Tricks Of The Trade: Quote Overload

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By B. Kevin Folsom, CEP
Published in the June 2013 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

QI’d like to gain some insight on dealing with what I call “serial quote syndrome.” My experience with a prior company as well as with my current organization is that I’m asked to obtain quotes for work that is not really planned to get done. Quotes are requested for electrical changes, lighting upgrades, and HVAC modifications by other departments in my organization solely out of curiosity.

In other cases, we will receive three or four quotes within a couple hundred dollars of each other, and the issue there is that the quoted cost (which seems to be quite reasonable) is two or three times what the department wants to pay. In other words, the requesting departments in many cases are not willing (were never really willing, in reality) to pay what it would take to have the work done right.

While it may seem logical to use these quotes for planning (in terms of “can I afford to do this work next year?”), the most frustrating issue for me as the facility manager (fm) is it eventually tends to burn bridges with my preferred contractors. While they certainly would love the work, routinely coming in to quote work that never comes to fruition is frustrating to them and can be a significant waste of their day. What advice can you offer for dealing with situations such as this?

Name withheld by request

AThis is one of the most dangerous areas for an fm, and unfortunately, it is encountered on a regular basis. If you estimate things to cost too much, you’re scoffed at as crazy and not willing to help those asking for it. If you estimate cost too low and the project gets done over budget, you’re deemed as unreliable. So the tendency is to shift the risk to our favored and most reliable contractors, thus burning bridges.

The best way I have found to deal with this is what I call “shoot from the hip times two, sometimes three.” This means if someone needs a price for work that your department will need to support, you have to estimate the cost. Give your best educated guess, and multiply that by two or three. To use this technique you have to be a fairly seasoned fm, and you have to take some risk.

When you provide the quote, state that this is simply a qualifier quote (i.e., can you afford it?) much like a real estate agent does with a prospective buyer prior to showing a lot of houses to prevent finding out they could not qualify for a loan, or that much of a loan. Sometimes you can ask your favored contractor to help over the phone by coming up with a “shoot from the hip price times two or three.”

Don’t ask for outside quotes or bids until you have something in writing from the person who would approve the funding based on the in-house pricing you provide.

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