Steve Cranshaw readily admits that he didn’t believe there could be software that takes care of the tedious task of counting takeoffs.
The Managing Director of Maintec, a Merseyside-based electrical firm specialising in security and communications, just didn’t think there could be a viable substitute for manual counting.
However, as a Countfire customer for the last three years or so, he has happily been proved wrong. In fact, Countfire has become an engrained part of his workflow when preparing quotes for electrical projects large and small.
Does Steve recommend Countfire to other electrical firms? Yes, emphatically. Here’s his story:
Maintec has been in the business for a long time - just over 25 years - and has been involved with many complex installations:
“We provide building work for the housing sector and local councils, so we provide maintenance service and installation for security and communication equipment, such as CCTV, fire, warden calls, nurse calls, door calls, alarm calls,” says Steve. “Anything specialist is what we do.”
The company gets involved in projects of all sizes and directly employs a team of 22:
“We manage small projects up to multi-million pound projects. We do a lot of ‘extra care’ schemes [specialist housing designed for older people] and we put in things like fire, CCTV and access control. We then maintain the service of these. We have a lot of maintenance contracts,” Steve says.
Steve has preferred to grow his company slowly, reaching new milestones with bigger and bigger contracts. It has been important to him to manage growth and maintain the quality outputs of the company.
“The company has grown quite slowly because that’s how I wanted to do it. We’re about to move into some new premises and will be doing so in a couple of months when the renovations on the building are finished. It will give us much more space in terms of expansion, training and storage. And that’s one of the biggest milestones we’ve achieved in terms of where we are now.”
The challenge with managing many quotes
Managing a large number of quotes can boost the growth of a business, but it does represent some significant challenges. For example, how quickly can you finish up a quotation? Will accuracy be maintained when you’re juggling several projects? Can you meet tender deadlines? Do you have to hire extra people to get the job done?
Steve reached a point where he was trying to manage a large number of quotes at once, whilst counting the “old fashioned” way:
“Two or three years ago we were doing a lot of quotes, and when I say a lot of quotes I mean I was probably doing 10 or 15 large quotes every couple of weeks,” Steve says. “Some of them were worth half a million pounds going down to about £50,000.
“Somebody saw me marking my drawings up with my coloured pens - as everyone used to do - and said, “I’ve just been in an office and they’ve got software that does that.” And I said, “no they don’t.” And he said “no, honestly, I’ve seen them do it!”
This lead Steve to investigate further, at which point he discovered Countfire.
Steve describes how he started using Countfire immediately after discovering it and was able to instantly streamline the production of his quotes:
“I found Countfire quick to use straight away. I jumped in - I don’t read instructions or videos, I’d rather learn how to use it myself and then when I find a problem I’ll look for the solution - but to be fair when I first started using it I did send a couple of questions to Countfire,” he says.
“The response was really good, really quick and really helpful, to the stage where I even had a couple of phone calls to go through things with feedback. The Countfire support team was really good for me because that’s often a problem when you get software: you’ll have an issue and you’ve got to email someone who doesn’t ring you back. So I would say the support for Countfire is really good as well.”
As for producing quotes, Steve says; “Countfire has helped me produce quotes that are error-free. When you use your coloured pens and you’re trying to count symbols on a massive drawing and there are five or six drawings for the same building, you’ve got to then add them all up and it’s very easy to make mistakes.
“But the thing about Countfire is that it shows you all the errors and you can double-check your work and it’s very easy to use. If you’ve missed something, it’s because it’s physically missed off the drawing. Countfire has definitely increased productivity with regards to producing quotes.”
Steve says they’ve eased off the number of quotes they produce since their initial introduction to Countfire, but it still remains an integral part of his work when he does have a quote to get out. “The problem was that we were winning all our quotes and we struggled to cope with the workload,” Steve says. “So now we pick and choose what we quote and therefore what we win.”
Sounds like a good problem to have, right? Steve is happy that he can confidently produce a quote for the projects he does want to take on, knowing that Countfire will be reliable.
“It has always been me who uses Countfire. I’m the Managing Director of the company - my role within the company is the same as running the general day-to-day of the company. I am the estimator,” Steve says. “Because the buck stops with me it’s important that I get estimating right.”
Making sense of complex drawings
With the mix of services that Maintec provides, Steve says they often find themselves dealing with very complex drawings. In his days of manual counting, these would present a significant challenge, but not so much with Countfire:
“The problem we have is that we’d get a set of security drawings. And on that security drawing would be the fire alarm system, the CCTV system, the access control system, maybe your warden call - so you’ve got a lot of different items on there,” he says.
“[With Countfire] we can create different sets based on the system, so we know what our fire alarm symbols are, what the CCTV symbols are, and so on. It allows you to break things down as well.
“There’s nothing worse than getting a drawing when you’ve got five or six different disciplines on it, you’ve got so many symbols and you can’t make any sense of it. But as soon as you start using Countfire you start to make sense of it, especially if you use the facility to remove the background on the PDF, so it only leaves the symbols in place. You can start to see how they make a building up.”
Steve also talks about how many projects involve an extended period of quotations and revised drawings, which would be difficult to manage if not for Countfire’s automated abilities.
“The problem we have with our market is that quotes can take some time. I’ll give you an example. I did a quote in 2015, I requoted it five different times with five different drawings, each with different modifications and we just won it this year. So it’s taken four years to get from quotation stage - which has been repeated,” he says.
“It’s common for quotes in the housing industry to take some time. There’s a lot of red tape with local councils, a lot of change of staff - so new people are picking things up at a later date. You can see four years on some projects from start to being on site. There are obviously other projects that are a lot quicker than that, but four years is the longest length for a quote.”
If Steve had continued with manual counts, he would have had to have re-counted with every drawing, but Countfire allows modifications to be made to a project and will automatically count for him.
What does Steve have to say if anyone is on the fence about trying out Countfire?
“I’ve recommended Countfire to so many people. It’s just so simple to use,” he says. “The big selling point is that the software is really, really quick to use. It’s really intuitive and once you’ve used it a few times it’s so fast. If I use Countfire I can do a set of full drawings in 15 minutes. Before Countfire it would have taken me a good two hours. It’s that quick.
“Countfire does a job well and the team is constantly developing it, so there’s little bits being added to the software. It’s those small touches - such as being able to zoom in on a symbol - where I think, ‘I wouldn’t have thought of that but that’s a good idea.’”
What if other people disbelieve that takeoffs can be counted automatically?
“If you’ve done drawings in the past like I used to, with pens and marking up pieces of paper, when someone comes to you and says they have software that can do it for you, well, you don’t believe them. It might sound stupid but you don’t,” he says.
“It’s a great product and it frees me up with a lot more time. It’s helped us with our clients to get quotes done quicker, and I know I can do quotes quickly because of Countfire. Countfire has changed the way I work.”