Mark Fowler: Sales and Training
Why sales are important, why training is essential and how you can improve your skills in the field.
Selling is important. Without sales, companies die. Training is equally important: workers without real training fail to understand why and then failures occur. Our industry too often misses the mark or conflates a blend of training and sales. Some programs seem to be conflated with hidden agendas. We know trained workers are better for the industry but the opportunity to inject an agenda is just too much for some groups to resist. The registered apprenticeship programs for construction are the best method but they are also at an all-time low in reaching the workforce. That void desperately needs to be filled.
I have taught classes on lath and plaster application. I tried to include not just the code basics but tips and caveats geared towards the audience. I gave a class and a CEO of a major sponsor was in the audience. He came up to me and said he learned a lot about lath and plaster that day. I was pleased, until he continued, saying that he had an issue with my presentation. He noted that I did not make it clear that using a proprietary product/system was the real solution. So then I noted that his products were very good but that failures were generally due to installer error, not brand selection. Needless to say, he was not happy with my answer.
The installer is critical to a product working, regardless of what is selected. We all know this and it illustrates the importance of real training. The Stucco Manufacturers Association has become aware of this, as we note a decline in sales in specific regions. Some regions are even in crisis mode. The installer error, due to a lack of some basic training, is agreed by all as the biggest issue that has led to failures. These failures result in a loss of confidence by end-users and market share sufferers. Insurance claims result, builders lose faith in stucco and this is when they switch to other claddings.
Our competitors are willing to grab that market share. Stucco accounts for about 25 percent of the U.S. residential siding market. This is because stucco, done right, is versatile, affordable, long lasting and low maintenance. Few claddings can provide owners a no-worry cladding. But if done wrong, leaks and increased maintenance will result in a loss of consumer confidence. Sadly, most issues are easily avoided.
Stucco still has a good reputation, and we need to make it right before the reputation of stucco will be significantly damaged to the point of no return. Pockets of the country who believe they are immune to negative trends are mistaken. Most U.S. homebuilders are national and they talk to each other. They meet at conventions and talk. They are raising concerns and no part of the country will be immune to their concerns. This is a major reason why the SMA board of directors felt it important to put out an online training program for lathers and plasterers. The focus of the program is to stop failures and make stucco work as it was intended to. While failures can be blamed on stricter energy codes with tighter buildings, the end result is the same. They think, “stucco is too risky, let’s use another siding.”
Let’s Get Certified
The first and key point is that workers must understand why they are doing what they do. For example, lapping a water-resistant barrier and integrating it with flashings is simple. Yet, it is done incorrectly day in and day out. I have interviewed hundreds of workers who replied, “That is how I was taught.” We all need to know that damages win the day. If there is damage and you blame others, you will be asked “why didn’t you say anything?” You are considered a specialist and have the duty to inform the general of obvious errors. The SMA program is designed to teach lathers and plasterers why they do what they do and spot those trouble areas that could lead to damages. Most importantly, it teaches them to look, evaluate, speak-up and then do as directed. Written confirmation from the designers and the general contractor is a very strong leg to stand on. The SMA will stand with you and a certification program could be a game-changer to help the well-intended trade contractors.
The SMA online training program is not a full apprenticeship program. However, it will help plastering contractors have smarter workers and help stop frivolous lawsuits. The association knows stucco and we know a real defect vs. a slight imperfection. Its program is broken into seven modules, one on general information, two on lathing, two on plastering, one for supervisors and one for inspections. None are more than 30 minutes and the cost is minimal. This is for the benefit of the industry. The program will be launched before the end of this year in English and Spanish. Visit stuccomfgassoc.com to learn more. W&C