Entrepreneurial Locksmithing: How To Bid Jobs

May 1, 2009
Some of my best accounts began when I got my foot in the door by winning a low bid for a small project.

I recently spoke to a locksmith who glumly reported that his phone had stopped ringing and he was going to have to try new things to bring in business. Waiting for the phone to stop ringing before getting off your chair is like waiting for the boat to capsize before seeking swimming lessons. Maybe it isn’t too late for you.


If you want to be sure that you are being paid the bottom dollar for your products and labor services, then look into bidding.

If a client calls you for a price, and also calls a few of your competitors, then you are competing for business, but it is a little different, because the format of your quote and the rules of engagement with the customer are different.

And of course the client is the one calling you.

Universities, municipalities and other contractors use the bidding process to obtain quotes for new construction and upgrades. In some cases the school or municipality may be required by law to put out work for bid if it is over a certain dollar amount.

Many times, but not always, the winner is determined by low bid.

You can also just bid for materials, and not installation, or just materials and sell technical consultation separately. Door and hardware distributors love to ship out boxes of products, but are unable or unwilling to resolve real world jobsite issues. Many architects and contractors have been down this road and will pay a little more if they know you are local, and you will be there to pick up the pieces for them after the smoke has cleared and it becomes their baby.

Locksmiths often are called upon to work down punch lists on projects where the contractors have moved on, and the end-user is discovering all the stuff that doesn’t work or was specified incorrectly.

If you currently are performing service for certain entities, do a little research and see who administers bids and new work. Often the department that calls you to do a rekey is not the department that orchestrates construction and procurement.

Some of my best accounts began when I managed to get my foot in the door by winning a low bid for some little project. Once I displayed skills and integrity, I got regular business from the client.

This column could never convey enough training for you to enter the world of bidding. I can only speak in generalities and share a few personal insights. Hopefully you will endeavor to explore the possibilities on your own, and you can get your phone ringing again as a consequence.

We bid locking hardware, access control, video and some intercom. We do not do any electrical work, and we prefer not to do cable trenching

We are not a general contractor, although in some cases, we will replace a door or perform miscellaneous tasks associated with a project.

Sometimes a client will be grateful if we assume a leadership role for them and manage multiple elements of a project, since they trust us and it makes life simpler for them.

Contact contractors in your region and let them know you’re looking to bid jobs. Contact electrical contractors as well. Contact architects and facility departments of municipalities and school districts, and introduce yourself.

Ask to be placed on their mailing lists, or find out if they mind if you call or how otherwise you can be notified of new work they’re putting out for bid.

There are listing services you can subscribe to which will send you announcements of jobs going out for bids.

After a while you develop a sixth sense. You know when something isn’t right, so you lower your expectations or avoid a bid. We often see bid specs based upon old technology, or specs which are incomplete and which we know when completed will simply not work.

Frequently a bid spec will be written so as to limit who can hope to bid competitively on a job. For example the bid spec will allow for no substitutions, and the product specified is available only to specific dealers. The spec writer has been convinced that a particular product has unique qualities which are not available in another product. Or the end-user has existing systems built around the product, they like it and are used to it, and they want to stay with a platform and avoid possible pitfalls resulting from marginal products tendered by a low bidder.

Resilience is a necessary trait in bidding. Salesmen soon learn that they cannot give up every time they fail to close a sale.


Bid: An offer submitted by a prospective vendor in response to a request for bid issued by the purchasing authority.

RFP: Request for Proposal. An offer submitted by the offerer in response to the RFP. A proposal is usually requested in cases where the selection of a contractor is to be made on the basis of performance that is offered rather than on that of price alone.

Bidder/ Vendor Application: Often bidders will be required to be placed in bidder/vendor file completing a bidder/vendor registration form. Before attending a pre-bid site meting or gaining access to project documentation. Such forms will reveal things such as the required licensing and insurance required in order to participate in a project.

Addendum: An addition or supplement to a document; e.g., items or information added to a procurement document. We’ve participated in bids where addendums have been issued right up to the bid deadline. If your bid does not reflect the latest addendum, you could very well be required to honor the price you bid, but must supply materials and services reflected in the addendums.

Equal Or Approved Equal: Used to indicate that an item may be substituted for a required item if it is equal in quality, performance and other characteristics. If no substitutions are permitted, you may not be able to competitively obtain a specific manufacturer’s products, or obtain favorable pricing.

Formal Solicitation: A solicitation which requires a sealed response

Informal Solicitation: A solicitation which does not require a sealed response.

Purchase Order: The signed written acceptance of the offer from the vendor. A purchase order serves as the legal and binding contract between both parties.

Qualified Vendor/Responsible Vendor: A vendor determined by a buying organization to meet minimum set standards of business competence, reputation, financial ability and product quality for placement on the vendor list.

Request For Bid (RFB): A solicitation in which the terms, conditions, and specifications are described and responses are not subject to negotiation.

PRO FORMA Invoice: A document that states a commitment from the seller to sell goods to the buyer at specified prices and terms. It is used to declare the value of the trade. It is not a true invoice, because it is not used to record accounts receivable for the seller and accounts payable for the buyer.

It is a Confirmed Purchase Order where buyer and supplier agree on the Product Detail and its cost (usually-Supplier currency) to be shipped to buyer. Sales quotes are prepared in the form of a pro forma invoice which is different from a commercial invoice. It is used to create a sale and is sent in advance of the commercial invoice. The content of a pro forma invoice is almost identical to a commercial invoice and is usually considered a binding agreement although the price might change in advance of the final sale.

Submittals: Shop drawings, material data, and samples. Product data submittals, samples, and shop drawings are required primarily for the architect and engineer to verify that the correct products will be installed on the project. This is one of the first steps taken by the contractor after execution of the construction contract and issuance of the “Notice to Proceed.”

An “approved” submittal authorizes a material or an assembly to be released for fabrication and shipment. In essence, this is the final quality control mechanism before a product arrives on-site.