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William L. Shannon, Editor

William L. Shannon, Editor of CISCA

Solid Specifications Are the Key to Success

January/February 2001

During a recent national sales meeting of a specialty interior architectural product manufacturer, the manufacturing and marketing team gave an uplifting and exciting presentation of a new, unique, proprietary product. The product was outstanding, the packaging innovative, the marketing data complete.

It was then time for the technical phase of the presentation. The staff presented product test data, sample kits, suggested details, and the new product specification. It was curious to note that the specification was not in industry standard CSI Format. It was a short form specification that could not be readily used by a specification writer without significant modification. The technical section did not contain all of the product specific, unique and proprietary attributes. When the staff was questioned, the reply was that they felt the specifier would not use a proprietary specification, so why write one? They had prepared a specification that would be appropriate for numerous other, non-complying products! A strange point of view!

Over the past several years we have discussed many interesting concepts, projects and opinions in Rep Corner. This month we want to take a moment to address a subject that is of paramount importance to all sectors of our industry, project documents and specifications.

All members of our industry, from owners, architects, contractors, distributors, manufacturers and independent manufacturer's representatives depend upon technical documents to assure that the proper materials and systems are provided for a project. We have all dealt with bad documentation, lack of specific details, weak and misleading specifications. The result in most instances is an unsuccessful project with unhappy participants.

In recent months I have taken the opportunity to discuss this issue with prominent manufacturers, distributors, contractors, and others, with very surprising findings. The individuals interviewed all seemed to agree that a solid, no nonsense specification is very beneficial to them! The most disturbing part of their business is the unknown, the variable, and the intangible. Substitution does not usually make them more money and often leads to severe job problems. The more variables removed from the equation, the more potential for a profitable, successful project.

Manufacturers spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to develop new and better products, and many more hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to advertise them and create brand recognition.

Distributors covet the franchise of the well known, high quality manufacturer, and the specialty contractors work diligently to become direct buy customers of the well-known brand names. The reasons for this are quite simple; the products are usually well designed, well tested, and widely promoted. There is a perceived and real value to them, and generally the savvy architect and owner have an established preference.

It is amazing to note that after all of the product development, product testing, product advertising and custom packaging, most companies do a terrible job of providing the designers and specifiers with thorough technical specifications and product details.

For those of us who have been promoting specialty architectural products for years, it is clearly understood that the key to successfully promoting and selling a product is to know your products thoroughly, and provide excellent literature and samples. Have all of the required product details readily available for the architect and contractor. Prepare and present a complete, specific, detailed, CSI Long Form Specification, with all of the appropriate product material and test data. Do not be bashful, include every specific detail that is pertinent to your product, the architect and specification writer can always remove items from the specification, but it is very unlikely that they will add pertinent information if it is not included in the initial document.

In a recent conversation with a nationally recognized specification consultant, it was noted that a majority of construction product manufacturers do not provide adequate technical information to allow the specifier to include their product in the project documents, without extensive research and editing. It was further mentioned that properly prepared CSI Format Specifications are often simply reproduced for inclusion in the project, with no changes. Bearing that in mind, doesn't it make great sense to be certain that your product specification is perfect, exactly as you would want to see it in the contract documents?

It was also mentioned that it is very important for all specification information to readily available electronically, for instant downloading by the specifier.

The bottom line is very simple, if a manufacturer takes the time to develop an excellent product, create an exciting marketing plan, ramp up their manufacturing team, and train their sales force, doesn't it make sense to be certain to provide the designer and specifier with complete, accurate, and professional product details and long form CSI Format Specifications?

This concept is appropriate for large, medium and smaller manufacturers. It works for a company sales force or independent manufacturers' representatives. Take a moment to review your specifications, do they pass the test?

William L. Shannon CSI, CISCA
President of Shannon Corporation
Recipient of the 2004 De Gelleke Award

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