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August 2020 President's Letter

Tuesday, July 28, 2020  
Posted by: Trish Moss
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Best job I never had

I received a call last week regarding an installation that was completed approximately two years ago. I remember how much time we spent in preconstruction working with the GC’s smart and well-meaning engineers. They were unfamiliar with the requirements of a tile project with this much complexity. Why would they be expected to be tile experts? That’s why GCs have pools of qualified bidders. They should be able to rely on the expertise of their subcontractor partners so that they can perform comparative analysis to select several qualified bidders for final scope of work interviews. 

I remember creating a document to help identify minimum requirements for the location of movement joints. We also provided survey information to identify where floor preparation would likely be required and its approximate value. We did everything we could as a responsible bidder to share some of the hard-won lessons we had learned on similar projects. It was approximately 60,0000 sq. ft. of tile, thick-set exterior, miles of membrane, flowable mortar – you get the picture.
We were never called for a final scope review once the estimates were submitted. We were “too high.” That’s it – thanks but no thanks; appreciate your input. 

We have all been there and you know exactly how that feels. You wish them the best and move on. It was difficult to accept at the time that our preparation and participation seemed to not have value. I know I always am curious to know why we are/are not competitive on one bid or another. You have to wonder if everyone is looking at it the same way. 

The call I received last week was to inquire if we were interested in bidding the job AGAIN. By the way, this time, I should include the price of the demolition of all the tile, thick-set exterior, miles of membrane, flowable mortar. It was incredible, knowing this work was basically new in tile terms. It had been completed really just months ago. According to those in the know, the installation had problems almost as soon as it got started. Who is to say who is to blame? There are usually plenty of fingers to point and no one is without some responsibility. I do have to admit that there was a little “I told you so” devil on my shoulder, however. 

I took a trip to see the work in place. I wanted to see the site and figure out some logistics. Okay, that’s not really true. Really it was to see what the heck was so bad that they wanted to remove it all after a couple of years. Was this something we could/should try to participate in AGAIN? I couldn’t say no. A million-plus tile job is like catnip to a tile contractor. This time it will be different. They must have had a chance to reconsider the last low bidder paradigm – RIGHT? This time I was told the owner had a high-quality consultant to supervise the new work. This job will go to the best-value contractor not the low-price contractor – RIGHT? 

What is that famous line? Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me? Well, in fairness, the lowest price is like catnip to the GC too. They can’t seem to help themselves. I don’t know who will get the job, but I was led to believe it will not be us. We are “too high.” I am not impugning the other bidders. I have no idea who will do this work or their ability to execute the work. 

This truly is not a spilled milk story (well, not completely). Sometimes you have to walk away. Perhaps for me this is just good therapy. Sometimes you are walking away from the best job you never had. In this case, I am looking forward to visiting this job in several months after they get it going. I have a feeling it may be the best job I never had – TWICE.

Chris Walker
NTCA President
Vice President, David Allen Company
Chairman, ANSI A-108
Chairman, US TAG ISO TC-189
Board of Directors ABC-VA
Voting Member TCNA Handbook
Voting Member 
NTCA Reference Manual