28 Feb Why I won’t quote a project without visiting the site first
by Mike Gambino
Every now and then I’ll get a phone call or e-mail requesting a “ball park” or per fixture price to install one of my custom landscape lighting systems sight unseen without the benefit of having me visit the site for an accurate assessment of the needs of the owner and the lay of the land.
Such a request almost always comes from someone who is not serious about getting a quality system installed but usually just shopping on price first and quality and value a distant second and third.
They may have gotten a quote from someone and they just want to get an idea if the price is fair or not. The property owner is really selling themselves short without pertinent information and a visit to the site by the competitive bidder or shall I say number thrower. After all wouldn’t you agree that its only fair to consider ones level of expertise over another when choosing a landscape lighting professional. This is very hard to determine without a personal meeting. It is fruitless to even consider a random number over the phone or e-mail and I’ll explain why.
Let’s break this down and get to the core of this problem.
Per fixture price– This type of quote is usually given by those installers who are either too lazy to do the work that it takes to arrive at an accurate quote. Or from those who do not know how to estimate a custom built landscape lighting system. They don’t know their true costs of labor (time spent and complexity of installation) and materials required so they wing it by quoting per fixture pricing that they overheard from someone else at a seminar or trade conference.
Unless competing quotes have been made from an exact set of plans and specifications (this is very extremely rare and even then not all installers will give you the same quality installation) Per fixture pricing can be very misleading to the property owner. In the case of my company we use our own proprietary fixtures and transformers for which we own the tooling so we know that we will never be bidding apples to apples with the other guys since they do not have access to the same products and often times their specified products are inferior.
In addition we are the only company that I know of in our competitive service area that installs all of our power cable inside protective rigid PVC electrical conduit and bury it 6-8″ deep under the ground. Some installers don’t like to dig. Digging is hard work. Some scratch the cable superficially below the soil or throw mulch on top. Obviously there is increased labor cost to do this right but isn’t it better to have the piece of mind that your investment is protected? A per fixture price has no mechanism to allow for this type of important comparison.
Guarantee-Wouldn’t you agree that a guarantee from an established company who has been around for many years is more valuable to a buyer than that from a fly by night operator who does this work as a sideline and won’t be around when support or maintenance and repair is needed?
It is most prudent to decide on a service provider based upon their personality, past performance and whether you like their particular design style best viewed in photos or by visiting sites of completed projects.
Do you like the person who is proposing this system not only their ideas but their personality? Is this someone you can work with who will be open to your ideas and complete your project to your satisfaction and in a timely manner?
Experience- Per fixture pricing tells nothing of the experience the installer and his crew have with landscape lighting.
Investment– It takes a significant investment in tools, training and time on the side of the service provider to become well versed with handling even moderately difficult installations. Do you really want a service provider who shows up dressed in rags and parks his leaky truck in your driveway. Curses like a sailor is disrespectful to your neighbors and hasn’t showered in weeks. Per fixture price or blind bidding robs the owner of the ability to gauge and consider these important factors in finding the right provider.
Consider Intangibles– Every site is rare and unique from the size and layout of buildings, trees and plant materials and right down to the way it drains water (this will have an impact on fixture choice).
Project cost will be affected by the following conditions
Soil type- clay, rocky soils take longer to dig
Property levels or grade elevations– slopes and hills are more labor intensive to install in
Quantity and density of plant materials- Larger quantities, sizes and densities of relevant plants will require more fixtures. Plants with aggressive and surface roots are harder to work around and require additional time and care.
Property Access– Service vehicle parking will have an affect on work production and how long it will take to complete your project.
Location of existing electrical equipment– Will additional 120 volt electrical work be required? Placement of transformers will have an affect on how much conduit and power cable will be used and the more conduit and cable to install the longer the labor time.
Attitude of property owner– This may come as a surprise but service providers are checking out property owners just as property owners are checking out service providers. Project costs can be affected by perceived attitudes during initial site meeting. Decisive, Positive and enthusiastic owners make for the completion of pleasurable and cost efficient projects. High maintenance and indecisive clients who make constant and unwarranted changes from agreed upon specifications will add real money to the end cost of a project. The provider is also on the lookout for unrealistic expectations or expectations that they cannot fulfill.
Without a site meeting none of these factors can be flushed out and usually leads to trouble. Therefore that is why I don’t provide blind quotes or ball park pricing sight unseen.