A piece of our minds

  • Building Design Expert
  • 5 years ago

Manufacturers and Building Design Professionals –

As building design professionals we like to think that we know what we want, at least most of the time. For manufacturers of building products though it’s a different tale. They spend their lives trying to guess what we want, and, or package and present their products to us in a way that we think we cannot do without them. The whole business is a very fickle game, akin to snakes and ladders, because even though you have been there before, just after the ladder that’s got you right up there is the Boar constrictor that’s going to squeeze the life out of the gains you may have made as a class or brand leading manufacturer.

I once had a conversation with¬† the sales director of one of the largest brick manufacturers in Europe. The conversation included the reference to his constant battle to get his companies products “in front of you god-like people who specify building products”. I will never forget that particular conversation because it brought home to me exactly how hard the industry is, even for the major players. Perhaps we should say especially for the major players, as they have the most to lose. It seems that our sales director had been to the top of too many long ladders just before the finish, only to come across that Boar constrictor waiting in the long grass.

Cut to present day. This is a heads-up to any building design professionals that trade on their “god-like status”; the manufacturers, or at least some, have become wise to the ‘specifier’ game. Whilst they will still sit down and roll the dice with us looking for that elusive double six, there is now another board game in town with a set of ladders that lead to another table and a different set of snakes.

There is more than one game in town –

The building product manufacturers have identified a route to their goal of having their products included in the construction project. Without looking up from their computer screens manufacturers have perfected a deft body swerve past the building designer, and thrown themselves into a tackle with the main contractor. ‘Value Engineering’ is their tag-line, because even if the contractor is working with a design professional who has provided a rigid materials specification; very few of them are immune to the ‘no-brain’ option of maintaining performance, whilst reducing cost. Of course the specifier may well have the final word, but the majority will be hard pressed to ignore the capital C-word.

This game is not new, it’s a sales pitch that simply cuts out all the middle men. A bit like Henry Ford knocking on your door because he got wind that you were about to buy a Vauxhall Astra. Having sat down and convinced you that the Focus will meet all your needs and work out significantly cheaper, he points you in the direction of your nearest dealership where you can go buy one. If he senses you might revert back when he’s gone, he may even take you there himself.

For the moment this game is only successfully played by the larger manufacturers on the larger projects, where the quantities of materials involved provide a profit margin that is fluid enough to be cut to the bone leaving just a sliver of flesh to chew upon.

So back to the building design professional. Have we been abandoned? Well no, not really. It’s great, if we can put manufacturer and contractor together if all we are interested in is performance. Much of the time that is the case, but every now and again how that performance is achieved¬† becomes equally as important. Insulation products provide a prime example. Glass wool, XPS, EPS or a foam board can all provide the same performance, but not all are suited to the same installations.

Continual Education –

It is this technical knowledge base of the building designers that manufacturers have still to fathom. In the first instance there is still the mind set to over-come that anyone involved in designing buildings is an architect.

I have been on two building product manufacturers factory tours during the past ten days. As a Chartered Architectural Technologist I soon learned that my skill set and knowledge base are off even the largest manufacturer’s radar. But of course we don’t deal with ‘manufacturers’ per-se, however big the company. We only ever deal with individuals – to-wit the area sales manager. We could argue that it is an intrinsic part of their job description to be aware of the range of building design professionals they are pitching to, or is it the same old chestnut of professional industry profiles?

What ever our professional designation – Architect, Technologist or Surveyor; arguably their message is the same. But is it? – The design professionals who begins the building design process from a different starting point may just need the information packaging in a different way. In order to comprehend that, manufacturers need to understand a piece of our minds.

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