"Every building has an architect"

The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada has a campaign to encourage its members to send this postcard to editors and to urge the editors to identify the name of architects in photo credits. Several American Institute of Architect components have also endorsed the program.
This is a usually good advice for building product manufacturers to follow when using building photos in marketing literature. It makes the manufacturer seem more connected to the culture of architects. The architect will generally like the public exposure. And it may encourage other architects to think, "Well, if XYZ Architects used it, I guess I can too."

Criticism: The campaign may make members of the association feel good about themselves, but I  doubt the campaign will have much impact on editors already pressed for time.

  • Many buildings do not have architects.
  • For many buildings, the names of the architects is lost or would require extensive research.
  • Other buildings have been remodeled and enlarged; is the editor to list them all?
  • The developer, builder, engineer, and others contributed to the vision for the building. Shouldn't they be credited too. 
  • Photos of buildings are printed for all sorts of reasons not related to the architecture, making the name of the architect irrelevant to the article. And,
Finally, there are many times an architect would prefer to not have his or her name in the press:
Even if the architect is found to be not liable for the collapse of this balcony in Berkeley, would the firm want's its name here?

Shortage of Architects?

A recent opinion piece in Wall Street Journal describes a drop of enrollment in architectural schools and predict dire consequences for the construction industry. A drop in enrollment certainly concerns the essay's author, an academic.  Even if the decline in enrollments leads to a decline in registered architects, however, I doubt there will be much impact on the construction industry.
From Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture
Here is why:

1. It is a global market. Plenty of architectural talent around world able to do the drawing and "desk" work without meeting client or seeing site.

2. Perhaps the much touted productivity gains of CAD have become a reality.

3. Much of the work of architecture does not require a registered architect. The person I know that is most efficient at producing a set of construction drawings has a community college degree. The best spec writer I know has an English lit degree.

4. Constructors, developers, engineers, construction managers, and other professionals are taking on "architectural" roles.

5. Manufacturers and contractors are increasingly taking on delegated design and design build responsibility.

6. Many architectural firms have principals that are not architects. Given the complexity of contemporary practice, the management suite can be shared with lawyers, accountants, engineers, interior designer, and individuals that came up through the trades.

7. For most of career, it was widely assumed that the schools of architecture were producing more graduates than required by the profession. A short term correction will not pose a problem.

Still, the trend illustrates a new reality of building product marketing - the market is increasingly complex. Product decision makers do not all have AIA or RA after their names.

Two ways to see a building

When you look at this  picture, do you see a building with wood-framed construction stucco, vinyl window frames, clay tile, and cheap, painted wood numerals? Of course. But many architects also see a building through the lens of architectural history.

When a friend moved into this building, I posted this lighthearted critique on Facebook.

This an under-appreciated architectural gem exemplifies the transfer of the finest Southern European traditions to Southern California.

Consider, by way of exposition on this theme, how the symmetrical, tripartite facade of the upper story projects beyond the lower representing the defenses typical of an Italianate tower, a theme further expressed by the use of terracotta tile on the pseudo-Mansardic attic story. Yet the tetrastyle engaged pilasters have the Mannered confidence of Michelangelo's Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana.

While realized at a somewhat smaller scale, the groomed arboreal forms in the landscape are based on the finest traditions of royal gardens. The sinuous line at the intersection of earth and structure is the mark of a master.

It is unfortunate that this edifice has been stripped of the ashlar marble cladding that undoubtedly defined its exterior. The mean rendering, however, discloses its pure lines and anticipates the austerity of the Villa Savoye.

We must not overlook the aesthetic tension introduced by the deliberate use of anachronistic serifs on the cartouche, leaving us to ponder why the builder chose to memorialize the defense of Constantinople during the indicated year.
The post  received "Likes" from many of my friends that are architects, suggesting that they recognized it as a sendup of architectural thinking. 

Bottom Line: When preparing marketing communications for a building product, it is useful to understand all the ways architects think.

Really Short-Form Guide Specification.

A building product manufacturer wanted me to write a guide spec that said, "No substitutions allowed."

I replied that, if they REALLY think the architect will reject substitutions, their guide specification needs only three lines:

Part 1 - General: Submit manufacturer's product data and installation instructions.

Part 2 - Products: Provide: Model XYZ with options ABC and LMN as manufactured by YourNameHere, Inc.

Part 3 - Installation: Comply with manufacturer's instructions.



Drawing Layout

If you use plan, elevation, and section drawings to illustrate your products, I recommend you organize them using "third angle projection".
Each surface on the shaded 3D object is projected onto the surface of an imaginary box.
Visualize the box unfolding to display each of the 2D projections.
Each of the projections is laid out on a sheet of drawings in a particular arrangement.

The top shows a a plan.

The central image is the front or main elevation.

Immediately to the side of the front elevation are the left and right elevations.

The far right shows the rear elevation and the bottom is a view of the object from below.

Sectional views are laid out in the same relative positions as elevations.

I recently worked with a manufacturer which has product literature with inconsistent drawing layouts. This added confusion to an already complex product presentation. A previous client had difficulty because its inconsistent detailing practices caused costly screw-ups on the production floor. My friend, Vladimir Paperny, has told me about a highrise project in Russia where the structural steel was fabricated backwards because the engineer and architect used different projection systems.

Most architects are not familiar with the term "third angle projection". But most have internalized the method (at least those who began their careers drafting with T-square and triangle).

This advice is particularly important to manufacturers based outside of the US since "first angle projection" prevails some parts of the world. As you make plans to enter the US, revising your drawings is an appropriate part of your technology transfer.

Drawing: CC BY-SA 3.0

Specifications Consultant in Independent Practice

Specifications Consultants in Independent Practice ( is an international technical resource organization which assists design firms, owners, and manufacturers in acquiring professionally written construction specifications from qualified independent and employed specifiers, who:
  • advance excellence in preparing construction specifications. 
  • promote their special services and expertise to potential clients. 
  • share their knowledge, experience, and resources through discussions, conferences, and educational programs. 
  • network for mutual benefit.
Building product manufacturers will find this a good group with which to connect. The organization has opportunities for event sponsorship that can serve this purpose.

Many SCIP members are sole practitioners or have small firms, but they should not be overlooked by manufacturers or rep organizations. Make sure your folks in the field know of the SCIP members in their territories.

Most SCIP members, however, work as consultants to architectural firms;  their clients are the ones that make most of the major product decisions. This means that SCIP members want access to technically knowledgeable members of your team instead of "sales" calls.

I am a SCIP member, and personally endorse the organization.

Continuing Education's role In Building Product Evolution

USG recently launched an online portal for their continuing education programs,
Looking at the site, I reflected on the role of education in the company's history. They built their drywall business, in large part, through education. Gypsum board was a paradigm shifting concept and it took lots of education to convince contractors, code officials, insurance companies, designers, and engineers to embrace each step of the product's evolution.
I was a consultant to USG in the early 1980s and worked for Vince Waropay, director of architect services, and other individuals that were approaching the end of their long careers. They shared stories about the many challenges they faced, such as inventing metal framing, drywall screws, and tools for installing the screws. Then the challenge was to convince plasterers to use screw guns, since there-to-for the hallmark of their craft was the skillful trowel use. Hence, the need for education in their promotional efforts.
The site offers a course called, Evolution of Lightweight Building Materials. It makes the case for the company's new, lighter weight gypsum board products. To do so, they inserted their pitch into the larger context of the evolution of architecture, tracing construction techniques from the earliest stone-on-stone methods through the development of modern ultra-highrise buildings. They then extrapolate into the future by speculating on the impact of bio-mimicry, pointing out that nature has produced elegant and lightweight structures through 4 billion years of evolution. 
This approach, making a new product seem like an inevitable step in the evolution of the industry, works well with many architects, especially "designers" as their work draws upon the "idea" of architecture as well as the "tectonics".

Every building product rep has encountered this type.

"Architects spend an entire life with this unreasonable idea that you can fight against gravity."

Attributed to Renzo Piano. 

How many architects does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

According to Coffee with an Architect blog, the answer is "21".
Louis Poulsen “artichoke” luminaire.
One to sketch out the concept;

One to model it in Revit;

One to question the concept… “Does it have to screw?”;

One to write an addendum informing the contractors;

One to find the spec section and ASTM standards for screwability;

One to fill out the LEED paperwork for said lightbulb;

One to suggest a “stainless steel” lightbulb;

One to suggest a skylight instead of the lightbulb;

One to research alternate methods of screwing on the internet (Don’t google that while in the office);

One to suggest having a charette to brainstorm ideas about screwing in lightbulbs;

One (intern) to build a chipboard model of the lghtbulb;

One to suggest recessing the lightbulb;

One to issue addendum # 35 to have the contractor reverse the swing on the door in the room so the light switch for the lightbulb can be relocated to the other wall;

One to ask the design principal in charge to call the client to let them know we’re screwed;

One to call the structural engineer to see if the beam running through the lightbulb can be moved;

One to render the space showing a Louis Poulsen “artichoke” lamp instead of the lightbulb;

One to ask: “what the lightbulb wants to be?”;

One to discuss Le Corbusier’s use of lightbulbs throughout Villa Savoye;

One to google “Snohetta / lightbulbs”;

One to remove the boundary between the interior and the exterior of the lightbulb;

     And finally;

One turn off the light while muttering “less is more…”
The answer above was written by an architect.  Otherwise, the answer might have been:
"None". The architect depends on a contractor to realize the design intent.
The site also sells tee shirts. Here is my favorite:

Inside Mind of Specifier: 8 Things Product Representatives Should Know

This webinar is a great tool for building product sales representatives.  The presenter is Liz O'Sullivan, AIA, CSI, CCS, CCCA, LEED AP BD+C, NCARB, SCIP, a Denver architectural specifications writer. Her firm, Liz O'Sullivan Architecture, LLC, provides architectural construction specifications consulting services to other architects. Her blog,, offers many insights that building product manufacturers can use.

Good News about Guide Specifications

The quality of guide specifications published by building product manufacturers has improved significantly. I made a survey of 200 guide specifications in the mid-1980s and found that more than half of them were not in compliance with formats and principles of the Construction Specifications Institute. Now, in contrast, the overwhelming majority of guide specs are in substantial compliance with CSI guidelines.

Several factors have contributed to the improvement, including:
  • More architects and engineers have been trained and even certified in CSI formats and principle, and they have demanded better specs for the products they want to use.
  • Better trained specifiers also means that manufacturers have more consultants they can turn to for assistance in writing specs.
  • There are now more specification publishers, including Arcat, Arcom, BSD, E-Spec and others, that encourage manufacturers to follow CSI formats and principles.
I am gratified to see the improvement, as I have been proselytizing manufacturers for over 30 years -- conducting specification training programs, writing articles, and writing specs for more manufacturers than I can remember.

There is still room for improvement, of course. I recently saw a guide spec that was so poorly written that the manufacturer's misspelled its own name!  This bad example, however, cause me to reflect on how much the industry has improved.  And that is good news for all of us.

Should a manufacturer request a substitution during bidding?

I posted this question on CSI's LinkedIn group:
One of my clients, a building product manufacturer, calls architects during bidding to ask them to accept his framing accessory as a substitution. (He gets their names from a subscription service of jobs being bid.) When I said that Instructions to Bidders typically states that architect consider substitutions only if requested by a bidder, the manufacturer said that many architects don't abide by their own documents and he has a high rate of success at changing the specs. Now he wants my help with calls.

What would you say to this manufacturer if he told you his strategy? Should a manufacturer treat specs as inviolate or accept the realities of the marketplace?
Here is the gist of the feedback I got from CSI members. As a group, they want manufacturers to know and follow the instructions to bidders as published in the bidding documents.  CSI members may not be representative of the industry as a whole, but it is dangerous to ignore them:

  • Tell him "No, it's not right". Just because he breaks the rules does not mean you have to. There is a possibility that you will loose this client, but doing the right thing never fails. I have witnessed this principal to be true many many times. I understand that sometimes the rules must be broken, but from my perspective, this is not one of those times. 
  •  I would absolutely tell the manufacturer "no." If bidding documents say no substitutions or approved manufacturers only, then we should abide by them. I don't accept any calls from manufacturers during bidding as any information would give them an unfair advantage in bidding. I refer them back to the General Contractor or CM.
  • I would stick to your specs as the product manufacturer should be looking to get into your own office MasterSpec for future projects and not just for the "Now" project.
  • Manufacturers who market by playing outside of the rules or riding the fence can develop a reputation with the specifying community that is less favorable. It is the merit of the products and the value brought by good support of the products, that really wins, in my opinion. 
  • I would say that in that situation, the manufacturer needs to spend his efforts to convince the architect to include his product in future projects rather than the one out to bid.
  • ...the design professional is the one who's on the hook. If something is designed in, added by addendum, or approved after award of contract, it makes no difference; the person who certifies the documents is responsible. That alone makes me wonder why architects often appear eager to approve anything that comes in the door. Note that I didn't say design professionals in general. Neither engineers nor interior designers I know show little inclination to approve anything other than what they chose, even in public sector work. 
  • I often see that we Architects and Specifiers do not follow what we write or preach. We do allow substitutions be submitted without backup materials and often it is left to us to research and analyze the substitutions. Having said that...we often allow substitution during bidding process for value engineering, but if considered, we still request a formal Substitution for formal review. 
  • As a manufacturer's rep for a line that hasn't had a lot of presence in my territory, there is not a lot of consistency on how to approach substitutions.. .At the end of the day I recognize it's persistence, follow through and building a proven track record in my market.
  • Maybe it's the backwater I work in, but local reps generally follow the rules, and the new ones have been pretty good at calling to discuss their wares before applying for prior approval or substitution. 
  •  The point of having the substitution come through a primer bidder is so that the archtiect doesn't waste time approving products that no one wants to use. And, the manufacturer/subcontractor needs to know what the rules actually are for projects.
  •  Rules is rules, but the reality is, we often make exceptions. If one of my go-to guys calls me, I'll listen. They earned that status by helping me do my job, and I will listen to their advice at any time. They will understand if there is some reason I can't do anything for a specific projects.

  • Our market tends not to have very many manufacturers who try to bend the rules. Our reps do present their products to us for prior approval to put in our specs for projects. It's only once in a half year or so that I get phone calls or letters asking to bend the rules and they are mostly from outside our market area.
  • I am in belief that bidding should be done by the process. To that end I will share a story. Years ago I put a project out to bid. The hardware schedule specified products, and acceptable manufacturers. Further, I noted that no other products are acceptable without preapproval by the architect (me), and such request for substitution must be received 7 days prior to bid. So, the contractor submitted the hardware schedule submittal with non-approved products. I sent the submittal back with a statement, these products are not acceptable refer to Section 08700 (the hardware section). Contractor responded that they did not understand. You need to request a substitution. More ??????? from the contractor.
    Finally, I issued a statement that the products were not allowed under the terms of the specification section. Should the hardware supplier wish request that these products be used they must request a substitution, and I would have to see the cost back to the owner for this substitution. The contractor said that he could put together the data needed for a substitution review, but that the cost savings was already in the bid price. I responded no it is NOT. The bid price reflects the specified products. Your request for substitution will have to be a cost back to the owner. Guess what I got the specified products. This required me to educate my owner and I had to hold firm in the face of an frustrated, and irritated contractor. If we as the architects, perform lazy, the contractor will seize the opportunity. When that happens, the good products reps get chewed up. I do not want our trusted advisors chewed-up.
  • I feel like my company is on the same page as most posted here, we do not let manufactures submit for substitutions, it must be the bidding contractor. Buy in is critical, why would a specifier allow a product that won't be bid, it weakens your spec. manufactures are trying to show traction to the corp levels, but in reality if the product doesn't get used everyone just wasted time and money. The other way for contractors/manufactures to do this is actually use the substitution listing form at time of bid, have the contractor bid what is specified and then show a substitution with the alternate product and cost difference. This would prove much more to the owner reviewing bids.

    Here is my own answer to the question:

    Thanks, everyone, for the thoughtful answers to my questions. I spoke with my client today and recommended against his initiation of substitutions during bidding. I explained it to him this way:

    "If you approach the architect during bidding, you might get named in an addendum, but that will not help your long term cause. Bidding is a rushed, chaotic process, and most of the team that put together the contract documents will have moved on to other projects as soon as the job is put out to bid. This means that most substitution requests are reviewed by just one or two members of the project team. They might say 'yes', but that information does not become part of the institutional memory of the firm. Instead, I recommend working with the office so they understand the benefits of the product and you get buy-in from the project architects, draftsmen, specifier, engineer, cost estimator, and other members of the team. Otherwise, they will simply fall back onto old habits, cut and paste old details, reuse existing spec masters, and you will have to fight for another substitution on the next project."

    I suggested a sales-oriented approach of working with sub-contractors to submit substitutions after contracts are issued. This works to my client's advantage due to the reduced labor associated with his product.

    In tandem, I recommended a business-development goal of working with architects to show how to bring their standard details and spec masters into compliance with best industry practices.

    One of my mentors was a forensic engineer. He told me that most of the product failures he had investigated were substitutions that were rushed through without adequate research, coordination, or documentation.

Inside the Mind of the Specifier

Slides and a recording of Inside the Mind of the Specifier, a recent webinar from CSI.have been posted:
The program is recommended viewing for anyone selling through design professionals.

Website Review: Paidon Atlas of recent architecture

To succeed in building product marketing, it is helpful to stay in touch with trends in the industry. If your product is specified by architects, that requires you to read or scan architectural websites or blogs. A new website,, may be helpful in this regards. It claims a database of over 130,000 images of more than 3000 buildings from 115 countries and more than 1500+ architects.  All the projects were completed in the 21st Century, and the numbers above suggest the complexity of the contemporary global market for architecture.
Southern California? Nope, Angola.
Any database or collection reflects the interests of its editor or curator, and the editor of this website is clearly looking at a very narrow range of buildings. The website says it presents "architecture for architects". This means, apparently, that it is about buildings designed so that other architects will look at them as say, "My, isn't that interesting. I wonder how he gets away with doing something outlandish like that? Maybe I should copy this and I will be considered a great architect as well."

The database comes with filters to help you search the site; interestingly, there are not filters for "style" - so don't look for "traditional" designs - nor for "cost per square foot or square meter" criteria. There is almost no discussion of building performance, and discussion of building materials and performance are given short shrift. In other words, the database is for architecture as still life.
Tessellated Facade.
The editor also fails in accuracy and consistency. The filters allow you to search for "concrete" and "cement", apparently unaware that cement is a component of concrete.  And while a photo featured on the home page has a tessellated facade, it is not listed under the "tessellation" filter.

Building Product Marketing
Still, the site may be helpful to some building product companies or reps. If, for example, you are preparing to call on an architect to discuss the use of your material on their new airport terminal project, you can look at other recent examples of airport terminals or bring up an example or two of the firm's work. If the project happens to be in Kazakhstan, you can see photos of two recent projects in that country. By studying these and other projects, you may be able to ferret design trends that can influence your product development targets or marketing messages. This will help you keep up with the buzz, at least with the buzz of the designers on the team.
Of course, you can probably do all of this just as quickly and perhaps more thoroughly with Google, if you are willing to forgo the editor's taste making sensibilities. The website is published by Phaidon, a major publisher of high-quality books about art and architecture, and costs $240 per annum. Maybe your local university library has a subscription, or Phaidon's 30 day free trial will meet your needs.. Then you can save enough money to purchase one of Phaidon's coffee table book so you can put it in your office, browse the pictures at your ease, and impress your boss, coworkers, and visitors.

New service helps locate sales reps, a new website, a has the potential to deliver three valuable services:

1. Help specifiers and contractors locate local sales reps.  Suppose an architect looking for an door hardware representative to assist with a project; the architect doesn't care which manufacturer, but wants a rep that is local, knows local conditions, and can come to the job site on short notice. The architect can probably find such a rep by visiting manufacturer websites or calling manufacturers, but this is time consuming and not always productive.  The new website allows the architect to enter, for example, "CALIFORNIA" and "Division 8 - Doors and Hardware" and locate Valarie Harris, FCSI and other qualified sales representatives. (I hope the site is refined in the future so I can refine the database so one can search, for example, by Zip Code and by MasterFormat section numbers.)

2. Give reps a way to promote themselves. While the database seems set up to allow individual reps to enroll themselves, I am sure a manufacturer's sales manager can figure out a way to enroll all the reps for the company.

3. Provide a recruiting database where manufacturers can locate reps and agencies to that can be approached to join the manufacturer's team.

I salute, David G. Axt, CCS CSI SCIP, the site's publisher, for developing this and wish him success. In a phone call with David, he points out that many manufacturers have cut back on the extent of their rep force and reps make fewer cold calls on architects; this has made it harder to know local reps. More, architects used to be able to find a rep's business card in a manufacturer's three-ring binder, but few firms use them anymore. He recommends that websites for product manufacturers include contact info for local reps.

Continuing Education Units at Trade Shows: Why Not?

The three days I spent visiting exhibits at World of Concrete trade show felt like a trip to a major museum or browsing the stacks in a university library; everywhere I turned there was something new and exciting to learn.
At the Loos & Co. booth I was introduced to the different types of wire rope and how they are made. My "teacher" went on to regale me about the history of the product from John Roebling's 19th Century Allegheny Portage Railroad to the latest aviation applications.
Yet I may not be able to count any of my 36+ hours at the show towards continuing education units (CEU) I need to maintain my architectural license or my certified construction specifier status.  The continuing education criteria, established by state licensing boards and administered by AIA and other groups, are complex and impose burdensome paperwork requirements to get courses approved. While CEU can be earned through self-study, the design professional has to substantiate the educational value and an individual's initiative can be denied by regulators.
Cemex and several other organizations conducted a demonstration of roller compacted concrete and discussed quality control measures. While I had read about the technique, seeing it being installed was highly educational.
The educational value went beyond ordinary commercial transactions and networking to become brief master classes taught by the recognized authorities in their particular fields. When traffic in the booth was light, they would gladly spend a few minutes holding forth. The examples on this page are but a few of the many lessons received. Note that many of them would have earned me the more stringent health, safety, and welfare (HSW) credits if they had been presented in an approved course.
A gentleman form Oklahoma Wire and Steel took time to explain that concrete reinforcing is produced in coils. Fabricators either straighten the material and cut it to length, or they fabricate it into stirrups, rings, or the other shapes required on a construction site. Huge machines have largely replaced manual methods of cutting and bending rebar.
Many trade shows have concurrent classes that offer CEU credits. My argument is that this should be expanded to give credits for time spent on the trade show floor. Exhibitors are the financial underpinning of trade shows and want to maximize attendance.So it is in the interest of the building products industry to establish procedure for attendees to earn CEUs while visiting the show floor. Alternatively, show producers or trade association sponsors could take the lead in negotiating this change in CEU criteria.
Even though they knew I was not a potential customer for their equipment, the pair working the Sensocrete booth explained, with great passion, how to improve quality control of concrete.

One can argue that some trade show visitors are more interested in swag or social interactions than in educational benefits. But these same individuals can sit through a lunch time course and get nothing out of it but calories and an unjustified CEU.
Continuing education requirements are based on hour-long classes. Trade show lessons are necessarily brief, but no less powerful It took the rep at BASF only a few minutes to explain how their new "crack-reducing admixture" challenges fundamental assumptions about concrete performance and give me a sizable nugget of knowledge to digest.
The CEU divines differentiate CEU programs that involve face-to-face exposure with a qualified instructor from "distance learning activities" like reading an article or watching an online video. Distance learning activities require students to pass a ten-question quiz to demonstrate that they understand the material presented. Perhaps this model can be used for awarding credit for trade show time; attendees would have to submit a declaration of what they learned at the show. Another approach would be to discount show attendance so that an hour on a trade show floor would be worth only a quarter of a CEU.
A one-on-one master class with an Ward Malisch from the American Society of Concrete Contractors provided an authoritative answer to my question about cement hydration.  Figure above, from NIST, shows "concrete at four different length scales: upper left is concrete, upper right is mortar, lower left is cement paste, lower right is C-S-H." (See earlier post)

Are you ready to mount a campaign to accomplish this? Give me a call so we can plot strategy.

Whither goes architecture?

Whither goes architecture?

What new opportunities await building product manufacturers?

Ned Cramer, the editor of Architect magazine shares his thoughts in this recent webinar presentation sponsored by Hanley Wood.
Ned Cramer
The link is:

Finishing the Architect's Design

In my work for a building product manufacturer, it is a daily struggle to figure out a designer's intent and to create a solution that actually works.  The following, from an essay by Sheldon Wolfe, FCSI CCS, underscores this observation:
It is clear, however, that the countless products and the special knowledge they require make it impossible for a design firm to understand the construction part of architecture. Architecture schools do not teach much about building materials, structure, or systems, and they largely ignore construction methods, scheduling, and costs. Many have decried this lack of attention to the nuts-and-bolts part of architecture, but perhaps it now is simply impossible to teach all the things an architect would need to know to perform in the same way they did a hundred years ago, even with the intern development program.

Contractors, on the other hand, do know about construction, and that's what they're paid to know. Once merely workers hired to follow the direction of architects, contractors no longer rely on the architect to explain what has to be done. Instead, they now are expected to interpret the architect's documents and to determine for themselves what must be done to construct the building. They may know little about planning or design, but once construction begins, their practical experience, as opposed to the theoretical experience of the architect, becomes more valuable to the owner, and they are seen by owners as more realistic, more knowledgeable, even more important than the architect.

Selling Products Effectively to Construction Specifiers

This is the handout from a presentation Michael Chusid made to the 49th Annual CSI Show and Convention, April 2005 in Chicago, IL.

Selling Products Effectively to Construction Specifiers
By Michael Chusid, RA, FCSI, CCS

It is not much of an exaggeration to say that all I know about building products I learned from sales representatives. Who else, after all, is willing to take time to explain the details of specifying a roof, glazing a window, or meeting codes for exit hardware?

Similarly, sales representatives also taught me most of what I know about building product sales and marketing. What do successful building product sales reps know about selling specified construction products, I wanted to know. What insights or habits enable these men and women to establish enduring careers, enjoy the respect of their colleagues and customers, and reap a bountiful harvest from their labors.

Despite the vicissitudes of the industry’s economic cycles (which can destroy even the best-managed businesses), daily rejection during sales calls, and the all-too-frequent frustrations of losing hard-fought bids, the reps I admire most are those who relish the opportunity to speak yet again about the merits of whatever sealant, valve, or louver they offer. They take pride not only in building their businesses, but also in their contributions toward building their communities and industries.

Here are a few of the important lessons they have taught me:

Ask and Listen: Linda taught me the value of asking questions and listening to the customer. During her first sales call on my architectural office, she got right to the point. “I’m new to the building products industry,” she said, “And frankly, I have a lot to learn about ceramic tile. I don’t want to take a lot of your time, but it would help me do my job if I could ask you two questions. What can I do in my position as a sales rep that would be most helpful to your firm? And do you have any problems or questions about tile?”

My impulse was to conclude the interview immediately because she apparently had no useful expertise to offer. However, taken aback by her candor and earnestness, I told her who to see about updating the samples in the firm’s library, and suggested she attend CSI meetings to learn about the industry.

Then I mentioned a tile problem we had on a recent project, plus an unusual requirement for a job currently on the boards. She said she did not know whether there was anything she could do about either of these problems, but would look into them.

Concluding our brief interview, I escorted her to the office door, expecting it would be our last encounter.

To my surprise, I saw her the following week at a CSI meeting. “I took your advice and joined,” she said, adding, “I asked my manager about the problems you described. May I come to your office tomorrow and show you some products that might be suitable for your projects?”

When she came to my office this time, she had several products to talk about, but also asked more questions about the firm: “What was our design philosophy?
How did we make product selection decisions? What was our attitude towards tile and other finishes?”

Every question she asked uncovered more of our firm’s needs, opening new opportunities for her. She was soon in our office on a regular basis, presenting us with possible solutions and asking still more questions. She became the sales rep my coworkers and I called first when we needed information about tile.

Unfortunately, for me at least, our relationship lasted only a year; she was promoted to national sales manager and moved out of the territory. Not a bad trajectory for a sales rep who knew little about her product line, but sure knew how to ask questions and listen to her customers.

Educate your Customer: I had relied on Bill for years to provide help specifying overhead industrial doors. He represented a leading brand, and whenever I called, Bill came to the office, looked over the plans, and recommended an appropriate model. I would insert the recommended model number into the office master specification, and move on to the next project. All I knew about overhead doors was to call Bill.

That changed about the 10th time I called Bill. “I will be glad to come over,” he instantly said, “but first, I owe you an apology.” I had no idea what he could have done requiring an apology, so he continued, “I appreciate the support you have shown by naming my product line in your specs. However, I have lost 90 percent of the bids where you have named my product ‘or equal’.”

I had not noticed this was a pattern in the office, but Bill went through a list of recent projects and I could see he was on to something. He continued, “So I am apologizing to you because I have not taken the time to help you understand the various product grades in our industry.”

Bill explained that while the ‘or equals’ satisfied the same wind load and thermal insulation requirement as the specified brand, there was a world of difference between the ‘contractor grade’ product I was getting and the ‘specification grade’ product I was expecting. “I don’t care which grade you want, since I also have a second product line at the lower price point, but I think it is time you learn the difference so you can write enforceable specs.”

Instead of meeting at my office, Bill invited me to his warehouse where there were side-by-side installations of several door grades. He pointed out differences in weatherstripping, hardware, finishes, and other details affecting quality and price. Then we discussed the specification language I could use to pinpoint the level of quality a particular job required. He even suggested the names and models of several competing products comparable to his, explaining, “I don’t mind losing a bid now and then as long as I am playing on a level field.”

By taking time to educate his customer, Bill not only leveled the bidding turf, he also established a competitive advantage as a building product sales rep. Now that I understood more about what he had to offer, I had even more reasons to call Bill for all my overhead doors requirements.

The Blind Men and the Water Cooler: Electric water coolers – could there possibly be anything interesting to learn about them? I was sure it was going to be just an ordinary in-office, boxed-lunch sales presentation: a slice of greasy pizza (if we were lucky) and maybe a quick nap. This is what often happens when a sales rep loads an audience with carbohydrates, dims the lights for a slide show, and then drones on for 30 minutes about the minutia of his product.

Richard surprised me. He did not launch into a canned speech when he saw most of us around the big conference table had finished eating. Instead, he pulled an easel with a large, blank pad of paper to the front of the room. Then he put a box of ceramic mugs,each imprinted with the name of his firm, onto the table. After pausing to get our attention, he said, “I will give one of these mugs to anyone in the room who will tell me about any problem they have had with water coolers.” Then he waited.

After an awkward moment of silence, the fellow who did our field observations, never one to turn away from an argument, asked accusingly, “Why is it contractors can never get the electrical, water, and drain connections for your coolers in the right location?”

Richard replied, “Great question,” passed a mug to the fellow, and wrote on the paper pad: “Coordination of Utilities”.

Everybody in the room suddenly woke up, and you never heard such a list of gripes about drinking fountains. The interior designer complained about the colors and finishes. A project architect pointed out coolers in her school projects were always getting clogged. The specifier was concerned about new standards for lead-free solder in potable water fixtures. This one complained about price, and that one about energy consumption. He said delivery delays, and she said obstruction of exit corridors. We were like the proverbial blind men describing an elephant: each person had a different outlook on water coolers, depending on their responsibilities and previous experience.

Only after a dozen or more mugs had been distributed, and the pad of paper filled with complaints, did Richard begin speaking about water coolers. Before the lunch hour was over he had discussed how his product addressed every one of the complaints raised.

Plus, he achieved something far more important: he made water coolers a topic worthy of architectural consideration. Heretofore, the architects in the firm had abdicated responsibility for water cooler selection to their mechanical engineering consultants and coped with their architectural concerns in frustrated isolation.

Richard understood it is not enough to pitch a product to just the designer or specifier. While it is true certain individuals in a firm may have ultimate authority for product selection, any team member can be the one who brings a fresh product idea up for consideration. As a project moves from one phase of design to the next, or from preparation of construction documents into bidding or negotiating, the decisions of one team member can be overturned by someone else with a different perspective.

Successful sales reps reach out to the entire project team to influence product selection.

Driving to Succeed: I had an early morning appointment with the president of a large building product manufacturer. At 8:00 AM, a whistle blew and my client asked if he could be excused as it was time for the company’s weekly health and safety talk. Out of curiosity, I asked if I could attend as well. I expected we would head into the factory and hear about eye protection or other industrial hygiene. However, to my surprise, he brought me into a nearby conference room full of salesmen.

Bruce, one of the sales reps, laid it on the line. “You, my fellow salesmen, have the most dangerous job in the company – your job requires you to operate an automobile.” He explained that the chances of being injured or killed in a car crash during a sales call are far greater then in an accident while operating any of the machinery in the plant, and pointed out that “a punch press has multiple safety switches and hardly every moves at 75 miles per hour.”

We went around the room and each rep offered a tip on safe driving: Pull off the road before placing a cell phone call. Leave extra time in your schedule so you never have to rush to an appointment. Check tires and under the hood daily for potential hazards. Never drink alcohol before driving, even if your client is offering to buy the round. Study the map in advance so you don’t have to read it as you drive. And more.

Bruce then taught the reps a series of stretches and exercises they could do in their car to help stay in shape and relaxed. “It’s a great way to make use of your time at traffic lights,” he added.

Remembering what Bruce told me has probably saved my life many times over. It could save yours, too.

So Many Prospects, So Little Time: “There are so many prospects in your territory, how do you call on all of them?” That’s the question I asked Maggie, a sales engineer a manufacturer rep agency. She surprised me by answering, “I don’t even try to call on all of them. Instead, I select targeted accounts and focus on them.” Here is how she explains her approach:

“First, I have to understand how much time is available for outside sales calls. Most of my time is filled with dealing with the factory, handling paperwork, preparing quotes, returning telephone calls from customers, providing technical assistance, and scheduling appointments. Nevertheless, I got my sales manager to agree that I could spend an average of two days a week on the road making business development calls.

“In some parts of town, I can park my car and make eight or more sales calls in a day. But lunch meetings can take longer, and there are important firms in outlaying areas. On a good day, I can manage an average of four or five calls.

“I am selling a new concept and it takes time to introduce it, educate potential users, and identify suitable projects. So I have a lot of missionary work to do to convert designers and builders to our system. I try to see each targeted firm once a quarter until either they become true believers and start using our product or I decide to drop them from my short list.”

Running the numbers in my head, I saw that four or five calls a day, two days a week, and twelve weeks in a quarter meant that Maggie could only target 100 firms. “That’s right,” Maggie affirmed, so I have to be strategic about whom I target.” I asked her to explain how she does this.

She continued, “The next step is to understand the types of project that could take advantage of our product. For example, we aren’t interested in residential work, so that eliminates a lot of design firms and builders right away. Many of the professional and trade associations have websites that identify the specialties of their member firms, and that is a lot of help. Plus, for a fee, the construction news services have good databases of the types of work done by various firms.

“My agency and the companies we represent also have internal sources of data I can mine. For example, I look for firms that have used our products in the past but have stopped doing business with us.

“Perhaps the most important thing I do is to ask for referrals. When meet with a contractor, I always ask him or her about the designers that do the type of work we go after. In the same way, I ask design professionals to identify the contractors they like to work with. This not only gives me local and current information, it enables me to work projects from both ends so I can build consensus among both the designers and the constructors to use our product. And, that first appointment is a lot easier to get if I can say that ‘so-and-so recommended that I call you’.

“Finally, I sit down twice a year to purge the list of anyone who is no longer attractive to me and to add new names that have come to my attention.”

While Maggie’s specific plan of action may have to be adjusted to your particular circumstances, her disciplined, targeted approach is part of her success and can be emulated by anyone working a building product sales territory.

© ™ Chusid Associates, 2005 

Good Humor

A good joke can lubricate even the toughest situation.

To the optimist, the glass is half full. To the pessimist, the glass is half empty. To the engineer, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

A pastor, a doctor and an engineer were waiting one morning for a particularly slow group of golfers. The engineer fumed, "What's with these guys? We must have been waiting for 15 minutes!" The doctor chimed in, "I don't know, but I've never seen such ineptitude! The pastor said, "Hey, here comes the greenskeeper. Let's have a word with him." "Hi George. Say, what's with that group ahead of us? They're rather slow, aren't they?" The greenskeeper replied, "Oh, yes, that's a group of blind firefighters. They lost their sight saving our clubhouse from a fire last year, so we always let them play for free anytime." The group was silent for a moment. The pastor said, "That's so sad. I think I will say a special prayer for them tonight." The doctor said, "Good idea. And I'm going to contact my ophthalmologist buddy and see if there's anything he can do for them." The engineer said, "Why can't these guys play at night?"

There was an engineer who had an exceptional gift for fixing all things mechanical. After serving his company loyally for over 30 years, he happily retired. Several years later the company contacted him regarding a seemingly impossible problem they were having with one of their multimillion dollar machines. They had tried everything and everyone else to get the machine to work but to no avail. In desperation, they called on the retired engineer who had solved so many of their problems in the past. The engineer reluctantly took the challenge.

He spent a day studying the huge machine. At the end of the day, he marked a small "x" in chalk on a particular component of the machine and stated, "This is where your problem is". The part was replaced and the machine worked perfectly again. The company received a bill for $50,000 from the engineer for his service. They demanded an itemized accounting of his charges.

The engineer responded briefly:
One chalk mark $1
Knowing where to put it $49,999

It was paid in full and the engineer retired again in peace.

A Department of Transportation maintenance crew packed up the truck early one morning and drove out to a construction site where they were to work that day. The crew started to unload the gear when one of the workers noticed that they had forgotten the shovels. Panicked, the crew chief called back to the crew supervisor. "We forgot the shovels back at the shop, boss. What are we gonna do?" The supervisor thought a minute and said "stay calm, just lean against each other until we get someone out there with the shovels."

An engineer died and was instantly transported to pearly gates. Saint Peter met the engineer at the gates of Heaven. Peter looked through his records to see if the engineer was listed in "the book" of souls that should go to heaven. Peter looked once, furrowed his brow, looked again and finally said, "I'm sorry, but your name is not on the list. Usually engineers are a cinch to get in to Heaven but since your name is not on the list you'll have to go .... below." The engineer was, of course, disappointed but he took the elevator down to Hell.

A couple weeks later Peter called down to Satan in Hell. "Hello, Satan?" "Yeah, its me, Peter. Whatayawant?" "It is about that engineer I sent down a couple weeks ago." Satan answered, "Oh yeah, that guy was a real find. He's great. He has gotten a heat exchanger working so that it is now a nice comfortable 68 degrees, he has piped in cool running water, he has got a ventilation system going to get rid of that sulfur smell. He made this place into a paradise."

There was silence on the line for a moment and then Peter said "well, we made a mistake. He belongs up here. There was a record keeping glitch but I want you to send him up right away." "No way are we giving this guy up," said Satan, "he is the best thing that ever happened to us down here." Peter responded, "Well that is just too bad, he belongs up here and that is that." Satan, unmoved, said "no can do, Padre -- he is staying here." Peter, exasperated, said "well, if you don't send him up right away, we are going to sue."

The line was quiet for a moment when Satan sneered "where are YOU going to find a lawyer?"

Why Engineers Don't Write Recipe Books
Chocolate Chip Cookies:
1.) 532.35 cm3 gluten
2.) 4.9 cm3 NaHCO3
3.) 4.9 cm3 refined halite
4.) 236.6 cm3 partially hydrogenated tallow triglyceride
5.) 177.45 cm3 crystalline C12H22O11
6.) 177.45 cm3 unrefined C12H22O11
7.) 4.9 cm3 methyl ether of protocatechuic aldehyde
8.) Two calcium carbonate-encapsulated avian albumen-coated protein
9.) 473.2 cm3 theobroma cacao
10.) 236.6 cm3 de-encapsulated legume meats (sieve size #10)

To a 2-L jacketed round reactor vessel (reactor #1) with an overall heat transfer coefficient of about 100 Btu/F-ft2-hr, add ingredients one, two and three with constant agitation. In a second 2-L reactor vessel with a radial flow impeller operating at 100 rpm, add ingredients four, five, six, and seven until the mixture is homogenous. To reactor #2, add ingredient eight, followed by three equal volumes of the homogenous mixture in reactor #1. Additionally, add ingredient nine and ten slowly, with constant agitation. Care must be taken at this point in the reaction to control any temperature rise that may be the result of an exothermic reaction. Using a screw extrude attached to a #4 nodulizer, place the mixture piece-meal on a 316SS sheet (300 x 600 mm). Heat in a 460K oven for a period of time that is in agreement with Frank Johnston's first order rate expression (see JACOS, 21, 55), or until golden brown. Once the reaction is complete, place the sheet on a 25C heat-transfer table, allowing the product to come to equilibrium.

Five Surgeons
Five surgeons were taking a coffee break and were discussing their work. The first said, "I think accountants are the easiest to operate on. You open them up and everything inside is numbered." The second said, "I think librarians are the easiest to operate on. You open them up and everything inside is in alphabetical order." The Third said, "I like to operate on electricians. You open them up and everything inside is color-coded." The fourth one said, "I like to operate on lawyers. They're heartless, spineless, gutless, and their heads and their butts are interchangeable." Fifth surgeon said, "I like Engineers...they always understand when you have a few parts left over at the end..."

The Balloonist
A man in a hot air balloon realized he was lost. He reduced altitude and spotted a man below. He descended a bit more and shouted, "Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him half an hour ago, but I don't know where I am."

The man below replied, "You are in a hot air balloon hovering approximately 30 feet about the ground. You are between 42 and 44 degrees north latitude and between 83 and 85 degrees west longitude."

"You must be an engineer," said the balloonist.

"I am," replied the man, "but how did you know?"

"Well," answered the balloonist, "everything you told me is technically correct, but I have no idea what to make of your information, and the fact is I am still lost."

The man below responded, "You must be a manager."

"I am," replied the balloonist, "how did you know?"

"Well," said the man, "you don't know where you are or where you are going. You made a promise which you have no idea how to keep, and you expect me to solve your problem. The fact is you are exactly in the same position you were in before we met, but now, somehow, it's my fault."

One morning a contractor called an architectural firm and asked to speak to an architect regarding a particular project.

The receptionist, with a voice full of regret, said, "I'm sorry, sir, but the architect recently died a slow, agonizing death out on a project site." The contractor stated his condolences and hung up.

About an hour later the same contractor called back and asked to speak to an architect regarding the same project. Again, the receptionist gave the contractor the bad news: "I'm sorry, sir, but the architect recently died a slow, agonizing death out on a project site." As before, the contractor mumbled his regrets and hung up.

This pattern repeated itself each hour throughout the morning, until, at last, the receptionist recognized the contractor's voice, whereupon she said to him, "Sir, why do you keep calling here when you know I'm going to say the architect has recently died a slow, agonizing death out on a project site?"

The contractor, exploding with long-suppressed maniacal laughter, gasped, "Because I love to hear you say it!"