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Callers wanting "estimates"

Discussion in 'Irrigation' started by jbintexas, Jul 14, 2005.

  1. jbintexas

    jbintexas LawnSite Member
    Messages: 16

    During a virtually rain-free June, I got a few calls wanting an estimate for an irrigation system. Most of them have no idea what to expect, so to weed out the tire kickers, I ask a few questions re the size of their lot, how many flower beds, and give them a ball park range. If that range seems to be in their budget, I offer to go out and measure and do a design and bid.
    How are you guys handling these type calls? How far do you go before you are willing to spend the time to do a drawing? (Assuming you do drawing). :)
  2. sheshovel

    sheshovel LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 5,112

    If you do a design,just do it for yourself for estimating purposes,don't submit it with your bid.
    Once they accept the bid and you are hired,then you can give them the plan.
    Don't give them a free design so they can hire somebody cheaper and just tell them to follow your design.Or use your design to install the system themselves.
    As far as calls go for estimates YES that's the way this biz runs,potential clients call for estimates and you go give them estimates.
    That's how you get jobs and pay your bills.
  3. sheshovel

    sheshovel LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 5,112

    I'm willing to put in a good hour on a plan and estimate AFTER I have looked at the job.It's the cost of getting work and it's added in if I get the job..I eat it if not .You gottta give it your best shot and if that takes you time,thats all part and parcel of the many sacrifices you make while building your business,
  4. jbintexas

    jbintexas LawnSite Member
    Messages: 16

    I agree and that's the way I've been handling it. Just wanted to see if that was the typical steps.
    Thanks for the input!
  5. DGI

    DGI LawnSite Member
    from SE Mich
    Messages: 173

    Free drawing/design before, no way. We guarantee 100% coverage and matched precipitation. I'll meet anyone who calls looking for work in our area.
  6. bicmudpuppy

    bicmudpuppy LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,781

    The only "design" I give for a residential system is an as-built. If we get that far, it is part of the deal. Estimates are "free". Tire kickers, window shoppers, etc. are all part of the game. If you can weed them out early great, but sometimes they are the ones who suprise you and write a check. I average 25%. Every "NO" I get is one more closer to a yes. That means you need 3 "No"s to get that yes that pays the bills. I have worked for companies where it took 5 or 6 instead of 3. The numbers don't really matter except you have to run them. If it takes 6 to get one, or if it only takes 4, you still have to do them. The trully scary thing when you get used to it is nailing 3 or 4 in a row........you know you got to make up for it sometime :)
  7. jbintexas

    jbintexas LawnSite Member
    Messages: 16

    I appreciate all the comments. I think five heads (human, not irrigation) are better than one. After I decide a contact is serious, whether for landscaping or irrigation, I do a detailed drawing and show it to them. I do not leave it with them so they can show it to someone else to bid it cheaper. I have had a number of clients decide to go with my landscape plans even though I presented a higher bid because they liked my drawing/plan better than the others they had already seen. I'm not sure that can be done very often with irrigation, since there is not as much aesthetic difference in the plans. I have been told by someone who sells CAD irrigation programs that he has had irrigators tell him they got jobs with higher bids due to the professional look and detail of their computer generated plans.
    Any thoughts?
  8. drmiller100

    drmiller100 LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 562

    i'll go meet a customer. I'll even go so far as to mark where all the sprinklers go on residential jobs.
    some people will ask how i'd recommend doing it. i'll tell them. Why not? if they are tire kickers or want to do it themselves, spending an extra 10 minutes while there and telling them how does a couple of things. It means less call backs from the DIY'ers. It means the customer will ask better questions of my competitors.

    and all of those DIY'ers have neighbors. The neighbors will ask the owner who they would have used. I've gotten several jobs this way.
  9. jerryrwm

    jerryrwm LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,274

    To present a plan or not...that is the question.

    Most homeowner's have no idea what they are looking at on an irrigation design when it's put on the table in front of them. They see the lines, the dots, and all the other symbols used to designate the various components. And then when two or three or more contractors follow with their design, total confusion results and they generally go with the company that did the best job selling themselves and their services, or the lowest price.

    Sometimes with a design on paper, the homeowner may wonder why there are not the same exact number of heads in the yard as there were on the drawing. There may be extenuating circumstances and field changes that make for a more efficient system that may result in fewer heads than designed for. Then you run the risk of having to justify why there are only 65 heads in the yard and your design had shown 73. And then some will want a credit for the unused heads. But on the other hand, if you made a field change that required 3 or 4 more heads, they damn sure don't want to hear about paying for the extra heads. A simple way to alleviate this is to have verbage in the contract stating that "The system will provide complete coverage to all irrigated areas specified in this contract per discussions between the owner and contractor." Then you have covered all the bases.

    If I run into a potential customer that absolutely has to have a drawing before signing the contract, I will charge them accordingly - no less than $150.00 for an average sized lot, and the price goes up from there depending on the complexity of the project. If they then choose to go with us, that design fee is deducted from the final payment. (Well some of it is anyway.) While some may argue that it is a cost of doing business in the irrigation world, that time spent doing a full-blown design has to be paid for somehow, and it damn sure isn't coming out of my pocket!

    As Bryan said, I provide an "as-built" drawing if requested. It shows the location of the P.O.C., the backflow device, the mainline path, wire path, valve locations, main shut-off, and the controller location. This will provide them with any necessary information that they need for working around the yard without damaging any of the major system components. Lateral lines are not on the 'as-built' nor are heads. Some might feel it is necessary, but it is just as easy to turn on the system and find the heads when popped up.

    When I did designs as part of the bidding process, I quickly learned that it is never prudent to leave a drawing with the customer, for the reasons already mentioned. It really bites to drive past a job that you didn't get, and see the installing contractor using your design to install the system. That happened only once. I used to take my original drawing on vellum during the show-and-tell. That way if they asked to keep it to 'study' my stock response was that "this is my original drawing and I don't have any other copies. If something happened to it, it will have to be redrawn at an additional expense." Then I would ask them if they felt that they would understand the system any better from looking at it later when I wasn't there to answer any questions they might have.

    I talked to many contractors over the years and they all agreed that it cost money to give a free estimate - probably in the neighborhood of $50.00 - $75.00 if they took the time to measure the property, go back to the office and draw up a proposal and then return to try and close the sale. Throw in a couple hours for doing a design, and pretty soon that 'free estimate' has cost you, the contractor, about $300.00 or more. Sure if you have a CAD program you can whip out a design in short order, but that CAD software cost you money as did the printer and the other hardware necessary to use it.

    If I can't sell an irrigation system without a design, then I must be doing something wrong. A good presentation folder with cut sheets for the equipment, and professional looking proposal - free of spelling and grammatical mistakes, and a damn good gift of gab will get just as many jobs.

    Just my thoughts,

    Jerry R
  10. jbintexas

    jbintexas LawnSite Member
    Messages: 16

    Thanks again, for all the input. I learned some good ideas from all. :)

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