By Steve Hoogenakker, Taylor Made Lawn and Landscape
here are four critical steps to consider before you request bids from vendors.
1. Set your Internal Goals
2. Decide on "Best of Breed” vendors versus a generic vendor
3. Review Proposals and Contracts
4. Work with your vendor
Set your Internal Goals
The first step is to learn what homeowner expectations are, because expectations of a vendor/CIC relationship will be the hardest to change. Education is key. You can do this by reviewing the history of past vendor results. If it’s a lawn maintenance contract you’re looking at, there’ll be email, phone messages and snail mail correspondence between homeowners, the property manager and the vendor. You can also review newsletters and minutes. Any "hot spots” in your association will be revealed here. The other method of setting your internal goals is to ask vendors about the new trends with products and services.
Decide on Best of Breed Vendors vs. a Generic Vendor
If we study two landscape maintenance vendors, Best of Breed vs generic vendors, we can clearly understand the differences between the two.
A general landscape vendor will have to be good in 5 or 6 fields. They will have to be able to handle lawns, snow removal, irrigation work, landscape installation and tree and shrub care. The advantage to using this contractor is there’s one contact to handle all aspects. You also save time evaluating bids, because you’ll only have 3 bids to cover all the areas listed above. If you hire this single vendor, you’re putting your reputation on the line if they fail on two or more items. Even the best landscape companies are going to be stronger in snow than landscape or tree care vs. irrigation.
A Best of Breed vendor (let’s use irrigation). While irrigation work is considered landscape work, it’s highly specialized work. It involves electrical circuits, plumbing, dealing with city ordinances, and keeping up on amazing new technologies. Here are the characteristics of a best of breed irrigation contractor:
You’ll get the best service
You’ll get expertise, which is imperative for complex problems
You’ll probably be paying higher upfront prices, but might save money long term
Hiring best of breed means more upfront work for the board and property manager, sifting through bids and specifications, checking references, etc….
Contracts and Proposals
OK, you’ve determined your internal goals, you’ve researched past successes and failures, measured vendor results from the past and made a decision regarding best of breed vs. general vendor. You’re ready to get contracts and proposals.
The biggest mistake I see property managers make is not having a set of specifications of their own. If you ask three vendors to bid, you’ll be looking at three sets of major pricing, plus exclusions of service and prices for extra services. One vendor might prune trees to 6’ and another to 12’. How will you know these apples/oranges bids are going to meet your CIC’s needs? In addition, having different vendors on your properties with different specs, how will you know the work is getting done? You probably aren’t going to remember the pruning specs for site A and site B.
The solution? Set up your own specifications. CAI vendors would probably be happy to help you setup new specifications. We’ve all got standard boiler plate contracts that we use. Ask the vendor questions about each section, so you understand it. Remember that you’re looking for the vendor to help with the specifications. She might have payment or cancellation terms that are not in your best interest, so check with your attorney.
The last step to consider is optional add-ons. Include a blank sheet in your specs with the title of "Extra services suggested but not included in contract” with 4 columns: Name of Service, Why it’s needed, Price, and Month/Year the service or product should be delivered. This can be good information to work into future budgets.
Work WITH the Contractor
The honeymoon is over. The giddy excitement has subsided. Your relationship is comfortable, but growing routine. Now, you and your service provider are left to figure out how to keep the flame burning.
A soured relationship with any of the assorted landscapers, accountants, community managers, bankers, roofers, insurance specialists and others who serve your community could spell more than heartbreak. So these bonds need to be nurtured and taken seriously. Take your contractors for granted and pretty soon they’ll be taking you for granted.
Make your expectations clear. The first impression a vendor has of you is the RFP. If it’s good, it tells us you’re serious about getting first rate results. If it’s poor, it says this really isn’t that important.
Monitor but don’t micro-manage. Homeowners always want to tell a contractor how to do the job, but don’t have experience. Instead, homeowners should focus on the quality of WHAT gets done.
Establish clear lines of communication. Many times, contractors work independently and without direct supervision, so a little extra effort communicating will produce excellent results and create a long-term, trusting relationship.