Contributed by Russell Harrison
In my last blog post we looked at the struggles a product rep has comparing a product that is specified that doesn’t match the drawings. Or, how we compare apples to oranges.
In this post, we’re going to take it one level further and look at one small thing that happens at the subcontractor level during the bid phase. Before I go there, I’m going to sidetrack into the glazing side a bit, but we’ll bring it back around to the metal panel industry we spoke about in blog post #1, I promise!
In a past life, I was a subcontractor in Oregon working in the commercial glazing realm. We would install anything glazing related in commercial buildings or high-end residences. That could be curtainwalls and storefronts, automatic door entrances, or even vinyl windows. The reason I bring this up is because it gave our team exposure to items from Divisions 5 (Metal), 7 (Thermal and Moisture Protection), or 8 (Openings). As our work was based around Division 8, this forced us to sometimes work with quite a few items outside of our realm of expertise and brought up a lot of questions internally. Anytime we had time to reach out to a rep and discuss the things we didn’t understand, we would do so. However, when our bid lead times were short, we’d have to make a lot of guesses.
Guessing isn’t an abnormal occurrence in construction estimating. Unfortunately, it’s quite normal. Controlling the amount of guessing for subcontractors is an area where we can all help.
Subcontractors, like most people involved in the commercial construction industry, have to clearly understand the work to bid a project accurately. As product reps, we try to work side by side with our subs to make sure they have all the information they need by the bid date so they can provide a thorough bid, but sometimes things happen outside of our control. A recent item outside of our control, and a very relevant example, would be our white-hot construction market in a booming economy.
During a construction boom, most estimating teams at the subcontractor level are working 60-70 hours a week in an attempt to keep up with the number of projects that are bidding. This doesn’t leave much, if any, time for other daily tasks. Estimators are typically very selective of what they will consider bidding during these times, will only work with general contractors (GC's) they like, will choose to bid jobs that are completely detailed and well specified, or will chose projects that fit into their available labor calendars.
Contributed by Jef McCurdy
Whether it is carefully cultivated or haphazardly ignored, every company has a culture. Top leaders create cultures that encourage quality, respect, accountability and more. These values help to create an environment where clients and staff feel confident in the value of the services or products delivered. However, culture is an often-overlooked aspect of the trades. Ask yourself this: Why would anyone want to start or continue working with you and your company?
If the answer is, “They need a job, and I’ve got work”, don’t expect to have long-term, loyal employees. Companies with weak cultures have retention issues. Because they do nothing to create loyalty, their employees are easily poached. Because they are constantly training new employees on the basics, they struggle to develop the higher-level skills required to meet client demands.
Conversely, employees in environments of appreciation, trust and development are far more likely to remain loyal and deliver greater value to your company as their skills and knowledge increase. When leadership has their backs, employees are more likely to remain engaged and proactive.
It is commonly accepted that working in the trades is supposed to be stressful, but I disagree. Hard work is expected, but bad leaders burden their staff with undue stress and uncertainty. I have found that bosses who yell the most, explain the least. I was on a job site a while back where another trade was also doing work. As I set up for my day, I noticed two of the guys arrive. They waited around for about 45 minutes until their boss finally arrived. He then berated them for at least 15 minutes for being lazy good-for-nothings for having not started working before his arrival. Their explanation that they did not know what he wanted them to do and were unable to get a hold of their boss fell on deaf ears.
The following day, the guys again arrived before their boss. Fearful of being humiliated in front of everyone on the job site again, they found work to busy themselves. On this day, their boss was an hour late and again upset with his crew. Calling them names and yelling, he said that they were idiots and should have known that their self-assigned tasks were a waste of time.
Luckily, I was quickly off to another project. But my short time with the yelling boss left me very uncomfortable, even though I didn’t have to work directly with him. Ironically, the predetermined belief that his crew was lazy and didn’t care about the quality of their work likely created that exact scenario.
Contributed by Michael Chambers
Recently, a national trade association contacted education presenters to provide them with the evaluation results for their programs. This is a large association with a very strong focus on technology and its applications in business, education, worship, and industry. Their national convention offers hundreds of hours of educational opportunities for the attendees.
In general the education programs were very well received and evaluated. Attendees rated 90% of the programs at 4 (out of 5) or above for “overall quality and interest”. However, it is interesting to note that the same attendees indicated that less than 10% of the programs were rated 4 or above for “applicability to daily practice”. In other words, attendees thought the programs were very interesting but came away with nothing they could use in day-to-day practice.
In my experience this is true of most of the continuing education that I receive from product manufacturers’ box lunches, AIA continuing education programs, and CSI Chapter presentations. The majority of them are interesting and provide USEFUL information but rarely do they ever provide USABLE information. The concept here is much like searching the web on Google™ or Yahoo™, you end up with hundreds of USEFUL items but only a tiny fraction are truly USABLE. If continuing education is to have a positive impact on the construction industry, developers and presenters are going to have to put real, applicable content into the programs.
To effectively use continuing education as a marketing and communication tool, the content presented must be directly applicable to the day-to-day operations of the audience. Information about a product’s features and benefits is quite useful, as marketing hype, but it is rarely usable since design professionals need industry information, technical data, design guidelines, and details to effectively integrate a product or system into a building project.
In any type of presentation to design professionals, the focus must be on providing USABLE rather than USEFUL information. I guaranty it will transform your relationships with design professionals and enhance your professional credibility. It is critical to provide continuing education information on how to specify the product and to provide examples and details of how to appropriately incorporate the product into the drawings. I am constantly amazed how few educational presentations even discuss specifying and even less, how to detail and coordinate the drawings.
The best and most effective presentations are extremely simple, no PowerPoint™ or flim flam, just product installation examples, guide specifications, and example construction drawings of successful installations. That is truly USABLE information and HIGHLY EFFECTIVE continuing education.
(Editor's Note: Michael D. Chambers, FCSI, FAIA, CCS is Associate Vice President and Senior Project Specifier for HGA and is responsible for the specifications in the four California offices and is principal of MCA Specifications. Michael also sits on the CONSTRUCT Education Advisory Council with Let's Fix Construction Co-Founders, Cherise Lakeside and Eric D. Lussier.
NEW FOR CONSTRUCT IN 2019!
The NEW Product Rep University Program has been designed to meet the needs of Manufacturer's Representatives of Architectural Building Products, as integral members of the project team. The program features a full day of education (6 sessions) to help you stay up to date on current trends in the industry, and refine your interactions and relationships with design professionals. Get additional details on the Product Rep University here: www.constructshow.com/PRU
Download a Product Rep University flyer here.
CONSTRUCT will be held October 9 - 11, 2019 at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, MD. Read more on CONSTRUCT here. )
Contributed by Eric D. Lussier
With 2018 behind us, and with that another great year of articles, podcasts and many workshops across the nation (and even one in Canada), Let’s Fix Construction looks forward to 2019, as do many others. A new year starts with fresh energy, renewed spirit, a hopeful change of habits and a positive outlook.
With 2019 facing us and 2018 in the rearview mirror, Let’s Fix Construction is using this post for a Call to Arms. A challenge, if you will. Hopefully you can identify your role, or more than one, in this list. Don’t see a challenge that calls to you? Identify your own. Step out of your comfort zone and move yourself and the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry forward.
Educate yourself before you proceed with your project, especially if it is your first one! Take the time to learn the roles of the major players in a building project. Vet your architect, construction manager, general contractor and any other major contractor or consultant that you are going to be contractually obligated to. You don’t have to be best friends, but it will go a long way if you know who you will be working with and get along with them. What makes them tick? What sets them off? What are their expectations? What are their expectations of you? And in the end, if you really want to educate yourself about a project, get a copy of the Construction Specifications Institute’s ‘Project Delivery Practice Guide’. It could just be the best $129 you’ve ever spent. AND save you a thousand-fold in the long run.
Projects are getting increasingly complex and the demands on you, your supporting staff and ultimately, your entire office are growing as well. The world we live in changes rapidly and with that the demands that are put on all the major players in a project. You’re being asked to do much more in much less time for the same amount of money. Practice saying no. Don’t be afraid to lose a client that expects more from you without understanding your point of view. Make sure you and your staff are compensated appropriately for your time. Track all costs and analyze your data. If you are able to reference a completed project that is similar in size and scope of a new project you are working on, you will be able to substantiate to the Owner why you have the requests, both financial and otherwise, that you do.
Contributed by Brent Williams
Hi, I’m Brent Williams and I’m a self-described construction materials geek. I come from an architecture background, but I was serendipitously detoured into the product rep world…and I’ve never looked back. Why, you ask?
Because I love working in the visual oriented design world that we live in. I’ve been lucky enough to become a hyper-specialist in one, weird little construction product. But my product is unusual & amazing, it solves a myriad of issues in the industry and I completely love my amazing job.
A big chunk of what a professional building product rep does on a daily basis is explain exactly where, why, how and how not to deploy these products to the design community. In medical terms, our friends in the Architecture world are General Practitioners, while the rep is a Micro Neurosurgeon. Architects, by the design of their craft, need to know at least a little bit about everything. Me? I need to know everything that there is about one tiny little thing. More importantly, I need to know what THEY need to know about my tiny little corner of the world.
And therein lies the magic, the alchemy, as it were. Product Reps have to communicate quickly and accurately, at an incredibly high level of proficiency, in both directions…both to and from the client. You simply must be empathetic, intuitive and proactive. Not the simplest matrix of executables and doubly tough to execute rapidly and on the fly. Nothing less than excellence will be tolerated by the modern construction industry.
An experienced rep needs to be both an incredible listener yet anticipate issues and questions almost before they are spoken. Frankly, all of us in the product representation arena either hold this skill set, or we’re not around very long. Check any employment website, or look on LinkedIn, and there are lots of vacancies for reps and lots of reps looking for employment.
If you think about it, just about everyone involved in the design industry must possess most of this skill set in order to be able to sustain the construction process. You either communicate at scale, or you’re gone. No quarter. You can’t do a proper program unless you can communicate at a very high level, with all of the constituents in and on a project.
Let's Fix Construction is an avenue to offer creative solutions, separate myths from facts and erase misconceptions about the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry.
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