Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Theft of a Sale (Bryant Wheeler)

I was drug up in the construction industry as my father was before me. I was tarring foundation walls as soon as a brush would fit in my hands. It was a time when your word carried more merit than a signature on a paper. When a contractor not only built a building he also built a reputation. A reputation of self-worth, value, character and honoring one’s word. This stood in life no matter if it were private or business affairs.
Polycrete USA still recognizes and lives by these values. Sure we get things in writing – but the word of a person or business still holds value to this day. We see and hear all too often in this ICF industry where an installer or distributor is working on a deal but the manufacture takes it in house because they are afraid to lose a truck load of forms. Maybe they think the person working the sale can't close it. Or maybe perhaps they just jumped the gun. Either way, if it’s your lead, it should be your sale.
When the manufacture takes your customer in house for whatever reason without your consent this is theft of a sale.
If you, the installer, contractor or manufactures rep, feel you can't close the deal on a PolycreteUSA lead you should call for help. I for one love to help close deals. But it’s still your sale. We are not going to sell direct without paying the rep, and we are not going to send another crew to the site to do the erection. That is your job.
We know how hard you work to make a sale -- so much goes into it. First you must get the lead from somewhere. If it’s by word of mouth this is because you have built a reputation with someone and that’s a beautiful thing.
If the contact comes from a lead source this costs hard earned money out of your pocket. Either way you put countless hours into working this sale. From convincing the customer that is the best way to build, to working with their architect and making suggestions to their engineer.
It could be a developer you have to pitch. Maybe you point out a tax incentive, insurance breaks, make site visits and general schmoozing -- most of the time it is all of the above including your reputation for doing good honest work.
Coming from the construction industry, later joining the Marine Corps then back into construction, acting honorably has been imbedded into me and this is why we do what we do. I would like to challenge ALL the manufacturers and installers to try to live by these values. To assert great character and build this industry on honesty and self-respect.
This industry has seen the bottom. Let’s all of us grab our boot straps now and pick it back up. Work together for the greater good. We need to do this with old values and new technologies. If we treat our partners, supply chains, and distribution channels ethically and honorably we can show America that ICF technology’s time has come.

Bryant Wheeler, Executive VP
Richmond, Virginia

Monday, November 3, 2014

Sometimes the ICF industry is its own worst enemy.

A picture in a recent issue of Concrete Homes and Low Rise Construction is just one of many examples I see happening.

Forty-three feet off the ground, there are no hard hats, no guardrails on the scaffold, no safety line, no backup man on the pump nozzle, no internal vibration, walk board cantilevered dangerously off to one side, and another walk board appears to be a TJI! This sets a bad example for ICF in general – makes installers look irresponsible to GCs. Worse yet, the general public may think this is perfectly fine.

Recently, an ICF installer proudly posted a well-produced video of his pour on YouTube. Again, no hard hats, no safety rails and no internal vibration. There’s a guy on the ground, directly beneath the nozzle man banging on the wall with a 2x4! One commenter asked if that’s the manufacturer’s recommended way to vibrate the wall. Another mentioned that it did not look OSHA compliant. The installer replied that the job was “out in the middle of nowhere,” so OSHA was not likely to drop by.

Irresponsible installers and suppliers are damaging our industry. There is a debacle underway on a higher-education project  right now. An ICF manufacturer persuaded a large well-known GC that the ICF spec as written was too tight and if they allowed in the lower grade block and a cheaper installer, they’d save some money.

The result is a big mess -- walls out of plumb and straightness. The GC reportedly tried to find another installer to take over the job, but no reputable installer wants to go near it. I don’t know what the job’s status is now. The GC, who we’ve been working on for years, told us their ICF experiment is likely over. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

This is a pattern we’ve seen repeatedly on Military bases. ICF manufacturers chase each other’s prices down to absurd levels. The manufacturer agrees to sell material direct to the GC at a cut-rate price and pressures the installer to bid a low, labor only price. What does this accomplish other than the sale of a few truckloads of material at little or no profit? Well, for one thing, it creates an impression in the commercial/government market that pricing SHOULD be $11 or $12 per sqft for a multi-story building at prevailing wage, which is nonsense.

There’s more: The manufacturer takes money out of his installer’s pocket by eliminating his margin on the product and encouraging him to cut his profit on the labor portion. Top installers won’t allow themselves to be pressured by suppliers, so you end up with a less qualified installer. It also creates bitterness on the installer’s part, reduces his margin of error and moves him to cut costs and corners. When something goes wrong, he’s more likely to walk away because he can get upside down very quickly.

Since ICF construction is relatively new to the commercial market, most GCs are still not knowledgeable about its vagaries.  Estimators are encouraged to buyout as aggressively as possible. When a less than ethical salesperson starts pushing a cut-rate price, the estimator lets himself get talked into believing there will be no difference in the final product -- even though common sense tells him otherwise. When you’ve got four subs bidding $15 a foot and one at $11, it’s probably not the $15 guys that are out in left field.

Far too often, these stories have ugly endings and when the finger pointing starts, it’s ICF construction in general that gets the blame. That big influential GC that we want on our side is left with a bad taste in its mouth. In the corporate world, new things that go bad rarely get a second chance.

When we raise these issues on various ICF forums, we are told to quit being negative and just say happy things – be supportive of our industry.

Well we’re happy to say that there are good products out here that are good for building houses and there are good products out here that work best in commercial. There are great installers doing terrific work all across the country. But every ICF is not the solution to every job and picking the installer’s pocket will not motivate him to do his best work.

I challenge the rest of the industry to increase installer training and standards, stop referring business to any sub willing to install your product and end this cannibalization so our industry can achieve the respect and credibility it deserves.

(This article was originally printed in Concrete Homes and Low Rise Construction Magazine September 2014)