How get a contract with Metro: Interview with Gabriele Schuster

Hello, everyone. This is Steve Havelka and I am talking with Gabriele Schuster, procurement manager at Metro. We’re talking about how Metro likes to do business with small businesses. So my first question is,

What is the number one mistake small businesses make in doing business with you?

Gabriele Schuster MetroGabi Schuster: I would say the number one mistake businesses make is not reading the solicitation document thoroughly enough. So what we often see is that businesses are qualified to do business with us, but when they turn in their bid or proposal, they sometimes don’t answer the questions off the request for bid or request for proposal document. Then don’t provide the right answers for certain sections of the document. So it is really important to thoroughly read the solicitation document and make sure that all questions and sections of the document are addressed.

We know that the businesses are qualified, but sometimes they don’t promote themselves or sell themselves well enough in their submission document. This is what we’re trying to teach businesses when we teach our workshops, to really read the document and respond in a way so that we can get a good picture of how qualified and skilled they are in doing business with us.

SH: Do you have any winning proposals that small businesses can come and look at before submitting their own proposal?

GS: Yes, we certainly do. So we are a government agency and all of the documents, even the proposals and bids that we receive, are actually considered public documents. People can actually send either an email or call us. There’s a small form that they need to fill out. They can also come on site and review or get copies. But they can certainly review winning proposals. Sometimes we have to maybe block out confidential information like financial or trade secret information off businesses that have submitted information to us, which is just fair. So we don’t want to reveal any trade secrets. But we can certainly share winning proposals with small businesses in order to learn, and we have actually looked at some of those in technical assistance sessions that we provide on a monthly basis.

SH: Do you have a minority evaluator program?

GS: We actually don’t have a minority evaluator program. I know that the City of Portland has one. It requires a lot of resources that we currently don’t have in place. It is really a great program that lets people of color participate. People who own businesses, it lets them participate in evaluating proposals.

SH: Are there any characteristics of winning proposals that you see over and over again?

GS: Yes definitely.

Number one: I first want to mention that the content of the proposal is the most important part. We know that a lot of businesses don’t have the resources to send in a fancy proposal that is – for example, we once received a treasure box from a marketing company that had all kinds of little knick knacks, fun stuff in there, that requires a lot of resources. So we don’t focus on that. We focus on the content. So it can simply be just a paper proposal or some electronic document, and we have trained our staff and evaluators here on just paying attention to the content.

Number two: Companies who are successful thoroughly read the request for proposal or request for bid document, section by section. They usually break it out into sections and then answer in their proposal or bid those different sections that need to be addressed. They’re very strategic about providing those answers.

Number three: A lot of companies make the mistake of only providing their qualification and experience, and while that is very important, there are a lot of other questions that we have.

For example, questions about diversity within the company, or what the company provides to the community. There’s also questions about sustainability, and we provide points for that. We also provide points for being a certified business, state certified business, COBID certified, formerly known as MWESB.

Bottom line: The key is to thoroughly read the solicitation document and be very strategic about answering and addressing each section in the order that the solicitation document is organized. So that’s what we typically see, that those companies are more successful if they really spend time reading and responding directly to those questions.

SH: What are some of the most common things that you buy?

GS: We buy a lot. We are an agency that is in charge of many different venues, visitors venues, the zoo. We do urban planning. We have cemeteries, parks. So most of our purchases are actually professional services, architects, engineers, consultants. Really a whole variety of professional services. We hire a lot of consultants, actually. Then one third is probably construction and trader services. But it’s really across the board, and we also purchase goods, of course. Like anything that the agency needs, office supplies, janitorial supplies, furniture. We have many buildings. We have commercial buildings. We also have residential buildings. So I would say it’s really across the board. But most of what we need is professional services.

SH: Are there any typical opportunities that you often have a harder time getting enough small businesses to apply to?

GS: Yes. It is construction. So we are having a really hard time in the current economy, which is getting better, which is great. Construction businesses are very busy, and we’re having a really hard time finding in particular, smaller construction firms and smaller trade firms that can provide electrical services, plumbing, drywall, smaller general contractors. Especially smaller construction projects, because most of our projects are under $150,000, and we only have larger construction projects in the zoo bond, and typically we would hire a larger company that subcontracts out to smaller firms. Then again, our larger prime contractors have a problem finding smaller businesses to subcontract to.

This is not unusual in this type of market. I know that other agencies have the same issue. There are simply not enough small construction trade companies in our metro region at the moment, and I would encourage anyone who has construction trade skills to open a business. This is the time to do it, and we have resources to help with that. The Metropolitan Contract Improvement Partnership is a nonprofit organization that we profit with and can help small firms to get started and help them with business administration, payroll, growing, hiring people, everything. So another good organization is NAMC Oregon, the National Association of Minority Contractors, who we also partner with. So this is the time to start a small business in the construction trade.

SH: Wow. That’s really encouraging. I talk to a lot of people who are in that trade, and I’m really looking forward to passing this information onto them because they need to know about this. I would love to connect them with Metro too.

GS: Yeah, Steve. We definitely need more construction firms. We’re a bit desperate in finding people at the moment.

SH: Would you be open to having small businesses call you with questions? Can I include your contact information in the interview?

GS: Certainly, Steve. I would be happy to. This is what we do in procurement services here at Metro. I have a staff of six and there’s myself, and we are here to answer questions. We also like to invite people in once a month for a two hour technical assistance session, in which we tell people all about public procurement processes, Metro procurement processes, and we can provide resources and again provide successful proposals and bids, winning proposals and bids. You can contact me at gabriele.schuster@oregonmetro.gov or call me at:  503-797-1577

I’m always happy to talk to small business owners and help them succeed in this process.

Thank you so much Gabi for telling us how to succeed in getting a contract with Metro Regional Government! Small construction companies, take note! They want to hear from you!

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