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It’s easy to shop smart at the grocery or big box store: Prices are clearly posted, products are standard, competition is vibrant, and comparison shopping is just a google away. But things get trickier with something like bullet proof glazing: These are specialized services installing unfamiliar building materials, and there are only a handful of nationally recognized companies working in the field.
In his decades as vice president of Total Security Solutions, Jim Richards has evaluated plenty of bullet proof glazing jobs. All too often, when several companies are brought in to bid on a project, one comes in 20 or 30 percent below the others. According to Jim, “There aren’t that many unknowns in this industry.” All bullet proof glazing uses the same materials sourced from a few major manufacturers. These must be worked by similarly skilled tradesman on similarly expensive equipment; if someone claims they can get that job done for just 2/3 the price, something is wrong.
LOW BIDS BECOME HIGH COSTS
Jim points out that a bullet proof glazing company can only bring in such a low bid if “they aren’t bidding apples to apples.” There are two tactics Jim often sees brought into play to artificially depress a bid:
1. NO HINGES, NO HANDLE, NO HARDWARE
One way to hide costs is to leave out items that customers won’t notice missing from the bid. “I saw a quote the other day where one of our competitors doesn’t put hinges on the doors they supply. How is the customer going to hang a door with no hinges?” Jim plucked this quote from his trash, and pointed out that for these heavy-duty $2500 bullet proof doors, the hinge and lockset will each cost a few hundred dollars. $400 to $600 in hardware is not unusual, and not something customers can save money on by sourcing it themselves.
2. NOT INCLUDING TAX AND FREIGHT
Another way to hide the real cost of a bullet proof glazing job is to not include tax or freight in the bid. “I’ve seen proposals where you have a $60,000 job, and they don’t add sales tax and freight; you could have $4,000 worth of freight alone.” Jim explains, clearly exasperated, “I’ve never understood how they go back and ask for more money. I give a contractor a complete price: sales tax, freight, packaging, all the materials–this is the price to get the product to your door.”
LIVING ON CHANGE ORDERS
In the world of project management, a “change order” is an alteration in the overall scope of work a customer and contractor agree to, and is almost always accompanied by a bump in the total cost. For example, if you take your car in for an oil change, the mechanic might call midway through because he’s noticed that the coolant line is cracked and leaking; he’s suggesting a change order, and you’ll likely approve it.
“I know that some of my competitors live on change orders,” Jim says. They offer that low price during the bidding process, and then nickel and dime the cost back into realistic territory with many “unforeseeable” changes.
Jim acknowledges that change orders are not necessarily suspicious: Large projects in any industry evolve as they move forward, and it is not unusual for the scope of a project to shift, necessitating adjustments to the costs written into the contract. That said, hinges, locks, and handles aren’t a last-minute add-on to a bullet proof security system.
“It’s rare I go back to change orders,” Jim says, “the price is the price.” When it comes to bullet proof glazing, customers and contractors have every reason to show a little caution with a low-low bid. Does that “inclusive” bid actually included everything?