Why You Need a Bid Sheet to Quote and Sell Water Features

There’s a new debate in town and it involves whether to use a bid sheet when selling water features. Some say using a bid sheet is like selling a parts list. Others claim it helps the customer understand what they’re getting. Some say they don’t like sharing their labor costs. Others claim they’re not afraid to share that part of the job.

Whatever the case may be, Brian Helfrich, vice president of construction at Aquascape, Inc., has long espoused the value of using a bid sheet to price and sell water feature projects. It’s embedded in his entire sales process, much like installing a pump into a skimmer is part of the pond-building process. The bid sheet is just one more critical step in securing the sale of a project.

As successful as Brian has been using a bid sheet to quote and sell a project, some pond builders cringe at the thought of sharing the cost breakdown of a project with their customers. Perhaps it’s because the strategy of using a bid sheet isn’t fully understood.

First and foremost, a bid sheet ensures you cover every aspect of a project, and the project doesn’t get delayed because a component was forgotten. Some pond builders use a menu-style approach to bidding projects. They determine the size of the pond, the length of the stream, and so on to determine the price. A bid sheet is a bit more detailed and is especially helpful for making sure you dot all your i’s and cross all your t’s on larger projects. This can be especially helpful in training new staff to understand what all is involved in bidding a project. There’s much less chance of over- or under-bidding your next water feature. Not to mention, you can use the cost breakdown of the project to your advantage in closing the sale.

“Before I even share the bid sheet with a customer, I’ve already sold the lifestyle,” states Brian. “I know their budget; we’ve discussed the type of feature they want and why they want it.” Brian explains that the pond is often sold before you even go on a consultation. A customer might call you hoping to get a recreation pond for $20,000, only to find out during the initial call that their price is unrealistic for what they want. They can, however, get an amazing pond for that price. Brian immediately sends beautiful pond photos to the customer so they can see what $20,000 will do for their backyard.

Once Brian arrives at the customer’s home for the consultation, it’s just a matter of creating the backyard vision with the homeowner. Brian knows their budget, he knows what they want, he knows how their family will enjoy and interact with the water feature. Once the vision has been cast, Brian pulls out his tablet and starts marking items needed for the project directly into the bid sheet. He shares the final price of the project and then walks the customer through the bid sheet while the vision of the water feature is still fresh in the customer’s mind.

“The bid sheet helps the customer understand what all goes into their pond to make it an efficient ecosystem that will provide hours of joy for their family,” explains Brian. “They’ll understand the types of filters, why a certain pump was selected, and so on.”

On occasion, the customer will question the number of labor hours to complete the job. Brian welcomes this inquiry because it gives him a chance to explain how long the construction crew will be on their property. During a recent consultation for a pond renovation, Brian shared that before the crew does anything, they need to dismantle the existing pond that’s overrun with cattails and muck. He explained how invasive cattails are and that all roots need to be removed before creating the new pond.

Brian then told the homeowner how the boulders will be manually transferred from the driveway through the narrow side yard. Due to space constraints, it’s not possible to use a machine to move the rocks to the pond’s location. This process adds to labor hours. The homeowner nodded his head in agreement, understanding why his pond renovation would take a few days to complete.

Still, the homeowner wondered if there wasn’t another way to bring down the cost of the project, since the quote was at the high end of his budget. Brian explained that he could remove the lights, but then the customer wouldn’t be able to enjoy the water feature during evening hours. This is Brian’s opportunity to explain how much he loves spending time by his own water feature at night, especially since he’s often not home during the day due to work. The convinced homeowner agreed that lights were a must.  

Once the customer understands why everything on the bid sheet is necessary for their project, including lights, there’s nothing left to negotiate, and the job is sold.

Pond builders who don’t use a bid sheet to sell projects are often fearful of sharing their labor costs with the customer.

What if the homeowner asks if you’ll drop the price if the project takes less time than estimated? Brian tells the customer that he doesn’t raise the price if it takes longer to complete the project than he estimated. The price won’t be lowered either. Keep in mind, you have a business to run, and you need to be profitable to be financially stable. Most people will understand this.

On a recent trip to Spain with Brian to spec and bid a project, Jaak Harju of Atlantis Water Gardens was reminded of the importance of the bid sheet.

Old Habits, New Habits

“There’s no way we could’ve gotten the quote right on the Spain project without a bid sheet,” states Jaak. It’s common to leave something out of the price on a large or complicated project. The bid sheet makes sure you cover all the bases, whether it’s a large or small project. Jaak hadn’t been consistently using a bid sheet to quote and sell jobs, but that changed after his time spent with Brian on the Spain feature.

When asked about sharing labor costs with customers, Jaak said he doesn’t balk. “I’m not hiding anything from the customer when I share labor costs. If a customer complains that I’m as expensive as his lawyer, I ask if the lawyer can build the pond.” Jaak advises to avoid selling the pond like a contractor. Instead, sell it like the artist you are.

Jaak shares that pond pros shouldn’t lack confidence to share the price of the water feature when using a bid sheet. If including labor costs is an issue, keep in mind that there are labor hours behind the scenes that the customer isn’t aware of. Getting equipment ready, selecting stones, ordering supplies, and more can all go into the final price of the project.

Jaak doesn’t justify the cost of his labor because pond building is an art form that involves both skill and knowledge. Not everyone can create a work of art with stone and water and ensure that the whole system will function efficiently so that the homeowner’s experience is enjoyable and stress-free. Sure, they might be able to hire someone less skilled for a lower price, but they won’t have the assurance of knowing they won’t have major problems with their water feature in the future.

The bid sheet is a critical part of Brian’s selling process and proves successful time and time again. “If you follow the process, the project is sold before you even go on the consultation. This process has worked for me for over 20 years,” he proudly states.

Your customers will value your transparency and are more likely to trust you when you share costs via the bid sheet. Today’s customer is savvy and will appreciate the opportunity to be educated about their water feature and what goes into it to create a fully functional, low-maintenance ecosystem. And when they see the beautiful oasis in their yard, they’ll know they hired the right person.