The Bestimate LLC Story
“How Bob Lewerenz dealt with a tough job market in this tough economy”
“How Bob Lewerenz dealt with a tough job market by becoming an entrepreneur starting Bestimate LLC”
So you think it’s a tough economy, huh? I guess I should have been paying better attention when in January 2009, I left my employer and went job hunting. Even though I avidly watched news programs every day, I was not aware of how bad it really was out there. In February or March 2009, I was to discover that although the news spoke of 8%+ unemployment and “would it go to 10%?”, an article on the internet had construction unemployment at 27%, still at 17%+ in November. I set up my home office and tackled job hunting like a full time job, confident that with my experience and qualifications, I would soon be working for another contractor. My wife Jenni and I went to work writing a positive, current resume. As Jenni and my many friends in the industry supported me, I quickly built a database of possible employers, did research on the internet, and hit the road delivering resumes. I set up internet searches for estimating and purchasing jobs in the central Wisconsin area with every good job search engine on the internet, and some that were obscure as well. In the next few months, I hand delivered and mailed 102 paper resumes and submitted 20-30 on the internet and had two formal interviews, one of which wasn’t even in the construction industry. Once, I was told if his business was not down 90%, a credible owner would have started me next week. Another employer was interested enough to talk to me again, but didn’t have enough work in this economy to hire me. Another had recently hired someone from a related industry and he let me know that before he was committed, my experience and qualifications would have been snapped up immediately. One interviewed me for a construction related estimating job and hired someone else. Mostly, there just was not much out there to be hired to do.
Growing up I never knew what I wanted to be, later saying I was like a pinball. When I came out of the Army, Job Service asked what I could do, artillery training didn’t help much, but when I told him I had worked in a grocery store I soon found myself working in a hardware store that was strong on lawn and garden. After a couple of years, I bounced to a new Home Center to manage their lawn and garden department, shortly after I was running the tool department too, then the fireplace department, managing almost every department in the next seven years, getting an education I couldn’t have bought. When the 1979-1981 recession in construction bounced me from the home center to a new builder, I learned new duties, estimating and purchasing, drafting, selling. In 1987, I pinged off Star steel building school, by chance, caroming off SBS 1.0, their first introduction of a computer pricing program, which led to spreadsheet classes, then computer aided drafting classes and database classes at the local Tech school, changing my life as I computerized my work. I wrote spreadsheets that automated estimating, kept track of commodity pricing so I could stay ahead of the markets, setup a purchase order system, and many other spreadsheet systems allowing me to accomplish three times as much. Apparently I was successful, the company grew and prospered while I was the only estimator and purchaser until 2004. In 2009, my old friends were a double bumper that bounced me to freelance assistance for contractors, lucky to have bounced and pinged through life into a career I am very well suited for and like.
Through the winter, my friend of many years, Leo Souder at MPB Builders in Ripon, WI had me there a couple times to talk and look at jobs, leading to using me a day or two at a time a freelance basis to add additional capability and experience to his staff to bid some different jobs he was interested in. As summer approached Randy Wanta at Wanta and Son near Hatley, WI, a friend since we attended “Star school” in 1987, called me with an offer of freelance work to help him buy steel buildings and material, revise plans, and help him with three steel building projects he had won. This start brewed an idea so that I wrote a “Freelance letter” and mailed it to 12-15 contractors in central Wisconsin. Two more contractors called and soon offered freelance work. By midsummer, I was working four to five days a week.
After doing our homework, my wife and I filed our forms and began Bestimate LLC on August 3, 2009 offering freelance assistance for building contractors. With 35 years of experience in building construction and building materials, we offer building and concrete estimating of material and labor, purchasing and expediting of materials and subcontractors for construction projects, checking shop drawings, orders, quotes, etc to verify information for construction, drafting in CAD and sizing of components for estimating, building-related consulting and budgets, customized spreadsheets to automate estimating, pricing, expediting building construction, and almost anything else a contractor might want done in his office.
I was able to work almost every weekday since. In this economy, a contractor can try out our working relationship by allowing me to help with bidding a building project or buying materials or pricing upgrades with a minimal cost, and have me back for more if they are satisfied, having help in their office as needed even if they cannot justify or afford another employee, getting competent, experienced help without permanent, daily commitment, or cost of health insurance, workman’s compensation, etc. I was able to help these contractors by estimating building jobs and changes to sold jobs, bidding building projects, getting quotes and buying material for sold jobs including some interesting steelframe buildings, revising CAD drawings and some new drawing, plotting and organizing drawings, checking and submitting shop drawings and product information to architect / engineers, learned scheduling software enough to begin to schedule projects, past experience allowed me to suggest materials or suppliers. Work in progress are upgrades to a customers postframe estimating spreadsheets, and a complete new standing seam reroof spreadsheet for a customer who rolls his own architectural standing seam panel that we are currently checking and perfecting. So far there has been little or no conflict between customers because they are spread out both geographically and in the markets they are in.
Early in 2010, Doug O’Donnell P.E. and friend, owner of O’Donnell Engineering Associates called me for help with CAD drawing and I used my past experience drawing commercial and non-commercial buildings on computer, including structural and energy calculations. My years of buying building materials for a general contractor have helped me to specify products that enhance the project and often are more economical. When residential customers contacted Bestimate LLC, I reverted to my home center roots to draw new home plans. We discovered that many, but not all, building supply retailers offer plan service, and several have shown interest in my services. My 25 years of drafting, estimating, and purchasing experience in commercial and agricultural remodeling may allow me to help you with more complex remodel and addition plans.
Our hope is that we will have steady work for clients doing a good job helping builders, engineers, and residential clients design, buy, sell, and expedite construction of buildings. We believe our future is best on our own, and have been told that if I can make it in these times, I will do well when construction comes back.
Thanks to all my clients for the work they provided.