From talking to electrical contractors lately, I know it’s still tough to get profitable work in the current economy. However, I also find most of the contractors who have prepared well for such a poor economic situation are maintaining a substantial workload. Of course, contractors experience more pricing pressure now than when everyone had plenty of work, but as a contractor, you can handle pricing pressures if you are ready to counter them with letters from satisfied customers extolling your professional, on-time and on-budget work. “On budget” means no change orders and project work that is carried out efficiently within the predetermined cost analysis. “On time” means you started the work when you said you would and you finished the work on or before the predetermined completion date.
As proof that you are qualified to properly and efficiently install and maintain fire alarm systems, letters of recommendation also help in your efforts to handle pricing pressures. These letters do not magically appear just when you need them. You must ask for them at the end of each project. Otherwise, you will not have them to show a prospective client when submitting the next fire alarm system proposal. These letters should become part of your proposals. You will find that most, if not all, of your competition will not have such letters of recommendation. Again, your preparedness will set you apart, and price pressures will become less of a factor.
Moreover, cultivating relationships with your local fire officials doesn’t hurt either. “How do I do that?” you might ask. The two best ways to befriend a fire official are always being ready for an acceptance test and offering classes on proper, code--compliant fire alarm systems installations for the fire inspector and his or her colleagues. Of course, knowing the 2010 National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code requirements is a prerequisite.
Moreover, being completely ready for an acceptance test means you have both planned the system installation and budgeted the correct number of hours for the installation. It means you have all of the documentation required to assure the fire inspector that you have completed the job in a code-compliant fashion. It also means you have teamed up with a supplier who understands the code and makes a commitment to deliver the equipment and their services—such as system programming—on time and on budget.
Being ready for inspectors when they arrive will ensure you make a positive impression. You will stand out from your competition that consistently does not have jobs ready for inspection, wasting the inspectors’ time.
Most inspectors cannot recommend you to an owner, but they can respond to questions from an owner. Encourage your potential customer to ask fire officials what experience they have had with various contractors when you submit your proposal for a project. Positive reviews from inspectors will result in less pricing pressure and will place more focus on the quality of the installation and confidence that the project will be approved when you finish.
Providing classes on code-compliant fire alarm system installations, with emphasis on the installation aspect, will set you apart from the competition and will help the inspectors do their jobs more efficiently. Most fire officials have limited, if any, electrical installation experience. These same fire inspectors will have very little understanding of the National Electrical Code (NEC) requirements. They also do not have a clear idea of what a workmanship-like installation should look like. If you teach them the basics of proper installation techniques, they will know what to look for and readily spot poor installations.
Take inspectors to an actual installation. Show them the correct type of wire and installation method that the NEC requires. If you cannot present a class at an actual installation site, develop a construction mockup that will provide a hands-on experience. You can show the fire officials both the correct and incorrect ways to install wiring and devices.
By teaching inspectors what to look for when they check out an installation, the price-pressuring competition will lose money. They may have cut corners and know little, if anything, of the code requirements. By actually showing inspectors proper installation techniques, you will give them confidence to question installation issues. As a result, they will certainly develop an appreciation for your knowledge and work. In addition, when inspectors recognize your competition’s poor workmanship, you will stand out even more.
French chemist and biologist Louis Pasteur said it best: “Chance favors only the prepared mind.”
MOORE, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in the life safety field, is a past chair of the NFPA 72 Technical Correlating Committee. Moore is a principal with Hughes Associates Inc. at the Warwick, R.I., office. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.