Q: Is the college and campus market worth going after?
A: Yes. To what degree depends on your region, your company’s capabilities, and your willingness to go after the projects. My own company has projects all over our state of Virigina, which is a lot different mindset than when I was in New York. In New York it was a lot to ask for us to cross the bridge into New Jersey or go all the way out to Suffolk County. Were we spoiled? Not really, we were running eight trucks 24/7. The population density was higher and the nature of our business was different.
These days, going after those large installation projects means windshield time. I was chatting with a service technician for a national door operator company, and he told me it’s what they do: drive. The national companies negotiate deals at the corporate level for all over the country, and their regional dealers hit the road.
It’s interesting who shows up at the mandatory pre-bid meetings. Recently for one pretty big bid job for a school district, there were representatives from a national company, and several independents offering a wide array of products ranging from Enterprise Class Integrated down to Chinese Take-Out.
Right up to the bid due date we were getting calls from some of the bidders trying to pick our brains and to see if we’d like to sub for them, since they didn’t have a clue about certain elements of the project or they did not have a presence in the area. But they still were in there bidding.
At another mandatory meeting, for video for a community college, they had to move the meeting to a larger room when something like 75 companies showed up. Among the eager beavers were national integrators, some telecom guys, some network guys and a truckload of electrical contractors. They were all grazing around the room like wildebeests around a well competing for the only fresh water for 500 miles. Of course the larger players were standing in the water with their heads lowered like hippos acting as though they owned it. However, the word was that they posed no real threat to local bidders because they would be subbing out the whole job, reselling cameras just like everyone else and therefore would not be able to submit a competitive bid.
This bid was similar to others I’ve been involved with. The college didn’t develop a spec, instead wanting bidders to design the system. This can be a problem because there are many ways to design a system, and the desire to do it right might be shunted out by the desire to be the low bidder. You really can’t have it both ways. Can you?
I asked the buyer who was conducting the meeting a few questions:
Q: Were the interior cameras supposed to be vandal-proof?
A: “I don’t know”
Q: Do you want facial recognition from the external cameras?
A: “I don’t know”
Q: How about analytics?
A: “What’s that?”
We’ll see how this one plays out.
Bidding these projects takes a lot of time. The pre-bid qualifications, the walk-throughs; the surveys, developing the material lists, estimating the labor, making presentations, etc. However the large turnout to this video bid was telling. We heard about the bid because we subscribe to an online bid list. We do this so we at least can cherry pick projects. These days you cannot sit around and wait for the phone to ring, you have to sniff out the work.