Construction Product Specification – The Keystone to your Strategy

If your building product has the lowest cost in the market, allowing you to win work by undercutting the competition, then you don’t need a specification strategy. Just focus on getting your construction product stocked in the maximum number of builders’ merchants and distributors.

However, if you do not have that cost advantage, or wish to maximise your margin, select the specification strategy approach, focusing on the benefits your building product brings the construction project. Benefits could be ease of installation, life time cost, sustainability, aesthetics or superior performance – to name a few.

Investing in a specification strategy will create awareness of your building products and the benefits they offer. This then creates demand pull. This awareness creation strategy can be applied to Clients, Architects, Engineers and Interior Designers. It should also include influencers like the Quantity Surveyor and specialist consultants. When developing your strategy there is a whole tool box available to help you influence specification; literature, CPD seminars and design aids for example. But most important is a set of well written product specifications.

What is specification in construction?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a specification as

A detailed description of the construction, workmanship, materials, etc., of work done or to be done, prepared by an architect, engineer, etc.”

Its role is to provide the information which cannot easily be shown on a drawing. It also forms part of the contract. Importantly, if an alternative product is proposed it provides the basis for comparison to assess its equivalence.

This last point is really important should an alternative product be proposed – probably as a result of ‘Value Engineering’ then the original specification will provide the check list of what makes a product the same.

Writing a specification for a construction product

By providing the architect or engineer with a product specification you are helping them to define what they want on the project. Many specifiers will tell you that they find writing product specifications really difficult, and responding to a contractor’s proposed changes challenging. Most importantly, by providing well written specification it will make it harder for the sub-contractor to switch your product to an alternative.

There are two broad forms of specification:

Performance Specification: In this no products are named, but the key performance criteria are set out. This might include types of materials, reference standards and levels of experience of the installer. All are key factors in ensuring that the element does its job as intended. Creating a well written performance specification is quite difficult and requires a good understanding of the application. Very often performance specifications are inadequately written which leads to product substitution and an installation which does not perform as the specifier intended.

Nominated or Proprietary Specification: Here the specifier names a brand, or number of brands, that are acceptable. For the specifier this is much easier as they know the credentials of the product and do not need to describe it. But the performance criteria are just as important, as these make it clear what is to be compared to decide if the product is ‘Equivalent’ or ‘Equal’.

So, the manufacturer needs to have available well written specifications in both a Performance and Proprietary format. These should include clauses which describe all of the key benefits of the product. Very often other marketing collateral will be driven by this. The case study or CPD seminar for example describing why and how the specific features are important to the overall performance of the building, of which the product will be a part.

It is also important to make sure these specifications are easily accessible. They need to be available as downloads from your website, in a form that can be emailed to specifiers by your technical department or the sales team. And they should be distributed at the end of a CPD seminar.

A set of well written product specifications is key to your construction product specification strategy and it is vital that you get it right. Without a well written product specification the effort, and cost, invested in the awareness creating phase is wasted.