“When I first started my business, my CPA asked me a good question: ‘Do you want this to forever be the John Schmidt Show or do you want it to be the Tri-City Groundbreakers show?’ I realized that if I’m not here, I want this to be able to run without me, and estimating is a huge part of that.”John Schmidt, Founder of Tri-City Groundbreakers.
Tri-City Groundbreakers, in Midland, Michigan, is a company that was dreamt up by a tireless 12-year-old farm boy who spent his summers doing small residential septic systems and driveways with a family-owned backhoe. As the family farm grew, so did the equipment, and the ability for John Schmidt to take on bigger jobs clearing fence rows, leveling old railroad grades, and excavating sandpits. He fell in love with the Heavy Highway Civil Market operating commercial excavators in central and southeast Michigan and decided at that point that he could realize his childhood dream, and build his own future in the construction industry. He and his wife took out a second mortgage on their home and invested everything they could to start up Tri-City Groundbreakers.
The early years for Tri-City Groundbreakers consisted of many small commercial jobs for local chemical companies, Dow Corning and Hemlock Semiconductor. These projects provided the momentum for a snowball effect to much larger work, and the company grew from two employees to a team of twelve over the next year. With the ability to work multiple projects within one facility, they operated 10-to-15 jobs at-a-time with one bulldozer, one roller, and a handful of small equipment. “That was a big kick in the pants,” said John. “It helped us grow our business, but we realized that with growth comes issues.”
At that point, they were handling the business in spreadsheets. As the company expanded to bid municipal work and underground utilities, John realized they needed a better way to track and win jobs, ensuring cash flow for the business.
“I remember going to see a friend in town, Steve O’Mara with Fisher Contracting, and I said, ‘I know you guys have HeavyBid. Can you show it to me?’ He was more than happy to show me around, and I was instantly impressed,” said John. “They had a lot of history in their system, and their codebooks were set up so well that they could import a DOT job, and turn around and submit it back in a matter of moments. As a small company, the software was a big investment for us, but we took a leap of faith, and Dave Kennedy with HCSS got us our first seat with HeavyBid. It has proved to be a successful investment in producing effective results.”
Even before owning HeavyBid, John witnessed the power that having good codebooks gave to one estimator wanting to do more with less time. 11 years into using HeavyBid at Tri-City Groundbreakers, John makes it a priority to refine his codebooks to be able to adapt as the work expands and changes. He has his sights set on the future for Tri-City Groundbreakers to be able to create something that will endure time, and be able to produce the best results.
“When I first started my business, my CPA asked me a good question: ‘Do you want this to forever be the John Schmidt Show or do you want it to be the Tri-City Groundbreakers show?’ I realized that if I’m not here, I want this to be able to run without me, and estimating is a huge part of that,” said John. “Spending time to think through the logic of our codebooks before putting them together is time-consuming, but it is worth it. We are in the third iteration of our activity codebook, and this winter, we have plans on revamping it again.”
John recently brought in another estimator that has been using HeavyBid for a long time, and her particular expertise was the catalyst for this latest codebook revamp. “Her thought processes are different from mine,” said John. “When I was doing all the estimating myself it was my codebook, and it worked well for me. But the ideas that she brings to the table will make it good for someone else that can sit in her seat, and be able to bid a job. We are trying to build our codebooks so that we can bring somebody in that might not have the experience that we have. We want them to be able to bid accurately, and competitively. With good system codebooks, you can do this.”
“HeavyBid is so specific for our kind of work that we have gotten very efficient building biditems for DOT jobs, and without taking up a bunch of extra time and effort, we also put together our private jobs the same way,” said John. “With HeavyBid, we can bid multiple jobs in a shorter period of time, and when we combine that with HeavyJob, we can see our daily wins and losses down to the activity level to know if our crews are hitting or missing their daily goals. This helps us shorten the window of time needed to make changes, and cut the bleeding fast if needed.”
The Customer Success team did a quick analysis of John’s HeavyBid usage, and found that they regularly run estimate review, use the quote system, pull in productivity from their current job performance from HeavyJob, export to accounting, and utilize many of the error checking tools in HeavyBid. It isn’t one particular thing that they are doing, but rather a combination of them all that makes it possible for them to understand their business better. Thomas Maier, Customer Success Team Lead, described Tri-City Groundbreakers as “a company that makes sure their numbers are tight and accurate before, during, and after the work is done.”
“I use HeavyBid for everything,” said John. “Even when you’d think I could throw a price at it from my hip, I still put it in HeavyBid to make sure my costs are right. We are able to use different master estimates for different purposes, and that speeds up our work with confidence. I say I am a geek and I like math. Math doesn’t lie. If you can figure out your area and takeoff quantities then it doesn’t matter if it is a residential driveway or a large roadway job it’s going to be the same. That’s one of the big things I love about HeavyBid, it is all math. And I often think, ‘Man, I wonder if HeavyBid can do that, and then when I find out that it can, we adapt.'”
John offered a few tips that has helped him over the years:
- Use the Quote System. “I don’t know what I would do without it. We have a subcontractor that is notorious for sending us their quote 5 minutes before Michigan DOT closes bidding. With the quote system, I can make a change to the bid and submit it within 3 minutes (sometimes even sooner). It makes a quick change so fast, and to be able to export the proposal is a feature I could never live without.”
- Check for inconsistencies using the Change Material Cost Utility. “I love the shortcuts from the Estimate Tree View. The pipe with a dollar sign button is the Change Material/Other Resources Utility where you can see all the resources and materials in your current bid. For example, If I had built something 5 years ago with waste, and never made a change, we can use this to find and make updates to the bid quickly.”
- Use Estimate Review to not only check for errors but to better understand your estimate. “We did a job for a hospital expansion, and in the post-bid interview they asked, ‘ How many man-hours do you have in the job?’ I told him, ‘1302.’ The project manager laughed, and was amazed at how specific we were. We just looked at the flashlight/Estimate Review and put in what HeavyBid told me. We use that quite a lot to make sure we don’t miss anything.
If you need help getting started with any of the topics covered, HCSS Support is always available to take your call at 800-444-3196.
The HCSS Academy offers interactive online courses to all active HCSS credentials users that want to learn something new or use it to train new employees. If you would like to better understand how your company is using HeavyBid, I recommend emailing our Customer Success Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At the end of the day, what steps are you currently working towards to ensure the legacy that you started will continue? Leave your answers and questions in the comments. We’d love to hear your story.