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Educating your clients brings more value to the work you are performing.

By Matt Breit, Project Manager with Nexus 5 Group

In any industry, it's not uncommon to use “customer education” as a sales tactic, almost so much that it can become cliché. Whether you find it cliché or not, in my opinion customer education is the best overall sales approach.

In contracting, it can be difficult to find the opportunity to educate your customer. This is especially true in a competitive bidding environment where often, the contractor who is awarded the project is the contractor with the lowest bid. The contractor will bid exactly what is on the drawings or scope of work and nothing more. This is not really selling at all, but bidding, where price is the deciding factor, and quality and inclusiveness might be an afterthought. This can create potential problems for both the contractor and client once constructions begins.

Design Assist or Design Build Bids

Fortunately, there are other types of construction. Examples include Design Assist or Design Build. The contractor has the ability to offer value engineering by means of educating the customer, and this is an opportunity to show your customer the best path to a successful project delivery. In these types of bids, the contractor will bid based on the client's desires, but has the ability to offer ideas, methods, and/or products that create value for the customer. Creating value and being aware of someone’s budget doesn't always mean your plan is the cheapest option. I recently had this exact situation. I had to educate a customer in order to lead him to the best value. I was able to get him to make the best decisions given the situation.

An 80,000 SF Warehouse Project

I was awarded an 80,000 SF warehouse project which consisted of finish improvements (new paint, carpet, and ceiling tile) to an attached 5,000 SF office area. The 5,000 SF office was an add-on of the original warehouse. The office was showing signs of water damage and possible organic matter on the interior sheetrock to all of the exterior perimeter walls. I was informed that the roof was leaking at one point but had since been repaired. So the plan was to remove and replace the damaged sheetrock and remediate any underlying organic matter with the assumption that all water penetration had already been addressed. Obviously, since the existing sheetrock was covering the studs and insulation, the client and I agreed to address any remediation measures as a change order once sheetrock was removed so we could accurately price the work. Once we opened the wall to see underneath, it became apparent we had opened a can of worms.

Interior Before/After

Not only did we discover a large amount of molded, rotten plywood under-sheathing, we also discovered the parapet cap and existing roof were still leaking, along 3 other areas of water penetration due to improper previous installation and lack of maintenance.

These areas included the following:

  1. (10) existing windows that lacked proper rough opening framing, proper flashing, and eroded window seals and caulking.

  2. The exiting entry canopy was improperly flashed lacking kickout flashings at the corners where it met the exterior siding causing water to pour in at these concentrated locations.

  3. The existing exterior wainscot was not flashed, nor installed with weep holes to allow drainage. It merely had a bead of deteriorated caulk where the brick met the stucco and was allowing water to pour in behind the wainscot.

Exterior Before/After

What is the correct way to solve the problem?

The client’s budget for remediation to water damaged wall was around $5,000-$10,000 before seeing the extent of damage. Immediately, the conversation led to discussing how we can get all the needed repairs done within budget. We considered multiple ideas from the client who suggested non-typical construction approaches. I brought in our contractors to investigate the best, and correct approaches to save this building. As you may have guessed, what our contractors recommended came with a higher price tag than was the client was expecting. Basically, we needed to reconstruct the entirety of the exterior walls to get them up to current building standards.

Our recommendation was to provide a complete roof overlay with new flashing, re-flash the entry canopy, remove and replace the exterior EIFS/stucco siding, brick wainscot, underlying plywood, and to provide new window framing and then field repair the existing windows, and repaint. The amount? $140,000.

Roof Before/After

Taking the time to educate makes all the difference.

As you may have guessed, this was a hard pill to swallow for the client and led to many discussions on what we could do to save costs. He kept saying, “Surely there is something we can do to get this number down?” and “What if we do this instead?” but I had already exhausted every alternative option. I explained that cutting corners would only cost him more headaches down the road. The change order sat idle during these repeated discussions and finally we devised a plan to meet on-site with the client and sub-contractor for a hands-on, group discussion. We needed to educate our customer as to why the building had continued to leak and why our plan offered the most value.

When we held the site meeting, we brought a sample siding cutaway section showing the proper installation methods, which aided us in explaining in detail why each area of damage needed to be repaired accordingly. We also explained the “cause and effect” pitfalls of some of the owner's suggestions. Cutting corners on the repair was only going to prolong the issue at best, and could even expand the issue at worst. We continued addressing each part of the solution, answering questions and offering insight along the way. In essence, by investing in the initial upfront costs to perform the proper, industry standard repairs, the owner would save on additional potential costs that could far exceed our proposed costs down the road. Our plan would also ensure protection of the new finish improvements inside the building.

As we concluded the meeting, with the owner still processing all the information, he asked one last time for reassurance, “What do you think we should do?” Our answer was, and always will be, the only way forward is to make repairs correctly. Without hesitation, the owner said he trusted us with the information we had presented and asked us to proceed.

The next time you are faced with a situation where you need to guide your customer to a decision, ask yourself if they are armed and educated with all the necessary information and factors to make the right choice. You might be surprised how big a difference this will make.

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