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Episode 180 Predictions and Possibilities For Growth in the Building Materials Industry

Predictions and Possibilities For Growth in the Building Materials Industry

We’re diving into digital marketing, supply channel conflict and industry prediction with Mark Mitchell, one of our favorite experts in the building materials industry. You’ll want to take notes when you listen to this one!

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Photo of Beth PopNikolov
by Zach Williams and Beth PopNikolov
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More About This Episode

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.

This week’s guest is Mark Mitchell, a leading sales consultant in the building products world. “The Whizard” brings decades of experience and a ton of perspective to product marketing, the labor shortage and the future of construction.

Recovering From COVID in the Industry

Like all of us in the industry, COVID had an impact on Mark Mitchell — or “The Whizard,” as he’s sometimes called in industry circles.

Mark’s consulting business and building materials clients had to adapt to the considerable shifts in our industry, and they had to adapt quickly. “Many things that were going to happen — that were going to take, we'll say, five years to happen — were crammed down our throats in a year,” he explains.

Many of us knew we’d need to amp up our online presence to meet the demand of today’s customers. “The amount of times we go online to get information was already pretty high back in January of 2020,” says Mark. “But, boy, COVID just forced it up.”

The pandemic impacted how people researched and purchased the products they wanted, including building materials. COVID drove all of us online, and Mark points out how important it is for brands to meet their customers there. “More people, even professionals, are buying things online after they found what they want. And so [it is important] to make sure that it's easy to not only find your product [and] your information but also if somebody wants to buy it online, you make it really easy,” says Mark.

But not every brand has caught up with this trend. “I was looking at deck companies and railing companies, and I think only one company had listed on their where to buy decks direct.”

The pandemic also drove business online for salespeople in the industry. “They had to get used to using different tools, such as Zoom or different ways of having virtual calls or texting or phone or email, whatever tools it was, had to rely on those more,” says Mark. And many of us have adapted to this shift in communication and technology.

But Mark points out that there is still room for everyone to grow. We asked Mark if he had any predictions on opportunities in the industry, when it comes to selling, supplying and working in building materials.

How to Stay Competitive in Building Materials Sales

Mark has noticed a change in mindset in our industry and how we think of channel conflict and traditional distributor relationships. “I think channel conflict as we've traditionally defined it, being that, ‘I'm your distributor, I don't like it when you sell to another distributor, and I really don't like it if you're selling direct and cutting me out.’ Those types of channel conflict, those are over,” he explains.

Many manufacturers and building products brands are offering products on Amazon because it’s such a huge platform for sellers. Mark emphasizes that the challenge today for brands (and everyone) isn’t where to sell — but staying competitive and valuable to your customer. “Everybody today has to continue to earn their value. It's like, if I'm a distributor, I need to keep upping my game every day or I'm going to become unnecessary,” he says. “And the same with the dealer, [and] the same with the contractor.”

Even big-box sellers like Home Depot will need to improve their game, Mark says. “Where we used to just sell the product that then got installed in this drive for making things more efficient and easier, I think we're going to see things like installed sales, I think, grow,” he says

We’ve seen several manufacturers who are vertically integrating their business, offering products, maintenance and installation services to provide more value to the customer. “A number of manufacturers are looking into this more because they see it as a huge opportunity,” explains Zach Williams with Venveo.

Predictions for Building Products

There are a few other ways we think the building materials industry can tackle the challenges ahead, and we asked Mark to look into the future with us about solutions and what else we can expect.

Offsite Construction:

“I think we're going to see offsite construction grow,” says Mark.

There’s a growing (and loud) demand in today’s housing market, and investors have noticed the need not just for more homes, but other construction solutions. “So they're buying up or building single-family housing to rent, to become a landlord. Well, they also are very aware of how offsite construction eliminates a lot of the waste and inefficiency that's just baked into the system,” says Mark. “I'll bet there's some people that are already really looking at this and maybe even testing a few things out on a small scale.”

Growing Labor Issues:

The labor shortage is on everyone’s mind today, especially Mark’s. “We've had a problem where we don't have enough roofers, plumbers, electricians, painters, glazers, on down the line. And then you look at your dealers and distributors and they have trouble hiring people to work for them,” says Mark. “If you look at the traditional building material salesperson, [it] tends to be a baby boomer, tends to be an older person that's been around. They know the business, they know the product, the customer, the competition. Those people are retiring. There's nobody to take their place.”

Fewer Customers:

“We're going to have fewer people,” says Mark, “We're going to have fewer people needing a new house with a new door, with a new roof. But now the market is going to start to get smaller. And so now you're going to be fighting for that piece of your market share and that's different.” But Mark suggests a solution.

“That says to me, once again, their digital presence, their website, their things like in-house customer service and selling — all of those things are now going to become more important,” he explains.

Mark believes that the market is ripe for innovators in the building products industry. “I look at Nest thermostats. I look at how they totally turned upside down the thermostat business,” says Mark, “I think that there's [a] ton of room for innovation of how we get the products to the person that needs it. And that can involve installation. It can involve warranty. Maybe you don't buy the product, maybe you're just leasing the product.”

The key is listening to your customers, and Mark suggests there’s still plenty of room for brands to grow when it comes to building stronger relationships. “One of the downsides of COVID is [that] most building material companies got further away from their customers, not closer to their customers,” Mark explained.

Want Even More Insight?

We asked Mark what building materials brands should focus on to stay ahead of the changes coming in construction. “[They should focus on] being closer to their customers and listening to their customers and looking for what are their customers' biggest challenges,” he says. “And is there anything they can do to help their customers be more successful?”

Want to hear more? Be sure to listen to the full episode here.

Find out more about what’s ahead in the building materials industry: sign up for this year’s Whizard Summit on October 3! You can also follow and learn more from Mark by subscribing to his newsletter.


Stay tuned for more great episodes and guests: subscribe to Smarter Building Materials Marketing wherever you get your podcasts.