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How One General Contractor Sees Business Today

One in a series of interviews conducted by Point To Point to better understand the players that comprise the building products channel, as well as the sizable market forces reshaping their worlds and how they engage with brands.

Profile
Name
: Alan Pollack
Title: President of the 20-person Cleveland division of Welty Building Company. Welty specializes in lean construction for clients in a variety of healthcare, commercial, education, energy and hospitality markets nationwide.
General Contractor For: 30 years
Started in the Trades As: An electrician
Education: Kent State University. Also completed an electrical apprenticeship program and some targeted business courses
Favorite Sports Team: The Cleveland Indians
Favorite Drink: Rum

On Technology and Its Impact
I own a smartphone and a laptop. Like everyone else in the business, my phone never leaves me. Technology has changed everything. Business is a constant flow of information. Between getting drawings electronically to go on iPads and people living and dying by email via their cell phones, technology has sped things up tremendously. However, there’s a lot more distraction. I think the information flow is faster, but productivity may not be keeping up with the information transfer.”

His Take On Product Selection
We select product based on the specifications set by architects and engineers. However sometimes we’re asked to find something that’s less expensive, that does the same job or performs the same function. In that case we use the Internet - put in a keyword, hit the search button and start from there. Or, if it was a light fixture we need, we would talk to our electrical subcontractor and tap into his expertise. Price is not necessarily the driver - sometimes it’s about availability.”

“Do I talk to reps? I try not to. In all seriousness…sometimes we have to, there are reps we talk to, but usually product selection happens in the design professionals’ world. We do go to tradeshows, occasionally, if the timing is right. And I do get a lot of good product information from The Family Handyman magazine. Even though it’s not commercial, a lot of what’s covered can be used commercially.”

About Brand Loyalty
We try to be loyal to brands. But take the lighting industry - it’s changed so much over recent history that sometimes we’ve got to be open-minded to some of the new brands that have the new technology. If all things are equal, I would rather stick to a brand I know, that’s proven with a solid warranty and a company that stands behind it. However, there are upstart companies that are making a difference.”

On Brand Influence
Brand can play a factor in product choice. It just depends on why we have to make a change. For instance, with paint. Because Sherwin-Williams is a local Cleveland company and so dominant in the industry, we will almost always try to use the Sherwin-Williams product in lieu of anything else. They’re so available, so proven, you just can’t go wrong with them.”

What Brands Could Do Better
It’s my impression that sales reps spend most of their time with contractors, not the general contractor or construction manager. I think they should focus some of their time on us. No, we’re not on the front lines the way the subcontractors are, but if we knew more about some of the things that are out there, it could prove beneficial.”

Buying Direct
It’s usually not our norm to buy direct from the brands. If we do it’s because we want to cut out the middle man. For instance, if our HVAC contractor can’t get it, or if it’s a very big ticket item we might buy direct to have more control over its availability and shipping, as well as to eliminate the markup from a subcontractor. But most of our products come through our subcontractors. If we do have to buy anything direct – like door hardware – it’s through a supplier. We do shop some at Home Depot and Lowe’s, but for a lot of things we’ll go to a specialty hardware supplier.”

What’s Changed
“Today, safety is paramount. It’s always been important, but now it’s even more so. We want everybody to go home safe at night to be with their families.”

“Time has changed. Schedules are much shorter now. Time is the key consideration in getting projects done effectively. We manage different aspects of a project to cut as much time as possible by being lean in our decision-making and management style. And when you do finish a project and things have gone well, there’s never time to celebrate your victories. You’re always on to the next battle.”

Why Building Products Brands are Falling Short

Topics: Building Products Manufacturing