Pete's confused by the language people use to sell thoughts and ideas

Thursday March 14, 2002, Diane Sawyer interviewed Rosie O'Donnell on "Prime Time" Thursday. I'm not sure if the subject matter was adoption, foster care or gay rights. The theme of the story was titled, "For The Sake of the Children." Rosie came out I guess for the sake of the children, however it seems she has a problem with the State of Florida and its law, which prohibits gay people from adopting children. The interview revolved around Rosie's coming out, her parenting skills as well as two gay men who are raising HIV kids. After watching the two-hour show I was totally confused. Was the show really being aired for the sake of the children or was the children's plight being used to promote gay rights?

Have you noticed how entertaining beer commercials are? Beer commercials are designed to sell beer by suggesting to the viewer that people who drink beer have more friends and a lot more fun! After all, if you don't drink beer or listen to the right music, wear the right clothes or drive the right car you're a useless misfit failure, who will be ignored by the beautiful people.

It seems everyone has a built-in desire to belong to something or to be identified with something or someone. The media has developed so many pockets of personalities for us to adopt in a successful attempt to control our buying habits as well as our view of life. In a river, you can only swim against the current so long and you get tired. Finally, you give up because you're exhausted and decide to just flow with it.

Rollin' down the river

I've found contracting to be one of the most complicated rivers to navigate. Have you ever wondered what the heck you're doing in this business? Have you considered just how treacherous contracting can be? Just to remind you here is a short list of things you deal with regularly: plans, specifications, contracts, sub-subcontractors, suppliers, general contractors, insurance, banking, taxes, unions, superintendents, lawyers, project managers, estimators, vehicles, schedules, liquidated damages, payment, liens, collections, employees, safety, defect claims, personalities and management.

As you know, contracts and signed proposals can be most damaging to subcontractors. When a concern or problem arises, it never fails that someone will ask, "What does the contract say?" In my opinion, construction contracts, plans and specifications are confusing, manipulative, evasive, self-serving and just as deceptive as beer commercials.

Humans need water but they don't need beer or soft drinks in order to live. Advertisers have found that people will drink, eat, wear or drive anything that meets an emotional need.

In contracting, we could ask this question: What needs do general contractors and owners have that we can fill? I don't mean the obvious needs associated with proper service. I believe their single most important need is to receive the lowest, most inclusive bids from subcontractors and suppliers. Otherwise they are out of business, gone, history, adios amigo!

If a subcontractor has been around several years and decides to stop bidding a particular general contractor, that GC could literally lose a job by not having all the sub bids. My old boss told me, "Generals need subcontractors more than subcontractors need generals." He also said that, "Most subcontractors don't know how powerful their bids are."

What would it take for you to stop bidding a particular owner or general contractor? Where do you draw the line? What's your limit? You may choose to stop bidding a general because of slow payment, bid shopping, he is poorly organized, has treated you unfairly or it could simply be you would rather work with some other GC.

One of the reasons defect claims have increased astronomically is due to inexperienced GCs and subcontractors. Subcontractors have put new GCs in business just because they choose to give them their bid. Why give our bids to just anyone? Shouldn't we have some sort of standard before we trust someone with our bids?

Think about it: If you've worked with several GCs and owners who have been around for many years and who have treated you reasonably fair, why would you give a newcomer or an out-of-town GC the same price?

Is it worth it?

Another huge consideration before giving a GC your bid is to determine if the general is worthy of your insurance coverage. Do you really want to waste your bid to a GC who could care less if you're insured or not? If a claim arises now or in the future, most likely, you're going to be involved. Do you really want to do work for a GC who is inexperienced or who doesn't know the problems associated with working in your particular geographic area? Do you really want to work for GCs who accept bids from and use marginal subcontractors whose defective work may involve you in a claim?

I recently read a manual distributed jointly by an insurance broker and law firm. The manual suggested that insurance rates were going up and that coverage is shrinking. One part of the manual caused me to laugh out loud: It stated most GCs want subcontractors to be responsible for their mistakes. I had to re-read the sentence and realized that I had omitted the word "own." When I thought about it I realized that nearly all generals want subcontractors to be responsible for all mistakes, otherwise GCs would not sub out most of the work nor would they require subcontractors to name them as additionally insured. Further, GCs would not require subcontractors to sign contracts and indemnity agreements that are one sided and confusing.

Have you noticed a lack of variety of grocery stores, lumberyards, hardware stores, banks and gas stations? Mom-and-pop operations have for the most part disappeared. As construction insurance becomes more expensive and possibly unavailable to many subcontractors, we should see less competition. When subcontractors have less competition, the cost of widgets should rise dramatically. The concern now may be who can afford the cost of coverage and who will have coverage.

Those subcontractors who have and are able to maintain insurance, as well as to seek out a small profit this year, will be the first to make money when the economy improves. Many subcontractors have the talent to separate truth from nonsense.

The construction business is complicated, however, subcontractors and their bids are vitally important to owners and GCs. Consider being selective as to who, what and how much you bid.

The talent to separate truth from nonsense is amazing! I wonder why we have such a difficult time separating truth from nonsense when it comes to contracts and beer commercials? Maybe we're not as wild and independent at heart as we think. Whatever the reason, we can start each day choosing to eliminate nonsense from our lives, contracts and customers. If you get any complaints just tell them you're wild at heart and you're tired of everything coming up Rosie!

Remember: Teamwork begins with a fair contract!