Helping Specifiers to Achieve Design and Performance That is Fit for Purpose

The unfortunate events of the Grenfell Tower fire of 14th June 2017 and the interim review by Dame Judith Hackitt that followed, highlight what many in the industry already know – that there is often widespread deviation between what is designed and what is built.

For manufacturers this is most apparent as specification switching, often following a process of value engineering by the contractor, leading to product substitution. As a result of Grenfell it is likely that the culture of constructing to the minimum standard may start to change. To get a sense of this we conducted research in December 2017 to see if Architect and Engineer attitudes had started to change, and the implication this has for manufacturers. In this blog we consider what changes manufacturers can make to help achieve construction fit for purpose.

How can the manufacture reduce specification switching?

The construction product manufacturer should provide standard specification clauses, not only does it save the specifier time, but ensures your product is correctly described. With thought your specification documentation can be written to minimise the opportunity for specifications to be switched. But, it is important that the specifier understands the contribution the key features of your product make, so that they are included.

This also encompasses BIM data. Although still evolving, BIM is a real opportunity for the construction marketer when used as part of your communication strategy.

Manufacturers can help specifiers to understanding the design and performance implications of product via CPD (Continuing Professional Development) seminars. CPD seminars are an effective way to engage with the specifier. Most professionals are required to complete 35 hours of CPD each year. CPD seminars are a proactive way to introduce your company and demonstrate technical competence. It presents an opportunity for the manufacturer to engage directly with specifiers, although an overt sales pitch is a definite no.

You can then extend this engagement via technical support, providing further points of contact with the specifier. Technical support can be at hand to ensure the correct specification selection, and an effective advice service will build the manufacturer’s reputation.

When selecting products, part of the specifier’s decision-making process will be evaluating the level of technical support available in terms of competence, speed and ease of access

Make it easy to access the technical information on your product. This means providing a section on your website which can be easily accessed with technical data, approvals, test reports and drawings available as downloads.  Have easy direct contact with your technical team and ensure your frontline staff have a good level of technical knowledge and are able to answer at least 80% of questions immediately.

Training contractors is also important. This is both at the management level and on site. For estimators and contracts managers, an understanding of the difference between products and the significance of the product features means they are less likely to eliminate them through value engineering. At the installer level, it is vital they understand how to correctly install products and appreciate the impact that taking shortcuts can have. Although not appropriate to all products, an improved installer scheme has a lot of merit. By instructing the contractor, and their individual installers, about your product and its correct installation it will reduce product substitution and ensure better quality of installation. It also allows the manufacturer to offer reassurance to the specifier that products will be fitted correctly.

Evaluate the tools you have to assist with specification

When developing an effective specification strategy for your construction product it is important to create demand, and reduce the influence of price by demonstrating relevant benefits to each member of the DMU. If a decision maker is not aware of the benefits of one product over another they will inevitably select the cheaper product.

There are a number of steps that the construction marketer can take to assist the specifier. The above services are just some of the tools to hand for the manufacturer looking to influence specification. There are also other more generic marketing tools, such as website, blog articles, email, case studies, technical literature and product samples.

Specifiers will be receptive to technical information and advice at the appropriate time. And they will be happy to have a dialogue with a manufacturer or supplier who can provide good quality, comprehensive information on demand. This approach should be at the core of your marketing and your specification strategy.

Small changes make big differences

While it is hoped that Dame Judith Hackitt’s report will lead to action by government and industry, we detect that there is already a change in the attitude of specifiers. There are many small changes product manufacturers, and not just those involved with fire protection, can start to make now to support this and contribute to ensuring that buildings constructed today are fit for purpose.