With so much crowding an already full to overflowing plate, must a solid surface fabricator also devote time and resources to calling on architects and designers?
In a perfect world the solid surface distributor and/or manufacturer spec reps should blanket the specification community with timely information on product offerings, color samples and precise specification data. But in reality, it's often you, the fabricator, who must close the information gap with an architect or interior designer on any given project.
Consider this: When was the last time you came across a specification calling for "3/4-in. thickness solid surface material in a color to be selected from the manufacturer's full range of colors and finishes?" If you are at all active in commercial work, chances are you have seen your fair share of this and similar out-of-date specifications for solid surface in recent months.
Become A Resource
To be fair to the profession, architects must be visionary designers of structures and technicians with at least some working knowledge of roughly 250,000 component parts of a commercial building. Solid surface material is usually a very small part of that total. The solid surface portion of one recent $25 million project, for example, came to less than $25 thousand -- big money from a fabricator's point of view, but a paltry 1/10 of 1 percent of the total project. Small wonder that the attention paid to the solid surface specification by the architect often seems cursory.
That is where you come in. You can provide a valuable informational and educational service to design professionals that ultimately works to your mutual benefit. There is nothing better than a clear and accurate, use-appropriate product specification -- and nothing worse than one which is vague or sloppily written.
It's not necessary to call on every architecture and design firm in your market. Usually, the work you are interested in will come from only a few firms. Being a reliable resource to these firms can increase your level of success in pursuing commercial business.
You must gain an understanding of how architecture and design firms operate in order to help them understand what our profession needs in order to make their projects even better. For instance, what are the firm's specialties? You may have quoted two courthouse jobs designed by a firm, but maybe they do much more healthcare work than judicial work. It helps to know that. One of the best resources is your state's AIA (American Institute of Architects) chapter membership directory. Usually they're available for sale and very reasonably priced.
Establish A Relationship
Armed with knowledge about the firm, make contact with the specification writer. Be careful to present yourself in a way that says "I want to make your life easier," rather than to criticize the spec as it's now written. Ask for an opportunity (opportunities are better than chances) to talk about what information and material you can provide for architectural design reference. But understand that the spec writer at a major firm may deal with 80-85 emails every day, see 10-15 vendor reps every week averaging one hour per interview, and read or review 20-25 magazines every month. Be succinct. This professional doesn't want to hear why your shop should do all the solid surface work on every project, he wants to be educated about how his firm can better serve its clients and minimize risk exposure at all levels.
For starters, offer to review the sample boxes in the firm's resource library and to update them. It's likely even the best-managed library has samples missing because an interior designer (it's "designer" in commercial work, not "decorator") on deadline had to use a sample chip for a presentation board. This is a valid service and making updates gives you a reason to go back into that firm.