. And I really hate playing the game of low balling the number then charging extra for every little thing. I like bidding a good, proper job.
And in almost 30 years of self employment, I have had clients do some pretty rough and underhanded things. I have seen signed contracts (with some of my friendly competitors) that have my exact verbage and scope of work in their contracts - work I have spent literally days on.
One time one of my buddies (wouldn't lie, doesn't need the business) said they were given the "specs" on a plain piece of paper with my price shown as their own personal estimate. My buddy was told, all he had to do was beat the price shown. When you have spent many hours honing in a price and calling about materials, this can be real ball buster.
I have seen my drawings done the same way, with my watermark removed, as well as my company name.
I used to bid some specialty carpentry work for a upper end remodeler here in town, and they would demand excruciating detail in my bids. One day while there, I saw one of the secretaries copying >exactly< the verbage of my bid into their contract. I was pleased, as it used to take me more time to describe the work in a bid as it did to do the take off. However, I was informed by this new secretary that they always used my detailed bid as specs for that aspect of their work.
Contacting one of the job supers, he informed me that they >always< used my specs, my takeoffs on material, and my price when bidding as they knew I would do the work as I bid it. However, he told me that they only used me when they couldn't find anyone cheaper. And you guessed it, it wasn't all that hard since they provided my competitors with my scope of work, my methods, and my material takeoffs from the plans. That alone could save them 8 - 12 hours on the estimating and bid completion.
Needless to say, I didn't need the experience in bidding and typing. I never bid anything else with him.
Trust your instincts and your wallet. If they want your drawings, sell them. Unless it is the nature of your business like California closets, charge for drawings or extensive, complicated bids, applying any fees towards your bid if you get the work. Simple straightforward bids are hard to charge for, especially if you write them up on site and hand them a copy. But anything else...
I don't mind having my bid shopped, nor my contract. Happens all the time with all of us in the service industry. I certainly don't mind any competition. I am thankful that with the years I have in the business as a remodel/repair contractor, >all< of my business is referral. That doesn't mean the I will get the job, but it does mean someone has talked to a previous client that was happy enough to refer.
OK, OK... off the soapbox now.
I have a young guy that worked for me years ago that is struggling to get started, so I think this thread must have hit a nerve..
Robert
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snipped-for-privacy@aol.com says...

I can second this. I am not a full-time pro, but I do commissioned work. On several occasions I have given people a ballpark rough estimate so they know what they are in for before even starting and wasting my time with measure-ups and plan drawings .... so if I go "that'll be in the ballpark of 350 to 450" you can just bet they'll hear "that'll cost 350, max". Definitely, ballpark- estimate on the high side ;-) Couple of good friends of mine [repeatedly] would take on quotes for kitchens, spend a couple of days measuring, drawing plans, drawing alternate plans, write up a proposal and then go back with that to a [known miser] and be pissed off because he didn't want to pay that much ... could've saved themselves a lot of work by firing off a quick estimate. Which, i.m.o. they ought to have been able to do since they did that kind of work for years.
-P.
--
=========================================
firstname dot lastname at gmail fullstop com
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On Mon, 19 Mar 2007 12:00:32 -0700, snipped-for-privacy@aol.com wrote:

[...]
Both good points, other posts in this thread appear to confuse a bid with detailed take off. This leaves a lot of room to be disappointed and wasted effort.
If a job is more than simple, it is perfectly acceptable to charge your client the time it takes to generate design drawings. (That's what architects do.) It could just be an hour or two--these don't need to be complete or indicate all the subtleties you'll actually need to draw in building the thing, just enough that both parties can agree on the task. If you know what you're doing, these will be enough to do a takeoff to within about 10-20% the real price. Properly note this contingency and the client sees the margin of error and recognizes you're being honest. Throw in alternates for variations of wood species or other choices, and allowances for purchasing items like hardware or lighting that they may wish to upgrade.
If you can't do simple and quick design drawings to get to this point, you (or the client) should hire someone else to do them. I know plenty of designers, architects, and students who moonlight, it is no problem these days to find someone. (Tip: India works while you are sleeping, is a 12-hr turnaround, and charges 10% your cost.) A good drawing/CAD program is a plus, but hand drafted typicals can be cut/pasted either physically or electronically to do the job. Or if your work is mostly the custom type, you probably already have the artistic skills to draw quickly and accurately without relying on a library of drawing parts. (A large mis-match between your skills of woodworking and drawing may indicate you're over-reaching for your market.) Or grow the relationship with someone you trust to do the actual shop drawings and spend more time in the shop!
The best part about design drawings is that they help you gage a client's commitment towards the project. And they are actually getting something for their money. If they pay for the design drawings (cabinet elevations at 3/8" or 1/2" scale, maybe a section or two at 1-1/2") even if they don't want to use you to build them, they have still received some service for their minimal investment. They can also take these to someone else to build without you feeling ripped off.
If a woodworker is doing complete shop drawings for an estimate, they either don't have enough experience to make a reasonable estimate of it or they don't mind taking the risk of loosing the value of their time.
--
Steve Hall [ digitect dancingpaper com ]

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Steve Hall wrote:
> > Both good points, other posts in this thread appear to confuse a bid > with detailed take off. This leaves a lot of room to be disappointed > and wasted effort.
Memories of times past.
At one time in my career would do guaranteed take offs of electrical equipment that is to be purchased by the mechanical contractor, but installed by the electrical contractor.
Made the mechanical contractors warm and fuzzy and was good business for my employer.
Lew
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