By Mike Markovsky
Special to CONTRACTOR
MAYBE IT’S A function of the growth of the Internet, the widespread availability of “tons” of information or maybe it’s that the consuming public is just watching things a little closer than they have in the past. But suffice it to say that people today are generally more savvy and demanding.
You probably see it in your own life. When I have something done for me today, I ask far more questions than I did in the past and I watch the progress of my contracted-out projects far closer than ever before.
The mentality of new millennium purchasers — both in their personal and professional lives — is to question and watch. They arm themselves with facts, know what they want and aren’t reticent to complain if they don’t get it!
But, even more than that, today we award our business in “turnkey” chunks. In the customer’s mind, the contractor is responsible for the quality of the finished job, even if some aspects of the job are perhaps beyond the contractor’s control.
For example, a contractor wins a bid by allowing a spec change to a marginal, albeit lower cost, perhaps more readily available product. While he did bring down the cost of the project, he probably hasn’t done himself a favor. That’s because the customer isn’t going to cut him any slack for saving cost on the front end when a problem occurs with the inferior product later on. Ever been there?
Recently my company completed a comprehensive market research project for the Haws Corp., a major plumbing products manufacturer. We talked to specifiers, buyers, owners, contractors and distributors — the entire product distribution chain. We obtained some interesting results, including:
l As a group, contractors were the least likely channel constituent to actively seek out information about plumbing product innovations through any media, including both print and online. Of the contractors polled, 43% do not seek out product innovations via any media.
While obviously not representative of every contractor, this leads us to believe that many contractors are either sticking with their traditional, tried-and-true products or relying on distributors to keep them current with advancements. In either case, it’s really a slippery slope!
Today, with almost constant product advancements, “tried and true” is another way of saying “obsolete.” And, with markets being as competitive as they are, distributors are sometimes motivated to find and sell the lowest priced products available in order to win jobs, regardless of quality.
l Architects and engineers both lay claim to making the final decision regarding brands of plumbing products to be used in their jobs, 67% and up to 90%, respectively. Available independent data suggest that these specifiers generally prefer and spec higher quality products, which ultimately add value to their work and the contractor’s. The current research project, however, indicates that changes to specs are far more prevalent than the specifiers sometimes believe. Ignorance is bliss?
l Contractors often change specified products due to availability, price or other considerations. While changes are necessary in some instances to keep jobs progressing, high change rates (often more than 30%) can be detrimental to finished projects.
The issue to be considered here is that if the architect, engineer or both specified a higher quality product in the best interest of the project — and as a means of adding value to his professional involvement (and ultimately the contractor’s) — is that effort being undermined by the contractor installing a lesser quality product? Only time will tell, but it seems to be a chance not worth taking because the contractor is the one most likely to be left holding the bag!
In the end, the quality of the products used in most large plumbing jobs is in the control of the contractor, as it should be. But, the research project left us wondering how often circumstances, cost pressures and aggressive distributors — who stock and press lower quality products — place the contractor in harm’s way.
Mike Markovsky is a senior partner of Sparks, Nev.-based Fast Forward Strategies, a business strategy development company that is focused on accelerating business primarily in B2B enterprises of varying sizes. FFS works with clients to develop and implement short- and long-term growth plans. He can be reached at 775/772-7730. The company’s Web site is www.fastforwardstrategies.com.