Saying Goodbye

By John Fulmer | Mar 15, 2005
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Astute, regular and faithful readers of ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR'S “Estimating” column may have noticed last month's entry wasn't written by long-time contributor Eric David. After 12 years at the helm of this monthly feature, Eric has decided, in his words, “to throw in the towel” due to other demands on his time and, though his loyal readership might not believe this, because he felt he'd run out of new ideas.

But for those of us who have ever been required to write a column, it's understandable. Twelve columns a year for 12 years means coming up with 144 separate estimating topics. That's no mean feat, even for someone in the business for years.

In his resignation letter, Eric said he was able to fulfill his high school ambition of being a writer, and that writing for us had “been a wonderful experience and I've enjoyed the contacts from readers. The time has come, however, as we used to say in the trade 'to hang 'em up.'”

We at ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR will miss Eric's knowledgeable advice, input and insights-as our readers will, too. One of the most important and satisfying parts of being a writer, editor or reporter, as Eric mentioned already, is the feedback we get from readers. We always want more. We want to know what you want to read about, which brings us to this month's estimating topic.

It came in an e-mail forwarded to me by Eric during our last correspondence. Bill Jones, a chief estimator from Bellingham, Wash., wrote to Eric:

“I enjoy your estimating column and look forward to reading it each month. Thank you for your efforts. I would like to see a discussion on providing post-bid feedback. I always appreciate it when GCs provide me with detailed feedback but am always unsure of how much detail to provide my vendors and subcontractors. Is it appropriate to share a competitor's bill of material with another vendor?

“If one subcontractor or vendor is very low, I am always hesitant to share that with others. I realize that there are not always answers to these questions, but I would appreciate a discussion and other viewpoints. Thanks again for your work.”

Eric replied: “In my operation, my company's work product was exclusive. I notified my vendors that if they spread my takeoffs I would no longer provide them with any and disregard their figures. We actually had a situation in my area where the same electrical got all the work for a particular class of work albeit there were multiple contractors. The offender was finally stopped when three area contractors got together and pooled their resources ... on the very low bidder. The trap worked and miraculously after that he actually estimated his jobs and could never get a job again, finally quitting the business.

“If you can trust your vendors and subcontractors, then I'd step lightly. They obviously would like to know where they stand as we do. Caution is the game-unfortunately.”

This sounded like a good topic for a column. I e-mailed Bill and asked him to elaborate some more on post-bid feedback. After all, don't all of us really want to know how we've done on the job? In a matter of minutes, literally, Bill shot back an e-mail:

“We always walk a fine line between providing appropriate feedback to our subs and suppliers and giving away too much information. There is no question that we need to tell them what position they finished in. The question arises when they ask for more information. Do we tell them their competitor's price? I almost always do with the exception of when their competitor has obviously made a mistake, I don't share that information. Do we share a competitor's bill of material? I don't usually but am often asked.

“As a subcontractor, I always appreciate as much detailed feedback as I can get from my general contractors. I try to give this courtesy to those I deal with but don't want to go too far. I use the Golden Rule as my measuring stick, being careful to not give information to others that I would not like my GCs giving about me. However, I don't know if others feel the same way and do not want to do anything that will damage my reputation of fairness. I want to be a useful source for my vendors and subs and there lies the fine line.

“Just some random thoughts. Reading through, this sounds like a good roundtable discussion for a NECA convention. I am sure that GCs, subcontractors, lower-tier subs and suppliers would all have a slightly different point of view.”

To which I say, do any NECA people think this is a good idea? If so, let's talk about it in New Orleans. EC

FULMER, editor of ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR and SECURITY + LIFE SAFETY SYSTEMS, can be reached at 301.215.4516 or [email protected].


About The Author

John Fulmer is a freelance writer based in Joppa, Md., and former editor of ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR magazine. He can be reached at [email protected].


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