Become the “Go-To” Person in Your Market

President's Message

Become the “Go-To” Person in Your Market

Local relationships can drive your business.

Last month, I started outlining how important relationship-building is to the future success of our industry (see Editor’s Message, November 2014). I strongly believe component manufacturers have to be proactive locally in pursuing those outside the industry, including building officials, members of the fire service, specifiers, framers and lawmakers. These people can be important sources for information, especially when challenges arise in the marketplace.

However, too often they only come to us if there’s a problem. Obviously, that’s not when you want to start forging a relationship. You want to start off on the right foot, as a reliable resource of good information who makes their job easier, long before they need you to solve an immediate issue. That’s not to say there won’t be times when there is a difference of opinion or competing agendas, but even then the discussions can be valuable.

The light bulb went on for me when I was visiting with my lawmakers in Washington, DC. While those guys are some of the most influential figures in my community, and have proven to be good at helping me resolve issues on the few instances when I have exhausted all my other alternatives, it’s really my relationships with local building officials and the fire service that provide regular value to me and my company.

One good recent example relates to the requirement for ½-inch gypsum to be applied to all unprotected floor joists that is in the 2012 and 2015 model codes (see SBC Magazine, May 2013). I have attended my local building official meetings as often as I can for the past few years and made some great friends. It’s amazing how many times something will come up that has the potential to impact our business, and I probably wouldn’t have known about it unless I was sitting there. Of course, being a regular fixture in the room has given me the opportunity to weigh in on those code issues and provide science and data gathered by SBCA staff that supports our industry’s point of view. By providing good information, the hope is it influences their ultimate decision in our favor.

Thanks to all the work SBCA staff has done on the gypsum requirement code provision, I was able to share with our local guys the many problems associated with it, including how it puts us at a significant competitive disadvantage to solid-sawn floor joists. If I hadn’t spent the time getting to know all of them, and hadn’t provided good information in the past, I highly doubt I would have been as successful informing them on their decision over this damaging code provision. Again, we don’t always agree on these issues, but we have good conversations about them, and that strengthens our positive relationships.

Another great example is field installation. Recently, I got a call from one of the building inspectors in my market. He had driven by a jobsite and noticed that the roof trusses weren’t braced properly and a storm with potentially high winds was coming. He wasn’t officially inspecting the jobsite, and didn’t even know if the trusses were mine, but he wanted to give me the heads up, just in case. It’s not hard to put a value on having eyes and ears like theirs in the market, when they are willing to look out for me and my business while they’re doing their jobs.

Along those same lines, when Jason Blenker and I were driving back home from BCMC in October, I got a call from one of our local building inspectors with a question about a stick framing application. I warned him I was traveling and couldn’t look anything up for him, but Jason and I both agreed on what we thought the code requirement was. The inspector was thinking the same thing, but just wanted to bounce the idea off of me to see what I thought. That discussion led to the three of us kicking a couple options back and forth to resolve the situation. He thanked us for our input and wished us safe travels.

After I hung up the phone, Jason laughed and remarked on the good relationship I have with those guys in my market. Even though it was a stick framing and not a component-related issue, the inspector still felt comfortable asking me about it. It’s valuable being a “go-to” guy in my market because it works both ways. I know that if I have a question about an upcoming project, I can send it to one of them to look at ahead of production to confirm that they don’t have a problem with our design. That review and approval is not a requirement of their job; they don’t have to do it. However, resolving potential issues during the plan process as opposed to fixing it after installation saves a lot of time and money. To me, this communication is priceless!

One last example relates to education. I’m sure you all can relate to the importance of installers following the guidance regarding best practices we provide in our Jobsite Packages. Errors during installation can be made worse when the building inspector doesn’t know or understand what to look for, and the problem only presents itself after the home is finished and somebody has been living in it for a few years. Going back in and fixing it can be a costly headache at best, and a lawsuit at worst. With all the new building inspectors out there with relatively little experience, it is vital that our industry reaches out to provide education on proper component installation.

Thanks to the relationships we have built over the years in our market, we have received several invitations to give educational presentations on BCSI to new-hire inspectors and hand them copies of BCSI to use in the field. Fortunately, those education sessions haven’t been limited to just new guys. I’ve had the privilege to join some of the other manufacturers in Iowa and give presentations to the building official and fire service trade groups as part of the Iowa Truss Manufacturers Association (ITMA) Chapter of SBCA. Those chapter-led presentations are an effective way to get a big bang for your buck and reach a lot of markets all at one time.

So why are these relationships so valuable to my company’s bottom line? It’s pretty simple when you think about it. The more smoothly the installation of my products goes, the fewer issues I have to confront in the field. Likewise, the less I have to overcome challenging building code provisions, the more builders will want to buy and install my products. It’s not rocket science, but I can tell you it does take a commitment on your part.

The good thing is you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Over the years, SBCA has created a lot of educational materials, handouts, slide presentations and brochures to make giving educational presentations and developing lines of communication really easy to do. Don’t hesitate—this winter, reach out to SBCA staff and get their help. Start building relationships that will pay you back for years to come.