One of the most common ways that people decide on a security camera system is by taking the lowest bid. Unfortunately, the lowest bid is also often the worst value. People often tell me that they are comparing apples to apples and when I see the actual comparison it is more like apples and crab-apples. I once had a person tell me the other company had the same cameras I did, “They have domes too”. The other company was quoting plastic 420-line resolution cameras with fixed lenses and we were quoting 700 line, wide dynamic range, armoured dome cameras with a vari-focal lenses and wide dynamic ranges.
Even when you have identical equipment you can end up with totally different systems. If you give my wife and I the same ingredients, she will make something delicious, I would be doing well if the meal is edible. On the other hand, I can design and install a better camera system than she can.
Unless the person doing the purchasing has specified the exact equipment including model numbers, the camera locations and how the system is to be wired, it is very difficult if not impossible to obtain an “apples to apples” quote.
A few years ago, we had provided an estimate for a system in a Vancouver low cost housing project. The company that owned the building wanted us to do the installation however the funding agency insisted the installation go to the lowest bidder. I was aware that the other estimate was $2750 lower than my bid however I was not willing to meet or beat the other bid because it would have been unprofitable. To the funder if the number of cameras was the same the bids were the same.
The other installer of course got the bid however they had not included everything I had and with change orders, their installation came out over $2000 higher than my bid. Two years later the recorder died and the installation company was no longer answering their phones. We were called in to replace the recorder and fix up the mess the other company had left. Cheap cameras and poor wiring have since created expensive service calls that never should have been needed. The lowest bid turned out at least 20% higher in the first three years than our initial bid. To add insult to injury poor cameras and camera positions have greatly reduced the effectiveness of the system.
We recently came across an installation where the installing company had installed 16 cameras. As well as using cheap 12 volt cameras they had saved themselves money by connecting 4 cameras to each of 4 power supplies. Each of the power supplies was only adequate for one camera and of course the power supplies burned out. The service call to install a proper multi channel power supply was more expensive than to do the job properly in the first place.
Too often the lowest bidder makes money by using cheaper cameras installing them in the easiest positions and cutting corners on wiring.
So how can you avoid these problems?
Do not tell them where you would put the cameras. Ask them where they would put the cameras and why. If they ask you where you want the cameras and do not have suggestions, it is unlikely that they know what the are doing.
2. Ask them why they are recommending the equipment they are and what their experience with that equipment is. Do not accept “no name” brand equipment especially for the recorder. Ask them who else services the equipment and if they tell you they are they are the only ones who can service it, you shouldn’t invest in the equipment. We are called on a regular basis to service “no name” brand recorders. Usually we are unsuccessful because there is no way to get tech support. If you have a brand name recorder there is a good chance you can find service for it.
3. If your cameras are at risk of theft or vandalism find out how the installation company would secure them. If they tell you the cameras are vandal proof, tell them thanks but no thanks. There is no such thing.
4. Find out where they have done similar installations and ask for references.
5. Find out how easy the equipment is to operate, especially how to save snapshots and video or print pictures. Most recorders will no longer let you print images directly from the recorder. The easiest recorder to use we have worked with is the i3 DVR. It is Canadian manufacturer and easy to use and service. We have installed around 700 of these recorders in the last 18 years. The recorder is a premium cost but worth it if quality and ease of use is important to you.
6. If you need multiple quotes, perhaps the best way is to determine which installation company you have the most faith in and ask them to provide a detailed quote complete with detailed specifications and camera positioning. In fairness to the company doing the work, pay them for this service on the condition that they take it off your final bill if they are awarded the contract. You can then request true “apple to apples” quote.
Make sure you get a detailed broken down quote so that you can reconcile the final invoice and you can question any major difference in individual costs. It may be the higher bidder is including more in the proposal.
In closing beware of the lowest bid, chances are good it is not the best bid.