I’ve been on both sides of the bidding process and I’ve always loathed it. It’s just never been a fun way for me to do business. It shifts the focus off nurturing the relationship, which I find to be of greatest value.
Of course, I understand why bids exist and I use them when appropriate. Too often though, event managers think of the bidding process as strictly a pricing mechanism or an exercise in feasibility. “What can be done for x amount?”
As a young manager, I remember looking at several similarly priced bids from vendors with whom I was unfamiliar. I had no idea which one I should accept. How do I know who’ll do the best job? Be the best fit for the project? It’s not always a straightforward answer. It would be great if prices directly reflected quality of work. But that’s not often the case. Sometimes, it takes committing to the wrong vendor to learn.
Over the years, I’ve developed an internal questionnaire that I use whenever I have to evaluate a vendor bid. Addressing these 8 issues helps me hone in on what a good bid should contain. Then, I can make the best possible decisions for my client and his or her event.
1. How Specific is the Bid?
This is often the first thing I look for. And it’s the most telling. I’ve seen a lot of quotes that just list a big number at the bottom. This doesn’t give me any context as to how they arrived at that price. What are they including? What’s part of the prix fixe and what’s á la carte? I want details.
Is it because I’m a control freak? Not at all. It’s my first opportunity to see if the vendor has paid attention to the requirements of my event. Did they listen when I laid out what the client wants? Are we on the same page? And things about the event are going to change. They always do. The client wants more seating, lights, etc. If the details are clearly laid out in the bid, it’s much easier to work with the vendor to tweak if necessary.
It’s vital to sort out your production partners as soon as possible. Not just for this event but potentially for many more to come. The better the visibility at this early stage the more likely you are to develop the feelings you want between partners; trust and transparency.
2. What Brands of Equipment Do They Use?
Seeing high-quality brands on an equipment bid can give you confidence that a vendor at least knows good products. But beyond the brands themselves; does the bid even mention the quality of gear? Or does the vendor assume you don’t know the difference and just take whatever is given to you? Check that there aren’t some negative assumptions being made.
3. How Often Do They Turn Over Equipment?
This information won’t necessarily be on the bid document. But it’s a great question to ask. It can tell you a lot about how a vendor values quality and consistency.
Gear wears out. So a good company likely has plans in place for retiring what is no longer viable. Here’s an example. I’ve worked with 4Wall Lighting for many years and I’ve noticed that they don’t rent any of their gear past a certain age. Why? Because every piece of equipment that leaves their facility and shows up at an event is a reflection of their brand. Any shoddy gear could potentially ruin a relationship and cost them a lot of future work.
So what did they do? They spun up a whole other arm of the company to sell used gear. Pretty useful, right? And a lot of this information can be found through some basic Googling. Next time you are in search of gear rentals, put this on your checklist. See if you can find out a bit about how a company treats its older products.
4. Do They Have Proper Insurance? Do They Ask You for Proof of Insurance?
Seems like a no-brainer, but I’m still surprised by how often it gets overlooked. Any reputable equipment vendor will want to ensure you have adequate equipment insurance to cover their gear. Likewise, you’ll want to make sure they have sufficient liability insurance if they’re joining you on site.
5. Are There Labor Estimates? Detailed Breakdowns?
Labor is often the biggest line item on any event proposal. Has the vendor addressed it in the bid? If so, how many people are they providing for the cost stated? What about transportation and meal breaks? And is there any information regarding how the vendor handles overages, changes, additions or subtractions? Trust and transparency, remember?
6. How Happy Do Their Employees Seem?
It may be hard to get a sense of this if you haven’t worked together before. But let’s assume you have and you’re evaluating a bid on a new project. What did you observe the last time you worked together? What was the general attitude of the employees? Did they seem engaged in the work? I like to chat with the truck drivers when I see them on site. Gauging their general well-being has been a great way to get a sense of the company as a whole.
7. What Questions Do They Ask You?
This can be just as important as the questions you ask. Maybe more so. It goes back to the idea of attention to detail. Are they listening to you and asking questions that help move the process forward?
8. How Do They Talk About Themselves?
This is my “drinks the company Kool-Aid” test. I love asking a vendor what makes them better than everyone else. What do they do that is unique, that provides greater value to me or any other production manager? And do they themselves believe it when they say it? Or are they just blowing smoke?
Picking the best vendors for your event can be tough. Asking some of these questions can help you start to weigh them against one another. Just remember that vendors are partners. They are partners in the success or failure of your event. So rather than focus on one-off bids, think long term. Who might be a good fit for you beyond this one event? Doing so will help you focus more on clients and building lasting relationships, rather than the project right in front of you.
Event managers – how do you evaluate bids from vendors? Share your tips with us in the comments below.