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Working with subcontractors

by Leon A. Frechette

Finding talented and reliable subcontractors can be an exhausting trial-and-error process, especially since there are over 40 different types of specialty contractors or subcontractors in the industry. Specifying a sub for a specific job is a matter all on its own that only you can decide, and building and maintaining relationships with subs (once you have found subs you are comfortable working with) can be a very difficult, but rewarding, experience.

Whatever your reasons for hiring subs, keep in mind they are professionals with individual personalities working to run and manage successful companies. Like many general contractors, they rely on a support network of quality subcontractors to produce much of their work. Your judicious use of subcontractors could make or break your project and may work to your overall advantage. Subcontractors can help you to meet state licensing requirements (if any) and can speed production.

To help get the best out of your subcontractor relationships, apply the following guidelines:

  1. Try to hire and work with the same subs;
  2. Give the subs the opportunity to bid their part of the project;
  3. Don't let the price they quote influence you to shop for a lower price from other subcontractors;
  4. Communicate with subs at all times, asking for their opinion and/or input;
  5. Give adequate notice of scheduled work or delays and immediately advise them of any changes;
  6. Provide accurate plans for them to work from;
  7. If you are supplying materials for the subs, have the materials on hand when work is to begin;
  8. Provide good working conditions on the job site;
  9. Provide general direction (to meet job specifications) as needed, but let the subs do their own work;
  10. Be sure to have a qualified person on hand (not the customer) to answer questions or to tackle any problems that should arise;
  11. And, most importantly, pay promptly—money talks!

Following these guidelines will build and strengthen your relationships with subs, and it may very well be that relationship that will help assure they will be there when you need them and they will provide the quality work your customers deserve. As you already know, quality work requires fewer callbacks.

Giving subs the opportunity to bid their portion of the work allows them to scope the job and head off any potential problems that may have otherwise not been discovered, problems that could affect your bid. Nothing is more embarrassing than to have to approach a customer with a mistake and then ask for additional funds to cover it. By rights, this is your problem—not the customer's—but, of course, this could depend on how the general conditions read on your contract. Allowing subs into your bidding process can help to ensure the job will run smoothly and profitably.

I've had the same subs for about 20 years and there have been times when I had to bid the job to fit a customer's budget. By working closely with the subs, we were all able to rebid the job and come up with an alternative plan of action that won both the customer's approval and met the budget. While this didn't happen very often, it was reassuring to know that I could go to my subs with confidence knowing they would work with me. This also worked if the job was underbid. Our give-and-take relationship helped us to work out compromises that we both could accept. In return for this loyalty, you need to support your subs; they, in turn, will support you.

Some subcontractors work for other general contractors as well as their own customers (consumers), so their schedules could be as tight as yours. While you may have a strong working relationship, you may not always be able to hire them for a particular job. Since you may have to hire another sub, it doesn't hurt to establish working relationships with more than one of the same trade. It is also possible that your preferred subcontractor could recommend an equally qualified sub for your particular job. Remember that a job could arise when you will need both subs, and their previously established working relationship could be a big help. Finally, your track record of paying a sub on time can reinforce their loyalty to you, especially during a busy construction season.

Treat subs as you would like to be treated and work to build a personal relationship with them. Keep in mind that a subcontractor can also be a good source of leads. Donít be afraid to ask them to send business your way, and be sure to do the same for them.

It may be helpful to attend meetings or, if possible, join an association for subcontractors. This can provide an informal opportunity to meet and get to know other subs in your area.

The bottom line with subcontractors is: You need them as much as they need you! By working as a team, you'll be able to produce the highest quality work possible, insure the customer's happiness (repeat business), keep your overall production costs down, and increase your profits.

Copyright © 1994 & 1998 LAF/C.R.S., Inc. All rights reserved. The previous article,
in whole or in part, appeared in the July 1994 issue of Remodeling News.



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