Walls & Ceilingsmanaged to corner Macon Lowe at this year’s EIMA conference in St. Petersburg to get some last-minute sage wisdom before his retirement.

Photos by Sales Strategies

Walls & Ceilings: During your 10 years, there were pretty significant challenges facing the industry. What do you feel have been your most significant accomplishments through that time?

Macon Lowe: I think the most amazing statement I could make is Sto’s sales have grown substantially in the 10 years I’ve been here, not withstanding all the problems that we have had in the industry.

W&C: And your involvement in EIMA?

M.L.: I feel good about the fact that I’ve pushed the association to communicate and relate with associations that have similar issues, whether it’s the Northwest group, the California group, the Minnesota group, the Texas group, the Carolina group or the Georgia group.

The other thing is, when I first joined EIMA, the push early on was for EIMA to be a marketing organization. And, probably with creating some friction, I said, “No, this is not going to be a marketing organization.” This is a technical oriented group and we need to focus on governmental affairs issues, code issues, those kind of things which we can do as an association that a company can’t do. I can do my own marketing. I can’t do these kinds of things.

There were some pretty difficult meetings early on where some of these people wanted the association to be more sales and marketing, to generate and grow the industry. Right or wrong, today we are saying we’re a technical organization.

I think one of the problems that we got in, as an association, was that the lawyers tried to paint us as a marketing organization. That’s where we got into trouble in Texas. The plaintiff’s lawyer said the reason those people in Texas bought EIFS is because EIMA sold it to them.

W&C: You also had strong opinions on how to deal with that litigation?

M.L.: In the last two years, we’ve had 12 legal attacks. And I was one of those who said that we would fight; we’re not going to settle. There were some peacemakers in the association who wanted to make some settlements. I was one of the people in the leadership of the association saying, “No. We haven’t done anything wrong. We make a great product and we’re going to defend ourselves.”

And that cost us an awful lot of money to win those. But that was one of those, if you don’t win it you’re out of business. And there are some people in this industry who are really unhappy with the amount of money we spent in legal fees, and I’m one of them.

I think that one of my contributions was the fact that I believed in the industry and I was willing to fight for it, and willing to pay whatever price it took to fight that fight.

W&C: Moving forward, how does EIMA get away from having to defend the industry and moving to a more proactive stance?

M.L.: There are two camps in our association. One camp would like to be described as, “We’re going to take the high road. We’re going to talk only about the benefits of our product.” The other group is, “We’re in competition with these people, and they are making derogatory comments and spreading misinformation about our industry, and we ought to take that head on and we ought to compete directly with some of these adversary groups.”

I’m in the category that this is competition, and we need to compete with those people that have been disparaging and misrepresenting our industry.

And since this is a democratic association, and you have some people that say “no,” we don’t want to engage in direct competition with the brick industry, or some of these other people. We never got a consensus, so we did nothing. I can’t influence a democratic group by myself. I have told them what I thought we ought to do, but the group has decided we would not engage in direct competitive communications with the brick guys.

We have a great product. Nobody has ever lost a lawsuit, or got into any trouble because of our product, yet they’ve blamed us for a number of other things. I haven’t been able to convince our industry association to react and to respond to the brick industry’s attacks. And, in my opinion, they’ve taken liberty with the facts, the brick industry has.

For whatever reason, the brick industry has taken their money and attacked our industry. We have not.

W&C: Your comments at EIMA the past two years have emphasized teamwork within the association. Obviously, this is something you feel very strongly about.

M.L.: We’ve got to all be pulling together, because if we don’t, they’ll pick us apart. We’ve got some formidable opponents—the brick guys, the insurance guys, the plaintiff’s lawyers—we’ve got some serious adversaries. And we don’t have a chance if we don’t all put our individual issues aside and work for the same purpose.

And that’s what associations do. I’ve said it many times. The only reason that there are associations is that they can do things that individuals can’t. And we need to focus on those things that an association can do, whether it’s governmental affairs, code work or statistics. Whatever the issues are, there are some things that a group can do better than individual companies.

W&C: There’s been talk among some association members about the need for some to exercise more of their clout in enlisting association participation. What are your thoughts?

M.L.: The unfortunate thing about this industry is we have contractor members of EIMA that buy from non-EIMA manufacturers. That just doesn’t make any sense to me. I’ve talked to them—and these are nice guys. I’m not going to criticize them, because, as human beings, I really like them, and they’re good contractors. And they come to EIMA and participate in EIMA. But they buy from a non-EIMA manufacturer. There’s something wrong with that picture.

I think if a manufacturer had a really good customer say to him “I love you, you’re a great guy, but I’m not going to buy from you because you’re not supportive of the industry,” and that manufacturer would probably say, “I’m losing more money from the loss of that sale to that contractor than it would cost to be a member of the association.”

We’ve made overtures to everybody in this industry that makes a product. And we’ve only got seven manufacturer members, and there’s a lot more than that. So, that’s one thing I don’t understand. And I don’t know why we don’t have more unity. Because there is a benefit to have the ability to say we represent 90 percent of the manufacturers, or a huge percentage of the distributors and contractors.

The mistake that we make, and that so many industries make, is that they fight within themselves. Company A fights Company B in the same industry for a job, when there are 10 jobs over here that have some other product—let’s just use brick, for example. Why would Company A or Company B in our industry fight each other for a job? Well, I understand that, and it’s always going to happen—but why wouldn’t you put your energies into fighting a competing product, like brick?

I tell my sales guys every time I get in front of them, there’s 100 feet of wall area out there that’s going to get clad. Twenty to 25 percent of that is going to have EIFS on it. Seventy-five percent of it has something else on it. Why limit yourself to just competing for that 25 percent that’s already got an EIFS spec? Yeah, you’re going to do that, obviously. But why don’t you put an equal amount of effort on the bigger amount of wall area that doesn’t have an EIFS spec on it. We’ve

got a great story to tell against the other claddings.

My belief about this industry is we have a great value to offer. And I think it’s a missed opportunity when a company just says, “My product is pretty close to those other guy’s and it’s cheaper.” That’s a missed opportunity.

W&C: So, value wins out in the long run?

M.L.: If you sell based on price, there’s always going to be somebody who will come in with a lower price. If you sell based on the value that you’re adding—the services, the quality, and all the other things—can people compete with you? Yeah. But anybody can cut your price.

W&C: Any final thoughts?

M.L.: I’ve enjoyed my 10 years in this industry. It wasn’t what I thought I was getting into, in ’93, because who knew what was going to happen in ’96? But it doesn’t matter, whether you’re raising a family or whatever, you’re going to bump into things that are unexpected. And it’s not just what happens, it’s how you respond to it. I feel good about how we’ve responded to the problems we’ve been presented with.

I’m in the process of building a house. I’m going to build an EIFS house. What other testimonial can I give than, I’m going to build this house that I’m going to live in the rest of my life and it’s going to be an EIFS house? I believe in the product.

I’m proud to have been associated with this association. I’m proud of the product, I’m proud of our company and I’ve had a good time. I don’t have any regrets.