Absolute: making tenders work by ‘getting to the heart of the client’s brief’

Main Image: freestanding barriers, one of the many products made by Absolute

With its array of integral hanging, barrier and signage systems, Absolute has become a design firm that is used across the museum and gallery sector both in the UK and internationally. Here Sam Sprague, Managing Director tells Museums + Heritage Advisor about its products and how, with more than 25 years’ experience, their approach to the tendering process, from implementation to delivery, ensures they keep their clients happy by staying abreast of the fast-paced world around them

What products do you produce for the museum sector?

Absolute design and manufacture products and equipment for museums and galleries to use at the interface between their artworks and the general public, enabling institutions to hang and display their artworks, protect and preserve the more vulnerable elements and signage to explain the pieces on display. In addition to these, Absolute produce several barrier systems to guide visitors throughout their visit.

Absolute holds the view that our products should be visually minimal so they do not distract from the artworks on show and functionally robust and straight forward to provide simplicity of use. The range of products provides the foundation for the company strap line, “Display, Protect, Inform, Direct”. The key aspects to be addressed when exhibiting to the public.

Handmade components by Absolute

What are some of the main procedures you consider and implement when tendering for museum projects?

  1. Establish whether it is a tender and the deadlines involved
  2. Harvest all available information to help ensure the best, most appropriate solution is presented
  3. Consult all relevant stakeholders, but work through a single point of contact
  4. Ensure both a speedy response and accurate quotation

The first step is to know that we are dealing with a tender. Absolute produces a broad range of products with some specifically designed to cater for limited budgets and others focused on appearance, functionality and longevity. We always seek to recommend the optimum solutions relevant to a client’s needs in the specific project, so understanding the enquiry is a tender enables Absolute to target the core need and ensure the tender responses meet that need.

The next is procurement of a broad breadth of essential information to provide the basis for a timely and accurate quotation. Is it standard or bespoke product, what are the dimensions and finishes and, most importantly, what is the timescale? Also highly desirable, the specific role of the finished installation. Over the past 25 years of working in this industry Absolute has accumulated a wealth of knowledge about the everyday and occasionally unexpected behaviours of visitors in the museum environment, informing choice of product, materials, stability, sturdiness of the installation, light patterns, sight lines, natural flow paths etc. All of these and more are key factors in assisting the best solution and ensuring a well-functioning exhibit and a happy client that provides the basis for an ongoing relationship.

Freestanding queue barrier with signage

How have these procedures changed and improved over the years due to your experience and also the changing landscape of the museum and heritage sector?

Time and experience have taught us the importance of the customer journey. From the very first phone call through to the recommended solution, confirmation, quotation, delivery, installation and the follow up call two weeks later to ensure everything is functioning as planned and we have a happy client. We have learned to be more adept at assisting our clients through this process, asking the pertinent questions early on and working with them to achieve their desired goals (as sometimes the desired goal is not clear at the outset). Absolute sell products, but our endeavour is to provide well-tailored solutions and the key to achieving this is learning what the client is really seeking to achieve. Getting to the heart of this will inform our recommendations for the products providing the performance and longevity best suited to that project.

24-hour quotations

Changes we have implemented as we have developed our tendering process include the target of a quotation to the client within 24 hours. We have massively extended the range and capabilities of our products, and maintained these as stock items on the shelf. All of this directly addresses the tendency for some projects arriving with rather challenging timescales. In the age of Amazon and expectations of solutions at the behest of an email, we are now able to supply products from our standard range to our client the very next day.

With regards to tenders, we ensure communication is clear and concise to the client. In some instances, the weighting process of the tender responses can focus the answers required, potentially in areas less relevant to the project due to internal process. In this market the main goal is to ensure the client is aware of our quality product and unique positioning to tailor the product to suit the space.

The design and manufacture of our product range has also evolved. We build in modularity and employ standardised fixings so that or products have interchangeable elements enabling clients to add to their existing equipment or vary the use without the need to purchase completely new equipment.

The other element to ensure a comprehensive service to our clients is bringing the major part of manufacturing in-house. This underpins our ability to respond to site specific needs of a project adapting and amending product to suit.

Reader rail at the Cottonian Collection

Can you give a brief example of a museum project you have worked on recently where the tendering process was well run?

A London based architectural practice sought Absolute’s assistance in a major project for the Royal Collections Trust.

Absolute worked alongside the client to produce a comprehensive brief for a barrier based product with highly specific functionality to address the varying requirements of the institution assisting their team to adapt layouts suitable for the particular events. The client created a small team for this project with a main point of contact for all communication and instruction.

No such product existed on the market, so Absolute created the concept, designed the equipment and built the prototypes. These were demonstrated to the client and the facilities team responsible for implementing and using the equipment. To ensure long term success, it is essential the solution has the ‘buy in’ of the people on the ground. The prototypes received approval from all concerned and Absolute began manufacture.

The client requested a black finish throughout which led to some interesting challenges as the most appropriate material to ensure longevity was stainless steel. To achieve the desired result Absolute employed three different finishing processes to provide a durable, long lasting finish to the barriers ensuring the areas of greatest impact would withstand the wear and tear of everyday use and many thousands of visitors.

The client was so impressed by the finished product, that Absolute then received a further order for twice the quantity to fulfil the needs of another of the UK’s most eminent institutions.

If you would like to know more about Absolute or require help with a tender please contact us via the website Absoluteproduct.com or call 01769 572389.