Expand your scope

The risks and rewards of new product and service offerings
By Tom O’Malley
December 16, 2009

To remain competitive, glaziers are expanding the scope of their projects to include products like these perforated sunshades on the Clark State College campus in Springfield, Ohio. Photos by Doralco.

In the 13 years I have been in the construction industry as an architectural aluminum fabricator, I have seen the scope of the glazing contractor change dramatically to include not just storefront and curtain wall, but the complete building envelope. The products and services the glazing contractor has had to take on are quite impressive: sunshades, louvers, composite and plate panels, steel canopies and stone, to name a few.

The reality is that customers want a one-stop shop, and glazing contractors have had to include additional scope in their contracts to be awarded projects. In addition to other glazing companies, contract glaziers are competing with the sheet metal, steel fabricator and roofing contractor trades, which are picking up scope on jobs that easily could fall into the glazing package.

Including new and unfamiliar product offerings is scary, but imagine the alternative: not being awarded jobs as your competition passes you by. Obviously, there is a risk involved; and like anything new, there is a learning curve. But by reaching out to some of your existing suppliers and being receptive to new ones, you can learn a lot about these sunshade, louver and panel products. You will find they are not that different than the products you work with now. If you have a good network of suppliers, a solid estimating and project management team, and an engineer you can trust, you will be successful.

How to find the right supplier
The key to making these extra products work is to find suppliers you can count on as partners. There are many avenues to do so: industry publications, the Internet, the McGraw-Hill Construction Sweets Network, Arcat, and trade shows like GlassBuild America, the American Institute of Architects National Convention, Metalcon and Greenbuild.

Ask a supplier representative to come to your office and give a presentation. This will make your entire staff aware of the product source. Too often, just an estimator or project manager meets with a vendor and doesn’t pass along their information.

Ask the vendor to share information on local and national work they have done and the companies they have supplied products to. You will be surprised by what your competition is buying.

Lastly, visit the supplier’s office to get a feel for how they operate. Seeing if their facilities are organized and clean can help you determine whether they’re a good fit for your company.

Start slowly
If you are uncomfortable starting out with a sizeable sunshade, louver or panel job with your installers, look for a source that can install for you. In each city, there are labor-only companies willing to take on the installation risk. You can observe how they do the work while still making your customer happy.

For the first job or two, buy a completely fabricated product rather than building something from stock lengths. It requires more labor and assembly time than you think.

Do your own takeoff
Do your own takeoff for these products. If your supplier makes a mistake on its takeoff, you do not want to be short on labor. This also will allow you to do a proper scope review to make sure you are being quoted the correct quantity/square footage and design.

Watch out for companies that divert from the intended look because they do not have the ability to supply the desired product. Do not make a supplier choice based solely on price. Price is obviously important, but so is a proper scope review. You do not want to be halfway through a job and find out your supplier bid you something completely different than what the architect wants.

In tough times, these additional product offerings will help maintain or grow your revenues. As a one-stop stop, you may be able to sell at a slight premium.


The author is vice president of sales, Doralco Inc., Alsip, Ill. Write him at Tom.OMalley@doralco.com.