Signing a contract is a major legal commitment, and you can't back out of once the deed is done. Up until you've both signed the contract, everything's negotiable.
This is why it's wise to gather information early, and negotiate carefully. Here are six questions to ask your sheet metal fabricator before you sign a contract with them.
1) "How long have you been in business?"
This is a simple question, and the answer may even be on the fabricator's website. It goes a long way toward understanding the company's experience and professionalism. If they've been in business for a long time, they're likely more trustworthy.
2) "How many clients do you have?"
Companies with plenty of experience in the field will typically have more clients -- which, again, signals more experience and greater professionalism. They're often happy to brag to new clients about their biggest collaborations, so don't hesitate to ask.
3) "What kind of equipment do you use?"
There's a wide variety of machinery on the market, with varying capacities, and different quality for the completed product. If you know your way around the industry, ask for a tour of their facility before you sign a contract.
Just like how companies love to brag about their customers, many companies welcome a chance to give a tour (so long as you wear all safety equipment, and stay out of the way of workers). You'll walk away with a better sense of what the company is capable of, and what resources they have available.
4) "Can I see samples of your work?"
Never sign a contract without asking to see work on a comparable project. Again: this is something that the company is typically happy to show off., and you'll come away with a better understanding of what the company can do for you.
5) "What's your expected turnaround time?"
Of course, the timeline for the completed project will be part of the contract you both sign. But be sure to discuss this early on in the negotiation process. If the company gives a timeline that's unsatisfactory, push back and see if they'll compromise. Remember: you may not be able to ask them to step up their production schedule once you've both signed the contract, so consider your needs well in advance.