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It Works If You Work It

17 Feb

3 Reasons Networking in the Building Products Industry Helps You and Your Business

Account Coordinator_LexiGuest Contributor:
Lexi Copeland, Account Coordinator

After moving from western Kansas (shout-out to Hays, America) to Kansas City more than two years ago, I initially felt like a very little fish in a very big pond. Starting off my career, I wasn’t sure where I could fit in. So rather than aimlessly float around, I decided to make a plan to grow into my new environment. What worked for me? I started participating in networking events hosted by a professional association specific to my field. My employment is a direct result of these efforts and I now hold a board position on the local chapter of that organization.

Have you ever heard that sometimes annoying phrase, “It’s all about who you know?” This is a universal truth when it comes to building your business and growing your professional and personal network—especially within the building products industry, where the relationships you nurture throughout your career could make or break a sale. Here’s exactly how networking can help you in more ways than one.

  1. Grow Your Business: When attending events within your industry, you are gaining an opportunity to be struck with inspiration and insights from members of the channel that you might not normally be exposed to. One of the owners of ER Marketing, Renae, just wrote about how Silestone’s team of “Trendspotter” designers are the perfect example of this. By interacting with a group in a different section of the channel, they have helped make their product better, in turn improving business and setting new style trends that will impact everyone in the industry. You also never know where new leads will come from. Wouldn’t it make perfect sense for a contractor looking for a new supplier to attend an event hosted by suppliers?
  2. Grow Professionally: An article recently published on attending B2B events emphasizes the importance of prioritizing new experiences because they help keep us fresh and creative. If you get so used to a daily routine that you never branch out, opportunities for new ideas and possibilities will pass you by. People also greatly respect those that position themselves as experts in their field but also share that knowledge with others. So also consider the speaking opportunities professional associations have to offer. In the world of building, it’s important to make sure you’re constantly evolving to meet your customers’ latest demands. Professional networking events and education sessions provide you with the opportunities you need to grow in that way.
  3. Grow personally: Relationships are essential to life’s happiness, and you may be surprised by the amount of meaningful connections that can be made through networking. Relating to others—inside or even outside of your industry—can give you a sense of fulfillment, perspective, and camaraderie not always possible (or at least easily accessible) in our normal day-to-day interactions. You should feel more energized, motivated, and inspired by your involvement. Not only that, but seeing what other people in your industry are doing can help you feel more rejuvenated during times when you might otherwise feel disenchanted with the ebbs and flows of your career—and the building industry.

It is also important to mention that networking is no longer just about saving business cards in a Rolodex. With today’s technology like LinkedIn and others, maintaining a network has never been easier. But access alone isn’t enough—your best chance at success will come from being real, authentic, and dedicating effort to helping others as well. In other words, don’t go into networking thinking only of what you can take or get from others; think of what you can contribute as well.

Here are a few of the best networking organizations for those in the building products industry:

 

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IBS 2016: Innovation Starts at the End of the Channel

4 Feb

Why I’m Demanding a Disruption in Building Products Development

Trendsetters

It seems like every meeting I have been in over the last few months has the same common theme. When asking any building materials manufacturer what they want to be famous for, the one word I hear over and over is “innovation,” or being an “innovator,” or being “innovative.”

No matter the iteration of the word, they’re saying the same thing: they want to come to market with products that chart the path for the industry. The question is: what is anybody doing to really accomplish that? Just stating the word does not change the product development process or disrupt the industry with new and truly innovative products.

That’s why while I was at the 2016 International Builders’ Shower (IBS) and Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS), I was delighted to run across a company doing exactly that. Cosentino® is a building products company that develops stunning quartz and stone options for kitchen and bathroom surfaces. One of their products, Silestone®, is a beautiful high-end surface made of 94% quartz.

But what makes this product so innovative is not just the advanced bacteriostatic technology or its incredible resistance and durability, or even its numerous designs; it’s the way Cosentino develops those designs.

Through the support of their Silestone Trendspotters, a diverse group of top designers from across the country, Cosentino creates new looks every year inspired by some of the most cutting-edge and forthcoming designs in the market. How do they accomplish this? Cosentino goes straight to the other end of the channel to talk to the people using their product (and, presumably, their competitors’ products), and then gets their insights to develop a product that will set the course for tomorrow’s trends.

Let’s be clear: these designers aren’t just choosing colors. Manufacturers everywhere bring in a designer or two to pick out colors; that’s nothing new. The Trendspotters is a team of designers from all different places across the country, from different points in their careers (some veterans, some up-and-comers), from different styles and backgrounds, from different philosophies and clienteles.

Cosentino made a bold move in picking them, flying them to Italy, and turning them loose to work with engineers, product developers, and others on the manufacturing team to create a product they collectively thought reflected where design is headed. The magic of this is in how fearless Cosentino was in being open to the opportunity of what could be made when this diverse team of forward-thinkers got access to their resources, intelligence, and the inspiration of Italy.

Here are two of the new looks from the Etchings collections created this year by the Trendspotters:

  • Ink EtchInk: This jet black design is a classic, clean, and simple showstopper in most decor. By complementing the boldness of the Etchings design with a timeless shade, homeowners can feel confident their choice won’t go out of style any time soon.
  • AquaTint EtchAquatint: Look familiar? Our Art Director, Stephanie Voss, wrote a blog last year about how calming blue hues like Pantone’s Serenity will influence the building products industry in 2016. Proof pudding.

This approach to product development and design is brilliant precisely because it seems so obvious—but it’s not. Not everyone in building products is doing this. In fact, a lot of manufacturers either base their designs on focus group input or simply create designs based on studies published through standard trade outlets. Both options have their place, but are also inherently reactive—not always the best option for companies who seek to be innovative.

But who better to tell building products manufacturers at the top of the channel where design is going than some of the top designers in the country? By using these designers’ “on the ground” knowledge, Cosentino’s Silestone product is poised to set the tone for other designers and consumers in the coming years.

It takes time, energy, patience, investment, and courage to utilize an approach like this—an approach that empowers someone outside of your company to not only influence product design, but to create it. But that is true innovation. It’s listening, it’s using resources, it’s collaborating, and it’s understanding the channel on every level and using those insights to better your product and better the entire industry. Using focus groups and studies is also necessary for understanding today’s trends, but setting tomorrow’s requires further channel insights—exactly what Cosentino is doing with its Trendspotters.

I’m certain that this new line is going to be a hit, but I’m even more certain that the process will open the building products world to even more innovative creations.

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10 IBS Insights You Need to Know (Part 2/2)

28 Jan

Part Two: 5 Design Trends from IBS 2016

Indoor Outdoor Living

Every year, the International Builders’ Show (IBS) is the best place for marketers to keep a finger on the pulse of where the building products industry is going. The ER Marketing team and I attended this year, and we were able to learn everything from the latest marketing trends to a general economic housing outlook to the latest products that will impact everyone down the channel.

There’s no question that tech and high-performance homes are big, overarching trends to look for in 2016. But the show proved that neither of those trends can come at the expense of design, so the onus is on marketers at the higher end of the channel to educate their customers how these products can integrate into a home’s design beautifully and seamlessly.

Using our own team hashtag, #IBSDoubleTake, we captured the things that made us stop and take notice during IBS 2016. And they’re things you should take notice of, too—they’ll be impacting the way we market these products as we get deeper into 2016 and the coming years. Here are some of the design trends spotted at IBS 2016 by my team:

Top 5 Design Trends from IBS 2016:

  1. You are no longer in the building business. You are in the technology business. As customers at the end of the channel nutonebecome more and more tech-savvy (and tech-reliant), so too will their homes and the products they choose to build it with or put in it. Even down to seemingly simple products like this Nutone doorbell with 250 MB of space for custom doorbell rings/music, tech was the showstopper. Nutone did an excellent job of showing how a fun piece of technology can also inspire a clean and simple design aesthetic.
  2. Tech is big, but so is functionality. And new tech needs to integrate seamlessly into any design, including traditional, to be truly functional for customers. Wellborn Cabinets did that well with their remote control island—super functional, super classic, super innovative.Kohler Bath
  3. Lighting is big. Kohler highlighted the fact that whether in the home or in the booth, eye-catching lighting will be important for building products marketers to account for in 2016 and beyond. Consider how you might use unique lighting tactics to modernize your product photography as well.
  4. The style of the New American Home was “Rustic Modern.” What does that mean for building products marketers? Focus on a design that combines natural elements, textures, and colors with clean, simple, and crisp lines. In fact, the home executed this so effortlessly, it appeared to be a part of the natural landscape!New American Home 1
  5. Wondering how outdoor living plays in? Don’t worry—it hasn’t gotten away. In recent years, outdoor living has meant bringing amenities you would normally expect indoors (fireplaces/pits, speakers, covered seating) to the outdoors. Now it’s about bringing outdoor elements in with seamless, even tenuous, transitions from the indoors to the outdoors. This means floor to ceiling glass, pocket doors, cable or glass railing, clean lines, and corresponding design elements (like using recessed lighting and using the same flooring styles inside and outside, for example).

If you missed our post earlier in the week, make sure to read the Top 5 Marketing Trends building products marketers need to know from IBS 2016.

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What Building Products Marketers Need to Know About Millennials (Part 1/2)

7 Jan

New Customers, New Expectations

Millennial home buyer

Things are changing in the building industry, and anyone who has worked in it for a long time can see it. Whether it’s the trend towards outdoor living or intergenerational living, there is a common thread: Millennials. And now, Millennials are moving into home buying roles, with their own unique demands and expectations. Building products marketers hoping to grow their business—especially those in renovations and remodeling—would be remiss to ignore the advantages of catering to this growing audience, which is showing strong preference for home restoration.

A recent article in Builder Online discusses some of this generation’s demands as they become homeowners, and how these demands will (or at least should) impact how you do business. Here are a few key takeaways:

  • Millennial homebuyers want authenticity: “They favor character over convenience, and history over homogeny.”
  • Millennial homebuyers want fixer-uppers: “They see themselves as modern day stewards, charged with bringing their home to its original glory.”
  • Millennial homebuyers want you to listen: “They represent the first generation that is aggressively challenging the home building industry to listen to their needs.”

As customers, Millennial homebuyers offer great promise for building products marketers focused on renovations and remodeling. There is one caveat: people in the building industry will have to move “from a ‘push strategy’ (buy, stock, and sell) to a ‘pull strategy’ (listen, inspire, and care)” if they hope to capitalize on this opportunity.

Clearly, this group is affecting the buying process as consumers and customers. But Millennials are not just your customers—they also represent a growing part of the workforce in the building products industry. For more on that, see my blog post here. As the industry grows and evolves, Millennials will also begin affecting your business as employees—at all stops in the channel.

Part 2 of this series (coming next week) will tackle the importance of incorporating Millennial employees—and their values—into your business, and how that just might impact your customers as well…

Make sure to read the full article for further insights into the minds of Millennial homebuyers.

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10 Trade Show Tips That Speak for Themselves

22 Dec

Be in the Know Before the Show

Trade Show Gift

When you’ve been in the building products industry for long enough, you learn some valuable lessons about attending a trade show and making the most of your time there. That’s how I know that every year, January marks more than just the start of the new year—it’s also the start of what we in the building products industry call “trade show season.”

Trade shows are fun and an  teffective way to meet prospects; they’re also hectic and crazy. Over the years, I’ve lost count of all the trade shows I’ve attended, but the lessons learned have stuck with me.

I’ve compiled a quick list of tips for attending a trade show that need no further explanation:

  1. Follow all the handles/hashtags for the event to keep current—before, during, and after an event.
  2. Visit the website before the show to view the map against the schedule of speakers you’d like to attend. Don’t be that freshman who schedules back-to-back classes across campus.
  3. Download the app for the show beforehand (if they have one).
  4. Wear comfortable shoes—you’ll be walking. Hint: if your feet are hurting, seek out the booths that paid extra for carpet padding.
  5. Bring enough business cards.
  6. Have a plan for how you’re going to follow up with the prospects you meet. Then, follow through with it.
  7. Pack a backup phone battery and bring it with you. Thank me later.
  8. Don’t be that guy who eats your lunch at a table in a booth. Sit with prospects and meet new people.
  9. Know how long it takes to get to the nearest bathroom and back so you don’t miss something important.
  10. Wi-Fi isn’t always a given. Plan accordingly.

I’ve had to learn some of these lessons the hard way—but follow these tips and you won’t have to. Consider it my trade show season gift to you.

For more trade show tips and tricks, see my last roundup post here.

Bonus tip for those who made it to the bottom of this post: If you take nothing else away from this, remember that the Lowe’s booth always has fresh-baked cookies. Just be careful not to burn your mouth if they’re fresh out of the oven.

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