AWI Certification and Bidding

      Advice on how to get certified with the Architectural Woodworking Institute, and how to qualify as a bidder on projects when you're not certified. May 20, 2009

I have a bid coming up tomorrow that requires AWI certificates. This is the third time in a month that I have run into the requirement. I would like to know just what is required to get qualified. Is it just pay the money and get qualified like an online college degree in two weeks? How long of a process is it? Are there on site inspections? Any information would be appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor R:
Certification requires taking a 150 question test, getting letters of recommendation from contractors architects and end users, getting your plant and installed work inspected and paying a yearly fee. In addition there is a project fee for each certified job. The process can be fast tracked if needed. You do not have to be certified to bid most certified jobs, but to be in compliance with the specification you would need to be certified before the contract is issued to you.

From contributor J:
I had to get qcp certified about three years ago as part of a job (missed the requirement in the specs and had to comply). It's expensive and time consuming to get certified and just another set of costs going forward (annual subscription costs and per-job costs). While one could argue that it distinguishes my company from others I wish the program would go away. Not only do I dislike the additional cost but feel it adds to confusion in the bidding process. Most architects that spec it don't understand what it is or often it's part of their canned specs and they're not even aware it exists or the implications of the requirement.

So, what's a cabinetmaker to do? Do you price according to the additional cost you will bear (knowing a lot of your competitors aren't picking up on it in the specs, therefore aren't pricing for it and probably won't be forced to comply anyway) or do you try to point out you're qcp certified and meet the specs so you therefore should be paid more. There is no benefit to the consumer - the architect could just as easily state "comply with AWI XXX grade" in the specs and have the leverage to ensure AWI compliance w/o the additional cost.

From contributor R:
Several things a cabinetmaker can do to improve the implementation of certification:

1. When you see a certified specification, email the information. They will assign it a QCP number and track the progress, making sure that everyone in the process knows the Certification requirements.

2. Put the Certification requirements on your proposal in bold letters. We have stock language that reads "The specification requires AWI certification on this project. The QCP registration number is xxx. We are one of three firms currently certified in New Mexico. Please be sure that all bidders include certification costs and can qualify for certification.

3. List certification costs as a separate line item co that in the event that the contractor is going to ignore the spec, your price will be comparable to the non certified bidders.

4. If the apparent low bidder is not certified, follow up with a letter to the architect and the contractor pointing out that the specification is not being followed and that at the very least if they are going to waive certification they are entitled to a substantial discount. (After a non certified firm has to give back a thousand dollars that he didn't have in his bid, he may think twice about bidding work again without following the spec.)

5. If it's a public job and you are the belligerent type, protest the bid if they list a non-certified millwork sub. This will annoy everyone but it will get their attention.

6. Talk to owners, architects and contractors and let them know about the program and its advantages for them and use it as a sales tool for yourself. Build relationships based on quality, and emphasize that QCP is a means for assuring quality.

Overall I have found the certification program to be a real asset to my business. The intent is to level the playing field so that all bidders are bidding the same job, and so that the owner and the architect have some level of quality assurance when they are dealing with woodworkers that they don't know. I find that when I am dealing with customers that do know me, they will waive the certification process, in which case I refund the cost and ask them to formally withdraw it from the program. As the program gets more and more used and accepted it will be more of an asset to be certified, but the education of owners, architects and contractors is a never ending process. Certification is a valid and valuable part of this process.

From contributor D:
With annual fees and having a certified project what would the percentage of the total job cost be for AWI and FSC COC certification?

From contributor J:
Total costs - let's say you're doing 3mm of business a year. Your annual dues to AWIqcp (if you're not an AWI member) are $2,500, not to mention your initial fee of about $2,000. Your incremental cost per job is the greater of 1/2 percent or $500, so maybe your average cost is 3/4%. If half your jobs are AWIqcp your total annual cost will be $2,500 + .0075*1.5mm or $13,750.

From contributor B:
The cost of QCP is .5% of the total contract amount or a flat fee of $250 per project or whichever is greater I believe, on top of the annual fee. There isn't an automatic percentage used for FSC material. It's whatever the material costs, plus what you think you need to cover the paperwork trail/annual fee/tracking/sourcing materials. It costs you extra working an FSC project in just the time spent sourcing materials and tracking and paperwork.

From contributor R:
Direct benefits to my company from QCP:
1. Marketing

2. Opportunities with out of state firms that don't know the locals and use QCP as a prequalification tool.

3. Award of significant number of projects per year when I am the only Certified bidder.

4. Award of several projects per year when the low bidder can't (or won't) get Certified.

5. Protection from the (rare) ignorant customer or architect who "just doesn't like it" or wants something they didn't specify.

The program is not perfect, but it works when everyone involved uses it properly. The more the program is used by owners, architects and contractors, the more benefit to both QCP and to me. It's a slow process but here in New Mexico it is slowly taking hold. Unqualified bidders tend to hate it. Architects and contractors who really understand it tend to like it.

From contributor O:
I find this all very interesting. It seems that the AWI is currently on a campaign with architects that they demand AWI certification if a manufacturer wants to bid a project. I find that the fairness of what the bidding process is supposed to represent is being compromised by this. My shop meets or exceeds AWI standards and I feel that we should be building to what the architect is specifying not to what an arbitrary organization is specifying. The more feedback I get from member shops and general contractors the more the AWI seems to be the Tony Soprano of the woodworking industry. It also begs to question whether or not this is legal especially when you are bidding a state project.

On a recent school project the architect specified certification on steel fabrication and there was only one firm in the state of Missouri able to bid the project. I took the time to call a couple of certified manufacturers and they agree that they do not like it and it is a necessary evil. The one company that is certified in my area has one of the worst reputations in the industry. While that company is less than 10 years old, my company is over 20 years old and we are being prevented from bidding jobs. This in my opinion is criminal at best. In these economic times no company should be forced to pay an organization 1/2% of a job to get it certified. I know for a fact we cannot add the cost of that into a job when we are bidding lower than we did 10 years ago just to win a bid in the first place. It certainly is not fiscally responsible to try to absorb the cost either. What is a manufacturer suppose to do? I recommend you file a complaint with your state attorney general's office.

From contributor R:
"AWI is currently on a campaign with architects that they demand AWI certification if a manufacturer wants to bid a project." If the certification program is used, the manufacturer must be certified before award of the project, not in order to bid the project.

"My shop meets or exceeds AWI standards and I feel that we should be building to what the architect is specifying not to what an arbitrary organization is specifying." Your shop may meet or exceed the quality standards, but your competition may not. The architect in most cases is specifying the AWI quality standards, either premium or custom grade. The QCP is designed to assure the architect that he is getting what he specified, and to give him a means to enforce his specifications if they are not being met.

"AWI seems to be the Tony Soprano of the woodworking industry."
See my comments two posts above - you should look closer at the organization which has spent 50 years advancing your interests through quality standards and education.

"It also begs to question whether or not this is legal especially when you are bidding a state project." The legality of the certification program has been extensively vetted and tested. There are no restrictions on bidding projects, only a requirement to show compliance with the specification when the job is complete.

"The architect specified certification on steel fabrication and there was only one firm in the state of Missouri able to bid the project. I took the time to call a couple of certified manufacturers and they agree that they do not like it and it is a necessary evil." Why necessary - because the school system wants qualified subcontractors to erect their steel work. Why should they not require the same from their cabinet makers?

"The one company that is certified in my area has one of the worst reputations in the industry." If the certification process is used properly by the architect, the contractor and the end user, this company will not be able to sell substandard work. They may get away with the minimum but not less.

"We are being prevented from bidding jobs." You are not being prevented from bidding jobs by the certification process. Your competition is being prevented from delivering and getting paid for substandard work.

"In these economic times no company should be forced to pay an organization 1/2% of a job to get it certified. I know for a fact we cannot add the cost of that into a job when we are bidding lower than we did 10 years ago just to win a bid in the first place." Everyone pricing the job should be adding the same 1/2% so there is no effect on competitiveness. If it worries you, show the certification cost as a line item so that the contractor knows the difference between you and the irresponsible bidder who is not paying attention to the spec. I have to win $9-$10 million/year in contracts to make money in a very competitive market and I find the QCP to be a competitive advantage.

From contributor O:
I was prevented by an architect less than 60 days ago from bidding on a state job due to the fact that I was not an AWI certified shop. I have the letter on company letterhead from the firm stating that in spite of my references from GC's and having completed five other school jobs in the last year I was not allowed to bid the project.

I am glad that you find this beneficial for your company. However, make some calls to other member companies and ask what they think of the program, I did. Most think it is useless and they are being forced into it. It is wise to have industry standards that every manufacturer is adhering to. The job of the architect is to spec these standards and then inspect upon the walk-throughs which has been the industry standard for years. I have been manufacturing commercial casework for 30 years, in business for 20 and this AWI certification has only been an issue in the last two years in my area. I build quality cabinets, I carry all the necessary product liability insurance, the last thing we need in this industry is a way that cabinet shops can bleed more money, that is my view of the AWI. It is my opinion that this is a way to "buy" work and it is a scheme of major proportions.

From contributor R:
The architect in your case was wrong. If you encounter this again, contact the certification program and have them contact the architect - they will do so quickly. I can only say again that my experience is completely different from yours. I am in touch with a lot of people around the country and have not found sentiments similar to yours.

From contributor O:
Thanks for letting me know that contributor R. I will contact AWI if I am restricted from bidding again. Perhaps the certification lends itself well to the size of your company. I chose to contact small companies similar to mine and they are not very happy with AWI and feel that the benefits are few. I have a small shop and I do not bid large out of state projects or for out of state contractors. My business is local and I do not take on large jobs. So you can see my irritation when I am bidding a project for someone that I have already completed work for in the past and all of a sudden the architect is demanding AWI certification when a year ago it was not being mandated. This same entity has me working on projects for them directly right now so they are obviously satisfied but to bid this new project I should have AWI certification - makes no sense to me at all.

From contributor E:
I will chime in here with the hope and intention to clarify any misconceptions about the AWI Quality Certification Program (QCP). This is neither a sales pitch, nor an attempt to convince anyone that the QCP is right for everyone and every job. The policies and the application of the program can be confusing at best, and terribly frustrating more often than we would like.

The QCP policies explicitly state that project bidding is open to all. The QCP strongly opposes restraint of trade. It is true that if a successful bidder is to comply with project specifications that require project certification, then that company must successfully complete the QCP accreditation process prior to the completion of the project. Contrary to what some may conceive, the QCP does not certify work, and it does not certify woodworkers. Rather, the program accredits qualifying woodworking firms to certify that its work complies with the project specifications and/or the quality standards.

The QCP is structured so that it allows any party to the woodwork contract to request an inspection to verify that the work complies with the specifications and the standards. The project fee, one half of a percent of the woodwork contract or $500 whichever is greater, allows the program to inspect projects either upon request, at random, or as called for by program policies or the project documents.

The program is not perfect and it certainly has room to improve. It is no secret that there are some woodworkers who have been accredited by this program who never should have been; and one is further mystified by the fact that they have not yet been kicked out. The program, for better or for worse, employs due process when evaluating which companies retain their credentials and which ones have them revoked. That said, the number of QCP participants who do not belong in the program is steadily shrinking. More importantly, the QCP is proud to be the credentialing body to which many of the finest woodworking companies in North America turn to for their credentials. One ought to refrain from applying judgment to an entire organization because of the performance of a select few. To illustrate this point, most readers have seen good companies which have had the misfortune of employing an individual or two (or more) whose performance and behavior, if publicly displayed, brought blight to the company for which they worked. Despite our best efforts, the QCP is not immune to these misfortunes from time to time. While we still have some housekeeping ahead of us, the growing prevalence of this specification is a testament to the program's efficacy, its increase in popularity amongst the design community members and to the exemplary woodworkers who fulfill their needs.

The program is not for everyone. Compliance with the standards and the policies can be far more expensive than the project fees themselves. Companies that do not have well-established drafting or engineering divisions, and/or lack clear and cohesive submittal processes, and who have little experience with commercial contracts would likely find that the program is a disaster for them. As contributor R mentioned above, the QCP is not necessarily applicable or beneficial when there is a good working relationship between the woodworker and the other parties to the contract such as the general contractor, and/or the design professional or the owner. I hope I was able to clarify any misunderstandings.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor M:
I was once called on to review a millwork job that was about $230,000. It was supposed to be a custom specification according to AWI. While there I observed plainsawn lumber when the specs called for quartersawn. There were gaps greater than 1/8", and even a loose knot hole with the knot missing. No inside corner joints were mitered. I think the custom standard recommends, but does not require coping. An AWI inspector had been called in I was told and approved everything. In my view architects need to vigilant and knowledgeable about their specs. My own standards for such a job are higher than the ones I observed. If someone ignores the specís they still apply. Not reading them is not good enough in my book.

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