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How Reading the Specifications Can Help Your Wallet

For most of the last decade I was a contractor. I lived, ate and breathed the decorative concrete industry from the field. Today I am a consultant. I have one large retail account that takes up about 60 percent of my time. I work on two to four projects a week for this customer. The rest of my time is spent providing general business consulting for decorative concrete contractors, helping them move forward in their businesses.

This unique combination of knowledge as both a contractor and a customer’s representative gives me a good perspective on the issue of specifications. They are especially important in decorative concrete. It is important to read them and more important to understand them.

The majority of my experience is as a contractor, so this is where we will begin. First, an estimator needs to read the specifications in order to know what they are pricing. Once I bid on a project where the specifications called for a resin-only polish. Our company did not like to do resin-only polishes, so we bid the job at about a 50 percent profit margin. To my amazement we ended up with the job. I thought for sure that there would be other contractors bidding lower. Once the contract was signed and safely filed, I went to speak with the general contractor to ask him about the other bids. He agreed to show them to me, so we reviewed them together. Out of six bidders our company was the only one that bid a resin-only polish. All the other companies bid for full grind and polish. It was obvious why we were so much lower. If I had not taken the time to read the specifications closely I would have bid this project much higher and someone else would have the job.

The specification is the best protection that you have, other than the contract itself, to keep from getting taken advantage of by the customer. If you know the specifications forward and backward you are in excellent shape if any conflict arises. If you can prove that you ran the processes described in the spec, you are protected when the customer says, “I thought it would look different.” It is easy to explain that you performed the work that was asked of

you in the spec and qualified in your bid.
You also have the ability to intelligently draft change orders for power requirements or additional work when you know exactly where you are to stop per the specifications.

Make sure that your field personnel have a copy of these specifications. I would strongly recommend going through several versions of specifications with your foremen. This will allow you to hold them accountable for reading and understanding the specs on a job-by-job basis. My experience is that field personnel look to avoid conflict on projects. Sometimes this means doing extra work above and beyond what the bid was written for. If you arm them with the knowledge of where to stop, then you are much more likely to get paid for your extra work.

When I act as a consultant, my primary responsibility is to make sure that projects are moving along per specifications. I am constantly amazed at how many contractors I run into who are attempting to do work without having any knowledge of what the specifications for a particular project are.

The most common mistake that I see when contractors don’t read the specifications on my projects is a lack of understanding in regards to the qualifications related to bidding the project. Most projects today have a specific list of qualifications. Some of these items need to be submitted prior to bid, and sometimes they are post-bid issues. Either way it is important to review the specifications in order to insure that you can qualify for the project before you spend your time bidding on it.

I have had projects where contractors completed large areas of work using the wrong products. This puts them in a really bad spot, because the floor does not pass inspection, and then they have to remove everything and start over, which eats into their profit and my timeline for completion. I have had contractors skip steps or try to start with different levels of grinding than what is called for. The result is the same every time. I get there, we have a discussion and the contractor gets to start over. The directions for the project were clearly laid out ahead of time.

Remember that as a customer, the directions for what they want you to do are written in the specifications. If you disagree with something or something is not clear in a specification, do not hesitate to ask questions or make suggestions for addendums. This will help the customer understand what they are trying to tell you to do and create a better standard for projects moving forward.

David Stephenson is president of Cave Springs, Ark.-based Polished Concrete Consultants. He can be reached at [email protected]

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