To Bid or Not to Bid. Continued.
Some consultants disagreed with the point of view of my original article in October‟s “Contractor‟s Corner”, that bidding was mostly a waste of time. In December‟s “Sound Advice”, columnist David E. Marsh, indignantly defends consultants‟ specifications efforts and counters that the bidding effort is worth while. Why? Because not only does bid work account for half the business of three large national contracting firms he surveyed and names, but consultants are responsible for specifying between a quarter and a third of the total value of annually installed AV systems. Also, he disputes that one-year old specs could go out for bid, and goes on to suggest what specs should and should not do. When polling contractors about bidding, the conclusions drawn would be different if respondents were anonymous and the questions asked how much time is spent in bidding, what percentage of bids end up winning and so on.
Consultants asking their contractors such questions directly, get answers they need to hear. More realistic answers would not serve interests of contractors looking to stay on consultants‟ bidder lists. I didn‟t expect consultants to side with me. But neither did I expect such opposition. As I said in the article, my problem wasn‟t with consultants. But it looks like there is one after all, at least with some. From the article mentioned above and other consultants‟ letters also printed in subsequent issues of this magazine I conclude that while consultants know how to write, some could use help with their reading. They just don‟t get it! I had hoped that my article would encourage consultants to consider how the bidding process could be improved, asking themselves what they can do to help. To do that they would have to focus in on the substantive aspects of my article and maybe peek in the mirror just a little. Possibilities abound. Instead, their outsized egos, stuck in denial, got bent out of shape. Imagine if consultants used their considerable talents in persuading clients to use contractors of the consultant‟s choice rather than the general contractors‟ and irrespective of the bid price.
Imagine if consultants actually took the position of the venue‟s ombudsman in the interest of getting the best possible job done for that particular space as opposed to helping the client figure out the least common denominator toward getting the job done fast and cheap. Imagine if the consultant stood his ground when cost cutting decimates the project. Imagine if half-way toward completion it becomes evident that a simple change, costing a few extra dollars and maybe even a slight delay, will result in a substantial system improvement and the consultant strives to persuade the client that it‟s worthwhile to do it rather than dissuade the contractor from implementing it, since it wasn‟t the consultant‟s idea. Imagine if consultants were able to persuade architects or general contractors that one week is not enough time in which to obtain bids from sound contractors. Imagine if consultants, in pursuit of a better job, asserted their authority more and wimped out less. If some of these things were to come to pass, those of us who bid only occasionally would be burning the midnight oil in enthusiastic response.
Tis only a dream, though. It's easier to deny reality and mount righteous indignation with post mortem rhetoric than take up on behalf of project quality and rock the boat in real time. No one wants to risk getting wet. The tyranny of price and competitiveness among contractors is an unnecessary complication that frustrates us from doing a better job too much of the time. Since there is plenty of work out there and not that many qualified people to do it, we should be finding ways to help each other rather than take part in artificial bidding schemes that purport to save owners money but end up otherwise. I don‟t mean price fixing but genuine cooperation. The kind that helps the other guy do a better job and earn more money. Every contractor who‟s been around for even a short while knows what I'm talking about. But demurring from greed takes some time and practice. There is a Mercedes mechanic in Long Island to whom I have been driving a 20- year old wagon an hour each way for 19 years, now. Since it‟s such a long trip, I usually stay and watch him work until the car is done rather than leave it and come back later. It‟s done because that mechanic takes the car‟s point of view rather than the owner‟s. His ego is nowhere to be seen, he hardly talks, is impersonal. He listens to the car. He looks and touches the car. He gets to know it. He likes cars. He doesn‟t bring up cost, if you don‟t. But he is honest. The car is rarely ready on time because parts come late and he gets diverted with clients‟ sob stories. But when it‟s fixed, it‟s really fixed. He also helps mechanics in an adjacent garage when they get stuck. He pays his bills the day they come in. Is that any way to run things? He‟s been there for 25 years and has a loyal following of people who like to keep nice cars in good shape without getting ripped off. The more I watch him work the more I aspire to be like him. Consultants should, too.