Marketing Relationships

I've heard stories in the past about contractors who would switch ready-mix producers if there was a $1 difference in price of concrete per yard. Or the customer who always chooses the lowest bid, regardless of the contractor. It's hard for me to understand this mentality, giving up a trusted relationship for the sake of a small amount of money. There are too many reasons why relationships in business are important—now more than ever.

Here's where I think marketing emphasis should be placed—on relationships. Developing relationships is really about developing trust. And who wants to do business with someone they don't trust?

Here are some suggestions on developing lasting, trusting business relationships:

  • Stay close to designers and specifiers. Invest time in personal visits. They want to do business with people they know and trust. Their highest risk is doing business with someone they don't know.
  • Work to establish better ties with your customers. Do what you say you will do in a timely fashion.
  • Build your relationship with your ready-mix producer. Be courteous when placing orders and checking on deliveries. Get their help developing your mix designs. Ask for help when there are job problems. They are an expert resource and are a partner in your efforts.
  • When company revenues go down, crews suffer as well. Maintaining good relationships here is especially important.

Most people consider marketing to be mass mailings, advertising, and having booths at trade shows. I think it is all about developing trusting relationships.

“The nice thing about formliners is that they can be used to add original art to a project,” says Amy Westover, owner of the Amy Westover Co., Boise, Idaho. “Using them saves money too because the work has a functional component also.” She is both an artist who pursues projects with money for the arts and a subcontractor, along with her husband, who installs some of the work she contracts as an artist.

Artistry and custom formliners are very compatible. Projects that involve their use include sound walls, bridge abutments, commercial building walls, parking garages, retaining walls, and other special applications. In almost every case the structural walls they are part of are already included in the plans, so a decorative treatment added for interest and appeal can be achieved with little extra cost to the project.

How the process works

Many publicly funded projects include money for the arts. The goal is to make functional structures intriguing to look at as well. Artists search for these projects when they come out for bid. A typical specification invites people to submit their ideas in writing or in the form of a presentation. Mark Salzman, design director for HNTB, Minneapolis, says his firm often designs projects with special rock patterns or indigenous materials so they discuss their ideas with formliner manufacturers and ask them to supply prices to contractors bidding the project. For example, he says that one project required large stones on the bottom layers of a wall and small ones at the top. If they specified real stone, two materials are involved in the project and costs are much higher. Formliners allow them to control project costs. The layout for this kind of work can be complicated however, as in the case of turning corners on a battered wall construction. He adds that he often specifies a referee panel (a panel built by the owner and used in the bidding process) to ensure that the right look is achieved.

Custom formliners are created by first constructing positive molds that help make the negative molds used to cast the formliners. These original models can be created with clay or plaster, or by cutting shapes into high-density foam using a computer numerically controlled (CNC) router directed by computer assisted drawing (CAD) files. The actual formliner materials usually are made with solid two-part urethanes, foam urethanes, or silicone rubbers.

Controlling costs

Vicki Scuri, the owner of SiteWorks, Lake Forest, Wash., focuses her company effort on designs for infrastructure projects—mostly sound walls and bridges. She likes to use custom formliners because they add a lot of impact to a job without adding much additional cost. Cost, however, relates to the number of repeat uses for a formliner. Typical formliners can be reused more than 100 times with reasonable care on the part of the contractor. She estimates that costs can be as little as $1 per square foot with maximum reuse, and as much as $10 when there are few reuses.