top of page
  • robertalanmiller

Changing World of Specifications

Perspective – Changing World of Specifications


The purpose of the document is to share recent experience of participation in a local round table event of the CSI- Metro Detroit Chapter monthly meeting, held February 13, 2018.

The format and participants were as follows:

6th annual panel discussion with ongoing goal of “How we can work together better: Manufacturer Representatives, Architects/Specifiers, Contractors and Owners”.

The interactive panel discussion included the following topics:

• Where have they gone? Are staff dedicated to specification preparation disappearing from A/E office staffs? If so, who is preparing project specifications?

• And the answer is? Have project specifications become less consistent, less coordinated or of less quality as a result ?

• Who is on first ? Who is the “point of contact” for Product Representatives in A/E offices?

• Deluged !!! With the magnitude of new “Green Products” and “Product Design Options” currently available and continuing to grow – how is this information managed, evaluated and specified?

This year’s panel included:

• Product/Manufacturer Representatives:

· Charlie Renner, CSI; Territory Manager of HB Fuller Construction Products, TEC, Chapco.

· Brandon Kinsey, Hon. Aff. AIAMI; District Sales Manager of Centria Architectural Systems.

• Architects/Specifiers:

· Amy Baker RA, LEED AP, CSI, CDT; Lead Technical Architect at Hamilton Anderson Associates.

· Don Bauman AIA, CSI, CDT, MAI, LEED AP BD+C; Director of Architecture and Historic Preservation at Albert Kahn.

• Contractor: Don Garon, PE, PMP, LEED AP; Senior Project Manager of The Walsh Group – Walsh Construction & Archer Western.

• Moderator: Dale Hurttgam, AIA, LEED AP BD + C, CSI; Associate, Architecture + Design at HED.

Audience consisted of 50-60 local architects, manufacturer representatives, construction managers, and others within the construction industry.



The discussion started by talking about the diminishing roles of dedicated specification writers and more so the dynamic changes that seemingly have forever changed the roles of architects, engineers, and designers. For example, in 1980, Albert Kahn Associates, one of the largest and oldest firms in metro Detroit, had 22 people on the specification writing team. In 2008, as result of the declining demand and recession, there were 5 people. Today there are 2. The architectural firms, as well as many facets of the construction industry, are forced to do more with less. The resources they need and want have become a luxury and determining how to use them has become more challenging as well.



It was immediately recognized that the introduction of the internet in business to business activities has had a tremendous effect on the design world. Every level of construction now has immediate and total access to every product, every idea, every manufacturer, distributor, and channel. A quick google search seemingly eliminated the need for a physical library, Sweets, and especially a high paid expert on staff to disseminate that information for the design teams. This forced the responsibility of determining specifications back on to each individual project architect. The result became a great pressure put on them individually to determine project needs. This then translated into a tremendous strain on time. The ability to research became a luxury and with end customer demands at an all-time high, the easiest to use website often became the product of choice. Now as the economy has improved and lessons have been learned about quality, service, and performance, more firms are taking a step back from their previous stance on product policies and focusing more on Quality Assurance and Quality Control. Technology is once again an important tool, just like the library used to be, used to obtain trusted and vetted product information that in 3 clicks or less can be added to their project portfolio. So for them, technology needs to be fast and simple, just likes the library used to be. This also has forced a rebirth in the reliance on the manufacturer’s representative, who are becoming a more integral part of the resource strategy for many firms.



Technology has its place but the reality remains that the designers cannot possibly understand the intricacies of so many products and processes, and most importantly providing the appropriate product solutions for the challenges at hand. They noted that in recent years, between all of the standard drivers like IBC, ADA, ASTM, and so many other standards, it is very hard for them to be masters of every aspect of the construction industry. Therefore there is a tremendous reliance upon Subject Matter Experts. An actual person, preferably one who is local and immediately accessible, who can answer questions and guide them into a proper solution for their needs. There is always the caveat, which is they need to be sterile to their own product, in order to garner trust. Proprietary products, terms, and services are more often taboo and it is our own inability to give them what they are truly asking for, that gave birth to the dreaded “frankenspec” or to list of every manufacture to ever have thought of making a product like ours. Remember time is their enemy and if we are on their agenda, and more so fulfilling their needs, we become the trusted resource they prefer. Open specifications, basis of designs, and free competition are needed evils, but do not think they don’t have a whisper in the ears of the decision makers when the time comes to selecting products or services. They like a representative that knows their competition’s offerings as well as their own products. They like an open minded and trustworthy representative, and we were reassured 100 times that they realize that our business depends on sales and if they don’t help us gets sales, they know they lose that resource. It is unsaid, but known. They said very clear they love working with people who are actively involved, present, and part of the solution team in all parts of the construction process from design, to bid, to construction, and even close out. The GC reps said they can absolutely tell when a manufacturer is vested and involved, and really love it when the manufacturer is involved after bid time, with coordination and install. They all said too they despise “spec chasers” and often try to avoid them, because often these were the people who blew them off when they needed help in the planning phases. On top of all this there is yet another challenge that has changed from years past and that is the client’s involvement.



Historically, an owner hired an architect and they were the decision makers for the processes, planning, and ultimately construction. There has been a greater movement lately, within the larger companies especially, whereas the owners more than often have their own quality control, design professional, or on staff engineers who oversee new construction. This was the owners answer to the complex challenges they faced and for the repeat users of architects, a help to mitigate billable hours. Ford Motor Company, GM, Chrysler, Amazon, Meijer, Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Wendy’s, and so many others following suit, have their own people making those product choice decisions. These companies are using resources like Spec-Link, E-Specs, and ARCOM to guide them and many use the “best practices guides” relative to their industry to point them in the right direction. They said this is becoming the standard now when dealing with these larger entities, and as situations often do, the smaller companies often “copy” specifications, trying to emulate the choices of the larger players. For example, most every little mom and pop coffee shop asks for the same furniture and patio set as Starbucks, just with their unique colors and design on them. Understanding the client and their needs is paramount. Having an active involvement with them is a true testament of that commitment.



The most precious resource is time. Right now, with still slim staff, and more to do than ever before, the representatives and companies that are helping them do most of their work up front get the most involvement in the process, and ideally the orders. Complete open specifications with non-proprietary details and information are the best. Special details always trigger a negative response and everyone feels “special” means more costs. With the GC and CM trying to keep costs low and under budget, and the architect trying to keep his owner happy and wanting to return to their service, and the perpetual race to the bottom from the subcontractors and installers, any advocate for doing the right thing is the right thing to do. Appreciation for a team effort, and respecting all levels from design to CM to Sub to Manufacturer needs to be given. Success for projects today come more from collaborative efforts and coordinated attacks than pulling a handful of products out of master spec. Those who are providing the most complete solution, for the most valued proposition, within the desired time are going to walk away winning the orders most often. This reminds me of the enigma of the three legged stool, supported by price, quality, and delivery. The successes of tomorrow are providing all three legs at the proper length, so that the stool can do its job!



They really must have said the word TRUST 30-40 times tonight. They do not like a sales pitch, gimmicks, or trickery. They want solutions, and they want a partner they can turn to in order to provide those solutions. Just as valuable is the partner who admits when they cannot handle a particular part or piece of the puzzle. Teamwork and collaboration are going to be pivotal for the future of the construction industry and for manufacturer’s representatives. The lack of dedicated specification writers coupled with limited and untrustworthy online resources, make the need for trusted partners more necessary than ever before. Calling some office 600 miles away is too time consuming and often the people that they are talking to do not understand their needs. Further the dynamic of the modern workforce has more people working from home, working unique time frames with need to access resources 24 hours, at their convenience and on their agenda. They expect and want a resource that is present and readily available, and most importantly the ability to trust those people they are working with.



The roles, responsibilities, and decision makers are all changing. Traditional models are going to evolve and we are going to see more firms working in new and different ways. There is no singular answer to serve how we need to adapt tomorrow, other than staying involved, engaged, and being on the customer’s agenda. Be aware of trends and changes in the facets of the marketplace and where the responsibility lies. The following unified advice was given –

1) Stay involved in the design world – Present often, participate in local and national shows and events, practice constant contact. Have an easily accessed website with relative and prompt information. The modern world moves fast and today’s trend fast becomes yesterday’s news. Three seems to be the magic number for them. Stop in every 3 months to provide updates and check in for projects. No more than 3 clicks to use our website. Be available within 3 hours. Collaboration and relationships are key.

2) The better specifications make for a better project – Tighter and more enforceable specification help reduce product substitution and actually keep long term costs down. They also insure a better installation.

3) Speak to the owners – Similarly, present to the owners, share our products and services, help them and involve them in the decision making. Owners are more engaged and aware than ever before.

4) Form trust based relationships –It is best to be remembered and present in the market place. Those product reps that are engaged from start to finish providing solutions are going noticed and being called upon for future assistance and projects. Nothing more valued than the architect sitting down with an owner and product representative at the same table. With all of the uncertainty of the internet, old brochures, and misinformation from slimy sales people, a trusted ally is the future spec writer’s most valuable asset.

26 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page