Voices from the Bidding Trenches

by Brian Sodoma

Good painting estimators are really just good students. They take what they’ve learned from the last job and apply it to the next. At inPAINT,TM we were fortunate enough to spend time with some estimating professionals recently. They vented, laughed (no one cried), shared stories, and passed along meaningful nuggets of information from the bidding trenches. Here are a few from the highlight reel …

The ‘he said, she said’ trap

You visit a home, get the specs, run the numbers and have the feeling that a deal is around the corner—then the glitch. You only dealt with the husband, and his wife has input, too. The bid changes, prices jump and that slam-dunk deal is in jeopardy. “That’s why I like doing estimates on weekends or on weekday evenings,” said Peter Buttenwieser, a CertaPro franchise owner in Westchester, New York. “I always want all the decision makers involved in the process from the start.”

In commercial, know when to send

With 30 years in the paint business, Lynn Fife has drawn up thousands of commercial bids. But the owner of Evergreen Technology has a very deliberate approach for how he times his proposals. During the two-week window for submitting a bid, he runs his numbers and revisits specs and scenarios. He’s usually done early. But Fife never submits the bid until the day before it’s due. “If you send it in too early, then you’re just going to have your bid shopped around town,” he said.

When to follow a bad feeling

Bruce Watson, owner of Jalapeno Paint Werx in Naperville, Illinois received a call one day from a prospect. A furniture company had damaged a wall in the person’s home during a delivery and offered to pay for the work. When Watson arrived, he was told to add work from other areas of the house into the estimate without telling the furniture company. Watson saw the request as a red flag. “I knew I didn’t want to work with someone where honesty was an issue,” he said. “It makes you think, ‘What would this person do behind my back?’ I declined the project.”

Avoiding war

Early in the life of a paint business, bidding wars are common. It can seem like a never-ending battle against the low bidder mind-set. But that doesn’t always have to be the case. Taking note of those jobs where it was all about quality and less about price is important. Those jobs are the key to getting out of the bidding pit and into the referral game. “I like to be in a situation where I’m giving a price, not a bid,” said Sam Attenberg of Advanced Painting Group in Carlsbad, California.

Attenberg gears his business toward higher-end clientele. Through the years he has generated a mountain of referrals from satisfied customers whose friends and family are looking for the best, and not necessarily the lowest, bidder. Now, he can afford to be picky.

“Painting to me is not like buying a television. It’s an artful craft. No matter how good the material is, if the prep and craftsmanship isn’t good, you will have a poorly done job,” he added.


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