A recent article in the Point of Beginning magazine, “Dynamic Pricing”
by Larry Phipps, PLS talked about professional surveying services being treated as a commodity, like buying a bunch of bananas. That article could have also been written about the general public’s perception of engineering services.
With the housing market and the overall economy at an all time low, it is obvious that people will try to get the best “lowest” price when making a purchase. Everyone loves a bargain!
Engineering services are not really understood and for the most part, considered to be basically the same from firm to firm. These consumers are told they need an engineer, so they hire an engineer in the same manner as buying a bag of cement. While looking only at the price, they don’t understand that every engineering firm is different and the services offered are very different.
A good example is the need to have engineering design services performed for a replacement septic system for a family that is selling their house and moving. The family wants to limit their costs in order to “get out of Dodge” as quickly as possible. They shop around for an “engineer” like they would shop for a bag of cement and select the lowest price. They get what they paid for and then the “extra” costs start to add up beyond the amounts proposed by the established engineering firms. The quality of the plans, while meeting the basic requirements, did not show enough detail that allowed bidding contractors to fully define the construction costs, which typically results in the contractor seeking additional money for “unanticipated” extras. The family is caught in a trap and they pay more than they expected.
What happens to this low-priced “bag of cement” engineer? Nothing! The family becomes totally frustrated, pays the extras and moves out of town. Future consumers have no one to contact so the cycle continues.
There is a clothing store called, Syms, that has a slogan, “An educated consumer is our best customer”. That slogan is also true for customers seeking an engineering consultant.
When engineering services are not treated like a commodity, everyone benefits.