Do you want to specify that state-of-the-art product or building material that is just the perfect fit for a specialised project and that would give it the edge it needs to stand out? Here are some tips on how to get buy-in from the rest of the professional team. Certain building types or environments require specialised construction materials, products and finishes. Buildings such as airports and data centres need extremely durable materials, while healthcare facilities call for super-hygienic surfaces, and those that aim for top green certifications require the use of specific materials and products that are rated in terms of sustainability.

For these environments, architects look to specify premium products because of their specific function, durability or lower maintenance requirements, that will last longer and save money in the long run. As technology advances and research teams come up with ground-breaking solutions, there are constantly new products becoming available, but they might be more expensive and require special installation skills. And while their performance might be proven, the fact that they are not yet well-known in the industry can count against them.

Although architects are the ones responsible to find materials and products that fit into the building’s overall design, are high-quality, durable, sustainable, well priced, easy to obtain and simple to install, the rest of the professional team, including the client, also needs to be convinced that the specified products are the right ones for the job.

Satisfying different interests
Contractors, for example, might be concerned about the skills required to work with the material or install the product, the time it will take to upskill or finish the installation, and the risk they carry if something goes wrong and has to be redone. They might therefore suggest alternatives, which might not offer the same performance, but which are cheaper and more familiar.

Clients with tight budgets, especially those who are just developing the building and not planning to occupy it themselves, might favour these “cheaper” options since it will affect an immediate cost saving, even though the premium product holds greater benefits over the long run.

Therefore, when specifying premium products or new innovations, architects need to consider the other members of the professional team and present ways to get everyone’s buy-in or look for alternatives that would be accepted.

Practical tips to specify products beyond the standard

Step 1: Evaluate the material/product
•    What “problem” does it solve relative to the purpose of the building?
•    Is it really the best solution for the project?
•    Are there similar alternatives that are more cost-effective or easier to get?
•    Consider the product or material’s complete lifecycle.
•    What benefits set it apart?

Step 2: Consider the contractor
Contractors are typically concerned about:
1.    Installation.
2.    Labour costs.
3.    Their bottom line.

•    Research the installation requirements:
–    Will local contractors be able to work with the material or install the product using standard practices or does it require specialised skills?
–    How much time will have to be spent on training that could be spent on building?
•    Consider the availability of the product locally.
•    Keep in mind the timeline necessary to install the product.
•    Prepare solutions for possible objections.

Step 3: Consider the client
Clients and developers are concerned about:
1.    Quality and prestige.
2.    The budget.
3.    The timeline.

•    Stay within the budget.
•    Focus on evidence-based design – if clients are expected to pay more or wait longer for a specialised product, they want data proving the benefit.
•    Highlight long-term benefits (especially in monetary terms) such as durability, lower maintenance, practicality, longer lifespan, payback times and more.
•    Present how the product functions in new construction and remodels.

Tips for manufacturers of new, innovative products/building materials
•    Focus on the function of the product:
–    What issue does it address?
–    What is it made of?
–    How energy-efficient is it?
–    What is the best fit for the product?
•    Provide specific evidence and make research available online.
•    Prove performance, for example with videos of tests.
•    Present case studies and testimonials (featuring every voice and role involved in a project).
•    Supply installation instructions and videos.
•    Make it visual – architects and clients want to see the final outcome.

Even if the architect’s first choice of product might not end up as part of the final specification, following these tips will help to create awareness in the industry, educate developers about new innovations and might inspire contractors to obtain new skills and get an edge over their competitors.

Full thanks and acknowledgement are given to Venveo’s Marketing to Architects Research & Trends Report, Wizard Strategy and MLC Quantity Surveyors for the information given to write this article.

A quantity surveyor’s (QS’s) perspective:
André Opperman from MLC Quantity Surveyors gives his view:

1.    What is the process you go through on projects that require specialised products and materials?

If a specification is from an international source with no local suppliers, we request that the team source a local equivalent of this product.

2.    How do you motivate/justify more expensive materials or products to the client?

One doesn’t necessarily motivate a more expensive specification to a developer. A specification is selected keeping the budgetary guidelines in mind, where after a tender process is followed. The market indicates what value the developer can get for his money on a certain level of specification.

In the event where there is a tender saving compared to budget, the developer can elect to upgrade his specification or to realise the saving. Developers are experienced in their fields and put a high price on associating their brands with quality development offerings.

3.    What are some of the challenges you face in terms of considering the architect’s specifications on the one side, the contractor’s concerns on the other and the client’s preference and budget also in the mix?

We acknowledge that conflict can occur between the parties mentioned above in specifying the right product. The return of the tender results usually provides the necessary direction.

Captions:  André Opperman from MLC Quantity Surveyors