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Stay Ahead with Accurate Sign Estimating Using Advanced Technologies
By Johnny Duncan
To get awarded with a project requires more than a good guess or rough estimate. Timeliness, accuracy, and a professional presentation place winners at the top of the list of candidates. Thankfully, there are estimating tools available for the sign professional that eases the burden of estimating while increasing the odds of acceptance.
In most cases, sign companies will place ten or more times the number of bids to actual jobs taken, and usually survival is dependant on a few hefty projects each year that are worth a large profit. Advances in technology have enabled estimators to deliver results more rapidly, more accurately and more competitively than at any other time in our industry’s history.
In this article, we hear from four major players in the field of sign estimating ---- companies providing products that can make your life easier and your business more profitable.
Importance of technological advances
“The economy is in a state of shock, fuel prices are skyrocketing and credit is becoming unavailable,” says Eric Carlson of Sticky Yard Digital Measuring System. “The companies that will be successful in these tough times are the ones that become more efficient. Estimating will become a more important component in the project lifecycle. Accurately producing an estimate and converting it to a sale is the key to being successful in the current market.”
Sticky Yard software allows sign makers and graphic designers to easily take measurements of any size object in a snap with a digital camera, and a computer. The Digital Measuring System eliminates the need for ladders, measuring tapes that slip, sketching a project and repeat trips to measure a job. Graphic designers simply apply the Sticky Yard tape anywhere on the object, stand back and take a digital photo of the object with the Sticky Yard in the image. The Sticky Yard software displays accurate measurements directly from the digital photo.
“It is extremely important for sign and graphics professionals to complete accurate estimates,” says Scott Cutcher, Estimate Evangelist (sales & marketing manager), for EstiMate Software. “As a former sign shop owner, I know that shooting from the hip is the way many of us do it every day. You're busy putting out fires and trying to ensure your crew is producing a great product on time, and as a result you rely on the hundreds of quotes you have done before as a quick reference in your head to shoot from the hip.”
James Van Landingham, National Account Manager, Sign Tracker believes the accurate estimate can make or break your bottom line. “As budgets grow tighter, accurate estimating is steadily becoming the dividing line between profit and loss. An estimate is just that, an estimate. These days, you have to be accurate. Guesstimating is no longer enough. We ‘as sign shops’ must find and use tools that give us a clear understanding of what a sign is going to cost us to make and what we can make on it ‘without pricing yourself out of a job’. Accurate estimating is one of the very few guarantees of success in today’s competitive marketplace.”
No task affects as many areas of sign contracting as the task of estimating. In addition to speed and accuracy, there are four primary reasons why estimating software is critical to today’s sign professional and include procurement, project management, professionalism, and consistency.
Procurement: The project manager will use the estimate to determine labor resources, equipment and subcontractor requirements to properly schedule and track job progress. The purchasing department will find it just as useful in scheduling timely delivery of materials.
Project Management: The foreman will use the estimate to help oversee installations, and to requisition materials. The sign professional reviews the estimate to gain an understanding of how the estimator took off specific installations, while the accounting department will use the estimate to prepare the schedule of values and track job costs. Computers can help contractors perform the diverse tasks of estimating, project management, correspondence, and purchasing more efficiently.
Professionalism: Computerized estimating delivers a higher level of professionalism. Today’s sign professionals use estimating programs to organize and optimize their business. The estimate is used as a sales tool to document costs, and there is nothing that builds confidence in your sales presentation more than an estimate that has been professionally prepared and printed using an estimating software system.
Consistency: Using an estimating system allows the estimator to prepare estimates that use the exact same procedures and values, time after time. In addition, it provides a basis for comparison of the estimate to the actual job cost. Retaining a history of job costs gives the estimator the tools necessary to adjust future estimates and avoid costly overruns, or to point out cost-saving procedures. Without specific, consistent procedures, an estimate is little more than a guess.
Completing a timely, accurate estimate in today’s ferociously tough market is more important than ever. “It's crucial!” says Charles Carter, CEO, Cyrious Software. “A sign professional must be able to not only estimate pricing accurately, but must also be able to estimate their cost and profit, and to be able to do it immediately. Today's sign users are used to getting information when they want it (our society is addicted to immediacy). They are very educated and will not wait long for a quote before calling another shop. If a sign shop owner cannot give an accurate quote fast, they will either lose jobs or win jobs that are unprofitable, period.”
Technology behind the technology
“EstiMate's mission statement,” says Cutcher, “is ‘... to provide solutions that keep us and our customers ridiculously profitable and wealthy on all levels by being revolutionary in our thinking, continually innovating, and bringing passion to everything we do.’ So I think it's safe to say that in the future we will concentrate on helping shops to stop undermining themselves through ‘lowball price thinking’ and provide tools that make quoting as close to near instantaneous as possible while remaining highly accurate. EstiMate has a history of rolling with change and leading the pack in new technological directions, and we are constantly looking for ways to leverage technology to assist our customers.”
“On-site visits will become less necessary and less frequent,” states Sticky Yard’s Carlson. “Our technology eliminates the need for an estimator to physically visit a job site in many circumstances. With the price of gas skyrocketing, eliminating a drive across town and the manpower to do so becomes a significant competitive advantage.”
“The future of sign estimating is in hyper accurate (real time) quotes that break down your customers sign project in such detail that your estimates (regardless of type or size) can be a guaranteed project price,” says Sign Tracker’s Van Landingham. “We will use real time material pricing from your distributors and proven fabrication timelines to estimate, schedule and manage jobs. All with the level of accuracy required to make money in a competitive marketplace.”
“Sign Tracker Pro (scheduled for release in early 2009) represents a major step in this direction. We want to give sign shops the ability to generate accurate estimates using our 10 plus years of success and failures in the sign industry. Sign Tracker Pro’s estimating process will do as much of the work and answer as many questions as possible. If there is a discrepancy in the process, Sign Tracker Pro will remember those changes for future jobs. It will learn and grow as you do.”
“Competition is fierce and material costs are changing frequently,” says Carter. “Many shops have estimating systems; however most systems out there do not directly tie-in part costs and cannot estimate cost and profit on a quote. Sign business owners must be able to keep their pricing and costing up-to-date easily. When giving a quote, the sign professional has to know their profitability on that estimate.”
“If a sign professional uses Cyrious to quote, in less than 60 seconds they know their estimated profit on a quote, and therefore know how low they can negotiate before saying no to a job. In addition, Cyrious makes estimating so easy that the owner can train others to estimate, freeing up the owner to do what they should really be doing.”
“Competition, that is the greatest challenge for the sign professional today,” says Carlson. The industry becomes more competitive every year and businesses have to become more efficient. Sticky Yard provides another tool in the sign professional’s arsenal for competing and winning sign jobs.”
Cutcher, of EstiMate Software finds challenges in abundance. “The biggest challenges are the Internet and digital printing aspect of sign making. It used to be acceptable to take a week to get an estimate back to a customer. Now with the Internet and cookie-cutter online sign companies, the customer can get a quote on the spot right off the Internet. People buy out of emotion and if you cannot capitalize on the moment of that emotion then you are going to lose the sale. The digital printing part of the sign industry has added a whole new dimension to the industry. Now people expect to order a banner one day and pick it up that same day or the next day. This means the quoting, sale, and processing of each job needs to be quick and accurate.”
“The cost savings we hear about from our customers includes the constant gathering of data to do each quote which is stored in EstiMate during the setup process,” says Cutcher. “EstiMate allows you to set up new items on the fly while doing an estimate allowing you to only enter it once. Second, the shop owner no longer has to spend hours calling multiple suppliers to get their cost because all that is entered in EstiMate along with a cost increase cushion and markup so they only have to review pricing quarterly or when a pricing increase is announced by their supplier. Last but definitely not least, is all the time spent calculating labor which EstiMate cuts down to almost nothing by estimating each project in the way a sign maker thinks.”
“The Sticky Yard product reduces the measuring component of the project estimating phase from minutes and hours down to a matter of seconds,” states Carlson. “That savings is realized every time our system is used with every job. The time saved, directly and significantly impacts the bottom line. The user can also do things with our system and software that are not possible with traditional measuring techniques. Our system saves time, reduces manpower, saves return trips to the job site and negates the need to climb a ladder in many instances.”
“In speaking with a Cyrious user last week he mentioned that one of the things he loves about Cyrious Control is that it shows him how bad his prior pricing was,” says Carter. “He recently bought Control and setup both area-based pricing (aka square foot-pricing) and cost-based pricing. He used his old area-based prices in Control. On a recent job that he was quoting, he looked at the area-based price the system generated. It had barely any profit in it. This was the pricing he had used for years. He then clicked a button to see the cost-based price and the parts that would go into the order. The cost-based price was quite a bit higher, and in looking at the materials and labor needed for the job, he confirmed that his area-based pricing had been set too low. He now uses cost-based pricing by default. Being able to see the costs and the price gives the owner the visibility and tools to manage profitability.”
“Most sign shops don’t start calculating job costs until after the customer has signed the contract and the job is in process,” states Van Landingham. “Is the time you spend creating preliminary art and generating countless estimates a fixed cost? Or is it a COG? Regardless of how you account for the time spent getting the deal, the less time you can spend (before the customer signs) the more you stand to make on the deal. Sign Tracker customers have commented that the combination of detailed sign design templates and an easy (and accurate) estimating tool give them a head start on profiting from the project.”
Ease of use
“If you’re not using an estimating tool (created specifically for the sign industry) your estimator had better be the most qualified sign person on your staff,” says Van Landingham. Fortunately, with tools like Sign Tracker’s estimating module, estimating becomes a simple matter of answering questions in a liner order. What type of sign are you building? How big is it? Is it illuminated? If so, how? How is it being installed? Questions like these allow an effective estimating tool to gather the information necessary to make an accurate estimate eliminating the potential for human error while at the same time providing more consistent results with minimal sign industry experience.”
Carter states that, “Cyrious is the system of choice for six out of the eight U.S. franchises and ‘business opportunities.’ These organizations regularly sell new franchises, generally to people that do not have sign industry experience. We have a long and successful track record of helping these folks get started. The recent improvements in Control OOB (Out-Of-Box) and the process for getting started have reduced the time and effort required to setup the system by over 75%. We've gone to extensive lengths to build-in as much expertise, equipment, and materials as possible. Our user-friendly screens make it easy for new sign business professionals to quickly learn to quote jobs profitably and to collect and access the info they need.”
“Very little experience is needed period to use EstiMate 2.0,” says Cutcher. “It was designed using visual aids making it simple to understand and learn. A new company would absolutely benefit from EstiMate. Our software isn't only easy to use but prompts you to gather crucial information regarding your overhead and cost of goods sold that will help ensure a healthy profit margin from day one. It also transfers information to QuickBooks with our optional QuickBooks Plugin. We allow your accountant to have a copy of EstiMate free of charge to ensure complete and accurate transfer of information into QuickBooks thereby saving you money on your accounting bill.”
Take time to review the qualities of each of these products to find the ones that will help you to produce a better, accurate estimate.
For more information on the products mentioned:
Cyrious Software: www.cyrioussoftware.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or call 800-552-1418 (SGIA'08 Booth 3530)
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