What’s getting builders to switch the products they typically build with? While builders and other construction professionals aren’t known to adopt new products or materials readily, we’re finding that behavior has started to shift. This week’s episode explores why.
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Zach and Beth talk with Jimmy Cotty, Executive Director of the Georgia Ready Mixed Concrete Association, about how manufacturers can be at the forefront of solutions in today’s construction industry.
Anticipating What’s Ahead in Construction
Jimmy has been Director for the Georgia Ready Mixed Concrete Association for well over a decade now and has been in the world of building materials for more than 15 years. His time in the corporate and nonprofit sectors of construction has given him a great purview of how things operate in the building industry.
And things are moving quickly these days. “There hasn't been much slow down at all, the last couple of years, even COVID included here in Georgia, we stayed open for business,” says Jimmy. “I think 2020, we ended up being about 1% up from 2019. 2019 was our biggest year since 2006, to that point. So we've just seen steady growth here.”
There are still challenges that Jimmy works through with the developers, builders and other professionals he partners with today. “Obviously the biggest issue right now everybody's talking about is the price of lumber and how that impacts construction. I've talked to some of my ready mixed suppliers who say they've got builders and certain markets that are just sitting on the sidelines waiting.”
Building hasn’t slowed down, but the supplies haven’t always been available. And we expect new project starts to rise this year, too: Around 17% growth in single-family starts and 3% growth in multifamily construction, according to research on the residential side.
“The availability of labor is another major issue, and guys just kind of wondering how they're going to build stuff going forward and where they're going to find the people to do it because the demand is still there,” says Jimmy. “So those are the primary issues we're trying to solve.”
For building product manufacturers, especially lumber alternatives, now is your time to shine. In 2020, more construction professionals (architects, builders, contractors) reported using a new brand or product. In fact, 32% said they used something new on a project — and they liked that product better.
The Georgia Ready Mixed Concrete Association has also seen some buzz around ICF (insulated concrete forms).
“We're absolutely seeing a ton of interest in ICF for residential construction, and even in some commercial multifamily stuff,” says Jimmy. “It's a product that's been around for a while, but I would probably say in the last five to 10 years has really kind of come into its own.”
So what’s the magic formula? Some of it is about timing, according to Jimmy, who explains that ICF manufacturers have “hit this maturity level where we're kind of ready to go big, and it's coinciding with a spike in traditional building materials.”
How To Get Builders to Switch Products
Many design and construction professionals tend to stick with their process and the products they know — it’s part of how they stay profitable and trustworthy to their clients, after all.
“With builders, engineers and architects, it’s a tough nut to crack with them sometimes. They're successful with a certain process or material that they become accustomed to. They don't really want to get away from it. They don't want to be responsible if you try something new and something goes awry,” explains Jimmy. “But money talks, right? So, we're in this environment where people are saying, ‘Maybe we really do need to start considering this.’”
And that environment is ideal for building materials manufacturers who want to reach builders and architects in that decision-making process. Jimmy gave us some pointers on how to approach them.
How is your product helping them?
“When you talk to builders, really where they kind of light up is, they think about where are we going to find the labor? Who's our target audience, the training needed to build with this stuff? explains Jimmy. Take conversions to ICF, for example. “Concrete masons do very well with this, concrete form workers, carpenters even and even existing framers,” explains Jimmy. “These guys love it because it's so easy to handle and move around. Then they're stacking it and then when the pump truck comes, they're managing the pour.”
This process is easier on a crew and streamlines construction for builders and developers.
“From a labor standpoint, when builders see that and hear that, and they realize, ‘Man, this is going to extend the life of a crew,’ it's easier for them, they love it. They really start to perk up, and they think they're onto something.”
Are there solutions for the end-user?
A product like ICF has grown in popularity because of its soundproofing capabilities and for professionals in multifamily construction, that’s a hot commodity.
“They have the opportunity also to charge more rent because of the quality of their building: the energy savings there are tremendous; the silence is tremendous. Guys like that, once they kind of dip a toe in the water, we find that they almost want to hoard it, if you will, in the sense that they don't want to tell anyone their secret sauce on their new construction system,” explains Jimmy.
Are you educating your audience?
“The key to winning big is through educating customers,” says Jimmy. For the concrete industry, the Concrete Design Center is an informative, educational resource to anyone building (or wanting to build) with ICF.
“We have the ability through the Concrete Design Center to come in and take your existing plans with knowledgeable architects and engineers who've been designing with ICF for a long time and sort of walk you through, what an ICF build would look like, what it would do for you.” Ready Mixed Concrete Associations across the States also work with each other to provide this resource for anyone who wants to learn about using the innovative building system.
Jimmy notes that Fox Blocks and Nudura are IFC manufacturers that stand out when it comes to educating their customers. “For people that are doing it for the first, second, third time, they come out and they hold your hand as much through the process as you need or want them to because they have a vested interest in you having a good performance out of your product and out of your people, they want to see that happen,” he says.”
A Foundation for the Future of Construction
The GRMCA has been working to attract a younger labor force so that the future of ICF and the construction industry is supported. There are a few ways that building materials brands and manufacturers can provide additional support.
Educational trade programs are growing, especially in Georgia, and the Construction Education Foundation of Georgia promotes the trades across all sectors of building. “And they have partnerships with various high schools where they have programs throughout the state,” says Jimmy.
Manufacturers might consider construction job fairs to help educate outsiders and to find talent. “I mean, we're there, road builders are there, the mining industry is there, electrical contractors are there, HVAC guys, mechanical guys there ... in Georgia, we've looked at them as a partner in terms of letting folks know that there are alternatives to going to the four-year college.”
“We've had [GRMCA] members that do some of that kind of stuff,” says Jimmy. “And so it's a real partnership. The general contractors are really bought into it and so they're the ones that kind of lead us.”
That kind of partnership has resulted in a community of construction professionals who support each other in a few ways. “The GCs are going to be looking for people... they need every trade on the job, right? Whether it's their own people, whether it's subbed out, and so they're very big on the education promotion piece here in Georgia,” says Jimmy. “And they do a good job of making sure that their ready mixed partners and others are involved in promoting our broader construction industry in each of these schools.”
The theme of education runs strong throughout GRMCA’s mission and the organization’s approach to success in the industry. “The idea is that they want folks to be successful with this product because that will yield more demand for [ICF] block,” says Jimmy.
The manufacturers who are members of GRMCA take the education piece seriously. “And so each of them have programs in-house, to more or less certify you. This stuff can be promoted almost like a DIY type of product, but the more education and knowledge you have about it, the better you're going to do handling it.”
The GRMCA also partners with the Habitat for Humanity program in the region, as a way to give back to the community. It’s also an excellent way to build awareness around products like the ICF system. It allows for a hands-on experience with products to see what using the materials is like and the benefits that it brings to a project.
“Traditionally, it was large custom homes that had been built out of ICF that, really a very small percentage of the population is ever going to have an opportunity to either build or purchase and live at,” says Jimmy. “Imagine building a home where you're going to need 50% less energy to operate the home on a day-to-day basis.”
Want Even More Insight?
Getting in front of builders and construction professionals takes some legwork, but organizations like the Georgia Ready Mix Association have been successful — because they’re helping to support the success of others across the industry.
“A lot of what we rely on is our own ready mixed supplier members; they have even broader relationships with the building community than even we do in our own office here. We educate our members on some of the programs and things that they can do to put in front of customers,” says Jimmy.
That kind of support and partnership is a great framework for the future of our industry. To learn more about what the Georgia Ready Mixed Concrete Association is up to, visit gaconcrete.org.
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