W&C: Bob, what is the state of the industry in the Pacific Northwest?
Drury: I think for the wall and ceiling industry in the Pacific Northwest, we'll have to see contractors become more service oriented and more specialized. They will have to offer their customers other services than what their competition is doing and differentiate themselves. They will need to look at new scopes of work in the industry to concentrate on and contractors are going to have to put a lot of emphasis on the job at hand in order to be profitable.
W&C: What do you mean by that?
Drury: Contractors need to concentrate on doing a good job on one particular project. I see contractors trying to please too many of their customers at once and not being as profitable as they might if they focused on the job at hand rather than other jobs on their plates.
If a contractor has a current job going well, don't sacrifice it to meet a schedule somewhere else. Contractors don't realize that the job they have at that time, the most important one, shouldn't sacrifice resources such as labor by moving them around to other jobs to make a new customer satisfied. They need to schedule things per their qualifications not always for the demand of the GC.
W&C: It's not easy to ask a company to turn down a job. What if they have to book any job that comes along?
Drury: If they have the manpower to book, fine. But usually, most contractors don't have the manpower in field to run multiple jobs efficiently. They don't have foremen and supervisor-type people in the field. Contractors have a tendency to have X amount of skilled people. Don't sacrifice a job going well to please or meet a job going sideways. All contractors have had to streamline operations because of lack of work. Concentrate on the work at hand. Better one great job than two mediocre jobs.
W&C: Has the contractor liability insurance issue reached a crisis situation?
Drury: I would say we are on the threshold of it. The cause is because construction companies are getting out of the business of providing insurance and so are insurance companies. And that does not necessarily have to do with EIFS. Another major thing on exterior construction we have to cope with is the perception people have of EIFS. The false information that many people have is that EIFS are the reason for the leaky building situation we've been facing. Because of that, EIFS is one of main items that insurance companies are reluctant to provide insurance for. Mainly, the construction community other than our industry and the general public need to be educated.
W&C: Is there a precedent for the EIFS problem?
Drury: It's a unique situation in that we've unfortunately hit an insurance industry that is not doing well at all. If the economy was good and the insurance industry was having good years, it wouldn't be as much of a factor. The NWCB position is we need to create a quality control program that will reassure the construction community and insurance company that EIFS is a very good exterior cladding. I think we can all do more to make this better, manufacturers and associations, including ourselves.
W&C: What would you like to see from the manufacturers?
Drury: The manufacturers need to stress to their customers the importance of knowing good construction practices. And making people they work for know immediately if there is something missing and something is not correct-before they do EIFS. I think we need to have more pre and post-job meetings.
NWCB has developed a partnering program it has submitted to various insurance companies, such as Zurich. They have elected not to participate because they are uneasy with insuring EIFS. Partnering a quality construction EIFS program is something I feel strongly about and one that will provide us with insurance in the future. Currently, AWCI's program with Accordia is one that is being used. I know AWCI is working hard to broaden the scope of that program.
I think it's very important that manufacturers and suppliers realize that R&D as performed by the manufacturers is essential for the future of our industry. The reason is the products and systems we see today will not be ones that people in the future will be going to.
For example, concern of mold and fungus that are prevalent in buildings. We will need to look at products that do not allow mold to survive, and what I'm getting is that contractors and suppliers must realize that in order to do R&D, it costs money and therefore, choosing the cheapest product or system on the market perhaps can hinder your research and development. Contractors want the best of both worlds but they have to realize in order to get service and new products, it costs money. We have to look to those companies providing these services as the ones we need to support.
Many manufacturers do a good job in R&D but they won't continue if their customers are going for the cheapest price and going to non-service manufacturers to get their products. This may be pie-in-the-sky thinking but we're in a really competitive industry, not an industry where people go out and get specialty patents. There are a lot of similar products out there being developed.
I also feel that the suppliers/distributors provide a tremendous service to the contractors. Not only do they provide an immediate source of pricing information and a supply of products they need, my choice would be to have contractors buy from distributors instead of buying direct from manufactures. The trend is going this way. The trend I do see is less and less manufacturers having people calling on architects and doing that type of promotional work, probably as a way of cutting costs. NWCB always filled this void, very architect oriented, providing immediate service.
The gypsum industry has done a good job at starting to look at mold resistance, the Level 5 finish standard does a very good job, at least the ones in the northwest that we deal with.
W&C: What are some of the plans for the future?
Drury: NWCB plans to start an all-encompassing marketing and PR program. The purpose is to better the image of our industry and this would focus a lot on quality assurance programs. We're looking to develop an industry professional program similar to what other professionals have, where they're required to have so many credits a year and through this education (this will be for everyone, contractors, manfacturers, suppliers), offer members of NWCB an above-average professional knowledge with the idea being that they will be an arm up on their competition. We are in development of this program dealing with quality control.
We are also coming up with a new stucco seminar. The first will be June 11 in Seattle. It will be going around to all the different regions. The seminar's main thrust is to promote stucco and it will cover both conventional and one-coat stucco. Another reason for this seminar is so people will hopefully get rid of some bad habits going on in the application of stucco. Flashing application and proper procedures for applying stucco are topics to be addressed.
Since our EIFS market has slowed, many contractors are going into stucco. They do not have the expertise, so we want to offer the training.
We are also going to develop individual manuals for gypsum board work, steel framing, acoustical ceilings and spray-on fireproofing.
W&C: Do you see a trend in products?
Drury: Because of health and safety issues, we will probably see a trend for materials to be lighter in weight or containers to be lighter in weight. The reason is the high cost states and provinces now have for workman's insurance rates. The other trend will be for products and systems that are less labor oriented; more prefinished, less labor intensive to complete in the field.
W&C: Are you optimistic about the industry's future?
Drury: Yes, I am optimistic about the future. Through the past few years, the dollar volume of work we perform has increased. The finishing business will always be there and will only get broader.
I think where contractors may fall short is not communicating what goes on in the office and communicating what the office knows to people in the field. For example, if some specific product is supposed to be done on job, the work that gets done is what the people in the field perform. The management part of the firm or estimators not conveying to field people how something should be done specifically and expecting the field people to just proceed as normal is a challenge.
The contractor matter is if there is a job issue that occurs, they need to not only deal with it immediately, but pass on what caused it and the ramifications of what caused it to others in the company so it won't occur on another job.