Getting Started in Educational Life Safety Systems – Part Two

Marco Cardazzi

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On October 15th In Fire, System Sales Tips & Marketing Concepts
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In our last blog discussion we detailed some of the legal and licensing issues involved in the selling and installation of life safety systems for schools. Today we’ll finish up that topic with a few more very important points that dealers who are new to this market segment need to know.

  1. Public School Board Policies – while the local school board will most likely have life safety requirements that coincide with the local AHJ, in some cases there may be differences or additional requirements by the school board. This information should be public, readily obtainable, and should be reviewed before preparing your system proposals.
  2. Bidding Process – in most cases public school systems will be “let out” for competitive bidding. The documentation provided with the bid package should tell you all that you need to know about the system that’s required. You should familiarize yourself with the bidding process and follow the instructions exactly. A bid that is turned in ten minutes after the bids are due may well be disqualified. Normally your bid documents will likely need to include all of your licensing and insurance information. An important note is that in many cases the bidders are required to include one or two years of testing, service and maintenance as part of the bid. Don’t forget to calculate your potential service costs for smoke detector testing, cleaning, and possible replacement of any devices that fail during the mandated warranty period.
  3. Performance Bonds – for larger public projects including life safety systems a performance bond is often required. This is an insurance policy that is purchased by the successful bidder that provides financial coverage in the event that the contractor fails to complete the project, or fails to complete the project in the allocated time-frame. You must engage a company that provides performance bonds, get a price for the coverage which is normally a small percentage of the total bid cost, and include that cost within your total bid numbers.
  4. Timing and Sales Cycle – unless it is an unusual circumstance, most public school projects take a long time from the start of the sales process to the completion of the installation. A year or more is not out of the ordinary. Most contractors will space the payment schedule in their bid documents so that they get funds paid when equipment is delivered to the job site, which allows the contractor to pay their equipment supplier. In some cases the bid documents from the buying entity will detail how and when they plan to pay for the system.
  5. Submittals and AHJ Approval – before any work can start the successful bidder must provide multiple copies of the “submittals” to the AHJ and the purchasing entity. The “submittals” are a collection of documents and drawings that comprise what devices/systems are to be installed and the locations where life safety devices such as smoke detectors, pull stations, and fire horns are to be positioned. The submittals normally include specification sheets of the products and CAD drawings showing device placement. These documents must be approved by the AHJ and the purchasing entity before any equipment should be ordered or work performed. If any changes are called for by the authority/buyers, the winning bidder should have language in their agreement which provides for the purchaser to pay additional or any new “adds, moves, or changes” that have been added to the system after the original bidding was completed.
  6. Summer Work – in many cases where large-scale system installations and/or upgrades are being purchased the school district will want the work done while the students are on summer break. Contractors need to plan to have adequate staff available to be able to fast-track life safety installations during the summer months.
  7. Final Approval – to complete the installation (and get the final payment) the system will be extensively tested by the AHJ and buyer’s representatives, with the installing contractor’s personnel present. Any problems or defects will need to be addressed, at which time the authorities will re-test the system and give their final approval.

Many companies in our industry have created substantial and sustaining sales by getting involved in educational life safety systems. If you proceed carefully you can successfully win profitable bids and generate servicing and monitoring revenues along with the profit from the installations themselves.

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