How the Main Contractor Influences Construction Product Specification

In construction a contract acts as a binding agreement between the party commissioning the building project and the party responsible for carrying out the construction work. In this blog we take a look at the role of the Main Contractor in the Project Team and their influence on construction product specification.


The Construction Project Team – the role of the Contractor

The Main Contractor oversees and manages the construction of a building project. The work is delivered under a contractual agreement. There are a number of forms of contract and it is important to understand, the role of the Main Contractor will vary depending on the type of construction contract. If Traditional, then the Main Contractor’s role is to build what the architect designs; If Design & Build or PFI (now PF2) then the Main Contractor will also have responsibility for design.

The Main Contractor will also select Sub-Contractors based on their capability, availability and price. Sub-contractors include trades such as electrician, bricklayer, plasterer but also a range of specialist skills. The Main Contractor has the overall responsibility for delivering the construction project on time and on budget. If they do not then there will be penalties and/or loss of profit margin.


The Main Contractor’s influence on product specification

In both Traditional and Design & Build (D&B) contracts the Main Contractor influences product selection. In the case of Traditional this will take the form of advice to the Architect. But in D&B or PFI the Architect is employed by the Main Contractor and may even have to work from a list of approved materials. Within the Main Contractor organisation there are a number of roles with influence over product specification:

The Estimating Department want to know about the compatibility and availability of products.

  • The Contract Manager will be interested in sub-contractor familiarity and minimising disruption to the build programme.
  • The Design Manager will be interested in the most efficient solution to provide a first class outcome.
  • The Buyer will have a bill of materials and the task of driving down the cost of purchase by as much as possible.

There is a common misconception that the Main Contractor is only interested in best price. Yet by understanding the many roles within the Contractor’s organisation it is possible for the building product marketer to offer solutions which represent value, so reducing focus on price alone. This approach supports an effective specification strategy; Where you understand what is important to each specifier in the construction team and so demonstrate the value of your offering.


BIM and the Main Contractor

Main Contractors understand that BIM can deliver better quality, lower costs and more predictability in terms of delivery. A natural fit with the Main Contractor, who needs to deliver their project on time and to budget.

BIM is also facilitating a shift in relationships between Main Contractor/Sub-Contractor and the decision making unit (DMU). The collaborative environment, achieved through data sharing, means that Main Contractors and Sub-contractors are getting involved at earlier stages of construction. This in turn means influencing construction product specification through BIM enabled models, prior to on-site installation.

For this reason, to engage with Main Contractors, it is important that the manufacturer supports the BIM process. Our Construction Media Index research shows 62% of contractor respondents do not refer to the leading construction product directories. Instead the most popular sources of construction product information and ideas are manufacturer websites. To keep the Main Contractor on-side it is therefore important to have easy access to BIM content on your website.


The Construction Contract – a brief history

  • 1810 – Thomas Cubitt, founder of modern contracting, started his own building firm with a ‘modern’ system of employing all the trades under his own management.
  • 1800s General Contractors established. Fixed price contracting develops
  • 1850s High volume / low quality housing – competitive tendering and the practice of sub-contracting starts
  • 1887 RIBA members cannot hold profit making position in Contractor organisation
  • 1960’s Design and Build contracting introduced, initially to provide high rise public accommodation, Design & Build (D&B) is now widely used in commercial applications
  • 1979 Management contracting starts. Suited to complex, fast moving projects. It works best when the Client understands the construction process.
  • 1990’s Introduction of the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) or Public Private Partnership (PPP). A contracting method widely used by the UK government


What the Construction Contractor Wants from Manufacturers

In summary the Main Contractor is looking for products that offer ease of installation, good availability and represent value. They want confidence that their Sub-Contractors are familiar with installation, to avoid complications. They need to know that building work will not be delayed by lack of product availability and that the product cost remains within the estimate, so they can remain profitable.