By Steve Thorburn On February 06, 2009
“Learn who your client is, ask about their expectations, and listen to the answer.” That was how I closed my previous column, in which I detailed some of our experiences being on the client side of the fence, while building a new office space for Thorburn Associates’ North
The team is now in their new space, which is pleasant, light, and airy, and everybody loves it. Some have asked, “Is this really for us?” One even said it was too good for them. But as professional building consultants who pride ourselves on delivering to the client 100 percent of the finished result they expect, by our own standards the contractor for our new space fell short, delivering only 90-95 percent.
That last five percent can be the hardest, but it’s also in many ways the most important. Not only does it have to do with the physical finish of the space (i.e., the sketches becoming the painting), but it is also the makeor- break of having a long-term relationship with the client, the guarantor of trust between the parties, and the part the client really remembers.
In our kick off meeting we said that we would be their best and their worst client. The “best” being that we only had one person to make decisions (my partner Lisa Thorburn, the president of our company). Also we knew the process and would respond to RFIs and field questions usually in the same day. The new office space was around the block from our old space, so we could hop right on over and address issues every day as needed.
The “worst” part was that the new office space was around the block from our old space so we could hop right on over and... and I wish I could go on being funny about all this.
When we met with the first contractor to bid on the job, just the GC came out to look around. When the second contractor came out to bid, they brought the whole team. There were two from the GC, three from the MEP, and one from the drywall subcontractor. We were impressed. Their presentation gave us a great feeling that their price, while three percent higher than the other firm, was going to give us a better product. We trusted them.
But in the end, the project is yet to be finished because written instructions were not followed. The remaining problem areas consist of such things as walls in the wrong position, incorrect tile patterns, existing lights designated for removal being left in, and various things that could make it challenging to secure LEED certification in spite of the contractor being self-billed
as a LEED GC.
These as-yet unresolved issues did not prevent our getting the certificate of occupancy we needed in order to secure our funding, and did not prevent our getting a new office space that the staff loves, but they were sufficient to burn the bridge between us and the contractor. Our business culture is relationship-based, and we were disappointed by a contractor that didn’t seem to be in it for the long haul. Otherwise they would have matched our professional respect for them, and delivered the final 5-10 percent without question. They would have matched their back-end performance to the promise of their front-end presentation.Steven J. Thorburn, PE, (SJT@TAInc. com) is co-founder of Thorburn Associates, an acoustic and technology system design and engineering firm with offices in Northern and Southern California and North Carolina. He is also a member of InfoComm’s PETC (Professional Education and Training Committee). He is active in the design and development of projects around the world.