Estimators, Distributors, Manufacturers: Divergent or Similar Goals?

In the estimating process, quotations of specialized large-quantity lot, or project-specified materials will put the estimator in touch with the firm’s suppliers. Some contacts will also originate in the purchasing department. Getting reliable and competitive quotes is of prime importance to the estimator during bid preparation. The task of making the takeoff should be organized and prioritized to allow sufficient time for a supplier to get dependable quotes from the manufacturers. Some estimators depend on a supplier or manufacturer’s salesperson to make a takeoff of the materials to be quoted. Other firms prepare quantity surveys of the particular project. Switchgear and fixture manufacturers generally use these takeoffs. Materials may have also been taken off at another contracting firm or at the engineering offices. Quotations based on other sources’ takeoffs have substitutions not approved by the designers, omit addenda, and, worst of all, contain takeoff errors. I have never depended on quotations that are not based on my takeoff. For example, with a main switchboard, typical manufacturer takeoffs contain items required of their particular part of the job. Not all gear manufacturers make the same items, and not all will quote all items. There is also the aspect of checking the nomenclature included when the quotation comes through as a lot price. Problems continue with prices attached to catalog numbers that may not cover the project needs. Applying labor to gear components that come in as lot quotes or are based on catalog numbers can result in hours being left out of an operation. By providing their own takeoffs, estimators can state quote breakdown preferences. The estimator will also get a better handle on how much labor is needed and what problems must be solved to install the switchgear. Another reason is to not rely on someone else’s materials list. Fuses are no longer an item that can have prices arbitrarily applied. Similar problems can be anticipated when the project has special systems, such as floor duct, cable tray, bus duct, or similar items. Often manufacturers’ representatives assist the design engineer with making the layout using their firm’s products. This gives the manufacturer a “leg up” in getting its product approved, sometimes as an exclusive and complete materials list. In such a situation, the estimator is again placed in a less-than-informed position about the right amount of labor for the items to be installed and the installation nuances. The manufacturer’s price will be accurate and inclusive, but the delivery of the quotation is usually based on a lot price. Or the estimator can use a catalog containing the item in question to make his or her own takeoffs once again. Relying on his or her own takeoff will assure the estimator that the items in question will be covered in the bid with an accurate price and labor hours. Establishing working relationships with suppliers and manufacturers will pay dividend. If the estimator gets quotes, then it should be done in a timely manner. Suppliers quote personnel work on many quotes. Giving them time will assure an estimator that the quote he or she gets from the supplier is their best work product. Often, an early request provides otherwise unavailable information, such as an indication that your firm has competitors bidding the same job. With an early request for quotations may also bring manufacturers’ representatives to your shop to make a takeoff. This could provide an opportunity to make acquaintances who could be of future assistance. Further, the estimator can learn about new products. If the quote requests are delayed, the manufacturers’ representative may not get a pleasant welcome on the day of the bid. An earlier edition of “Estimating Electrical Construction” sums up supplier relationships as “The Golden Rule,” stating that, in the long run, “Many contractors and estimators have earned the reputation with suppliers that they will buy from the supplier whose prices or lump sum quotation was used to make the estimate.” I dislike lump sum bids unless the supplier is willing to guarantee that they have bid all items, but I do endorse the principles of loyalty and ethical dealing. One estimator has a sign in his office that reads “I don’t buy smart, I negotiate them to death” (meaning suppliers). Selective buyers are usually called cherry pickers. Neither will, in the long run, get the “right” price. To service the industry, suppliers and contractors must turn a profit. If every bidder tries to squeeze the last buck out of each quote, and the supplier goes along with it, they won’t stay in business, nor will they attract the legitimate operator. Contractors, distributors, and manufacturers share a goal—to make a profit. The choice of being an ethical businessperson and treating these folks with the respect we’d like to be treated with rests with all parties. DAVID is a professor of electrical technology at Long Beach City College, Calif., a consultant, and an expert witness. He can be reached at (562) 597-1877 or by e-mail at

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