If your older like me, you can recall the Space Shuttle program that started in the 1980’s, and if
your memory is really strong, you remember the Gemini and Apollo programs that put a man
on the moon for the first time in 1969. These programs fascinated me as a child and even more
so after more than a quarter century of running a successful business because every one of
those spacecraft, rockets, and countless computer systems were put out to bid with the intent
of seeing which bid was the lowest. Jokes exist in our culture about advanced machinery made
for our military and being awarded to the lowest bidder.
In reality, that is not true. Rarely is the lowest bidder the recipient of our more advanced
endeavors, but it happens a lot when the project is less advanced – say like in the industries of
hardscaping, landscaping, and construction services. I’ve learned to walk away from estimates
when I meet people that are making a decision solely on price, because one thing we all know –
someone else can always make it cheaper – and that is rarely to the customer’s benefit.
Over the years, our job estimates usually fall in the high end of the middle range. We focus on
adhering to strict profit margins, and we know our costs by knowing our product. Since we
aren’t the cheapest, a new customer should know why there is a price difference between
Stephens and the “cheapest guy.”
The highest cost in any job are the materials. We use the best materials simply because they
look the best, work the best, and last the longest. We prefer EP Henry products. They are award
winning and stain resistant, backed by guarantees, and hold up to years of weather far better
than other similar products of a lesser cost. If you have a cheaper estimate, it’s best to inquire
about the quality of the materials being used and any guarantees behind such.
One of the services we bring to the table is design services. That encompasses decades of
experience in designing amazing outdoor living spaces ranging from simple patios to outdoor
kitchens, swimming pools, retaining walls, and a variety of landscaped decorative garden beds.
Anyone can call themselves a “designer,” but how many have had their designs featured in
manufacturer’s catalogs year after consecutive year. Check out our gallery of finished projects
and review our customer testamonials to get a flavor of our design capabilities.
We go against the industry grain. At Stephens, we pride ourselves on not being the typical
contractor. We return calls the same day. We show up on time for appointments, and we start
a job on a set mutually agreed upon day. We can’t always guarantee a completion date as
Mother Nature occasionally gets in the way, but we communicate daily with our customers,
and you will always know our schedule because we know it affects your schedule.
I’ll close with a story that best illustrates the downside of going with the lowest bidder simply
because of cost. Last year, I met a delightful couple seeking a patio, several retaining walls, a
deck, and a walkway from the front yard to back. The husband was in his sixties and was
recovering from breaking both ankles in a bad fall. I provided a detailed plan for his project and
an estimate. Several weeks later, I was disappointed to learn he had gone with another
contractor that was “half” my cost. This spring, the same couple contacted me to come out and
discuss their backyard. I was saddened to see that the patio was comprised of several different
types of pavers, and was obviously what the previous contractor had lying around his yard
leftover from other jobs. They didn’t match well nor were they weathering at the same rate. His
deck was smaller than he thought he had paid for and had never been inspected as part of a
normal permit process. The retaining walls had begun to sag and several of the capstones were
loose. The worst was the walkway from front yard to back as it traversed a fairly steep slope.
The underlying materials were not laid correctly, and the pavers had shifted making the
pathway dangerous. I noted this prospective customer used a cane now as a result of his ankle
injuries which made the pathway hazardous. My estimate this time involved dismantling
everything the previous contractor had done and starting completely over.
One doesn’t have to be sending a spacecraft into orbit to recognize that the lowest bidder isn’t
always the best option. There is something to be said for, “You get what you pay for.” The key is
understanding what each contractor behind the bid brings to the table. Understand - in
advance - the quality of the materials, the expertise in the design services, and the culture of
communication from each and every bid – then select your contractor. I’m hoping you choose
From the desk of Brent Stephens….