Representing the very best

Representing the very best

Reasonable Lead Time Expectations for Specialty Architectural Products

“We need the material on the jobsite in Three Weeks!” Sounds reasonable if they are ordering a standard, off the shelf, material or product. But what if the product required is a custom architectural product? Is it reasonable to expect the material in three weeks? Hardly!

Unfortunately it is not at all uncommon for an architect to work with a company sales representative or Independent Manufacturers Representative for three years or more, designing an important project, with unique details and custom materials, systems or components, only to have the project go out to bid, with bids due in twenty four hours! Even more exasperating, is after the bids are received, and ignored for months and sometimes years, to finally receive an order for a completely custom product, material or system, required on the jobsite in two to four weeks. Generally this is not possible, and it is obviously unreasonable and contrary to the best interests of the owner, project architect and ultimate consumer. What is reasonable? What can be done to eliminate this all too common occurrence?

First and foremost, it is critically important for the architect to prepare comprehensive, detailed specifications. At the very early stages of the project, it is important to select the actual product or system needed to satisfy the design criteria of the project. The concept of “Three Equals” just does not work in most circumstances.


If the designer has selected a specific product, it should be so named in the specification. If it is a public project, then it is even more important to prepare a very detailed performance specification. Just because there are not currently three manufacturers producing a product or system in the desired or selected manner, does not preclude the architect from insisting upon specific details, tolerances, component materials, and performance characteristics.

Second, it is extremely important for the architect to be certain that all bidders clearly understand that the plans and specifications have been carefully crafted, with much thought regarding the products and systems specified and that they expect to receive those products as part of their important completed project.

Third, it is critical that the architect advise the contractors that the non commodity items contained in their design are custom products, important to their design, and that they have longer lead times than “off the shelf” products or systems. It should be clearly understood in the development of the “critical path schedule” that custom, unique, architectural products must be ordered to meet the normal production and delivery schedule for the materials.

This problem is by no means unique to the Ceiling and Interior Construction Industry! The exact problem is rampant in any industry producing a final product containing unique component parts, systems or materials. Many industries have done a much better job of controlling the problem. What is a reasonable expectation for specialty architectural products?

  • Determine what products, systems and components are unique and / or specialty in nature before the project goes out to bid.
  • Make a list of the critical products fitting these criteria.
  • Determine the anticipated lead times for the products, and include in the appropriate specification sections the known time lines for the products.
  • Specify how soon after award of the general contract these product submissions must be made. If the installation is by a subcontractor, specify how soon after the project has been awarded to the GC, that the GC must award the time sensitive sections of the work. Include the lead time for product or system submittal by the selected subcontractor.
  • Develop the mechanics for the time line as part of your project specifications. Don’t leave it to chance. By developing you own timeline in the specifications you are assisting the GC and assuring that those products and systems important to you will actually end up in your building.
  • In particularly critical material sections, you may want to consider developing an allowance for the contractor. This eliminates potential delays in bidding the project.

It is not reasonable to expect miracles from a contractor, manufacturer or supplier. We are all in this game together. The really good architects, contractors, representatives and owners want to produce a quality building with quality components. It’s really not that difficult with comprehensive planning.

It is completely unreasonable to expect custom products in a commodity time frame. And remember, the clock really doesn’t even start ticking without field dimensions, color, fabric, metal, wood or other raw material selection, and approved shop drawings. We are not magicians, just a group of professionals trying to produce a quality finished product!

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