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What Good Reps Know (and You May Not)


By Bob Bailey, AIA, CCS

So that you don’t think my previous post was just a screed against manufacturers and their product reps, let me tell you about the other side of the coin.

Earlier this year, I had the good fortune to attend CSI’s Master Specifiers Retreat. And what the event reinforced for me is something that every spec writer worth his or her salt knows: the importance of the design professional/product rep relationship.

architectural products
© iStock photo / Mlenny

Architectural specification writers can't know everything about every material, product, assembly or system. That’s where industry partners become essential.

When product reps met with me at the Retreat, it wasn’t about selling product; it was about offering assistance to the spec community from their expertise in their respective fields.

And in case you think that I believe manufacturer and product reps have no idea what they’re doing in terms of spec writing, I’ll tell you that I had several at the Retreat review and comment on my specifications.

Relationships and Respect

Architects who are high-handed in dealing with product reps would do well to remember the relationships that often exist between the specifiers and the reps.

Specifiers have to know a lot about many different products, systems and assemblies, so being able to rely on a trusted product rep to get a no-bullcrap answer is very important. It’s a position that both sides earn.

Welcome reception at D+D 2014
© Technology Publishing Company

Valuable benefits can come from a trust-based relationship with a manufacturer's product rep.

And there are reps who are only too happy to help you with your specification, simply on the theory that a rising tide floats all boats—in other words, it improves the playing field for all manufacturers of that particular product.

The Benefits of a New Attitude

So for the architectural project manager or designer, here’s some salt: Please don’t give product reps the old “you’re only good enough to talk to when I really need something” attitude and treat them like the worst used-car huckster you’ve ever met.

Here are five valuable benefits you can reap from a trust-based relationship with a product rep:

An informed opinion of a competitor’s product.  Yes, there are many reps out there who will admit to the quality of the competition’s products. Some will even go as far as to tell you that their product is not suitable for an application, and a competitor’s is.

Bob Bailey and Todd Garner
Bob Bailey

Specifier Bob Bailey says he learns a lot from manufacturers' reps, including Todd Garner, CSI, IIDA, contract regional sales manager for Draper Inc.

Advice on the best competitors to list in the spec.  When you need to “name three,” you want to ensure even after you’ve done your research that you’ve got apples-to-apples in your spec and that those manufacturers you’ve listed will keep a level playing field.

Submittal review.  Sometimes despite our best efforts, a product submittal just might not be clear to us. Sometimes it’s due to highly technical language specific to the product.  Sometimes it’s a matter of just knowing the breadth of offerings in a particular product type and being able to say what’s submitted is not appropriate or that a different model is more suitable. A good product rep can help you interpret fairly and accurately.

Engineering analysis.  Depending on the material or system you’re considering, this could take the form of a structural analysis, a thermal analysis, or another kind. Many manufacturers will perform such a service but don’t necessarily advertise it, so don’t be afraid to ask. They will usually do this gladly, and it can save a design professional valuable time. An engineering analysis can help you better understand some of the product performance criteria in a spec.

civil engineers
U.S. DOL Bureau of Labor Statistics

Many manufacturers perform engineering analyses on their products.

Drawing review.  Many product reps are helpful when it comes to looking at details concerning their product. Often, they’ve already seen the application you’re designing being installed in the field and can offer suggestions on why and how to detail it better—or, in some cases, why it won’t work. Another factor to keep in mind is that careful detail review can help improve your specifications if you make sure that your spec covers all the necessary components and contains language specific to the particular installation.

I would urge you not to be shy about availing yourself of the services that product professionals can offer you, the design/specifications professional. We can’t know everything about every material, product, assembly or system—and that’s where industry partners become essential.

This post was updated at 6:22 p.m. June 27, 2014, with an additional photo.


Bob Bailey, AIA, CCS

A full-time specifier for more than 25 years, Bob Bailey, AIA, CCS, CSI, LEED AP, is Specifications and Constructability Specialist for IKM Inc. of Pittsburgh, PA. An award-winning specifications writer, Bob is the founder of the Pittsburgh Specifiers' Roundtable and immediate past president of CSI Pittsburgh. His professional passions: continuing education and internship development. Contact Bob.



Tagged categories: Architects; Good Technical Practice; IKM Inc.; LEED; Specifiers; Architecture; Coating Business; Coating selection; Coatings manufacturers; Construction Specifications Institute; Customers; Equipment manufacturers; Networking; New business; Partnerships; Specification; Specification writing

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