Trending towards unSMART buildings

In fifty years, our industry has forgotten a lot.

When I was a youth in the 1960's, my mother taught my sisters and I to keep the house cool without refrigeration:
  • Close the drapes and exterior sun screens on the side of the house receiving sunlight.
  • Use window fans to exhaust air on the hot side of the house to draw cooler air in from the shady side.
  • Plant trees and vines strategically to mitigate weather extremes.
  • Retreat to the cooler basement during the hottest times of day.
  • Cook on the outdoor hibachi to avoid heating the kitchen.
  • Dress for the weather. 
Meanwhile, my father worked in a downtown office building with shafts for natural ventilation and light. Borrowed lights and operable transoms allowed daylight and breezes to reach deep into the building.

The standard today is to seal the building and use automatic controls to maintain comfort. Our appliances may be more energy efficient, but we still depend on machines in our homes and workplaces.

Yet we may be seeing a backlash that could be significant to building product marketing. Consider these items:
"It takes a smart architect to make a dumb building." Link.
1. The Seattle architecture firm of Weber + Thompson has moved into what is touted as the "first modern office building without air conditioning". It has as a central courtyard that affords natural lighting and cross ventilation to all workstations. Operable windows allow staff to actively manage their environment.

2. "Dumb is the New Smart", an upcoming lecture at the University of Toronto asks: "Is a 'Smart Home' really the smart choice? ...Reliance on interconnected and often incompatible gadgetry... isn't necessarily the most effective way to accomplish a responsive, responsible, and resilient home. Using a suite of devices that utilize multiple apps to monitor and operate your heating and cooling systems arguably consumes more energy than opening a window or turning on a fan."

3.  Government initiatives to promote building resilience in the face of disasters encourages a reexamination of ways to keep buildings in operation when the infrastructure goes down.

4. The effort to create "net-zero" buildings requires us to question dependence on energy consuming appliances and systems.

What opportunities and risk will this pose to your building product business.  Contact me at +1 818 219 4937 or to discuss your concerns.  And, if you come to see me on a a hot day, dress for the weather.

Construction News and Big Data

Remember your local "plan room", where bidders and suppliers would go to look at plans and specs for projects that were out-to-bid?  Not likely. This is year 33 APC (After Personal Computer), and news about projects in design, bidding, and construction moves at the speed of electrons.
File:DARPA Big Data.jpg
"'Big Data; refers to a technology phenomenon that has arisen since the mid-1980s. As computers have improved, growing storage and processing capacities have provided new and powerful ways to gain insight into the world by sifting through the infinite quantities of data available. But this insight, discoverable in previously unseen patterns and trends within these phenomenally large data sets, can be hard to detect without new analytic tools that can comb through the information and highlight points of interest." (Caption and image from DARPA)
Retrieving data from Reed Connect, Dodge Scan, and other construction news publishers may now move faster (if you have enough band width), the way we extract and process the data remains much the same as it was BPC (Before Personal Computers). And while The leading vendors of construction leads also publish databases of construction cost, product information, and detail drawings or models. Yet to a surprising extent, each type of information remains in its own, separate silo.

Other areas of our economy are increasingly shaped by Big Data - the interconnecting of databases so vast amounts of information can be tracked.  Construction, for many reasons, lags behind other industrial sectors.

I was asked to speculate on the future of Big Data in our industry. Here are some of the big link-ups that may effect building product manufacturers in the next five to ten years:
  • Virtual models of complete buildings and building components that can extract, analyze, and process building product data.
  • Integration of product "sustainability" information into the data base.
  • Further wrap-up of local and regional construction news to serve global markets.
  • Linking construction news to building operation and facility management data.
  • Connecting construction news into order-entry and construction project management systems.
  • Seamless integration from the cloud to mobile data platforms.
  • Integration of construction, fabrication, and logistical data.
These developments are already happening in bits and pieces, and there are plenty of incentives -- and risks -- for Big Data to bring the pieces together.

My list is not comprehensive. But like eating the proverbial elephant, the only way I can digest Big Data is one mouthful at a time.

3D Printed Ceramics

This beautifully edited video may help you understand the potential for printed construction products and systems.  This machine is printing ceramics.  Still small in size, but imagine it scaled up to produce entire wall panels, building modules, or structures.
"Eran Gal-Or, an industrial design student from H.I.T institute in Holon, Israel built a 3d printer that prints ceramic materials - porcelain, clay & glass. This is a massive 80x80x80 cm darwin style 3D printer, and probably the largest in the world. The printer prints porcelain in a continuous way using a feeding system he developed, which includes a commercial moineau pump and a refilling plunger type extruder."

Video at, photos and quote from

Cement Nanotube Concrete Reinforcement

Top right: Cement microstructure. SEM image of cement paste with portlandite precipitates within calcium-silicate-hydrated C-S-H gel. Using atomistic simulations, this work indicates that cement nanotubes can exist. The chemically compatible nanotubes are constructed from the two main minerals in ordinary Portland cement pastes, namely a calcium silicate hydrate called tobermorite (bottom left) and calcium hydroxide (bottom right). (Images: Dr. Ayuela, Donostia Internacional Physics Center)
Carbon fibers are difficult to mix into portland cement concrete, making them an unlikely candidate for nano-reinforced concrete. New scientific work suggests an alternative may be possible, nanotubes made from portland cement.

This is more evidence that material sciences are advancing at an amazing pace and will have unpredictable effects on construction.

Oh brave new world.

Smarter Buildings

According to IBM, smarter buildings will be able to use resources more intelligently, which will lead to reduced costs and greenhouse gas emissions and ultimately to smarter, more efficient cities. Their Smarter Buildings team helps customers "listen to the enormous amounts of data" their buildings are generating. By listening to this data through embedding smarter technologies into the physical assets of an organization, building owners, facility managers and other stakeholders can analyze energy use to squeeze out inefficiencies.
The five trends they predict may be useful in planning new products and services for building product manufactures:

Smart Neighborhoods

Groups of buildings will mimic living systems. Neighborhoods are the building blocks of smarter cities, which are just systems of systems—water, power, transportation, etc. Like a living system in nature, they can be highly complex, especially when considering the conglomeration of infrastructure over a city's 100- to 200-year history. In Washington, D.C., water pipes date back to the Civil War, for example. A neighborhood is a microcosm of the city; to make a city smarter, starting at the neighborhood level is more manageable. IBM is working to help the community become early adopters of smart grid technology that will electronically monitor, analyze and minimize power consumption in residential and commercial buildings—as well as of on-site solar and other clean-generation systems.

X-Ray Vision
Occupants of smarter buildings will get better visibility into building’s functions, such as how much water and energy they are using. Most businesses and residents now find this out by looking in their rear-view mirror—the previous month's utility bills. With smart meters, residents and businesses are getting closer to real-time views into their actual usage. With smarter buildings technology, building managers have a cross-building view into actual performance of all systems so they can make adjustments and repairs when needed, a key step when looking at large facilities, campuses and cities. Using analytics provides deeper, X-ray vision into what's happening in real time.

As buildings and cities are instrumented, managers will rely more on analytics to flag outlying behavior and to recommend optimal settings for heat, water and other facility maintenance. Predictive maintenance will become condition-based. At its 3.2-million-square-foot Rochester, Minn., campus, IBM integrates data from more than 300,000 data points, consolidating it into a common repository for effective analytics. Through this solution, the Rochester facility cut energy use by 8 percent, on top of the 6 percent reduction already being driven through aggressive energy-improvement programs.

Beyond Parking
Applications that pull data from a building and a city's "Internet of things" will proliferate. Parking applications can help drivers find available parking spots, for example. But it goes beyond that. The Internet of things gives people information, the first step toward making change. Through the increasing connectivity, people can act as living sensors to provide data and feedback to make changes and create smarter cities and buildings. For instance, some cities are extending that Internet of things to city services such as enabling citizens' to alert cities to potholes, graffiti and water issues by taking photos and sending them to city management, where they can be prioritized and dealt with. Cities are using geospatial intelligence to send crews with the information they need and the overview of where the projects are to map out the best driving routes.

Now Serving at the Energy Cafe

Building managers will order from a menu of energy, allowing them to choose energy by source and/or cost. Just as shoppers can chose which type of produce they want based on cost and source, city and building managers will be able to do the same with energy sources. With smart meters, building occupants know how much energy they are using. However, organizations in the future will also be able to choose the source of their energy. If they have carbon footprint targets to meet, they can decide to get 30 percent of their energy from renewable sources like solar and wind. If that gets too costly, they can shift more to natural gas.

Real Estate Management Becomes a Science

A company's finance/real estate team is evolving into a smarter buildings team. In the next few years, accounting changes will require all publicly traded companies to add billions in new assets to their balance sheets. As organizations begin to itemize all their property assets, they'll also look into ways to reduce costs. What they're discovering is that by learning how their buildings are wasting energy, they are finding new ways to cut costs and reduce their carbon footprint. The cost of energy use in New York City municipal buildings totals more than $800 million each year and accounts for about 64 percent of the greenhouse gas emission produced by government operations. With carbon intelligence software, the city is aiming to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2017.

Edited from material posted at 

Facebook and Twitter: Major Impact on Purchase Decisions

New study shows that those who are fans or followers of a brand on Facebook or Twitter, respectively, are significantly more likely to buy products and services or recommend the brand to a friend.

Specifically, the study by Chadwick Martin Bailey and iModerate Research Technologies found that consumers are 67% more likely to buy from the brands they follow on Twitter, and 51% more likely to buy from a brand they follow on Facebook. Moreover, they’re 79% more likely to recommend their Twitter follows to a friend, and 60% more likely to do the same on Facebook:

Of course, those findings might be a bit overstated — many people actively seek out the brands they’re already fans of and follow or fan them on Twitter and Facebook. Moreover, the research was conducted among ordinary consumers, not construction industry specifiers or buyers. But there’s still much to be said for the mindshare that engaging those existing brand enthusiasts on social media sites creates, in turn keeping them active. Plus, the study also found that many consumers across a wide variety of demographics have negative perceptions of brands that aren’t using social media.

Overall, the study is another sign that social media is becoming a competitive advantage for those that are participating, and an increasingly major weakness for those that aren’t.

[via eMarketer]

Tessellation Trends

Tessellated patterns, the repetition of a geometric shape, is currently in vogue for architectural design, and building product manufacturers are responding with innovative product shapes.
Chusid Associates has written two articles about the trend:

Update 2011-Oct-09

George Baty of Cresset Chemical brings to my attention the exciting tessellated paving stones by Gecko Stone:

Finding Hidden Architects

How can a building product manufacturer or sales rep stay in touch with architects that are working out of their homes and other unconventional business venues?
A recent post by Architectural Record discusses architects working out of storefronts and other unconventional locations as survival strategies during these tough times, including the one shown above who sets up his "Architecture 5 Cents" booth at farmers' markets.

While architects have always been nomadic, moving from office-to-office as they hire then fire for big projects, the recent recession has made it even more difficult for manufacturers and sales reps to locate their prospects.

Here are some tips:

1.  If you build relationships of trust and service with architects, they will call you when they need your products.

2.  Ask architects for their personal contact info. Make it clear this is not to bombard them with spam, but to be able to contact them in the future, "if necessary."

3.  Architects working alone or in small offices frequently seek out professional comradeship by attending professional society meetings, educational events, and local product shows.  You can attend as well.

4.  In a big office, there was always someone around to speak with or to get advice. Architects working from home increasingly go online for the same types of interaction. You need to, too.

5.  Track them down using Linked In and other online resources.

10 Best New Building Products of 2010

At the end of each year, the staff at Chusid Associates nominates and votes on its list of the Ten Best New Building Products of the year.  Our intention was to blog about all ten, but we got busy and only managed to write about a few of the winners. Without delaying the project further, here is our truncated list:

The pace of innovation continues. The tough economic times are actually proving a boon to some companies, as they use the opportunity for research and launching new products that, in the continual press of sales during a good year, would normally get buried. Several of this year's entries are innovations on ages-old problems, while others represent the intersection of several cutting-edge technological developments. A few were included not because the actual products were significant, but because of the trends they represent.

1. Plasma Lighting: Solid state lighting, in the form of LEDs, have been a major trend for the past few years. Now plasma lighting is taking the spotlight, offering in some cases twice the lumens per Watt of LEDs. Right now most of the plasma lighting available is for stadium and street lamp-sized installations, but miniaturization to commercial and industrial scale seems inevitable.

Multiquip's H2LT Hydrogen Fueled Light Tower drew a lot of attention at World of Concrete for combining low-energy, high-intensity light with quiet, low-polluting hydrogen fuel cells. The plasma light bulb produces 22,000 lumens while consuming only 255 watts, with a life expectancy of up to 50,000 hours. Beyond its energy efficiency, the tower made our list for one simple reason: it is sparking imaginations. At the show, people were walking away from the Multiquip booth discussing new ways and places they could use this technology, sewing the seeds for the next generation of innovations.

This all-glass wall is energy efficient.
2. Phase-Change Insulated Glass: Another ripe field for innovations is combining multiple successful technologies into a single high-performing system. This becomes especially important in sustainable design when building systems often need a higher level of flexibly to meet multiple design objectives simultaneously; natural daylighting is advantageous, for example, but too much interferes with the building's thermal performance and energy use.

Glass-X, from Greenlight Glass, addresses exactly this problem. The core of the system is phase-changing glass that stores or releases thermal energy in the process of converting from solid to liquid states. Glass-X controls thermal transfer, essentially creating virtual thermal mass to help warm or cool the interior as needed. A prism system takes advantage of seasonal changes in the sun's position to reflect hot summer light, while allowing more light, and heat, transfer in winter months.

Glass is one of our favorite building materials around the office; the amount of versatility and innovation in glass construction is staggering, and the trend looks set to continue for the next few decades. The next winner is another glass product.

3. Bird-Visible Glass: When I was five I once ran full-speed into a closed glass door, face first, so I have a lot of sympathy for birds flying into windows. The problem is so prevalent that it has become embedded in our culture; birds hitting windows is an instantly recognizable slapstick troupe. But the real-world side is not funny; estimates are that almost 1 billion birds are killed by window collisions in the US each year.

Ornalux glass has special ultraviolet patterns that are visible to birds, but not detectable by the human eye. This means birds see the window and identify it as an obstacle, and humans get to enjoy natural lighting and an unobstructed view.

Click here for our 2009 list. And stay tuned for our best of 2011 list.

Economy: Half Full or Half Empty

Many people compare the current rate of construction to its peak in 2007. From that perspective, our industry has had quite a tumble.

But look more closely at the vertical axis of the graph. These numbers do not reflect the absolute number of starts. Instead, they are an index, where the number of starts in 2000 is equal to 100%. From this perspective, the economy is only down about 10 percent since a decade ago. Not too bad considering that we have fought two wars abroad, one at home, and had a massive screw-up in the banking system.

The rate of starts has been steady for the past three years. There are a lot of advantages to a steady economy, and companies that innovate can still grow in market share. The trouble is, that economies seldom stay steady for long.

Here is McGraw-Hill's most recent market summary:
February Construction Slips 4 Percent
New York, N.Y. – March 16, 2011 – At a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $404.9 billion, new construction starts in February fell 4% from the previous month, it was reported by McGraw-Hill Construction, a division of The McGraw-Hill Companies. Nonresidential building lost momentum for the second month in a row, and the public works sector retreated after its elevated pace in January. Meanwhile, residential building in February was able to register modest growth. For the first two months of 2011, total construction on an unadjusted basis was $55.9 billion, down 9% from a year ago.

The February statistics lowered the Dodge Index to 86 (2000=100), compared to readings of 90 in January and 95 in December. For over a year, the Dodge Index has hovered between 80 and 96, with the average for all of 2010 coming in at 88. “The pace of construction starts continues to fluctuate within a set range, as the gains for one month are taken back by weaker activity in subsequent months,” stated Robert A. Murray, vice president of economic affairs for McGraw-Hill Construction. “Compared to the declines witnessed from 2007 through 2009, the overall volume of activity has steadied in a broad sense, but this period of low-level stability is turning out to be extended. Given various countervailing factors in the environment, this fluctuation within a set range is likely to continue a while longer. On the plus side, job growth seems to be picking up, vacancy rates are beginning to recede, and interest rates remain low. At the same time, financing for construction projects from the banking sector has shown only modest improvement. And, the tough fiscal climate being faced by federal, state, and local governments has added further constraints to public construction programs.”

Nonresidential building in February dropped 5% to $132.3 billion (annual rate), retreating for the second straight month after December’s heightened activity. For the commercial categories, office construction in February fell 30% from the prior month, which had been lifted by groundbreaking for four office projects valued each in excess of $100 million. The office category in February did include the start of one project valued in excess of $100 million – the $125 million modernization of the General Services Administration headquarters building in Washington DC. Hotel construction also reported a substantial February decline, falling 37% after the prior month had been boosted by the start of a large convention-center hotel in Washington DC. Warehouse construction stayed weak in February, sliding an additional 13%, while store construction edged up 1%. The manufacturing plant category in February climbed 54%, aided by the start of a $500 million cellulose ethanol plant in Kansas.

For the institutional categories, healthcare facilities dropped 27% in February, continuing to settle back after the brisk pace of contracting reported at the end of last year. Whereas December featured the start of six large hospital projects valued in excess of $100 million, and January had two such projects, the largest healthcare project in February was the $73 million clinic portion of the $360 million Cleveland Medical Mart and Convention Center in Cleveland OH. The educational buildings category decreased 12% in February, reflecting the downward pull arising from tight state and local budgets. Providing some support in February were the start of two large high schools, located in Virginia ($66 million) and Pennsylvania ($60 million), as well as groundbreaking for a $55 million medical research facility in Texas. The smaller institutional categories were able to register gains in February. The transportation terminal category jumped 310% after a depressed January, helped by the start of a $200 million bus depot in New York NY and a $143 million transit hub renovation in St. Paul MN. Amusement-related work climbed 92% in February, led by the $287 million convention center portion of the Cleveland Medical Mart and Convention Center. Moderate January gains were posted by public buildings, up 9%; and religious buildings, up 5%; relative to weak activity in January.

Nonbuilding construction, at $151.5 billion (annual rate), slipped 9% in February. Highway and bridge construction dropped 27% from January’s exceptional amount, which included the start of a $1.5 billion project to add new lanes to the LBJ Freeway in Dallas TX. The February pace for highway and bridge construction remained a slight 1% above the monthly average for 2010, as the waning support from the federal stimulus act is only just beginning to have a dampening impact. Decreased activity in February was also shown by river/harbor development, down 52%; site work and mass transit, down 34%; and sewer construction, down 13%; following the gains each category reported in January. Water supply construction was the one public works category able to show improvement in February, rising 51%, with the boost coming from the start of several water treatment plant projects located in Washington state ($51 million), Oklahoma ($47 million), and New York ($45 million). The electric utilities category had a strong February, surging 46%, as the brisk activity witnessed during 2010 for this project type has yet to slow down. Large electric utility projects that were reported as construction starts in February included a $2.4 billion coal-gasification power plant in Mississippi and a $1.4 billion wind farm in Oregon.

Residential building in February moved up 2% to $121.1 billion (annual rate). The strength came from the multifamily side of the housing market, which advanced 67% in February after a brief loss of momentum during January. Large projects that were reported as February starts included a $140 million apartment building in Secaucus NJ, an $87 million apartment building in Chicago IL, and a $58 million apartment building rehabilitation in Minneapolis MN. Murray noted, “Multifamily housing is turning out to be one of the few near-term bright spots for the construction industry. While rising from a very low amount, multifamily housing in 2010 grew 12% in dollar terms, faster than the 6% gain reported for single family housing, and it’s expected to see another double-digit increase in 2011.” Single family housing in February slipped back 7%, as the modest improvement that seemed to re-emerge towards the end of 2010 paused. The single family slowdown in February was widespread by geography, with all five regions showing reduced activity – the Midwest, down 2%; the South Atlantic, down 4%; the South Central, down 7%; the West, down 8%; and the Northeast, down 21%.

The 9% decline registered by total construction on an unadjusted basis for the first two months of 2011, compared to 2010, was the result of a mixed performance by major sector. Nonresidential building was down 21%, reflecting this pattern by segment – commercial building, up 6%; manufacturing building, up 483%; and institutional building down 37%. Last year’s nonresidential total included the start of two massive projects during the January-February period – the $3.0 billion transit hub in lower Manhattan NY and the $1.1 billion airport terminal project at Los Angeles International Airport. If these two large institutional projects are excluded from the 2010 statistics, then the year-to-date change for 2011 would be the following – institutional building, down 18%; nonresidential building, down 5%; and total construction, down 2%. Nonbuilding construction during the January-February period of 2011 was up 9%, helped by this year’s early strength for electric utilities, while residential building retreated 14% year-todate. By geography, total construction during the first two months of 2011 performed as follows – the Northeast, down 34%; the South Atlantic, down 30%; the Midwest, down 6%; the West, up 5%; and the South Central, up 17%.

Useful perspective is obtained by looking at twelve-month moving totals, in this case the twelve months ending February 2011 compared to the twelve months ending February 2010. On this basis, total construction is down 3%, due to this pattern by sector – nonresidential building, down 10%; nonbuilding construction, no change; and residential building, up 1%. By region, the twelve months ending February 2011 showed this behavior for total construction – the South Atlantic, down 16%; the Northeast, down 6%; the Midwest down 1%, the South Central, up 1%; and the West, up 4%.

Budgeting for architects’ declining role

This is an encore of an article Michael Chusid wrote fifteen years ago.
I'm working on my marketing budget. The importance of architects to building product sales appears to have decreased during recent years. If my perception is valid, can I afford to reduce my allotment for architectural marketing? - R.K., president

Many building product marketers share your observation about the declining importance of architects. This perception, along with business downsizing pressures, has made it relatively easy for building product firms to justify cutting architectural marketing budgets. But the level of marketing you direct toward architects should be based more on your specific situation and opportunities than on the overall market.

Much of the perceived decline in the architect's impact on sales stems from reality's stark contrast with the stereotype of the architect as a hero who wrests form from chaos and by whose word the fate of a building product is cast. While this image may have a basis in the historical role of architect as master builder - think of Frank Lloyd Wright - it has little to do with how we build now.
Many building product reps and sales and marketing managers often overestimate the importance of their clients. Sales reps can become disillusioned when they realize that the greatest heroism of a typical architect is perseverance in the face of rejection, economic cycles, and other business challenges. When a sales rep realizes an architect's actual role in building product specifying, he may attribute it to a changing marketing environment, rather than admit his own perception has sharpened.

Besides this perception issue, several trends are reducing the significance of architects to building product sales.

Architects have never had a monopoly on building design, and the limited estate they can claim is shrinking. Many buildings--including single family homes, agricultural buildings, industrial processing facilities, and remodeling - do not require an architect's seal in most states. In recent decades, the growing use of pre-engineered industrial buildings has decreased the need for architectural services, and other design  professionals have steadily made inroads onto the architect's turf. Interior designers and professional engineers, for example, have expanded their jurisdiction.

As construction becomes complex, architects must increasingly rely on teams of consultants to design the structural, mechanical, electrical, and special systems that go into contemporary buildings. As a result, for more than half of the construction budget, the architect's control has become coordination and not specification. Further exacerbating this trend, many large construction projects now use construction managers to make crucial product decisions, leaving architects with responsibility for only aesthetic and functional design, not product selection.

Building owners have also changed. Many corporations, especially those with large building programs, have in-house facility management departments that take an active role in specifying products to be used in their buildings.

Liability issues have reduced architects' roles, too. The typical contract between an architect and his client used to give the architect authority to stop work on a construction site if it was not proceeding to the architect's satisfaction. A series of court rulings determined that if architects had authority to stop the work, they also had responsibility to do so if the work created a hazard or was faulty.

Rather than accept liability for construction errors, the American Institute of Architects led the profession into retreat. More recent editions of the AIA's standard form for owner-architect contracts now require the architect to provide only observations of the work's progress. While interpretation of this remains an evolving area of law, it has amounted to an abdication of professional responsibility that extends to how architects write and enforce specifications, including their readiness to accept substitutions.

Demographic data also reveal why marketing to architects may be having less impact. According to "Are There Too Many Architects?" by R. Gregory Turner in the October 1995 issue of Architectural Record, current demand for services on a per-architect basis is about half what it was 20 years ago. There are about 150,000 architects in the country, nearly three times as many in the mid 1970s. But construction activity during this same period has been fairly stagnant. Translated into building product marketing terms, today you have to make three times as many contracts to reach the same proportion of architectural prospects, yet each architect only specifies half as much work.

Marketing response
Confronted by these trends, many building product firms have simply walked away from proactive architectural marketing, focused instead on contractors, dealers, owners, and even end users. Still, for many products, strong arguments can be made in favor of staying engaged in the architectural arena.

But because their role is declining, you must improve the cost effectiveness of your marketing to architects. You can do this by increasing your sales per contact, which can be accomplished by selling products through your architectural sales force, and by improving the impact of your advertising and public relations.

Another approach is to decrease your cost per contact. Common ways of doing this include using telemarketing instead of personal sales calls and selecting more narrowly targeted advertising media. Computerized media, for example, may eventually offer lower costs per marketing contact.

Before abandoning the architectural market, review your approach to it. Can you sharpen the definition of your architectural niche? Are you offering the right product mix? Are you staying in touch with architects who have used your product before to make sure they specify it again?

As architects rely more on a design team approach, you may need to shift your focus from just architectural firms to architects and specifiers, wherever they may be -- in consulting firms, in-house corporate construction departments, or design-build firms. Furthermore, you may be able to restructure your sales approach to become a product consultant, thereby becoming part of the design team yourself.

Finally, remember that every trend creates its own counter-trend. With fewer manufacturers supporting architects as rigorously as they once did, those building product makers that are left have the pond to themselves. When large and powerful PPG Industries decided in the early 1980s to stop promoting curtainwalls and storefronts through architects, it created a void eagerly filled by EFCO Corp., an aggressive competitor that saw that marketing to architects could be a profitable way to build market share.

Have a question you'd like us to answer?
Send an email to 

By Michael Chusid Originally published in Construction Marketing Today, © 1996

Building Products in BIM

This article from Architectural Record will be of interest to manufacturers considering what the growing use of BIM will mean to your business.

PR - Silver Cloud in Recession

Most construction industry publications depend on contributed articles written by building product manufacturers or their PR consultants. The need for contributed work has grown in this Great Recession (what's so great about it?) as publishers have trimmed staff. On top of this, many manufacturers have had to cut back their expenditures for PR.

There is an upside to this downturn. It is easier than ever to place stories in the trade publications.

Publicists usually have to call editors. But in recent weeks, I have gotten calls from an unprecedented number of editors looking for content. They include magazines focused on:
  • Architectural design
  • Specifications
  • Sustainable building
  • Canadian construction
  • Interior construction
  • Structural engineering
  • Concrete repair
  • Jobsite management
  • Hospital construction
PR is surprisingly affordable. 

And wonderfully effective.

I invite you to contact me to discuss how you can take advantage of this boom in editorial opportunities. Call Michael Chusid at +1 818 774 0003.

Flood Resistant Products

I have written recently about the growing opportunities for flood-resistant building products. Here is an exciting new product that addresses this need:
The High Tide Escape Hatch can be installed between roof rafters, and opens easily to allow people to escape through their roof. For anyone building in a low laying area, it has now become irresponsible to not provide this type of egress.

What new products will you introduce to address the concerns about flooding?


We may be seeing the first salvos of a major architectural trend. "Vegitecture" -- the incorporation of plants into architecture -- has become part of the "green" building movement in more than one sense of the word. It creates new opportunities for many products used in a building's envelope and site work.

Plants purify air and water, enhance health, deter violence, and add a beautiful aesthetic to urban spaces.  Incorporating them into into a building project contributes a local source of food, reduces storm water run off, and may reduce heating and cooling loads.  These benefits are making plants a more popular part of architectural design, especially in urban environments.

The blog,, discusses the many architectural uses plants provide including green roofing, green bridges, green walls, garden sheds, green transportation terminals, eco-hotels, and other applications.

Urban planners around the world have been incorporating plants in urban design as seen here.  They are incorporating plant islands in the middle of sidewalks, as well as pop-up greenhouses, garden domes, etc.

Certain products are jumping on the "vegitecture" wagon.  Kristar Enterprises manufactures a product that provides a dual architectural purpose -- stormwater management TREEPOD® biofilters. These open-bottomed tree box filters remove suspended solids, petrochemicals, grease, bacteria, heavy metals, and other pollutants. The biofilters enable the project to meet the 80 percent TSS (Total Suspended Solids) removal requirement in certain regions while simultaneously providing a beautiful living piece of landscape.

Other building products that may be useful in these types of projects include waterproofing agents, different types of glasses, roofing systems, ceiling systems, plumbing equipment, irrigation equipment, and eco-friendly building materials.

"Atmospheric Rivers" and Architecture

Q. What would happen in California if it rained for 40 days and 40 nights?

A. Massive flooding, landslides, and devastation exceeding that of the largest earthquakes predicted in the state.

This is not an idle concern. Such a storm occurred in 1861-1862 producing massive damage and bankrupting the state. And similar but smaller events have happened since then.

Relatively new scientific models say these storms are the result of "Atmospheric Rivers" that transport tropical moisture across the Pacific and throw it at the US West Coast with "firehose-like ferocity," according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

What will this mean to building construction once regulators, insurance companies, and mortgage lenders start factoring these risks into equations?

Along the Eastern Sea Board and the Gulf Coast, and near major rivers in the Midwest, flood resistant construction is already of concerns, and hurricane resistance is already required in South Florida and other vulnerable jurisdictions. In the decades to come, flood-resistant architecture is likely to become an even more significant factor in design and construction, and to become a factor in areas not previously thought of as flood-prone.

Flooding from atmospheric rivers is likely to be conflated with flooding predicted to accompany climate change, including: inundation of coastal areas, changes in precipitation patterns, and increased intensity of hurricanes and tropical storms. Katrina and recent flooding in Australia suggests the potential scale of the widespread damage that may occur, and emergency management agencies and other regulatory bodies are starting to take note.

This focus on flooding is ironic, because another significant trend in architecture is increased emphasis on water conservation, and severe water shortages are prognosticated in many parts of the world as a consequence of climate change. 

As public concerns about atmospheric rivers grows, possible impacts on construction and building products include:
  • The risks of flooding, landslides, or other flood-related damage will lead to new restrictions against building on vulnerable sites.
  • New engineering standard will be required for paving, foundations, and anything constructed on the ground to strengthen structures against supersaturation of soils.
  • Pipelines will have to be designed to resist buoyancy, and other utilities to resist damage due to excessive water pressure.
  • Building envelopes will be required to have increased resistance to wind-driven rain.
  • Demands on below grade waterproofing will be increased.
  • Flood barriers will receive increased consideration to prevent flooding water from entering buildings.
  • Structural designs will consider storm surge-resistance, even in areas not in traditional flood plains.
  • Demand will increase for building materials that will resist water damage and the mold that can grow on wet materials.
  • Increased construction on stilts will create opportunities for new types of framing systems, soffits, and ways to deliver services into elevated structures.
  • More construction on landfill.
  • Et cetera.
There may also be new opportunities for companies or organizations that pre-position materials and systems for rapid deployment after a disaster.

Without trying to be macabre, some building product manufactures may see a silver lining inside these storm clouds. I encourage you to join what is almost sure to be a national discussion about these risks, and to give them consideration in your long-term marketing strategy.

Australia, reeling from massive floods in 2011 and recent years, is already considering moves like those listed above.
Consider this report, for example,
THIS is a Gold Coast developer's possible solution to Queensland's flooding problem -- mini-suburbs on stilts.

Communities on concrete pylons -- roads, houses and all -- could be the way of the future, with Premier Anna Bligh saying the State Government will consider houses on stilts as way to stop homes going under in a flood.

The Gold Coast could be home to one of the first ''suburbs on stilts'' after a court cleared the way for a Merrimac development late last year.

Fire Safety is now a Green Issue

My associate, Aaron Chusid, is fond of saying: "The green building movement is over; it won. We don't talk about a 'fire-safe building movement' anymore because fire-resistive design has become a regular part of construction. We have to start discussing sustainable design in the same way."

Aaron's insights may be a bit premature, because a new report by the National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM) makes it clear that fire safety is also a green building issue.

Their report, titled Fire Safety and Green Buildings - Bridging the Gap is a free download. I recommend it as required reading for all building product marketing executives during their midwinter break. It is chock-full of issues and challenges to inspire fresh marketing strategies for the new year.

It points out that a single-attribute approach to sustainable product selection can produce unintended fire hazards. For example:
  • Engineered wood systems may make efficient use of forest resources, but they may not provide the same fire safety.
  • Photovoltaic panels on a roof provide renewable energy, but they can be a hazard to fire fighters.
  • Some insulations with excellent thermal resistance also generate smoke that  hinders fire fighting.
  • Vegetative roofs have lots of environmental advantages, but shouldn't prevent fire department access.
Reading this report may help you identify threats or opportunities in the changing marketplace. One of Chusid Associates' clients, for example, is launching a new marketing initiative stimulated by the report. Their door opener is that the NASFM has raised concerns about the fire safety of products in its niche. This prepares the way for demonstrating that the firm has already solved the problem, allowing its customers to be both green and fire safe.

New way to reach prospects.

Concept: Pay your prospects to read your email.

Description: Conventional methods of advertising may have a low response rate and go to many unqualified individuals, Instead, you can identify the prospects that interest you the most, and pay them to read your ad.

Background: A new website,, conducts what they call an "Attention Auction." Their site explains:
If you are a busy person? Receive too many messages? Forced to spend a lot of time reading crap but still lose useful information? Sell your attention at auction.

If you want to contact an important or busy person but never had chances to deserve his or her attention. Buy attention at auction. purports to provide a way to contact celebrities. For example, movie star Jim Carrey will read an email from a fan for $2.50. But for just $1.99, you can also bid to buy the attention of Jim Bonenfant whose profile says, "Designer/Architecture residential design/modern commercial design/Gourmet Kitchens and Baths/Real Estate investment." A manufacturer of gourmet kitchen appliances might find this a cost effective way to communicate with Jim, since the charge only occurs if Jim actually reads the email. is in a beta release and is very crude. For example, there is no way to search for an individual by trade or location. But I can imagine an the concept being developed further to provide deep coverage of the A/E/C field.
  • As the database of participants is enriched to indicate the types of projects and level of professional responsibility, the system could become being very targetable. 
  • By including various response options in the email, such as clicking through to your website, you could measure the effectiveness of various copy.
  • Advertisers could develop algorithms to determine which prospects to contact. If you need to reach a star architect, perhaps you would be willing to pay $50 to assure that Zaha Hadid reads your email. But if goal is to support a new sales rep in Peoria, Il, you could bid for professional specifiers in town for $1.50 each.
With current economic conditions, I suspect many designers and builders would be delighted to supplement their incomes by being paid to read your advertising. If the idea catches on, it would lead to the end of spam email blasts; prospects will start ignoring the junk mail once they realize their time is worth something to other advertisers.

Instead of waiting for to attact a critical mass of construction industry people, some smart publisher will figure out how to do this. (If you are inspired, please contact Chusid Associates to help you roll out this new service.)

Watch for further developments.

A Green Virtual Trade Show

A trade show without travel does sound like an environmentally sound idea. Yet can a digital forum, a "virtual trade show," really provide the type of hands-on experience that a trade show provides?

Hanley Wood (HW) proposes to find out. They have partnered with a digital technology group to promote, an "online community and virtual trade show."

The website is clearly advertising driven. That in itself is not a bad thing as most trade shows try to part manufacturers from their money. But can such an online forum really form a "community" of users? USGBC, CSI, AIA, and other organizations already offer real communities. Their online components are adjuncts to committees, chapter meetings, and real trade shows.

Here is an excerpt from an HW press release:

Starting in 2011, the publisher... will provide users with increased access to green building and design resources and top-tier design and building industry experts. “’s on-demand, community-focused platform is a natural extension of our green building information strategy,” adds Peter Goldstone, President of Hanley Wood. “Through this interactive site, we’ll be able to better help others increase their knowledge of environmentally responsible building practices and make well-educated decisions in the marketplace.”

The award-winning site is a resource for architects, builders, remodelers, dealers, code officials, manufacturers and others interested in green building design and construction. It offers quarterly “live” events in an online trade show format that includes expert presenters and exhibitors, bi-weekly webinars on a host of green building topics, on-demand continuing education courses registered with the American Institute of Architects (AIA), and 24/7 interaction on blogs and forums. 
The recession has reduced attendance at real trade shows, and some people wonder whether the large event format can survive. So I can't disparage HW, a large producer of trade shows, from hedging their bets.

Still, I think they would be better off exploring ways to build real online communities, forums that take advantage of the power of the web, rather than creating ersatz versions of trade shows.

Specifier Survey

Results from a survey of construction specifiers, published by CSPECS this past February, provides insight to guide manufacturers that want their products used by construction specifiers. My comments are interspersed among quotes from the research report:
The survey seeks to understand what Specifiers do to get information and how effective the retrieval and use of that information is.
Note that the study was conducted among self-identified specification writers. Many product decisions are made by designers or other members of a project team. Keep this in mind when assessing how this study impacts your market approach.
Specifiers have a strong sense of time wasted because of the inefficiencies inherent in the current information retrieval process. In general, Specifiers felt that wasted time amounted to roughly 20% of their research time. 

The survey seems to imply that this seemingly large amount of wasted time is due to poor information tools, and not to the work habits of specifiers. It also does not provide insight into how this value may have changed over time. For example, twenty years ago a lot of time was "wasted" filing hard copies of sales catalogs.
Specifiers use manufacturer's websites more frequently than other recognized resources. From a raw percentage standpoint, manufacturer's websites are used twice as often as in-house sources and three times as often as product database websites. 
Not investigated is the value of "product database websites" in driving specifiers to a manufacturers website. I assume "product database websites" includes,,, and others. It would be interesting to know how these various databases compare.
...relatively frequent use of manufacturer's websites is not necessarily a reflection of a high level of satisfaction when getting information. ...manufacturer's web offerings [have] customer dissatisfaction rates of between 20% and 50%...
This matches my experience. There are a lot of websites that are not helpful in finding product information or facilitating product selection and use.

Website deficiencies reported by the survey include:
No guide specifications. 
    46% average response. 54% cite as reason to not return to site.
The importance of offering a guide spec on your website varies with product. Many building products are commodities that do not require guide specifications. Other products are components that are intended to be integrated into larger assemblies or systems; such products may not require a guide specification for themselves.
Product information not easy to "cut and paste".
   40% average response. 74% cite as reason to not return to site.
The ability to cut and paste is useful for incorporating information into a report or email to improve the flow of information among the project team. Difficulties arise when text is treated as a graphic element in a webpage design, or images are incorporated into "flash" presentations. Not only does this make it hard for the specifier to use, it makes it harder for search engines to find your information.

Too many clicks required to find technical information.
   33% average response. 54% cite as reason to not return to site.
Technical info is too embedded in descriptive language.
   33% average response. 91% cite as reason to not return to site.
This finding confuses me. Sometimes the most useful information is communicated in a case study or technical report; not all information can be communicated in a tabular format. Perhaps the complaint is really about sales hyperbole.
Marketing oriented, too little technical info.
   23% average response. 16% cite as reason to not return to site.
This finding is flawed because technical information is also part of marketing communication. More, some websites are intended to motivate the viewer to call the manufacturer or sales rep for more information; some firms still need the human factor involved to engineer the correct solution to a customer's problem.
Not certain info is most current.
  20% average response. 59% cite as reason to not return to site.
There is a timeless battle between "marketing" and "manufacturing," and it takes a committed effort to keep the two in sync. The problem is especially hard with long lead time items; a product specified today may not be manufactured for a year or more. Still, from a product liability perspective, customers are entitled to assume information in your product presentation is current, so watch out.

I thank CSPEC for permission to report on their findings. As with all market research, judgment is required to interpret research for a particular application.