What Informs Your Construction Buying Process?

Cover Page for Construction Buyer White Paper
BuyerZone releases results of poll showing the preferences of construction buyers.

If you make decisions about what to buy for your construction company then you might be interested in knowing how your peers feel about the way sellers approach them. You also might be surprised to learn how other construction buyers find their vendors. Besides telling you if you follow similar patterns as the others, this could also come in handy by offering some new ideas, or, showing you just how far out-of-the-ordinary you might be.

Perhaps you’d be surprised to find out that while 75 percent of construction buyers use word-of-mouth as the primary way to find vendors for the products and services they need, almost as many, 71 percent, heavily rely on general Internet searches. You don’t need to wonder if you are behind the times by not using social media to find vendors because most of your peers aren’t using it either. And, if you find yourself trusting the reviews of total strangers on the Internet when you are making your final buying decisions, then you are not alone. More people trust those reviews than the recommendations from colleagues.

One thing more than half of construction buyers have in common is they want to see the price on the Website. Not only that, they want all the information to be there, including specifications, MSDS and the complete product listing. You can find out all the peculiar details about how construction buyers choose products and vendors by downloading a free white paper from BuyerZone.

For those of you who are actively looking to sell to construction buyers this is most definitely an eye-opening report. Perhaps very telling was the list of things construction buyers view as their most challenging issues. Below, you can take a survey with responses covering the typical answers found in the BuyerZone survey.

[poll id=”6″]

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Insurance Industry Begins Looking at Materials and Installers in the Wake of Disasters

A U.S. Coast Guard aircrewman searches for sur...
New Orleans (August 30, 2005) – U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Shawn Beaty of Long Island, N.Y., looks for survivors in the wake of Hurricane Katrina as he flies in an HH-60J Jayhawk helicopter over New Orleans.Image via Wikipedia

The cost to insurance companies when people loose their buildings to natural disasters is perhaps one reason the insurance industry has embarked on an enthusiastic effort to quantify and qualify the worthiness of materials and construction practices used in buildings.

For example, the payouts from hurricane Katrina will total about $60 billion when the calculators stop tallying. That number will even eclipse the payouts from 9/11, the biggest insurance payout in the country’s history up to that time. So, it seems the insurance industry wants to identify the culprits that are running up the tabs. Its sights are set on building materials and the people who install them and it will soon have a brand new, disaster-creating facility that is expected to uncover why buildings fall apart in hurricanes, severe thunderstorms and wind-driven wildfires. According to an article in Engineering News Record:

The Institute for Building and Home Safety (IBHS), a Tampa, Fla.-based insurance industry group whose member companies are sick of paying for losses to buildings that fail in heavy weather are finishing up the construction of a $40-million building materials and assemblies test facility nearing completion in Chester County, S.C.

The insurance industry expects the results of its research at the new facility will lead to a massive reduction in how much it spends every year for roofing materials needed to replace storm-damaged roofs. The reduction in expense will pay for the test facility. You can read all about the engineering marvels associated with the facility at the link above. The fan tower that can withstand 8,000 pounds of thrust and the fire pit that will produce a rain of molten embers are the kinds of features that might even have Hollywood camping out on its doorstep.

But what builders and materials manufacturers should really take note of is the interest here in finding out who, or what are the weak links in building when it comes to natural disasters. As one of the the principle engineers on the job says:

“We need to get rid of all the smoke screens that come up after these events,” said Timothy A. Reinhold, describing how the material manufacturers and installers invariably start blaming each other’s work whenever building systems fail.

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Try Capturing Your Ideas Before They Slip Out Your Ears

Car covered in post-it notes -- closeup of notes
Image via Wikipedia

I was thinking about “ideas” today and how they seem to arrive on a slipstream of vapor, float across our consciousness and then leave through our ears, since those are the closest exits to our brains. They are often processed in quick order, freeing our minds up for the next task or the next random thought that seems interesting.

It doesn’t seem that most ideas are acted upon. In fact, it seems that most ideas get pushed through a standardized filter and are quickly discarded when they:

  1. Don’t solve an immediate problem;
  2. Can’t possibly make us rich or famous;
  3. Require too much work; and/or
  4. Are something nobody else can see the value of.

In construction companies, ideas offer the chance to look exceedingly brilliant, or amazingly stupid. So, many people just let the ideas flow right out their ears because the risk is just too great.

Over at The Heart of Innovation the writer offers the idea that innovation is often radically helped out by accident. Penicillin, vulcanized rubber and Post-It notes all came about quite by accident. But then, someone recognized the value in the accidents and had ideas about uses for them. They followed through.


Lisa Barone at the Business Insider (she’s no longer there) laments the follow-the-leader syndrome in today’s business culture where everybody is trying to build something on everyone else’s original ideas. She wrote:

You’re noting what’s working from your competitor and you’re finding ways to integrate the same thing into your business. The problem is you’re not bettering what they’re doing. You’re just adding it on like an also-ran. That’s not innovation. That’s reactive catch up. It’s not how you stand out, it’s not how you steal market, it’s not how you create a point of difference for your company.

There seems to be widespread agreement by the people who write about innovation that it’s something that must be fostered from the top down. In her revealing interview with Executive Travel Magazine, Suzanne Fetscher, MFA, president of the McColl Center for Visual Art, an international artists’ think tank in Charlotte, N.C., made it clear the push from the top is necessary, both because the process of inspiring innovation has to be funded, and because it has to be important enough to prevent it from being placed on the back burner for “when there’s time.” She said that’s especially important during tough economic times.

“The natural tendency during uncertain economic times is to look for ways to reduce costs, which for many companies means reductions in advertising, marketing, and research and development. These companies are fundamentally eating their seed corn and setting the stage for even further decline. They are also failing to position themselves for the next upturn, which historically has always occurred.”

Fetscher mentioned these tips for creating and maintaining innovative company cultures:

  • Leaders must realize the opportunistic and challenging aspects of their own creativity.
  • Leaders have to recognize that everyone is innately creative.
  • Creativity and innovation must be built into the company’s processes.
  • Companies have to foster environments that stress the free flow of ideas.
  • Companies must make the processes that encourage innovation as accountable as any other business process.

While construction is often hamstrung on the innovation front due to codes, specifications and the “way it’s always been done,” that doesn’t mean it has to be creatively uninspired. Who would have thought that the time worn process of framing a wall could ever be changed, but it was, several years ago to make the framing more amenable to insulation, yielding more energy-efficient buildings. Most industry watchers also point out that construction has a productivity problem, and has for a long time. Innovation on that front, and many others related to day-to-day business practices are ripe for some creativity and fresh ideas.

When I look at the world through my own distorted and filter-ridden lenses, ideas appear to be the things that bring freshness to the view. They are kind of like how the air feels right after the storm has passed – all fresh and cool. Maybe we need to start capturing a few of them before they slip out our ears.

Do You Know the True Identity of Your Electrical Parts, Supplies and Equipment?

Counterfeit electrical product moulding room
This moulding area in a counterfeit electrical products factory claimed to be compliant with ISO 9001. (Courtesy British Electro-technical and Allied Manufacturers)

Here’s a problem that just won’t seem to go away and according to Design Chain Associates, a service provider to the electrical industry, prevention of counterfeit electrical products is at best formidable, and at worst impossible. Underwriters Laboratory began a partnership with the U.S. Customs Service as far back as 1995 to train agents in detecting counterfeits, and industry associations that represent manufacturers have been running aggressive ad and public service campaigns reporting on the counterfeit electrical products problem. Still, these products account for between $300 and $400 million of the $1 billion in total counterfeit products sold in the U.S. each year, according to a joint Website sponsored by The Electrical Contractor Magazine and TED Magazine.

This is much more than a U.S. problem. The British Electro-technical and Allied Manufacturers reported in 2009 that other regions in the world have counterfeit electrical products in their supply chains, and in-use, that are large percentages of their total electrical products.

  • Africa 25 to 75 percent
  • Middle East 20 to 40 percent
  • Eastern Europe 10 to 40 percent

According to Robert K. Lowry with Oneida Research Services, Inc., 70 percent of counterfeit electrical products originate in China and up to 25 percent of the products in the electrical supply chain are counterfeit. But he cites other sources too, such as:

  • Scrap and obsolete products intercepted on their way to disposal or lifted directly from dumpsters;
  • Products at the end of their service life that are shipped to Asia for disposal because of the more lenient environmental disposal regulations there;
  • Legitimate product with brands removed or covered over;
  • Factories running third shifts to turn out lower quality products using less experienced employees and then selling the products at a discount.

The old mindset of “anything to make a buck” is definitely at work here. Besides the losses to the electrical manufacturers who have to compete with cheaper products, there is a danger with products that are not built the way they should be built by using the processes and materials that have proven to make safer electrical products. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission offers some tips for spotting, and dealing with counterfeit electrical products.

  • Scrutinize the product, the packaging and the labeling. Look for a certification mark from an independent testing organization, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), and the manufacturer’s label. Trademarked logos that look different than usual may signal a counterfeit.
  • Trust your instincts. If the price is “too good to be true,” it could be because the product is an inferior and unsafe counterfeit.
  • Be extra vigilant when buying from an unknown source such as a street vendor, non-authorized dealer, dollar store, online retailer or an individual. Ask about the return policy. Get a receipt and look for missing sales tax. Businesses selling counterfeit goods often don’t report their sales.
  • Stay informed. Sign up for CPSC e-mail alerts, so when a dangerous product is recalled, you’ll know about it right away.
  • Report safety-related incidents to the manufacturer or CPSC.

It’s becoming truer and truer everyday that you really need to know not only who is working at the job site, but what they are installing.

    Remember When There Was Unlimited Bandwidth?

    Various cell phones displayed at a shop.
    Image via Wikipedia

    I had to revisit this concept when I read that as Verizon rolls out its 4G service it is planning on charging based on the bandwidth you use. Almost in lockstep, AT&T announced no more unlimited plans for new customers. In the meantime, Connected Planet reported we have entered the zone of zettabytes, (that’s 1 billion terabytes), to describe the looming growth in global Internet traffic.

    According to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index, global internet traffic has increased to an amount that equals 16 billion DVDs and it is set to increase 39 times by 2014. So, it’s either time to buy some stock in a bandwidth provider that has a good game plan, or at least start thinking about how you are going to handle your construction company’s 200 cell phones that are streaming way more than just business stuff. Will you have to clamp down on the transfers of preschoolers performing in holiday plays, or Tuesday night soccer matches where junior scores a point? How about all the new HD downloaded video? It’s expected to be 42 percent of all Internet video traffic by 2014. You really don’t think this cash cow is going to slip through the fingers of the bandwidth owners and controllers, do you? It’s already affecting the technology sector. Google had to ask people to turn off their cell phones at a recent news conference as it was announcing its TV service so the show could go on. The Wi-Fi network couldn’t handle the load associated with the cell phones present. Sure, it’s just a Wi-Fi network but it highlights the apparent fact that not even those who push the products have a clue of what’s really going on. Steve Jobs had a similar problem at a recent iPhone 4 release conference.

    It’s not just in the so-called developed countries. India has been going through a broadband price auction with prices rising six times over 12 days.

    Here’s my take on it from a construction perspective. Like always the capitalist motive is to create demand. Once demand is there, then it’s time to move-in for the monthlies. With regular monthly payments there is cash flow. Now, imagine a world where bandwidth is sold with a monthly charge for say 10GB of data transfers. Add a premium when the 10GBs are exceeded and you can see why it might be important to start thinking about how your company uses bandwidth. And that’s not just cell phone bandwidth, but computer bandwidth, equipment control bandwidth, and job and security monitoring bandwidth. Let’s also not forget the cloud computing model that continues its ascent into the stratosphere. It’s all bandwidth, and those who get a handle on how efficiently they use it today, will have systems that still work well tomorrow. Of course I’m sure you will always be able to hire a “bandwidth consultant” to fix it all if you wait too long.

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    It’s a Brave New World of Tile and Stone

    Play The Podcast


    Listen in to this Construction Informer podcast with Collier Ward, an architect with CASA Design in Hunstville, Alabama. Ward is also a LEED AP and recently spent time at the Coverings show, which is billed as the largest stone and tile convention in North America. He found some fascinating technology coming from that quarter.

    Ward describes tile from Casalgrande Padana that took two international awards. The tiles are full-mass, glazed stoneware with antibacterial properties that can reduce the four main bacterial strains by 99.9 percent.
    During the production process, the ceramic material is mixed in the paste with mineral particles that generate an extremely effective antibacterial reaction. These results, that have been documented and certified by Modena University, are evidence of the extraordinary potentials of the product which can be used in any field where a high performance in terms of hygiene, cleanliness, safety and ease of maintenance is needed, such as: health-care facilities, research laboratories, nurseries, schools, swimming-pools, sporting facilities, fitness centres, changing rooms, utility rooms, private or communal kitchens, canteens, restaurants, food and agricultural industries, and so on.

    A similar product comes from Fiandre Architectural Surfaces and is called Active. This product comes from a new process created by Fiandre and Iris Ceramica that applies titanium dioxide powders to the tiles. This material reacts with light to constantly sanitize their surfaces.

    Ward also reveals industry efforts to make tile recycling a reality and he talks about some new LEED credits that are now available for these kinds of products.

    Listen in!

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