Stand apart from the competition

Products and price are only the beginning
Jeff Razwick
March 23, 2010
COMMERCIAL : SALES

Conversations during the initial design stage were critical in the Art Institute of Chicago's Modern Wing classrooms, which use custom, slender fire-rated aluminum frames to improve visibility and provide fire protection.

As glaziers know all too well, numerous competitors are vying for the attention of the same set of customers. Whether you’re announcing new products from suppliers or competing on price, you can bet the company across town is doing so, as well. In an era where new jobs are hard to come by, this challenge is more pointed than ever.

While pricing is certainly critical in the current building market, a key to business success is providing value beyond a low bid number. There are many things the glazing industry can do to help make architects’ and general contractors’ jobs easier, and to support them in developing well-performing and attractive buildings.

Educate, educate, educate

To remain at the forefront of innovative building design and construction, architects and general contractors must stay abreast of current research and code updates in a multitude of areas. They constantly juggle fire and life safety concerns, green building standards and other performance criteria.

With so many product options in the market, the reality is that design and building professionals simply don’t have the time to fully keep track of which ones best meet evolving codes and standards. Glaziers can help narrow the research lens by providing education on the latest glazing products, and how they relate to emerging design challenges, from issues such as installation to improved long-term energy performance.

Another way to show value is to have expertise on how glazing products perform in the field as part of a system. In the not too distant past, architects and general contractors primarily looked to glaziers for glass lites, storefront and curtain wall products, but today they are also looking for sunshades, louvers, composite panels, window framing materials and a host of other materials and systems. No product performs in isolation, and understanding how your company’s offerings work together, as well as with materials from other companies, can provide an important boost over the competition.

During informational sessions with architects or general contractors, spend extra time on products with dual or triple functionality. Products that fall into this category are constantly evolving due to technological advancements, yet are critical to identify for customers tasked with satisfying various project requirements. For example, multifaceted products meet aesthetic goals, satisfy life safety codes and can help meet energy efficiency requirements. Knowing how various glazing systems support green building goals – especially for daylighting – can help design and building teams earn points towards green building certifications, such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.

When more education is desired, point architects to continuing education courses on glazing topics that are registered with the American Institute of Architects, Washington, D.C. Many suppliers offer company-neutral content that can help design professionals advance their knowledge, as well as fulfill licensing requirements.

Get involved early

Capturing new business when projects are scarce requires getting involved early, including reaching out to architects in the building planning stage. This is critical to gaining insight into the criteria and parameters of projects. The more complete your understanding of how an architect envisions glazing playing into a building, the better you can position your products and services for the job – whether developing pricing options, product upgrades or offering custom work. If you haven’t worked with a particular architect or firm before, consider building off relationships developed through training and educational sessions to get an initial foot in the door. This stage in the process provides an opportunity to invite in the manufacturer or supplier to supplement your own team’s expertise, if needed.

Early collaboration also can help identify whether your glazing products are best suited for the job. Despite a decrease in the availability of projects, offering products without fully considering performance just to make a sale or meet budget demands might permanently damage customer relationships. Under-delivering can lead to re-ordered products, project delays and onsite custom work that cost more in the long term.

Conversations during the initial stages of a project also help resolve aesthetic issues that can arise when re-configuring systems to meet code requirements. For many architects, potential trade-offs between codes and appearance are hard to swallow. Open and honest talk in the planning stage can help architects set realistic expectations on how codes or performance requirements might impact aesthetics, while leaving time for creative problem solving. Glaziers and suppliers that identify these issues and then work together to solve those problems are better equipped to make product or design adjustments that get the system closer to the look the architect is after. The extra time afforded by collaboration also is critical because system adjustments might require additional testing.

Dialoguing with suppliers is an easy way to provide quick, correct answers for the architect or general contractor. Suppliers might offer various support tools such as shop-drawings, additional installation information, and useful online tools to show product compliance with code requirements.

Stay top-of-mind

Maintaining relationships with architects and contractors is just as important as developing them. While the extra hours in the planning room and on the job site speak volumes about the integrity and quality of work your glazing company provides, there is more than a parcel of truth to the old adage, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Consider supplementing informational sessions with end-use photos of product applications or arrange for one-on-one meetings to discuss how your offerings can meet or be adjusted to fulfill various design and construction requirements. This is another area where the manufacturer or supplier can be a resource. Reach out even when there are no active jobs, as their next one might be coming up soon. These simple actions can leave a lasting impression, as well as demonstrate that your company is up-to-date on the latest trends.
 

The author is the vice president of business development for Technical Glass Products, Snoqualmie, Wash., 800/426-0279, www.fireglass.com, www.tgpamerica.com.