Almost every new contractor sets out to become the best in town. Few achieve that distinction. Often it is due to well-intentioned but misguided efforts. Slashing prices to perform the same work as everyone else does not cut it. Saying your firm offers fast, friendly, fair service is not impressive when every business owner makes the same promise. Customers do not listen to what you say. They watch what you do. To becomethe contractor of choice, it takes more than a low price and a clichéd promise. It requires a customized business model, one that offers individual solutions to individual clients.
The growth of the design/build market would seem to lend itself to separating an electrical contracting firm from the rest of the fray. Some contractors see design/build as an opportunity to enter a market in which they have more control over profits and projects. That may not always be the case.
Positioning an electrical contracting firm as having design/build capabilities without the professional expertise to back it up can lead to irrecoverable loss of money and reputation. With customers able to communicate to thousands of other potential customers through the Internet, it is crucial to have a reputation of integrity.
As one industry expert advised, “A firm needs to ascertain if it has the technical chops to deliver a design/build project. You can’t afford to oversimplify it. Where’s the engineer fit in? Unless someone on staff is a PE, it is going to be necessary to hire an engineering consultant. Then, if you really want to grow into this business, it’s going to require an investment in a CAD workstation as well as professional marketing.”
And no one walks alone
References abound to the team concept involved in the design/build project delivery. In her article, “Teaching Teamwork Skills,” (Electrical Contractor, February 2007), Jennifer Leah Stong-Michas wrote, “Electrical contractors are critical team members and need to be cognizant of the specialized role they can play in the successful pursuit of work by the team.” This team typically includes the general contractor, the subcontractors, project manager and architect/engineer.
Electrical contractors have access to another player who is a well-kept secret. Unusual, considering the contributions this potential player can bring to the design/build table. Impatiently waiting in the background, hand outstretched and waving like a 6-year-old trying to get the teacher’s attention, this prospective team member shouts out, “Pick me, pick me!” The contractor passes by daily and does not notice the abundance available from this valuable resource—the electrical distributor.
“Electrical contracting firms don’t always realize how much value electrical distributors can provide,” wrote Dr. Thomas E. Glavinich in his article, “Understanding Distributors’ Value” (Electrical Contractor, March 2002). “Electrical distributors provide the firm with access to products, inventory management, logistical support, short-term financing through trade credit, technical expertise and information, training and much more.”
Right you are, Dr. Glavinich. And here is an overview of some of the services distributors offer. Most of these services would cost thousands of dollars if outsourced, but most distributors offer them for free, simply for an opportunity to be part of the design/build project delivery team. Visit www.ecmag.com for the full text of Glavinich’s article. Simply type the headline into the search box.
Here is an overview of a few of the services available from most electrical wholesalers:
Support your local supply house
Any one of the above services would be an expense to the electrical contractor if not for the distributor willing to provide most of them for free. The technical, financial and marketing resources available through most distributors clearly place them as a “value-add” in the design/build project delivery basket.
One contractor said his design/build projects came as the result of long-term relationships with owners of supply houses.
“We have a history of work inside their buildings. We know the plant, the people, the processes. We know what the owner expects.” He said he understands the value of the “no-fee” services offered by electrical distributors. Like most design/build contractors, he does not charge a professional fee for his services in the design phase of the project.
The increased pace of commerce is at least partially responsible for the accelerated growth of the design/build project delivery method. For instance, in the case of a manufacturer constructing a new plant or adding a process to an existing factory, the sooner the project is operational, the sooner the company is making money. The fast-track, overlapping design/construction phases of the design/build project delivery ensure optimum profitability. It is not that the physical construction takes place any faster on a design/build. It’s that, instead of the linear approach of design/bid/build, some of the phases of the design/build project delivery overlap or occur simultaneously.
“All of this is not to say that design/build is better than the traditional design/bid/build method,” the contractor said. “Some industries have special criteria that must be met in addition to and outside of the Code. Healthcare, for instance, has its own set of specs and regulations. In those instances, certified professional engineers specialize in the design and construction of particular institutions. So, design/build isn’t a one-size-fits-all. Each situation is unique.”
Survey says ...
Maybe it is not for everyone, but a survey sponsored by Electri International—the Foundation for Electrical Construction—revealed eight out of 10 contracting firms stated that they would “develop the full capabilities necessary to provide [design/build] services” within the next year. The fact that contractors are “chosen” to be part of a team in the design/build project delivery method gives a completely new meaning to the phrase “contractor of choice.” To win, you’ll need an edge, an ally, a secret weapon. That is where the electrical wholesalers come in. They are in business to serve you. Look for the one that has the services compatible with the demands of the design/build project delivery and the temperament compatible with your team. Look for the one with the enthusiasm of a 6-year-old, hand waving, shouting, “Pick me! Pick me!” EC