ePlumbing Estimators were lucky enough to be invited onto the Innovative Tradies Club’s Avant-Garde podcast recently.

It’s a forum for exchanging ideas, transforming tradieology and learning about new approaches to growing tradie businesses. We had fun hanging out with Ash and JW, and this is a summary of our chat. It’s some background on me, Lynton, as well as some (hopefully useful) insights into the plumbing trade and estimating I’ve picked up over the years.

Can you share your story? How did you get started? I believe you were an apprentice plumber many years back.

I started my apprenticeship back in 1972, straight out from school when I was 15. I was one of the lucky ones actually, when I left school, I had the choice of being a carpenter, an electrical lineman or a plumber. And guess what? I chose to become a plumber. I grew up in Murray Bridge, South Australia, and had the privilege of working for a plumbing company there. They had offices in some of the major country centres, including the Adelaide Hills and the Southeast of South Australia, as well as Murray Bridge.

So in those days, they were actually quite a large plumbing company for a country area. I was lucky to be able to learn most facets of the plumbing industry being in the country, we learned a bit of everything and you had to be multiskilled. Also, in those days, we had to travel weekly to Adelaide to attend trade school, which was a bit of a mission to get up early. I used to catch a bus there and back, which made for a pretty long day. So, yeah, it was about a one and a half hour commute, sometimes 2 hours, depending on how many semi trailers you had on the old road. Trade school gave me an opportunity, obviously, to learn my trade, meet other plumbing apprentices, mainly from the city. We had a few country guys as well.

I also completed my past trade studies which were required in those days to become a Master Plumber – one of the things that you had to do to get your registration.

You did all your training and you became a Master Plumber. But what was the motivation back all those years ago to start your own plumbing contracting business?

Well, it’s like everything sometimes we’re forced into situations. Back in the early 80s, the construction industry was undergoing a lot of change, and in particular, where building companies were moving away from self performing works to engaging subcontractors. So back in those days, a lot of the building companies had all of their own staff. You know, they had all their own carpenters, they had all their own plumbers, tilers and all of the other trades on their books. Not many people in today’s industry would know that. That’s how it worked back then – today we’re all just used to subcontracting.

So at the time I was actually working for a building company in the Barossa Valley, which was still very much old school and they employed all of their own trade staff. They were struggling to remain competitive, so they had to adapt to the times and move away from the self performing work to engaging subbies. So some of the trade staff that they had on their books were offered to engage their services back to the company on a subcontractors rate.

I bought my own van and started to price work for other builders as well as doing their work. Along the way, I was successful in securing a tender with another local builder to do the plumbing on a very large architectural house. In those days, that contract was worth about 100 grand, which was a lot of money, especially when you were starting out. It all started from there. I was fortunate enough to be able to secure a lot of major projects and carried out a lot of industrial plumbing works in the wine region, Barossa Valley and surrounding areas.

However, in the recession we had to have back in the late eighties and early nineties when interest rates were at all time high, the work absolutely dried up and basically I had to walk away from the business, which was disappointing. However, a lot was learnt from that experience and hopefully I’ve been able to pass on some of those experiences and things that I learned from that to other guys to try and not make the same mistakes.

The Innovative Tradies Club and this Tips and Tricks podcast series is here to try to dig a little bit deeper with tradies and learn from the experience they’ve had in business. So thinking about when you run your plumbing contracting business, what were some of the things that you learnt running your business that led maybe to your new business, ePlumbing Estimators.

Sometimes you’re forced into a situation. And since moving from the Barossa Valley to Sydney, I underwent a bit of a sea change to experience some new things, and I ended up working for quite a few different plumbing companies in an estimating role. So obviously when you work with different companies you learn different processes. You learn their ways of doing things. Not always good, not always bad, but you put it all together. And at the end of the day, you actually come up with models that work.

I always enjoyed estimating. Even when I had my own business. I was always interested in technology and invested in my first computer and estimating program, being an old DOS version back in the mid-80s still using floppy discs. One of the companies I was working for also had an estimating program, which I learned and used for many years with different companies I worked with. Job stability in the estimating role wasn’t always the best. When times get tough, the estimator was often the first head head to roll to save costs.

So I had a couple of stints doing contract estimating work for people on you just to keep food on the table and keep yourself working. So, yeah, that was sort of how I got into the contract estimating business to start with, and that was probably how I started back in about 2000 originally.

What are some of the tips and tricks you have for being a good estimator?

My key points to be successful at estimating would be:

  • You need to follow a process.
  • You need to be methodical in your approach, and follow the same steps.
  • Use tech to your advantage for improved accuracy. Digital tech will get you better accuracy and you will miss less items.
  • Use industry recognised estimating software packages.
  • Don’t expect software to be a magic wand. If you don’t have the time to learn, pay someone in your organisation who can, though you still need to have an idea how it’s basic functions work.
  • Invest in creating a database of rates, which is the ‘shit-in-shit out’ principle, where your pricing will only be as good as the data you input.
  • Be prepared to adjust your rates for every job, because basic rates are only a guide. An estimator’s real skill is working out the difficulty of a project and adjusting accordingly – primarily the labour as material costs shouldn’t vary greatly. If you underestimate your labour costs on a project you are in for a rough ride.
  • Assess the risk of every project.
  • Know what your basic costs are.
  • Be prepared to walk away from a job if the builder’s price expectations are too low.

How does your business, Eplumbing Estimators, help to simplify the work of estimating for tradies?

Hopefully we take some of the pain out of it! The win-loss ratio these days on a tender is 1:10 or 1:12 if you are lucky, so it’s tough out there.

To date we’ve helped 180+ plumbing businesses across Australia and New Zealand, and I have noticed a real skills shortage in estimating. This forces businesses to get help, which is where we come in. The big advantage of outsourcing your estimating is that you don’t have a salary to pay, just the service cost. This also means they can focus on project management, which is actually more important than estimating – and you need to micro manage it. You also need to get the best possible price for your materials.

We are also working with industry suppliers to create our prebuild standard rates packages, including simPro and AroFlo – so the client has accurate pricing based on their preferred supplier. We also have another database for a package called ProContractor, which is a high end package, and we have another one setup for later in the year with Proest.

Want to learn something new? You can also listen to the whole podcast on Spotify.

We also recommend checking out The Innovative Tradies Club if you are interested in getting support to simplify the business part of business, grow revenue, network, learn and better utilise technology to drive your business forward.

Eplumbing Estimators: Quote Accurately, Win Tenders and Turn a Profit

Does estimating your next plumbing or drainage job give you a headache?

Preparing all the documentation for a tender is all about the detail – where one small mistake can jeopardize all your hard work. Let us take the load off you and provide you with efficient and professional plumbing estimating, so you can focus on more important aspects of your project.

The best thing is you get assigned your own plumbing estimator – a real life human being who works with you on your project! They will be in contact with you during the whole process and you will be able to make any necessary changes that you see fit.

What Is Eplumbing Estimating?

Thanks to the latest powerful plumbing estimating software we can help you streamline the process of estimating your plumbing or drainage project for maximum efficiency and cost-savings. The result for you is:

  • Fast and accurate takeoffs
  • Accurate and competitive tenders

This allows you to focus on the job, win tenders and turn a profit.

Eplumbing Estimators: Using the Latest Plumbing Estimation Software

Thanks to the latest plumbing estimation software we can input your individual labour costs, methodologies, materials and individual productivity allowances – for a tender that is accurate and unique to your project. We work with the following industry software packages:

  • GroundPlan
  • ProContractor
  • simPRO

All projects are measured using an on-screen take-off system, which ensures a high level of accuracy. What we don’t do is apply a generic set of rates to your job.

Why Eplumbing Estimators?

Our powerful plumbing estimating software, together with our knowledgeable team can help:

  • Know the true cost of a job
  • Save you time
  • Allow you to focus on the job
  • Quote jobs accurately
  • Be profitable
  • Be competitive
  • Win jobs
  • Get your jobs done faster

Plumbing Estimating for Small and Medium-sized Businesses & Tier One Contractors

We have helped everyone from small and medium-sized businesses, to tier one contractors on projects that include hi & low rise residential, commercial, industrial, shopping centres, healthcare projects, civil drainage projects and larger infrastructure works.

How Does Eplumbing Estimators Work?

Getting a project measured and costed is as easy as:

  • Providing us a scope of works
  • We review your drawings and provide a budget estimate fee proposal to review
  • Once you accept the quote one of our plumbing estimators (a live human being) is assigned to your job
  • Within 24-48 hours you will receive a list of items that will require supplier pricing
  • Your plumbing estimator communicates directly with you to fine tune your project.
  • Once costings are done, we forward a cost sheet to you so you can apply your margins.

Email your tender drawings directly to us at: lynton@plumbingestimators.com.au, and we will get back to you with a fee proposal for your project.