Product Launch

Quick Building Code Approval

Q. I am a student at Stanford and am researching a new building material, Engineered Cementitious Composite (ECC). Could you tell me some examples of how long it takes to get approval for new building material?

A. You ask a simple question for which there is not a simple answer.

Before getting an acceptance criteria, it may be necessary to first invent a way to quantify results.
First, we have to ask, for what usage is the material proposed? There are few regulatory requirements for non-structural product interior surfacing. But if the product is proposed for countertops in commercial food handling areas, it will need to meet NSF requirements for hygiene and toxicity; if it is to be used as a wall surfacing product in healthcare or assembly facilities, it will need proof that its surface burning characteristics are acceptable. While the testing and approvals can happen fairly quickly and for relatively limited expense, there are complications. NSF, for example, has to inspect the production facility.

For structural applications, an engineer can use almost any product by submitting structural calculations and other evidence to the building code official in a local jurisdiction. But it would be irresponsible for an engineer to use a product until it was well tested and understood. This could include costly fire-resistance testing and long term testing for performance characteristics such as creep, the deformation that happens over time. If the product is proposed for highway or bridge construction, state agencies may want to conduct field trials for several years to make sure of its durability.

It becomes easier for an engineer or architect to use a product if it is included in the building code. Only well established products are included in codes such as the International Building Code. However innovative materials can get reviewed by the International Code Council - Evaluation Service, and their ICC-ES Report can then be presented to the local building code officials that make the ultimate decision about whether a product can be used in their jurisdiction.  ICC-ES needs to have an "Acceptance Criteria" before they can evaluate an innovative project, and getting one can be tedious and expensive.

I have seen it take hundreds of thousands of dollars and years of effort to test a new product, get an acceptance criteria written, and then get an ICC-ES report. But that is only the beginning. One still has to get the approval of designers and builders to really have a successful product introduction.

Time-to-approval is often inverse to the cost. One of my clients got an acceptance criteria for a cementitious product in just six months, but only because they had a decade of academic testing and demonstration projects to draw upon, and could afford to hire the very best consultants. But along the way, they determined that winning customer acceptance would cost more and take longer than they had hoped, and decided to not commercialize the technology.

Quantum Business Start-Up
This cartoon brilliantly captures a quality that is essential to anyone starting a business or launching a new building product. Before the first spade of earth is turned to build a factory, for example, one has to be know that the project is a total success; even if it can't be observed yet.

PR opportunity for new products or research

Q. What's better than getting publicity in an architecture magazine?

A. Getting publicity and being identified as an award winner!

You have until April 25 to enter the Architect Magazine's Annual R+D Awards. I especially like this awards program as a place to tease the market with products that are still in the "pre-launch" stage. This gives you valuable exposure early in the product's life, and enables you to include the award in your sales materials for extra credibility.
New technologies are revolutionizing the process and product of architecture. To celebrate advances in building technology, Architect announces the sixth annual R+D Awards. The awards honor innovative materials and systems at every scale—from entire buildings and complexes to HVAC and structural systems to curtainwall and ceiling-panel assemblies to discrete building materials such as wood composites and textiles. The R+D Awards are purposefully open to building technologies of all types, in order to encourage the broadest possible dialogue among architects, engineers, manufacturers, researchers, students, and designers of all disciplines.
Categories include:
→ Prototype Products, materials, and systems that are in the prototyping and testing phase
→ Production Products, materials, and systems that are available for use
→ Application Products, materials, and systems as used in a single architectural project or group of related architectural projects  
The jury will consider new materials, products, and systems as well as unconventional uses of existing materials, products, and systems that have been created since 2009. Entries will be judged for their potential or documented innovation in fabrication, assembly, installation, and performance. All entries will be judged according to their potential to advance the aesthetic, environmental, social, and technological value of architecture.
Even if you don't win the award, nominated products frequently show up later in the year as product news.

Contact Chusid Associates for assistance in putting together a winning entry.

Pace of Innovation

First Polished Precast Concrete Building.
Click here for "Greenwashing does not pay,"

Ten years ago, polished concrete became a practical finish for concrete with the development of chemical densifiers and affordable polishing machines. It is now an is increasingly common for floors.

But what about polished concrete walls?

Five years ago, I predicted the polishing of precast and tilt-up concrete. Yet it has taken until now to see it in practice. A project at Ohio State University, designed by Ross Barney Architects, is being constructed of polished precast panels that reflect light from dichromic glass fins.

New technologies rise and fall on an annual cycle in some industries. But construction product innovations gain market acceptance at a slower pace. Now that one early adopter has taken the step, others will follow; architects watch what their peers do, and are trained to copy (i.e., take inspiration from) the work of others. But will any precasters or manufacturer of concrete densifiers take the lead in promoting the concept?

And for the next five years? Here are some predictions:
  • Polished concrete floors are often stained for color and given ornamental treatment. The Ohio state university columbus ohiosame can be done with polished precast and tilt-up walls.
  • Machinery to polish precast panels in-line during production, rather than as an after process.
  • Precast and tilt-up concrete are polished while panels are horizontal; is it practical to create a polishing machine that creeps up and down the side of cast-in-place walls? (I have a sketch of such a machine if any equipment manufacturer is interested.)
  • There are a few concrete masonry unit manufacturers that already make burnished CMU. I would love to see units with a high polish. They could be set in a wall so that each was at a slightly different angle, creating a wall that would sparkle in sunlight.
For more information about concrete densifiers, see: and

G'day, USA: Australia's James Hardie is making a splash in the U.S. market

This is an encore of an article Michael Chusid wrote almost 20 years ago. Since then, the construction industry has been increasingly globalized. However, most of their observations about the North American market remain the same.

Hardie saw a previous recession as a great time to invest in a new market -- a potential that also exists in our current economic malaise. The firm has sold off its gypsum board and irrigation interests, but has established a solid brand and market leadership in the fiberboard category.  

There is good news about the U.S. construction products industry: We enjoy a productive and flexible work force and an excellent safety record. Our designers are open to new products and techniques. We are adventurous, ambitious, and independent. And, despite the recession, our economic prospects are robust enough to merit substantial investment.

That is the decidedly upbeat view as seen from  Australia, home of James Hardie Industries Ltd., whose U.S. subsidiary is rapidly becoming a major  player in the North American construction products industry. In just five years, Hardie has become a significant supplier here of gypsum board and a range of fiber-cement products. The company has quickly earned a reputation for quality products and efficient production. Sales at its U.S. unit, which also markets irrigation products and sprinkler fittings grew 21% to $145 million (US) in the fiscal year ending in March.

Hardie's trek into the U. S, market has not been without a few bumps, however. Hurt by the construction downturn and severe price-cutting in the gypsum market, the U.S. unit lost $14.5 million last year. The company has had a tough time, especially at first, getting U.S. contractors to try its high-cost fiber-cement products. And it took a few missteps to make Hardie realize it had to Americanize its marketing operations to be successful here.

Things are just now beginning to shape up. Don Manson, president of the Mission Viejo, CA-headquartered unit, says both sales and profits improved "significantly" in the first half of this year, thanks mostly to growth in the fiber-cement business. "I'll be very surprised if we're not profitable in fiscal 1994," Manson says.

If so, the U.S. unit will be on its way to following in the rather large footsteps of its Sydney-based parent, one of Australia's leading industrial manufacturers and a dominant producer of cladding there. For most of James Hardie's 100-year history, the company's chief product had been asbestos-cement board, popular in Australia's hot, humid coastal cities. But when health concerns about asbestos surfaced, Hardie switched in 1980 to a wood-fiber cement board. It retains most of asbestos' desirable properties, but it is stronger and easier to work with.

Coming to America
About that same time, the company began to diversify through a series of acquisitions and product developments. It grew into a billion-dollar company, but its development was limited by the size of its home markets of Australia aid New Zealand, whose combined population of 20 million is less than California's.

"The question then was, do we expand into other activities or do we take our knowledge to other parts of the world? We chose to do the latter," says Manson, formerly head of Hardie's New Zealand unit. "We had extremely good products and technology, so it was a question of how to capitalize on it. We looked to the United States because we saw somewhat similar building practices, an extremely large population, and a relatively common language."

Another factor was the mid-1980s collapse of Johns Manville, a leading U.S. supplier of asbestos-cement products. "We saw a vacuum here for [non-asbestos] cement panels," says Pat Collins, technical services manager for Hardie's U.S. building products division. Also, the U.S. market was not entirely new to Hardie. The company had already made inroads by bringing in its irrigation and sprinkler products in the 1970s.

Hardie's expansion into the United States began in earnest in 1987. That year Hardie bought a gypsum quarry and a gypsum board plant in Las Vegas and another plant in Seattle. It also began exporting some fiber-cement products to the United States, though by 1990, it was making those products at its Fontana, CA plant.

At first, the company combined the gypsum and fiber-cement operations, but it later reorganized them into two divisions. "They are separate businesses," Manson explains. While gypsum board is a price-sensitive commodity product, the high cost fiber-cement products are more proprietary and require missionary work to sell. And while Hardie's gypsum boards are marketed on the West Coast and exported to countries such as Korea, the fiber cement products are sold in the Sun Belt.

The company makes three types of fiber-cement products: siding, backer hoard, and roofing shingles. They are sold mostly in niche residential markets where their unique properties can be marketed at a higher cost. The backer board has shown the most market growth and potential. It can command a small premium because it provides the smooth finish necessary with vinyl flooring, and its water impermeability makes it ideal behind ceramic tiles in wet areas.

The roofing shingle has had a relatively high penetration in California, but Hardie won't be able to expand the market North until it perfects the shingle's freeze/thaw properties. The siding, which has had slow growth, has faced tough competition from other cladding, mostly wood, because of cost and aesthetic reasons. Its main selling point is its long life, and that's not as much of a concern in the United States as in Australia.

Though the Fontana plant is now running at only half its 100,000 tons per-year capacity, Hardie sees  enough market potential to warrant buying land near Tampa, FL for a second fiber cement plant.

Hardie has met with some frustrations, though. It has had difficulty getting U.S. contractors to get past their low-cost mentality and try Hardie's fiber-cement products. "The acceptance has taken a little longer than we anticipated," Manson says. "Even though our product may be clearly superior, if the tradesman has been used to doing things a certain way for 20 to 30 years, he's not going to change quickly.

"It has taken until this year. But now it's really coming on." U.S. sales of Hardie's fiber-cement products grew 14% in fiscal 1992 and that division cut its losses 15%. "And that's being achieved against a depressed economy," Manson says.

Fitting in
Hardie's initial projections underestimated the U.S. demand for fiber cement shingles, mainly because shingles are not popular in Australia. Such predisposed outlooks are one of the hazards of transporting a business from one country to another. Despite their similarities, Australia and the United States have much different marketing environments.

"It's taken five years to come to terms with and fit into American culture," Collin says. "The slowness in getting to that stage was due to Australian attitudes and traditions trying to be imposed onto American culture. It doesn't work. We had to become an American company run by Americans."

And that is exactly what Hardie became. The building products division, for example, is now run by an American, vice president and general manager Louis Gries, and a management team recruited from U.S. firms. Collins is one of the few Australian expatriates still in the United States. Both he and Manson, a New Zealander, see their roles as transitional and temporary.

One adjustment Hardie made after a few years in the U.S. market was to decentralize its marketing organization by putting senior staff in regional offices, rather than have them manage from afar. "That's made a powerful difference," Manson says.

As Collins explains it, a decentralized structure is not a necessity in the smaller Australia. But in the United States, it's a must. "This country is so large that we can't talk about just one country from a marketing or manufacturing point of view," he says. "In each place it has to be carefully done to fit the local requirements and culture. It's 50 different countries really."

Another difference Manson has observed in the U.S. market is its cavalier attitude towards quality. Australians, by contrast, are a less mobile people and tend to use higher quality building materials to build homes for a lifetime. "It surprised me that the expectations of consumers are not great here," he says. "I see enormous homes with high prices, but the quality is not dramatic.

"Our backer board is an excellent product, but it gets covered by tile and is out of sight. It's hard for the builder to justify an additional cost. How do you [charge a premium] when it's coming out of the builder's profits?'

The answer, says Mike Going, Hardie's U.S. marketing manager until his recent return to the New Zealand unit, is aggressive marketing that will convince contractors and home buyers that quality is worth the extra cost. "Hardie must foster an aggressive and creative marketing vision while at the same time doing all the small things that have to be done to carry out a successful marketing program."

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By Michael Chusid, Originally published in Construction Marketing Today, ©1992

Is your product in MasterFormat?

A marketing maxim says sales depend on three things: 1. Location, 2. Location, and 3. Location.

In construction, the location of your product information is determined by MasterFormat. MasterFormat is the industry standard for organizing construction information according to the type of work being performed. It is used to organize construction specifications, cost data, schedules of values, and other project data. Building product manufacturers need to know the MasterFormat sections where their products should be specified.

What happens, however, if your product doesn't fit into an existing MasterFormat section? This can occur whenever a new type of product is brought to market, or when new demands on buildings requires the creation of new building solutions.

Fortunately, there the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) and its partners in MasterFormat have created a means for proposing revisions. Revisions can be proposed online at, and the MasterFormat Maintenance Task Team meets each summer to consider revisions.

Here are some examples of recent revisions:

Section 03 35 33 - Polished Concrete Finishing: Polished concrete has gained popularity in the decade since the technique was developed. We proposed this section on behalf of Lythic Solutions, a firm that provides materials for polishing. 

Section 03 48 63 - Precast Pre-Framed Concrete Panels: MasterFormat had a section for precast concrete panels, and a place for metal stud-framed panels, but no place for panels with a precast face and metal stud framing. We proposed this section on behalf of Ecolite Concrete, one of several firms pioneering this new technology. 

Section 09 24 00 - Cement Plaster: This section used to be called, "Portland Cement Plaster. However, our client, CTS Cement Manufacturing Corp, made a product that is used the same way, but contains a different type of cement. The solution was to drop "Portland" from the section name.

Having an assigned section in MasterFormat gives your product category increased credibility, signaling that it has become an established product option. And having a section name and number makes it easier for specifiers and contractors to search for and find products in that category. And it is part of your brand's positioning.

Taking the initiative to propose a change demonstrates your firm's leadership in the industry. It also gives you bragging rights, and a reason to issue a press release.

Of course, not all proposed revisions are accepted. For example, my suggestion for a new section for "Fly Ash Brick" was rejected. The committee felt this new product could be specified under the existing section for "Clay Unit Masonry." I suspect this decision will be revisited in a few years after Fly Ash Brick becomes more accepted in the marketplace.

Prospects for AIA Show in 2011

The AIA Show website shows that there are still many unsold booths for their May 2011 gathering in New Orleans.  This means you can still get good booth locations if you decide to exhibit there. But by most accounts, the AIA's show in Miami earlier this year was sparsely attended by architects.

What are the prospects for the upcoming event?
Attendance may be a bit better this year:
  • The economy has begun to turn around a bit, (I hope.)
  • New Orleans is more centrally situated for most of the country.
  • Who wanted to go to Miami in the summer, anyways?
  • I think many architects are curious to see how New Orleans is being rebuilt (at least I am).
Attendance may be up the show has new management -- Hanley Wood. HW's magazine, Architect, will become the official publication of AIA as of January. I suspect Hanley Wood will be pouring lots of resources into building the show this year.

Unfortunately, I don't see that yet. Their website, just six months before the event, is still little more than a place holder saying, "Continue to check back for more details."

Where to spend your marketing budget?
HW has other challenges. When AIA produce the event, it could tap into its members' sense of community. Now, the AIA Convention is at risk of being seen as just another of HW's events for architects. This is a weak position. For example, I don't go to HW's CONSTRUCT trade show because it is a major trade show (it isn't), but because I identify with the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) community that holds its annual meeting at CONSTRUCT. If CSI relocated its annual meeting to another event, I would follow my tribe.*

HW's architectural show will now have to compete against its other events for architects -- CONSTRUCT and their new virtual trade show, And will architects still traipse half-way across the continent if they can get all their continuing education credits from Hanley Wood University?

Booth prices begin at $4200 for a 10 x 10 ft booth. (Of course, renting space is less than half the cost of exhibiting.) It is unlikely HW will discount prices. Perhaps you will be able to negotiate a frequency discount if you exhibit and advertise in their magazines?

Should you exhibit at AIA or any tradeshow this year? 
The answer is no longer an automatic "yes". You have to look closely at the fundamentals: What do you want to accomplish? Does the show provide the right audience? How can the show leverage the rest of your marketing budget?

Many of my clients have done the math and have budgetted for trade shows in the coming year. For some, it may mean a smaller booth. One the other hand, one of my my clients has a new product launch that will benefit from a live demonstration. They are increasing their trade show participation because it is more economical than sending crews across the country for demos.

Reduced attendance at a show does necessarily mean reduce effectiveness. The World of Concrete (also a HW event) had significantly lower attendance in 2010; but those who came were there to buy and not just for a junket in Vegas.

I still believe trade shows have an important function, even in the digital age. It will be interesting to see what the next few years bring. 

* Prediction: HW will merge the AIA and CONSTRUCT shows into one super-sized event. Let's hope so, it would make for a more rational industry.

Most Innovative Product Award Call For Entries

The call for entries is out for the 2011 Most Innovative Product awards, given by Concrete And Masonry Products magazine and awarded annually at World of Concrete in Las Vegas.  It's open to any WOC exhibitor. 

In the past, we have found this a cost-effective form of publicity for our concrete-related clients.  Entries all get exposure in the magazine, in the WOC daily magazine, on the WOC website, and in a special display at the show in the central concourse of the convention center.

This year's entrance fee is $500 before Oct. 15, 2010, or $600 until the Oct. 30 final entry deadline.   We can help prepare an entry to meet that deadline.

Brand labels give your products extra exposure

My competitor labels its building products conspicuously with its name and logo. Though it doesn’t cost much, I’m not sure following that example will help my sales. Are architects and contractors influenced by seeing brand names on products in their buildings? Could there be a negative reaction?—I. L., product manager

Sew an alligator on a knit shirt and you can double the price. Embroider the right name on a pair of denim slacks and suddenly they become designer jeans. As proven in the consumer market, brand labeling can help shape customers’ product perceptions and heighten their awareness of your company.

The construction product business is more complicated, but many of the same principles apply. Prospects must be familiar with a product before they can develop a preference for it, so repeated exposures to brand labels do play a role in influencing designers and contractors. Even if your product is concealed within the structure, labels can still enhance your reputation among the dealers and tradespeople who handle your products.

Of course, brand labels in themselves do not create value, but they can sharpen your brand’s image and give it an identity. A well-established graphic identity can help you transfer the image of one product to others in your line. Labeling works best with high-quality products, where the brand can build on the products’ reputation and performance. It is less important with commodity products.

The roots of brand labeling in construction go back to the first mason who chiselled his mark into the structures he built. Today, branded building materials are all around us. We are bombarded by thousands of marketing messages every day and probably tune out most of them. But the effectiveness of brand labeling is evidenced by the general public’s widespread knowledge of construction brands. Many people know Otis makes elevators, Sloan makes toilet flush valves, and Yale makes commercial locks, even though those products are not marketed to the general public.

The proliferation of labels, however, has raised concern among designers and owners about their buildings becoming too crowded with advertising messages. A major Seattle-based department store chain, for example, prohibits visible product labels in its stores because it wants to control the marketing messages shoppers are exposed to. And the general requirements section of CSI’s SpecText master specification suggests such a ban. But most architects do not enforce that ban as long as labels are discreet.

There are many examples of lowkey labels. Pre - engineered metal buildings often carry a signature plate on the ridge cap at the top of the eaves. One window manufacturer puts its circular logo on the end of the knob on its window cranks. Many bathroom accessories have their manufacturers’ names stamped or engraved into their stainless steel surface. Aluminum entrance doors typically have a small nameplate attached near the bottom rail.

Brand labeling can be even more subtle. For example, Weyerhaeuser indicates the grade of its wood doors with a trademarked colored dowel on the edge of the door. While the general public would not recognize this, you can bet that the trade knows exactly whose door they’re looking at when they see the dowel.

To reduce the likelihood of an architect or owner objecting to your label after the product is installed, be sure the labels are shown in your product literature, in your product mock-ups and samples, and on your submittal sheets or shop drawings. Then if anyone objects to the label, you have the defense that your standard product carries it, and it was clearly indicated in the material the architect presumably reviewed or approved.

Before you proceed with branding, you may want to conduct a focus group showing prospects several products, some with labels and some without, and see if the label changes their perceptions. Have a strategy in mind for removing a logo in case someone does object strenuously. How hard would it be on your production line or your distributors if you had to produce a special order without the labels? Is the label permanent or could it be removed with a little elbow grease, paint, or sanding?

One of my favorite stories about brand identification concerns the now-defunct Inryco Inc. At the time the company introduced its composite steel and concrete floor deck, it was widely believed that indentations were needed in the steel deck to create a stronger bond with the poured-on concrete. The company later proved that the indentations had little effect on the structural capacity. Nevertheless, Inryco retained the indentations ... in the form of its lozenge-shaped logo.

By Michael Chusid
Originally published in Construction Marketing Today, Copyright © 1993

International Technology Transfer

I recently had two encounters that remind me how difficult it is bringing a building product technology from one part of the world to another:
  • I had a discussion with a rep from a company that claims to be one of the leading European suppliers of accessories for planted, "green" roofs. The concept may be well established in Europe, but it is in its infancy in the US. The rep, taking clues from her European boss, had difficulty understanding that Americans want a roofing membrane manufacturer to warrant the planting accessories as part of a total roofing system. In Europe, apparently, the "waterproofing" and the "green roofing" are considered two completely separate trades, like we might consider the floor slab and carpeting to be almost completely separate. I tried to explain some of the differences, including a different legal system that assesses risk and liability differently.
  • Today, I went through the sales and technical literature of a Turkish company that has an innovative, thin ceramic sheet. While the bilingual documents were translated into "English", possibly into "American," they were still in a foreign dialect with regards to the language of American construction. I will forgive them the use of metric -- Americans should get their head out of the sand on that point. But the tools the related materials such as underlayments and sealants were unfamiliar, the types of assemblages, and even the drawing conventions used in their details were all "weird".
Fortunately, Chusid Associates has had experience with many other off-shore building product manufactures coming to North American. We have been able to assist them to understand US markets and plot their best course.

In some cases, once they understood the market conditions here, they have decided to not risk coming to the US. But when they have decided the investment was worthwhile, we have been able to act as their guide through the maze of acculturation, testing and regulatory hurdles, and start-up.

Designers and Builders are Risk Adverse

Standard operating procedure for most design professionals:

"I want to be the second person to use the material for the first time."