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How Manufacturer Reps Can Increase Specifications with Commercial Design Firms

Manufacturer reps often play a vital role in expanding market reach and ensuring customer satisfaction. This week's guest reveals why effective reps are the lifeblood of design firms and how they are instrumental in preventing building products from being value-engineered.

Photo of Zach Williams
Photo of Beth PopNikolov
by Zach Williams and Beth PopNikolov

In this episode of the Smarter Building Materials Marketing podcast, hosts Zach Williams and Beth PopNikolov sit down with Mary Cook, President of Mary Cook Associates, a prominent commercial interior design firm based in Chicago, to talk about the importance of manufacturer rep relationships and how the right rep can play a vital role in increasing specifications.

Throughout the episode, Mary shares her valuable insights and experiences, shedding light on the crucial role manufacturer reps play in safeguarding design intent, ensuring quality execution and staying within budget — with the collective goal of avoiding the value-engineering of products.

Episode Rundown

02:20 - How and why manufacturers’ reps are crucial for design firms

03:40 - How manufacturers' reps can ensure accurate specifications and costs for projects

08:11 - What factors do designers consider when vetting products

10:47 - The impact of educating and empowering your manufacturers' reps

13:55 - Advice if you’re looking to increase specifications with a design or architecture firms

Meet Mary Cook

Mary Cook is the President of Mary Cook Associates, a renowned commercial interior design firm based in Chicago. With over 100 ongoing projects spread across 36 different states, Mary Cook Associates has built a reputation for delivering exceptional interiors for builders, developers and prestigious real estate owners.

They don't have a signature look or style but rather take a unique and proprietary approach to create one-of-a-kind interiors that help clients lease up quicker, sell faster and maximize the value of their assets. Mary's expertise lies in aligning interiors with specific target markets, considering both geographic and demographic influences to achieve impressive results.

The Lifeline of Design: The Importance of Manufacturer Reps

Manufacturer reps serve as the lifeblood of Mary Cook Associates' design department, ensuring design intent, quality execution and affordability. Mary emphasizes the significance of knowledgeable and informed reps who understand project parameters and offer instrumental assistance in achieving the desired look while saving money.

They are the lifeblood to our project and to safeguarding design intent, quality of execution and most importantly today is budget.” — Mary Cook

By communicating specifications clearly and partnering with reputable reps, designers can navigate budget constraints and ensure efficient project execution.

Keeping GCs Honest: Manufacturer Reps as Advocates

Mary highlights how manufacturer reps are instrumental in holding General Contractors (GCs) accountable throughout the building process.

Designers often encounter pricing discrepancies when the GC is unfamiliar with a specified product or lacks representation for it, leading to substantial markups. Manufacturer reps can step in as advocates, negotiating with GCs and subcontractors, ensuring accurate pricing and preserving the design intent without compromising on quality.

Favorite Manufacturer Reps: Stories of Success

Mary shares a few memorable encounters with manufacturer reps who have gone above and beyond to deliver exceptional results. The Shaw carpet rep, for instance, saved her firm $200,000 on a corridor carpet for a project by negotiating with a local subcontractor.

He is just very hands-on. And he's in our office almost monthly, taking great care of our designers and kind of dotting I's and crossing t's.” — Mary Cook

Other reps, such as the Platform Surfaces representative, have played critical roles in resolving overseas sourcing issues, while the Spartan Surfaces rep provided invaluable insights into locker room design preferences for a high-end golf club project.

What This Means For Building Product Manufacturers

This episode highlights the significant role that manufacturer reps play in the building materials industry, particularly in the commercial interior space.

Here are some key takeaways for building product manufacturers:

  1. Build strong relationships with designer firms: Mary emphasizes the value of long-standing relationships with manufacturer reps who understand the specific needs of her projects. Building and maintaining trust with design firms can lead to repeat business and positive referrals.

  2. Be knowledgeable and informed: Manufacturer reps who are well-versed in their products and can provide valuable insights and solutions are highly valued. Understanding the parameters and requirements of different projects can help reps offer cost-effective options and ensure design intent is maintained.

  3. Advocate for the design team: Manufacturer reps should be willing to go to bat for the design team, especially when it comes to keeping GCs honest and upholding the original specifications. Being proactive in negotiating prices and resolving issues demonstrates commitment to the success of the project.

Want Even More Insight?

By emphasizing the importance of maintaining strong relationships with reps, designers and builders can tap into cost-saving opportunities and ensure that projects are executed according to vision and budget. In addition, consistent due diligence and vetting processes can help establish trust with new reps who bring innovative solutions to the table.

Mary explains that due diligence is necessary when considering a new rep, as there are high stakes involved in trusting them with large-scale projects. They look for products that align with their aesthetic and price point requirements, and they also value reps who have a proactive and attentive approach.

Fostering strong relationships with manufacturer reps is essential for success in the construction and design industry. By leveraging manufacturer reps' knowledge and expertise, you can help design professionals maintain design intent, navigate budget constraints and ensure quality execution.

If you have any questions for Mary directly, you can reach out via email at: [email protected].

Thank you for tuning in to the Smarter Building Materials Marketing podcast. If you have any questions about this episode or the topic discussed, feel free to email us at [email protected].

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The Smarter Building Materials Marketing podcast helps industry professionals find better ways to grow leads, sales and outperform the competition. It’s designed to give insights on how to create a results-driven digital marketing strategy for companies of any size.