When electrical estimating is your whole business, it’s crucial that you have a streamlined estimating process.

The duo of Tom Levitt and Geoff Hook of Southdowns Estimating Consultants are experienced estimators who had a pretty quick and accurate “manual” estimating process. When they discovered Countfire’s takeoff software, they found their process was significantly sped up.

We had a chat with Tom recently about their business, their estimating processes and their experience with Countfire. Here’s what we found out:

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About Southdowns Estimating Consultants

“Southdowns Estimating Consultants is a consultancy that offers electrical estimating services – it’s all we do,” says Tom. “We work with electrical contractors who need our services for a number of different reasons; it could be holiday cover, to give senior staff time for live projects, to grow their business or as back-up to their existing estimating team.” 

Tom and Geoff have worked together as a team of two for a while now.  “I’ve been with Southdowns for seven years,” Tom says. “I have a contracting background and my colleague Geoff and I had a mutual friend who introduced us. Geoff had done everything and knows everyone in the electrical industry; I’m a relative newbie compared to him!” 

“At the moment it’s just the two of us at Southdowns. We use Countfire to tender for projects and also as part of variations when a project has been secured and new drawings are issued,” he says. 

“We have a great mix of clients. It’s mainly small to medium companies who do every type of electrical fitout,” says Tom. “The bulk of our work has so far been houses and flats, but our clients do everything from a little extension, to medical centres, to commercial units, all the way up to 500 unit apartment blocks. Our clients are mainly in the south east and London.”

Getting started with Countfire

How did Tom and Geoff get started with Countfire? “We hadn’t heard of Countfire until one of our clients told us about it,” says Tom. “We got in touch with Countfire and we were shown how to use it. We were aware of takeoff software but we hadn’t looked into it. We didn’t really believe that it would speed us up that much – we were wrong!”

Tom and Geoff quickly incorporated Countfire into their daily operations: “We use Countfire every day,” Tom says. “We’ll get a project from our clients and we then offer the full service from downloading the tender package and sending it to subcontractors and wholesalers. We do everything to get it ready so they can submit it to their client,” he says. “Obviously Countfire comes in right at the beginning when we’re going through the drawings and we’re seeing what takeoffs need to be done.”

“We’ve been using Countfire for three years,” Tom says. “Before we started using it we did our takeoffs manually – the old fashioned way with highlighters!”

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Speeding up the estimate process

We wanted to know how Tom and Geoff use Countfire and how it has impacted their estimating process. “Countfire saves us hours and hours of time,” Tom says. “I probably spend about two or three hours Countfiring a big-sized job, which could take me up to two days to do manually. So it saves me about 60% of my takeoff time.”

(Thanks Tom! We have a new verb – “Countfiring”). 

“I did a big job last week that had 150 pages of drawings,” Tom continued. “It took me four to six hours to do the takeoffs using Countfire, but if I hadn’t been using it, the takeoffs could have taken me at least two days manually.”

Tom mentioned that he and Geoff also use Countfire as a tool to quickly show the differences between drawings. “When we use it for variations, it shows us the differences between tender and construction drawings which is invaluable.” This is another time saver, as playing “spot the difference” with drawings can be a lengthy exercise!

“If we weren’t using Countfire I like to think I’d be just as accurate, as I’m incredibly anal in my work – which obviously helps when using Countfire with all the checks I like to go through,” says Tom. “But it does make me so much more time efficient.” (Countfire has four stages of checking available for anyone who likes to be doubly sure!).

Benefits of Countfire

Tom and Geoff spend their days creating estimates for electrical businesses. Usually, they have a reasonable period of time to produce an estimate, but sometimes they’re approached by a client that needs an urgent quotation. 

“We recently had a project that our client needed to be turned around in a day,” Tom says. “There were seven drawings and we got it in the afternoon, and the client needed it back the following afternoon. We had it all counted and ready for input for the morning – we spent two hours on it in the afternoon and then it was ready,” he says. “And that was all because of Countfire.”

There’s a chance Tom and Geoff may have had to turn down rapid-turnover projects if they didn’t have takeoff software to help. “ If we hadn’t had Countfire we wouldn’t have been able to get that job back so quickly,” Tom says.

“My favourite thing about Countfire is the speed. I’m quite well versed at using Countfire now so I am fast on it with all the shortcuts and bits like that. It’s brilliant,” he says. What was it like learning to use the program? “I had someone from Countfire show me how to use it – it definitely helped to have that,” says Tom. “ And when you’re using it there are little pop-ups on the screen with tips on how to use it, which is great. It’s not too hard to grasp.”

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Final thoughts

What would Tom say to anyone thinking about trying Countfire?

“If you’re on the fence about using Countfire I’d definitely say get someone from the team to give you a full demo,” he says.  “It’s totally worth it. It’s not for everybody but if you see what it can do then you’ll see how impressive it is.”

“If Countfire was no longer available it would mean we’d go back to doing takeoffs manually and us taking two days to do projects. It would totally slow us up. I don’t want to go back to the old days!”