For subcontractors, getting “last look” in a bidding scenario is a highly sought-after place to be. While it doesn’t guarantee you’ll win the contract, it affords you a substantial advantage over others who are vying for that job.
We’ll explore how last look is often shaped by the working relationships/dynamics of GCs and subs, how to increase your chances of landing in this position, and what factors might seem like they’d help, but in fact don’t.
Table of Contents
What is last look?
Before moving on, let’s be clear on the meaning of the last look.
After submitting their bid, the subcontractor who gets last look has the final conversation with the GC or the owner on the project. By getting last look, the sub has an opportunity to modify their bid, and often does so knowing what number they need to beat or match to win the project.
Oftentimes, giving a subcontractor last look indicates that the GC wants to work with that subcontractor. During this final meeting, the subcontractor typically gets a chance to adjust the bid so that it becomes the winning bid.
Some construction professionals may resent last looks and see them as unfair (in some instances, they are illegal), but they are common. Therefore, you need to understand how to earn a last look.
What factors impact your ability to get a last look?
To thrive, every relationship in business must include trust. Earn the trust of your GC and you will improve your chances of getting last looks.
- Don’t disclose that you saw the other bids – No subcontractor likes to think their low bid won’t win them the job. It’s frustrating to know that a competitor will get the job based on your bid. But this routinely happens with last looks, and you have to deal with it. Of course, you will appreciate the system when you get the last look and can adjust your bid as a result. Even though everyone in the industry knows there are occasions when GCs and owners share bids, that information should be kept private. It’s not a good business practice. Sharing others’ bids is a betrayal of trust.
- This may happen repeatedly – When you establish a strong working relationship with a GC, they may regularly give you last looks. This is something to be proud of, and it will help your business. It’s important to maintain the GC’s trust. Keep showing up and getting the job done and don’t take your good fortune for granted. Your opportunity can be lost if a GC sees you slipping in your work.
- Give and take when the GC offers you the last look – Don’t presume that getting the last look means that you’ll be expected to lower your bid to what the lowest bidder offered. Sometimes it’s an up scenario. The GC will let you know there’s a little room in the budget for this project so you can bid higher. Revealing this information would put the GC in an uncomfortable position, so be sure to keep it private.
- On Time – Your client is counting on getting the project done on time. As a sub, your work is part of a greater whole. If you don’t complete your work as scheduled, a project gets held up. The reasons for a delay may be completely legitimate, yet that doesn’t change the facts. Find a way to reduce lead times and get your work done on time. If your customer is the GC, they are judged by owners on their ability to complete jobs in a timely manner. Knowing that you regularly hold your own and can be counted on to meet deadlines makes you someone more likely to get the last look.
- On Budget – Inflation is skyrocketing, so prices are rising on everything. This makes estimating and putting together a proposal more challenging. However, once the budget is agreed upon, stick to the fee you set. When you consistently maintain your fee and come in on budget (assuming no change orders), you relieve the GC of one less concern, because your fees impact their bottom line. If you go over budget, it reduces the GC’s profit or requires that they renegotiate with the owner. This puts them in an awkward position and jeopardizes their chances of winning future jobs from the owner.
- Per Plans and Specs – Whether you’re involved with the creation of the plans and specs, or only see them when they are completed, the final purpose is the same: complete your portion of the work as per plans and specs. However, if you see an issue, communicate it to the GC as quickly as possible. Don’t take the attitude of “I did what I was supposed to – I’m good.” Completing the work per plans and specs and communicating any issues shows you care about the project and want to see it done right. Team players more often get last looks.
- Safety – Manage the safety of your team. Have a safety plan, follow the worksite’s established plan, and wear the required equipment to enable the GC to focus on construction-related issues, rather than worry about work stoppages and completing insurance claims. A clean safety record and having the necessary insurance will make GCs feel more comfortable working with you should an accident occur, and they will be more likely to give you last looks.
What factors don’t impact your ability to get a last look?
Notice something not on the list of factors for ensuring last looks?
Many people will tell you getting last looks is about personal relationships and plying your customers with gifts. They advise playing golf with your potential clients, taking them out to dinner, or giving them tickets to a major league sports game.
But that is not necessarily the key. Any GC swayed only by gifts is not someone you want to work for. Consider that someone else may come along and offer more, or that the contact with whom you’ve developed a relationship may move on to another job.
Having a professional rapport and socializing to a degree can be helpful. However, don’t forget that the relationship is ultimately about the work. A conscientious and successful GC will want to work with you and give you last looks when you consistently get the job done right.
Some people are not comfortable working with friends. Hard conversation topics, like the work not being good enough, or trying to lower the price, can be more difficult to broach with a friend.
So, instead of spending excessive amounts of time on being friends with your customers and investing in extravagant gifts, focus your resources on being a better company. The subcontractor that serves to enhance the GC’s success is the better company.
Getting last looks is among the best possible positions for you as a sub. Earn that opportunity by performing up to and beyond your customer’s expectations regarding cost, schedule, plans/specs, and safety. Also gain your client’s trust, which often boils down to keeping things quiet.