Write about what you know.

Many individuals in building product sales develop significant expertise in their product category. If you have expertise, why not write something and get it published. Becoming a published author can do wonders for your reputation and open the door to new business, job offers, and consulting opportunities.

An example of someone doing this is Scott Tobias, a colleague whom I know through CSI. He is the author of the recently published tome, Illustrated Guide to Door Hardware: Design, Specification, Selection.
Scott was with a major architectural hardware company for over a decade and had risen to the office of Vice President of Architectural Development. He recently joined an independent consulting practice, however. While he will do well on the basis of existing relationships he has within the industry, increased recognition as, literally, the person that wrote the book gives him enhanced visibility, authority, and prestige among an expanded number of prospects.

Here is the publisher's statement about the book:
Illustrated Guide to Door Hardware: Design, Specification, Selection is the only book of its kind to compile all the relevant information regarding design, specifications, crafting, and reviewing shop drawings for door openings in one easy-to-access place. Content is presented consistently across chapters so professionals can find what they need quickly and reliably, and the book is illustrated with charts, photographs, and architectural details to more easily and meaningfully convey key information. Organized according to industry standards, each chapter focuses on a component of the door opening or door hardware and provides all options available, complete with everything professionals need to know about that component.

When designing, specifying, creating, and reviewing shop drawings for door openings, there are many elements to consider: physical items, such as the door, frame, and hanging devices; the opening's function; local codes and standards related to fire, life safety, and accessibility; aesthetics; quality and longevity versus cost; hardware cycle tests; security considerations; and electrified hardware requirements, to name a few. Until now, there hasn't been a single resource for this information.
John Wiley & Sons, Inc., April 2015, 464 page, ISBN: 978-1-118-11261-8

Consolidation of Construction News Reports

Construction news services are used by many building product manufacturers to identify and track prospects and to gather market intelligence. At the beginning of the year there were five significant players in the business. Now there are only two.

iSqFt acquired BidClerk and CDC Publishing in May 2015 and then merged with CMD Group in August 2015.
This roll-up creates a powerhouse that competes with Dodge, recently spun-off from McGraw Hill.

While there are several local and regional plan rooms and publications that continue to serve local contractors and suppliers, this consolidation means that building product manufacturers now have just two sources of construction news reports and related lead and research services.

Good or bad news for building product manufacturers?

Depends on your point of view. There are fewer players and hence less competition that may lead to price increases. But my impression is that Dodge was so far ahead of the others in market share and resources, that the roll-up of the smaller firms may actually create an effective alternative to Dodge.

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.

Identifying Prospects

The best predictor that 
someone might use your product
is if they have used it before.

NIBS Report Identify Industry Priorities

National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) has released a report, “Moving Forward: Findings and Recommendations from the Consultative Council,” outlining three key priorities for the building industry:

1. labor force: Industry professionals are aging and retiring, required skills are changing, and we underestimate the value of vocational training.

Opportunity for Building Product Manufacturers:
1. Introduce systems that require less labor or less specialized skills.
2. Invest in robotics or move processes from field into factories
3. Create and support career training programs.
4. Show young people how you offer and support a career path in the trades.

2. resilient design: I have been predicting this as the "next new thing" in construction. This category is broad and includes, in my opinion, extreme weather, fire and fire storm, earthquake, climate change, violence and civil unrest, dependence on fragile infrastructure, etc.

Opportunities for Building Product Manufactures:
1. Make your own infrastructure more resilient.
2. Develop rapid response capabilities to move products and skills to needed locations.
3. Identify which of your products can contribute to improved building resilience.
4. Develop new products that offer improved resilience.
5. Train sales team to address resilience concerns of customers.

3 code enforcement: The report encourages federal agencies to work with industry to try to make sense of an increasing number of codes and the disconnect between code making and code enforcing.

Opportunities for Building Product Manufactures:
1. Lead, follow, or get out of the way.
2. Help your customers make sense of the increasing complexity of codes and standards.

Download the report here, than contact me to discuss how you can use the findings to protect your business from risk and take advantage of new opportunities.

Michael Chusid, RA FCSI CCS
+1 818 219 4937 

Registering dissent about registering on websites

Members of Specification Consultants in Independent Practice (SCIP) are in charge of the specifications of billions of dollars in construction annually. Their ranks also include thought leaders with enormous influence in our industry. When they speak, building product manufacturers would be wise to listen. And this is the message they announced at the recent Construct 2014/CSI Conference last week in Baltimore:
 Don't ask us to register before getting access to your website.

Their objection is that the registration process takes valuable time, asks for information that is not germane to the issues at hand, is an intrusion into their privacy, can lead to unwanted sales calls, and may harm a building owner's need for confidentiality in a real estate or construction transaction.

Ready access to information is the life blood of design and construction, and the registration process hinders that.  Specs are often prepared under the pressure of deadlines and many architects will simply go to another site if it is difficult to find the info they need with just a few keystrokes.

Some manufacturers claim that registration prevents competitors from accessing trade secrets. Yet every building product manufacturer I have ever served had figured out how to get into your website. True trade secrets, of course, require security, and names and addresses have to be collected when requesting samples. What SCIP members are objecting being asked to register to see essential product selection information. 
Typical of SCIP members, Mitch Lawrence (left) works for a Altoon Partners, an architectural firm active on three continents. Stephan Nash (right) is a consultant writing specs for many of the major Hawaii-based architects and projects. If you want their business, make it easy for them to get onto your website.
There is a better way to collect data: make a compelling offer.  This could be an entry into a competition, coupons for discounts, vouchers for special events, registration for a webinar, or other promotional items. When I worked at Ceilings Plus, for example, we offered to send an "Idea Book" with a portfolio of design ideas, finish samples, and design tools in a neat, compact package. The trick is to offer something that will be of interest to bona fide prospects but of no interest to pursuing swag.

Please share this page with your web designer.
A friend in the industry adds:

"What is even more infuriating is to try to go back to a manufacturer's website that you may have registered at years before... and discover that you need to try and remember the password you used... and the site won't allow you to access unless you remember that password!! This usually happens at 10PM when you're trying to finish up a project specification and there's no way to call the manufacturer!!"

A comment about this post, from a registered architect, says:

"I absolutely agree with the hassle of registering on a manufacturer's web site to get information. Proprietary information - I can't imagine a manufacturer is so stupid to allow me to access their proprietary information off of a web site so the excuse that it protects them from competitors is, on the face of it, absurd. If possible I switch to a competitors web site rather than register. AND I remember when I write specifications for a project - if you are going to make it difficult for me (register OR charge for information such as referenced ASTM standards or minor verification/selection samples), I simply do not include that product/manufacturer in the list of approved equals."

A variation on the registration them:

"I was researching a fire curtain. When I clicked on a link labeld "Brochure", the link opened an email browser so I could send a request. That is just as much a nuisance as having to register.  Pooh on you!"

A Quick Response from an Exhibitor at Trade Show

Lynn Javoroski FCSI CCS posted this on the CSI LinkedIn Group:  "Did y'all know that "No registration" pins were handed out at CONSTRUCT2104? And that the exhibitors were asking about it? Some of us received thanks from ClarkDietrich with a picture of the button and 'ENJOY THE ACCESS WITHOUT THE OBLIGATION. With no registration required, ClarkDietrich offers you access to a wealth of product information and tools' written next to the picture. At least someone listened."  


Lynn wrote me about how the No Registration button came about:

"What started this whole thing off at Construct was this: I went to a manufacturer's website needing to know in what color(s) their laboratory countertops were available. When I clicked on the "color" button, a pop-up appeared and stated 'You are not authorized to view this information without registering'. Needless to say, they were removed from my spec. Sometime afterwards, I was corresponding with Colin [Colin Gilman publishes] and mentioned it; somehow we got to the idea of buttons and he said "send me the graphic and I'll have them made up and shipped to you". So I did and he did. "
See more discussion about this topic at CSI Group on LinkedIn.

Branded Building Toys

"The top holiday best selling toys of 2013 were primarily tech/building-related toys!"
Instead of Kenner Girder and Panel, why not Vistawall kits! Photo from a blog about vintage toys.

That's the word from Jill Knepper who was an active contributor to this blog before joining a consumer-oriented marketing consultancy.Another source says:
 "According to NPD Group point-of-sales data, the building sets category grew nearly 20% in 2012 … and 2013 will be even hotter. Many manufacturers are diversifying their existing building lines and other companies who may not have previously specialized in building toys are responding to this surge and creating construction sets for kids of all ages, interests and abilities.

Includes: New innovations in building sets (i.e. building toys that go “beyond the blocks”) and an increasing number of licenses." (emphasis added)
I suggest that the growth of building toys is a backlash to the virtual play and electronic toys. What ever the cause, building product manufacturers can benefit from this trend by licensing their brands to toy companies or producing their own product lines. Such toys will help build brand awareness, create goodwill, and may even produce revenue.
Caterpillar is already in the game.

Imagine the possibilities:
  • Mason and carpenter action figures by Master Builders.
  • Erector set alternatives by Vulcraft.
  • Doll houses with kitchen counters by Caesarstone.
  • Junior electrician kits with wiring and LEDs (low voltage for safety) by Cree.
  • Building blocks by Boral Bricks.  
See some recent building toys at here.


Mattel is buying Mega Brands, makers of Mega Blox building toys, evidence of the high interest in building toys.


JCB, the construction equipment manufacturer, is offering some really BIG toys. They have broken ground in New Jersey for DiggerLand USA, a theme park that "will allow children and their families to drive, ride and operate heavy construction machinery in a safe, monitored, family-friendly environment."

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.

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:

Speed Dating Architects

Instead of flying from city to city to meet with key architectural specifiers, imagine having them congregate in one location in a format that allows you to have one-on-one meetings and networking opportunities.

This is the "speed dating" concept of building product sales calls.  Like the social speed-dating programs where the ladies get in without charge, specifiers will attend these junkets on an all-expenses paid basis. Manufacturers pick up the tab.

Key to the success of the events is that the attendees select the slate of manufacturers on their dance card. Your tête-à-tête is with someone that has a specific interest in your product, and probably a project on the boards.

Here are two of the leading matchmakers:

Bond Events
Bond says its mission is to "To create effective one to one meetings forums which educate, stimulate and assist principal architects & interior designers from the largest firms to better serve their clients. To facilitate high-level product discussions with senior delegates from manufacturing and solution provider companies." They currently have three events:
  • Arc-US - for principals of design & specification from North America and Canada.
  • Arc-interiors - for heads of interiors from Interior Design magazine's list of largest firms.
  • Arc-Middle East - for principals from the biggest firms in the Middle East and North Africa.
The next Arc-US will be in 2014-November in Southern California and costs start at $8800. For more information, contact Chris Pond or +1 617 792 5253

Construction Specifications Institute
CSI's "Master Specifiers Retreat" is similar. The gathering is more intimate and, I suspect, more congenial since many of the participants will know each other from other CSI activities. Attendees have titles like "director of specification" or "specification consultant" and fewer people with titles like "director of design" or "project architect". This more technical and product-oriented cohort is invaluable for manufacturers in many product categories.

Their 2014 event is sold out. The next is scheduled for 2015-January in Scottsdale, AZ. Costs range from $7000 for non-CSI members to $6000 for CSI "corporate partners". For more information, contact Susan Konohia, or +1 703-706-4744.

Credit for drawing.

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 

Learning from Lighting

Even if you do not make lighting products, any building product manufacturer can learn something from these excerpts from this article:
Lighting industry business leaders reflect on
market evolutions and product innovation.

In 1986, lighting designers and specifiers working on a job reached over their drawing boards and pulled a manufacturer's 4-inch binder off the shelf, filled with a thousand cut sheets of product details. If the date on the page was more than a year old, the designer would have to call their local rep to verify the technical data. The rep would then call the factory to check the information. It could be days before the lighting designer received the information that they were looking for, a process that could be repated multiple times until the job was complete.

...there was often little time available to explore different design options and alternative product selections. Today, the situation is somewhat reversed and while the design/buid process is faster and more integrated, which provides more access to product information, there is still a lot of pressure to make timely product selections that maintain the projects integrity.

I am struck by the fact that many younger lighting designers have never laid a hand on a pencil or a piece of paper in their design work. Their world is on of electronic design and calculation tools.

It used to take lighting manufacturers three to four years to develop new products. It wasn't urgent to speed to market because products were around for 20 to 30 ears. Today, if you took the same amount of time, you would miss the entire product life cycle.

Since light sources can now last upwards of 50,000 to 60,000 hours... there is an extreme amount of pressure on winning bids because it could very well be four times as long until a building owner considers lighting renovations.

...few borders remain. Solid-state technology is the primary force behind a new cycle of global industry consolidation, and this is opening up world markets to small and large companies alike. Voltage differences, country to country, are no longer an issue.

New lighting companies are being formed, and grown, often with the intent of being primed for acquisition to a larger conglomerate.  ...As companies consolidate around the world, it will actually result in innovation and new lighting technologies reaching [the] market even faster.

You must have an international perspective on product development and the supply chain to be competitive.

Douglass Baillie
Architectural Lighting MagazinePublication date: December 1, 2011

Posts I am NOT going to write

As I plan on reducing the frequency of my posts to this blog, here are a few of the topics I am no longer planning to write about:

"The Threat to Smaller Firms", Building Design and Construction magazine reports in its 2012-Feb issue, is that ""the top 10 firms in any building category -- hospitals, higher ed, K-12, government buildings -- ...control half or more of the total market share", growing mostly through mergers and acquisition. How will this impact your marketing strategy?

The wall between building design and building operation is crumbling, thanks to more focus on building commissioning as an environmental strategy. The Building Commissioning Association has released Best Practices in Commissioning New Construction (PDF) and it is recommended reading. It may inspire new opportunities and sales influencers.

American with Disabilities (ADA) Standards, issued in 2010, have become mandatory as of this year. How will they affect your business? Here are some ideas from the magazine:
"Alternative Water Source Use is Now Mainstream" says Plumbing Systems and Design in 2011-Nov issue. The article sites graywater systems, reclaimed (recycled) water systems, rainwater catchment, and on-site treatment of non-potable water as concepts now written into building codes. This will affect the use of building products from the roof to underground utilities. The same issue discusses the goal of Net Zero Water utilization in buildings.

Respect Your Target Audience

I was researching a media-buy for a client, and while perusing a trade magazine's media kit, I came across an impressive statistic: 90% of the people they surveyed read their magazine.  Only about 50% of those same folks read the next most popular magazine in that field.  Sounded great.

Except that I like context.  So I wondered, who exactly were the folks they surveyed?

It turns out it was a survey of their 14,000+ readers.  It turns out only 90% of their readers actually read their magazine, and 94% of their readers receive their magazine.  This leaves me wondering how they define their readers, since (if you consider their own statistics and use the kind of meatball logic they used) there seem to be some "readers" (6%) who neither read nor receive their  magazine.

It did not leave me wondering about the quality of their statistics:  I now believe very little of what they say, not without close scrutiny.  Clearly, they did not intend me to take away the message that their magazine is so boring that 10% of their own readers don't even read it.  Clearly, what they intended was for me not to read the fine print.

Did you really think I wouldn't read the fine print, guys?  Did you really think I'd just look at a big number and take out my checkbook?

Personally, I think it would have been wiser to craft a different headline out of their survey data.  They could have ignored the percentage of their readers read their magazine (that still twists my brain) and focused on the 50% of them who read only that magazine, out of all the publications in their field.  If you're talking to me as a potential advertiser, the idea that the only way to reach those 7000+ people is through your magazine is pretty compelling sales-stuff.  Much more compelling than the admission that your "readership" figure is inflated by 10%.

More to the point, their assumption that I wouldn't question their headline, that I wouldn't read the fine print, insults me.  It insults my intelligence and my competence at buying media.  Insulting your potential customers is hardly ever a good place to start, even if you're a stand-up comedian.

This is a lesson for anyone who designs or approves advertising and sales literature.  If you assume the audience is stupid or lazy, you will pay for it.  It will reflect badly on you, and invite speculation on what other kinds of deception you practice.

The Moral:

Promote if you can,
Hype if you must,

But trying to hustle me
Busts my trust.

Mining Data from Illustrations

Forgive the pun title for this post -- but it this illustrations brings two topics to mind.

1. Mining is a huge market for construction materials! It is frequently overlooked by building product manufacturers more tuned into above ground construction. Mining -- particularly underground mining -- requires concrete and other structural materials, lighting and communications, plumbing and ventilation, tools and equipment, and more.

Most products used underground have to meet severe service conditions including dust, moisture, physical abuse, and fire/explosion resistance. Yet many of our clients have found that, with appropriate product modifications and a disciplined sales and marketing effort, new opportunities can open beneath their feet.

2. A good illustration is an invaluable sales tool. When I had had to learn about the mining business in a hurry, I realized I was in over my head. It began opening to me when I found this illustration, in Shotcrete magazine. Within minutes, I was able to grasp important mine construction concepts and familiarize myself with terminology.

Of course words are also important in marketing. Sometimes a single phrase can change a person's entire attitude. It happened to me when I saw this phrase:

 I can dig it!

Awareness is Where You Find It

This recent post on Advertising Age has nothing to do with building products specifically, but everything to do with creative ways to raise awareness.  Many of the "10 Most Unusual Advertising Placements" are examples of brand awareness advertising (as distinct from promoting a specific product).  A couple are really advertising venues in search of an advertiser.  What they all share is a clever rethinking of where to contact the potential customer.

The best of these ideas not only find a clever way to get noticed, but feature a fundamental appropriateness of the location they operate in, and a real connection between the way they communicate and the brand/product being advertised. Anyone could imprint their logo on the thighs of someone wearing shorts who sits on the bus-bench in #5.  The brilliance of it is using it to advertise a sale on shorts.  The same technique might also work for a gym, or a campaign for women's rights.  It wouldn't make much sense for a car company, though, and it might be downright negative for a brand of canned ham.

The Power of Graphics

Human communication is increasingly visually driven.  Digital cameras, shooting still and video, are everywhere, and everyone knows how to use them, so visual instructions and explanations are becoming ubiquitous.

Shooting a video to explain an idea or process is tempting, because everyone seems to want visual communication.  However, a video of someone reading an explanation isn't really "visual."  It's just Text in Video clothing.  Truly visual communication is a a very different animal.

Sometimes, a good old-fashioned graphic, or a clever, new-fangled interactive graphic, can do the job very nicely, where a video might be quite a challenge to execute effectively.  Here are two examples that each tackle the concept of giving scale to large numbers and sizes.

Goldman Sachs' office building, next to towers of palletized
$100 bills representing Goldman's derivative exposure.
Each tower is $1 Trillion ($1,000,000,000,000).  
This page uses static graphics to great advantage, depicting the 9 big banks' derivative exposure in $1 Trillion towers of palletized $100 bills.  (You might want to read the entire page, too, for some interesting info on world economics.)

This page uses flash to let you "scroll dimensionally" in and out of size, from the size of quantum strings up to the estimated diameter of the universe (as distinct from the smaller diameter of the "known universe").

Both illustrate the concept of scale very effectively.  They also offer the viewer the ability to dwell over them as needed to comprehend what they are saying, a measure of control that videos distinctly lack (as in, "Yeah, I already know that, move on to the next thing.").

They also illustrate the value that a good graphics designer can have to enhance your marketing efforts.

Brand Names and the QWERTY Effect

Type the name of your company or brand.

How many of the characters are typed with the right hand? With the left hand?

According to recent research related to QWERTY keyboards, words typed primarily on with the right hand are associated with greater positivity than are words typed primarily with the left hand.

Published in Psychonomic Bulletin and Review [Kyle Jasmin and Daniel Casasanto, The QWERTY Effect: How typing shapes the meanings of words], the research abstract says:
The QWERTY keyboard mediates communication for millions of language users. Here, we investigated whether differences in the way words are typed correspond to differences in their meanings. Some words are spelled with more letters on the right side of the keyboard and others with more letters on the left. In three experiments, we tested whether asymmetries in the way people interact with keys on the right and left of the keyboard influence their evaluations of the emotional valence of the words. We found the predicted relationship between emotional valence and QWERTY key position across three languages (English, Spanish, and Dutch). Words with more right-side letters were rated as more positive in valence, on average, than words with more left-side letters: the QWERTY effect. This effect was strongest in new words coined after QWERTY was invented and was also found in pseudowords. Although these data are correlational, the discovery of a similar pattern across languages, which was strongest in neologisms, suggests that the QWERTY keyboard is shaping the meanings of words as people filter language through their fingers. Widespread typing introduces a new mechanism by which semantic changes in language can arise.
How does the word "feel"
The research raises many questions that should be explored before we understand the implications of handedness on marketing.

It clearly does not determine the fate of a brand:
  • BASF, a firm with many building product brands, has prospered despite being typed entirely with the left hand.
  • Pulp, a specialty glass manufacturer, cannot attribute its growth exclusively to being typed entirely with the right hand.
It is only in the past few decades, since the widespread acceptance of personal computers, that QWERTY has become such an important form of mediating communication; it is already on the decline among young folks who text with their thumbs, and future technologies may render it obsolete.

Still, the research offers an important reminder:  

When selecting a new corporate or brand name, 
consider how it feels to type. 

Your customers may be typing the name more frequently than they speak it. So the feel of typing the word must be considered along with the sound, look, and meanings associated with it.

Photo by MichaelMaggs,, accessed 2012-03-10,  and used under a  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. 

AIA CES Program Changes Could Mean Bigger Audiences

AIA has been tweaking its continuing education system (CES) program in ways that will likely bring more opportunities to businesses providing CES programs.

Continuing education is a voluntary process, sort of.  In most states, licensed architects must engage in continuing education in order to keep their licenses, although the number of credits required per year varies widely.  AIA members must also continue professional development to maintain their membership, and that is one of the changes.

The differences between states can create a very tangled situation.  Requirements vary not only in terms of number of credits, but how often they must be reported (1, 2, 3 or 5 years), and the specific reporting date (there are 14 different dates in the US, plus a few states that use date of birth or license anniversary).

The different reporting dates can theoretically be utilized to some advantage, since architects will tend to be more aware of their need to acquire credits as the reporting date gets close.  For example, Florida is the only state that reports on Feb 28.  This means that January and February might be times when a lunchtime CES presentation in Florida will attract better attendance in architectural offices.

AIA is partnering with the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) to try and get the system more unified nationally.  They are encouraging states to adopt a unified system of 12 credits (or units, or hours) per year, reported at year-end.

The AIA member requirement is  even more stringent at 18 credits per year, with a minimum 12 of those credits being of the Health, Safety and Welfare category with 4 of th 12 in the subcategory of Sustainable Design.  (That increases AIA's current HSW minimum by 50%.) Moreover, self-reported credits - that is, credit for activities other than pre-approved courses, which the member claims as educational - will no longer be applicable to the HSW requirement.  (The AIA membership changes do not automatically apply to the states, or course; every state decides for itself, some by administrative rule, some by legislation.)  These changes mean that a lot more AIA member architects will now be seeking HSW hours to fulfill their requirements.

HSW is a very broad category that can include almost anything relating to the means and materials of building construction (as distinct from, say, the business of architecture, or construction contract law).  For manufacturers who provide CES programs as a means of educating designers about the use of products, and as a way to build relationships with the architectural profession, this is great news.  It could mean a noticeable increase in attendance, and increase in demand for presentations.  (AIA estimates it represents something like 42,000 more seat-hours per year in California alone.)

Fire up Powerpoint!

(For more information, you can download handouts from a recent AIA-CES workshop (held in Los Angeles in February, 2012) from the AIA website.)

Anecdotal Evidence: Publicity Works

Publicity is a hard thing to track, as we have often noted here, so we like to report the anecdotal evidence that we find.

Recently, we published a 4-part blog post about ten innovative trends in building materials and construction that we think are worth watching.  We also sent out a special edition of our e-newsletter, reporting the 10 trends and linking to the blog.

This is, however, the first edition of our e-newsletter where we have included our editorial contacts on the mailing list.

Why didn't we think of that earlier?  The same morning that the e-newsletter went out, it was picked up and reprinted by Environmental Design and Construction, a major print and digital magazine.

Magazines, both digital and traditional, are hungry for content.  A press release or a contributed article is a great, cost-effective way to tell your story, in depth, to thousands of people who want to read it.