Q&A: Poole Anderson president on successful construction bids
By Riley SimpsonJune 16, 2021
Stephanie Schmidt, president of Poole Anderson Construction and chair-elect of the board of directors for Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), has been with her central Pennsylvania contracting firm for 21 years, and she’s worked in the industry since 1983.
She says her company has generated several thousand bids for projects in her career.
“When we put our minds together, we dig deep and do the right things to be successful in terms of project pursuit,” Schmidt said.
CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365 recently talked with Schmidt about crafting construction bids for project owners. We asked about what makes a bid successful and what’s changed in the process over the years.
CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: What are a few qualities of a successful construction bid?
Schmidt: In the bids we submit to owners, detail is important, as well as accuracy. You want minimal exclusions, showing you understand the scope of work. A lot of information goes into how the numbers are presented. Our staff makes sure we understand everything on the drawings, understand the full documentation.
CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: How important is communication in the bidding process?
Schmidt: I want to emphasize the most important thing in the process of putting bids together is communication, communication, communication. It’s a collaborative process. Your team, the design team, etc. Remove as much opportunity for error as you can remove. It takes a lot of people to put a successful bid together. Communication is really a key component.
CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: What are the best ways to get into the running for construction bids?
Schmidt: The most important thing is knowing what’s out there and what’s coming down the road. Our business development people look for projects, and we find others through relationships with previous clients, engineers working on early envelopment for customers, and business and social relationships. You need to have your feelers out at all times. Once you know about the projects, the earlier you’re involved, the longer the opportunity to build a relationship. We like to assist during a project’s planning phase, volunteer our expertise and help with budgeting.
CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: Which steps do you normally take to prepare a construction bid once you’re aware of a project?
Schmidt: The first and most important step is doing a “go/no-go” with our team. We find out everything we can about the client and our competition to determine if it’s a good fit. Some projects might not be good fit with type of work you do. If we decide it’s a go, we have a team meeting and then talk with the estimating department and management team. We develop the scopes of work for each of the trades and use a web-based subcontractor solicitation software invite contractors to bid the project. Through that process, we evaluate documents for completeness and ask questions – the goal is to have all trade contractors on the same playing field with minimal assumptions and fewer things left to subjective guessing. The more you know up front benefits everybody.
CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: How have you adjusted your process over your career? Which adjustments have you made?
Schmidt: We have learned how important it is to vet the projects up front. It’s a fluctuating economy, and you want to win what you can and increase backlog, but the quality of the projects is more important than the quantity. Make sure you’re setting yourself up for success and that you are pursuing work that lines up with your company objectives.
Throughout the years, we’ve placed an emphasis on bidding as a team. The biggest room for error that causes regret is when you didn’t understand the scope of a project, or a major area where you left something out of a bid. Collaboration is key.
CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: How often do you work with the same subcontractors? How often do you seek out new subcontractors for projects?
Schmidt: One thing we strive to do is provide a level playing field to all subcontractors. Poole Anderson has been in business for 97 years. We have long-standing relationships, yet we’re always willing to bring new ones to the table. ABC and the American Subcontractors Association (ASA) are good trade organizations that provide a network for subcontractors we might not have known before.
[This year], Poole Anderson was awarded the 2020 General Contractor of the Year by ASA’s central Pennsylvania chapter.
CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: What are the pros and cons of having repeat experience with subcontractors versus working with a variety of craftspeople?
Schmidt: The benefit of knowing subcontractors and having longstanding relationships is a good understanding of capabilities of that subcontractor. You know their strengths and weaknesses. There’s an opportunity to form new good relationships. You always want to stay fresh and make sure you’re getting the best of the best when it comes to people you’re working with.
CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: How much has technology affected the bidding process?
Schmidt: Technology has greatly affected the industry. Not just bidding, but project management, too. I’ve been in the industry long enough to remember delivering a bid by driving 90 minutes with the bid form in hand and finding a phone booth on the side of the road to wait for a final number. The industry has now predominately moved to electronic bid submissions and document transfers.
Technology has stepped up our efficiency, safety and ability to win work.