Building homes with abovegrade concrete walls is one of the fastest-growing methods of residential construction in the United States. Barely on the radar in the early 1990s, concrete homes now command an estimated 15% of the abovegrade single-family residential market as of 2006. Some of the available concrete systems include concrete masonry, insulating concrete forms (ICFs), removable concrete forms (RCFs), precast concrete panels, and autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC) blocks or panels.
In spite of the dramatic increases in market share for concrete homes, many concrete promoters, builders, contractors, distributors, and designers still are not sure how to effectively market concrete homes to their customers. This article takes a look at ways to maximize your marketing and partnering opportunities in order to make consumers more aware of the many benefits of living in a concrete home. Also, some of the resources available from the Portland Cement Association (PCA) and other industry groups will be explored to assist you in your concrete promotion efforts.
As a concrete builder or contractor, you have a number of opportunities to showcase your projects to the public and the media. While the house is under construction, invite members of the local home builders association or local chapter of the American Institute of Architects to witness the stacking of blocks or placing of concrete into forms. Other groups that might want to get a closeup look at the walls before they're covered up include realtors, engineers, insurance agents, and area building officials. You also might consider inviting subcontractors, such as drywallers, plumbers, and electricians—who often are cautious about accepting work on concrete home projects until they see firsthand how easy it can be. Of course, the media are interested in seeing innovative construction techniques as well; for television stations the most compelling visuals are placing the concrete into the forms or similar building methods. If you hold a demonstration event for any of these groups and/or the media, be sure that you have refreshments on hand, and shelter from the elements, if necessary. Also make sure to have plenty of literature available for participants to take with them.
If you're building in an established neighborhood, consider inviting the neighbors to a barbeque or other event at the under-construction home, so that they can understand the technology behind the strange-looking house going up in their area. You never know when they're going to be ready to build their next residence. One other note about the job-site—always have literature on hand, even when you're not there to answer questions. Remember that concrete homes tend to attract a lot of attention from people walking or driving by. Having a literature box available and a yard sign with your company's name, phone number, and Web site ensures that they know where to turn to for more information. The literature box should contain your company's brochure and a sheet with general information about your particular concrete system.
Many concrete home builders will exhibit at local trade shows or home and garden shows. This can be a great way to reach a relatively large number of people, but make sure that you do it right. Be certain that you can demonstrate how electrical and plumbing lines are integrated into the wall, and how drywall and exterior finishes are attached. Again, have plenty of literature on hand—not just your own company's literature, but some generic information from other reputable sources, such as PCA or the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). You also might consider a list of the addresses of finished and under-construction homes that attendees can visit after the show. At the very least, display plenty of photos of finished projects, including some that you can hand out to any media that show up at your booth. Do you have existing homeowners that have been satisfied with your work on their concrete home? Ask them if they'll allow you to use them as a reference. Are these same homeowners amazed by their low utility bills? Will they allow you to show copies of their utility bills to prospective clients or as part of your marketing efforts? You can't know unless you ask them. If you're on good terms with some of your local competitors, or if you're a member of a local concrete promotional group, consider joining together to have all of your booths in one area of the convention center.
There are a number of organizations that appreciate the many benefits of concrete construction and are happy to help you promote your product as part of their own marketing efforts. In other words, you're promoting the same end result: a higher quality of construction based on energy efficiency, durability, disaster resistance, noise abatement, or green building. Many of these groups host events and conduct marketing and media relations campaigns throughout the year. By partnering with them, you can reach their audience with your message as well.
One of the most valuable things that you can do as a concrete home builder, contractor, or distributor is to partner with a local or state concrete promotional group. Many of these organizations have residential committees or otherwise promote concrete home building. In some cases, they are able to tap into cement industry co-op advertising funds to assist with educational seminars for builders and architects, and with publicizing and promoting residential concrete products. To find the group nearest you, visit www.concretehomes.com and click on “local resources.”
The NAHB can be an ally in your promotion and educational efforts. In 2004, PCA and industry allies teamed up with NAHB to form the Concrete Home Building Council (CHBC), whose mission is to educate the more than 220,000 NAHB members about cement-based building materials. Many ICF manufacturers are members of this council. If you are already a member of your local Home Builders Association (HBA), you can join the council for about an additional $65 a year. More importantly, CHBC has developed a series of concrete-related educational courses for their members that can be taught through any of the more than 800 local HBAs across the country. Visit www.nahb.org/ concrete for a description of these courses and other council activities.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), along with state Emergency Management Associations and organizations such as the American Red Cross all have a strong interest in promoting disaster-resistant construction. You can check with these groups to see if they have an interest in working with you to host disaster-resistance seminars for the general public or building community. In many cases, you may find that they already are conducting public awareness campaigns and would be happy to gain your support as an additional partner. In recent years, PCA and allies in the concrete home building industry have held a number of successful seminars in Illinois with the American Red Cross, FEMA, and the Illinois Emergency Management Agency; visit www.safehomeillinois.org for an example. Of course, disaster-resistant products besides concrete wall systems will be featured at these events, but concrete's unique ability to resist wind-driven debris makes a strong impression on attendees.
Another valuable ally for the concrete industry is the Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS). IBHS is an organization consisting of most of the property and casualty insurance companies in the United States. The goal of IBHS is to “raise the bar” for residential and commercial construction—or in other words, to build more disaster-resistant structures and reduce the amount of claims that their members have to pay out after each hurricane, tornado, earthquake, or fire. As a result, IBHS always is interested in products that can enhance safety and durability, such as ICFs. They also pay attention to roof-to-wall connections, window and door openings, and more. IBHS administers a program known as Fortified...for safer living. This is a “code plus” program that makes recommendations for builders that are designed to add minimal cost, yet greatly enhance the disaster resistance of a home. For builders that want to earn the designation as a Fortified Builder, an IBHS member representative in their area will inspect their home throughout the construction process to make sure the criteria are met. Once you earn the Fortified Builder status, IBHS can assist you in your marketing and public relations efforts. For more information about IBHS, visit www.ibhs.org.
Building a concrete home for your local Habitat for Humanity chapter can be a great way to showcase your concrete wall system to the local building community. Remember that many Habitat volunteers are local builders, architects, engineers, and civic officials. Helping to stack forms or blocks on a Habitat jobsite is a great, no-risk chance for them to learn about concrete construction. A Habitat job featuring concrete walls can get some excellent media coverage as well.
There are a number of other governmental and quasi-governmental agencies interested in construction that incorporates quality, innovation, and energy efficiency. These include the Department of Energy through their Energy Star Program (www.energystar.gov), and the Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing (PATH) (www.pathnet.org).
Remember that PCA, Insulating Concrete Forms Association, and other groups are here to help you with your marketing and promotion efforts. Visit www.concretehomes.com for the latest industry information and to find promotional brochures, videos, and marketing kits.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The fact is that those of you building concrete homes are offering a vastly superior product to your clients. What other building systems provide this combination of superior energy efficiency, disaster-resistance, and noise mitigation and can legitimately stake a claim in the fast-growing green-building movement? We need to stop focusing on initial cost, and understand the long-term value of a concrete home. Even though a concrete home usually costs more upfront, the actual monthly operating cost for the homeowner often is less, due to savings on heating and cooling, and a reduction in their insurance premium. So, with the cost of living in a concrete home often being the same or less than a comparable wood-frame home, plus all of the benefits of a safer, quieter, more comfortable environment, what educated consumer wouldn't choose concrete? That's the real message that we need to get out there!
— Jim Niehoff is the director of residential programs at the Portland Cement Association, Skokie, Ill. He can be contacted at 847-972-9108 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on this topic, read Promoting Concrete Homes, Part 2.