It’s Quiet Time!

Remember when you were a little kid and your mom would put you to bed, telling you it’s “quiet time”? This is a lesson most of us forgot as we grew up and began purchasing things. As a purchaser, quiet time isn’t when you go to bed at night. It is right after you have gotten a price for the goods and before you com­mit to buying them. In the construc­tion world, you should never award a contract or commit to using some­one’s services until you have quali­fied the bid to ensure every item has been included in the scope of work they have quoted.

Imagine you are a general contrac­tor (GC) who was just awarded a con­tract to build a hospital. Your phone is ringing off the wall because the word on the street is “you have the job.” The first call you take is from a good friend and sub-contractor (SC) who gave you a price on the mason­ry bid package. Your old friend says over the phone, “I heard you got the hospital project?” You remain silent. “How is my price?” Silence again. And then, finally, “Did you go in with my number to get the project?”

Up to this point, you were do­ing very well obeying the “quiet time” lesson you were taught as a kid. However, this is a friend you are talking to, and you can’t stand it any longer. You take all the sus­pense out of the conversation by saying, “Yes, I used your number.” You are excited for your friend, but you want to double check a cou­ple things, so you say back to him, “Did you have the rigid insulation that goes between the brick and block in your bid?” “No,” your friend says. You continue, “How about wall bracing?” “No,” your friend softly replies. “What about the dewatering and taking the mud off the footers if it rains between the time we pour them and you lay the block? Did you include that in your price?” Again your friend says, “No.”

You bite your tongue as you real­ize you have made a huge mistake. Instead of obeying the rules of quiet time, you told your friend he was low before you qualified his bid. Know­ing this, he has excluded, without hesitation, any work that could be pushed off to you as the GC or on to one of your other sub-contractors. Some friend, huh?

Most of the large GCs — such as the Turners, Gilbanes and Skanskas — all have quiet time mastered. Lang Masonry Contractors (LMC) just got another lesson recently, as we are anxiously awaiting the po­tential award of a school project where our bid is around $5 million. The wise project manager (PM) has had our company on quiet time for a while now, as he will not answer the questions we have been asking: whether or not he used our number going in, if we are low, or even if he desires to work with our company. Instead, he scheduled a telephone call for a scope review with me, our estimator, LMC’s president and the would-be PM to see what we had in­cluded in our price should he award us the project.

On the 90-minute call, he in­formed us that we were among one of the apparent low bidders. During this conversation, he asked things like, “Did you have the rigid insu­lation that goes between the brick and block in your bid?” “Yes,” we replied. He continued, “How about wall bracing?” “Yes, of course,” we tell him. “What about the dewatering and taking the mud off the footers if it rains between the time we pour them and you lay the block? Did you include that in your price?” he asked. My staff and I hesitated, as this has always been a gray area. As they looked at me while shrugging their shoulders, wondering what to tell him, I spoke up and said, “Yes.” We may have been the only con­tractor he was interviewing for the job, as our number may have been the most competitive already, but the wise PM sure wasn’t going to break the quiet time rule by letting the cat out of the bag. Instead, he smartly kept us out of the driver’s seat until he qualified our bid.

When you get a price for prod­ucts or services, the tendency is to quickly say, “Yes, I will take it,” giv­ing the seller an option to reduce the offering that was originally part of the purchase. The next time you go to hire a SC or buy materials, be­fore you commit to the price you are given, make sure you ask questions such as, “Is delivery included?” and “When can you deliver?” and “Are there any discounts for paying ear­ly?” These questions need to be answered before you commit to the purchase. You may be surprised at the money you can save by using that simple lesson your mom taught you years ago called “quiet time.”

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