Good morning and welcome to Constructing Brands. This is the place where we speak to people who are helping change construction industry. I’m so happy to have on today, a gentlemen, named Scott Hoffman. Scott is the Director of Architecture/Product Development at the CSA group. He works with both residential, as well as commercial projects. Really super large ones, small ones, New York, Philly, Miami, Puerto Rico. Today, we’re going to speak to Scott and get some insight on how he’s looking at the future of this industry. Scott, welcome to Constructing Brands.
Thank you, Eric. Glad to be here.
Tell me about what you’re seeing right now, as far as commercial real estate. What is the new trend? What are you seeing as being what’s coming at us?
Well currently with COVID-19 hitting us all around, the New York market is changing. What I’m seeing in the market now is that a lot of companies are pulling back on how much real estate they might be utilizing over the next 6 months or a year, trying to figure out what the direction really is going to be. Pretty much we’re on a lot of task forces with our clients and internally trying to really see what the financial trends are going to be as well as just spatially. Right now we’re finding a lot of companies are having their employees work remotely. It’s been quite successful, at least in our industry. How many people really need to be brought back together? That’s the biggest question we’re figuring maybe 30% of the workforce will need to be together. What that means to real estate. Well, over the next year, we’re spreading out the actual physical environment or people to have their social distancing, even within their office environments. So I don’t see that much space being given up, but new companies are not coming in to take over more space yet. Ultimately, I think that will be the trend later on, year and a half, 2 years down the line. I’m seeing that everyone was going to densify again, after all this is behind us and then the market prices will go back up. But right now they’re softening tremendously.
So with that said, have you seen any effect on how people are thinking or planning for builds or for renovating their homes that they’re may be now working out of? Are you seeing a trend or anything interesting happening there?
Tremendously on the residential side of things many people have taken their current homes. We’ve been quarantined for the past, over 3 months now. People are recognizing the fact that they’re taking over spaces that they really didn’t utilize very much before dining rooms have become home offices, a lot of people have been reaching out to me and my team to find out if they can do small additions to their homes, 10 by 12 rooms to create these new home offices. Ultimately they’ll be turned back into guest rooms or play rooms or family rooms, or just, you know, home offices to continue, you know, along the lines of what’s going on currently. So to answer your question, absolutely. A lot of residential movement people are trying to get away from the city away from Jersey City, Hoboken into the suburbs. And again the home market is booming and going to keep booming over the next 6 months to a year.
What are the biggest trends you’re seeing from your perspective as an architect? What are you seeing is the most sought after addition or component to an addition that’s intriguing or interesting to you?
Yeah, it’s again, adding that extra room or creating that extra private space with a door, a window, just so that people don’t feel like they’re in their basements working, even if they are and potentially adding a storage space and an extra bathroom so that it can ultimately turn into a guest room.
What about soundproofing? Is that like a new, interesting thing that people are looking for?
For the past 25 years that I’ve been doing residential in this area, particularly I’ve been doing this for over 30 years, but in this immediate area I’ve always addressed that issue even before it was something that people really thought about. I am soundproofing the spaces trying to make them a little more contained at least from the rest of the home.
That’s interesting. I was at the big builder show in Vegas, I guess it was what January? Came across a product that was all about sound while there were, there were a few, but there was one in particular I saw that was all about soundproofing. And it was something that went in between the walls. Are there products like that, that you’re utilizing or putting into your plans?
I’m traditionally doing the heavier duty installation of the walls building up instead of 4 inch walls, 6 inch walls between the, the proposed space and the current space. Just to give that level of soundproofing, if people really need that level of just quietness or separation. Yes, those products are absolutely very good to work with.
My audience for the most part are people who are in charge of driving manufacturing of building materials. I guess the question is if I had a product that would, we’re talking about soundproofing right now, that would be a good soundproofing product that you should know about what would be the best way to get in front of you?
Traditionally, when I get emails, a lot of them are just random, but I do look at all my emails, which is probably unusual for most people, but again, when there’s new products available, I am interested in finding them, addressing them following up with manufacturers or the contact person that’s on these emails to find out more about them, how they can be utilized, what makes the most sense? One of my initial questions is availability. How available is the product in our region or in our market or in our space? Pretty much. The other question I always have is what’s the price point? What does it compare with and compare to as far as a product and how does that price point compare and what are the additional values to that new product or product that’s new to me in that case? So there’s a lot of opportunities right now, I think our entire building industry and market is evolving, as it always has. But I think now there’s a bigger and faster push into these. Like we started to discuss home offices, how is the corporate work environment going to be utilized? How is it going to be viewed and how will it function? And that’s a big question that these task forces are really, really asking because we don’t yet know. And we are polling our teams of employees and our clients’ employees to find out how they feel about going back into their work environment or not. And what, you know, each of those thought processes are, if people are continuing to work from home, how does a situation like this? Like a Zoom meeting or podcast, or any of the sort of communication where we’re reaching out to more than just the immediate family, if you would, and sharing that information.
So interesting. And when we think about it in this industry, which is evolving, I mean, it’s changing the way people live, right?
Add in this strange scenario of COVID where you have an industry that was relying on trade shows that were relying on, you know, think about it. It isn’t the fastest moving industry.
No, I’ve been on a lot of webinars over the past few months and the new products are being revealed. And I think that’s been a tremendous help. It’s interesting. A lot of these webinars run for an hour. I don’t think they need to, because if you think about how these trade shows operate, you as the visitor or attendee is walking through aisles, you have potentially a few seconds with each potential vendor. There are hundreds or thousands of vendors at some of these trade shows. Now, to me, I would appeal to these vendors to get a 20 or 30 second soundbite to capture their audience’s attention, to doing that at a trade show as well. You have your display, that’s fine. You have a moment to capture that potential client’s attention, do it. And I think these webinars could be 15 or 20 minute sound bites, if you would, and get them introduced, get them out there, appeal to me, I mean any new products that are out there, the architectural teams need to know about it, that you professionals need to introduce it to their clients who are really layman. How do we then introduce it further either we, you know, show it to them on their website or bring them a sample. It depends what the products are. Some products, I absolutely bring samples to my clients just because it’s the old fashioned way of doing it. Again today, people are changing what their work environments are, how they function and what’s in them. So we need to be very, very efficient with that.
It makes a lot of sense. And Scott, because you work with both residential, as well as commercial, and you have such a wealth of experience and knowledge doing it. I guess if I broke it down into these 3 buckets, the first bucket would be getting on your radar, right? If I have a product or a service that’s brand new in this category, how do I get on your radar? There was the email. That was one thing you said. And what other ways would I be able to get on your right now in this world we’re in, what would be the most effective way to get on your radar that might get you interested a little bit?
Is it as well, it could be an invite to a webinar. It could be a phone call. Again, it’s a matter of establishing a few minutes of time, whether it’s opening up an email, responding to a webinar and joining that or taking a phone call from someone. A lot of it as it’s always been is a word of mouth or a network connection, a lot’s going on on LinkedIn as well, right now. People sharing information, people, sharing sites they found, conversations they are in the middle of that’s all been very, very helpful, more so now than it’s ever been. And again, it’s about communication and recognition, brand recognition, ultimately.
When you see an ad, when you see something through your social media channel, like an Instagram, or when you see something pop up, that’s interesting. Is it something, if it is in your professional world, would you click on it? Would you be…
I do. And a lot of that happens after work hours. So that’s my time to catch up, get more educated, get more connected and find out what is going on out there, aside from what we’re dealing with from 8 in the morning, till 6, 7 o’clock at night professionally.
How about magazines?
Interestingly, I’ve always subscribed to a lot of the architectural and building design and construction industry magazines. Lately, I’ve backed off on that because less time, less time to really thumb through it. And with the connectivity, it’s been so much easier online right now. And if there’s something I want to recall, I’ll tag it, I’ll even print certain things, again, as a reminder to discuss with my clients at times, or I’ll just take that link, forward it onto my clients, like to take a look at this. And all of a sudden that becomes a faster mode of introducing a product, introducing an idea, or a concept to get it implemented and included in a project.
Interestingly enough, I’ve spoken to different people who have thrown at me recently that the customer has been the impetus to the product in some cases. So you’ve experienced that as well. So where a customer says, I saw this stair, or I saw this rail or this.
I just went through this. Yes.
How does that work? And is that effective where a customer is now requesting or thinking about it and sharing that with you? Or does that get in spec because of it?
Yes, very much so. And it’s very funny because I’ve always asked the clients for what intrigues them what they appreciate in an image or their friend’s house was just done and they love their kitchen or stair. If I had designed a kitchen before bringing a client to see it, or right now I’m having my clients send me images of certain components in their kitchens to send to my, you know, current clients to show them what can be done. There were different ways of handling different situations, what appeals to them. And I go through every detail with them, whether it’s how the corner meets or how it meets the ceiling or how it sets on the floor. So there’s a lot of elements where unfortunately, today everything’s virtual for the next couple of weeks or months, it’s a little more challenging, but I think to your point, having the clients share imagery or having myself or the design and manufacturing professionals share their detailing, that is huge right now because that’s the only way we can really get to the crux of what the clients really are expecting or want.
Are they using any specific art? Do you see an increase in like a Pinterest or a…?
Pretty much, very much. Pinterest has always been a great resource for a lot of people to pull thoughts and ideas.
How about websites?
I usually go to the actual manufacturer’s website because I trust that if we find it on a manufacturer’s website, they’re the ones building it. They’re the ones creating it. And that’s the reality of that detail or that component or that element. So to me, I start there.
What do you look for? What is the, I’m sure you go on so many different manufacturer websites. What makes a great website to you versus one that you just don’t have time for?
Having the information very accessible? It’s 1 or 2 clicks deep. It’s not 3 or 4 or 5 or 6. Certain websites, certain manufacturers are known to be very deep in information how deep I need to go is more so than what a client potentially will dig into. So there could be more depth to it again for the professional side, but as far as the actual customer client laymen, it does not have to be that deep, and it shouldn’t be.
What other information do you need to see?
I need to understand options. I need to understand their standards. I need to understand again, lead time and cost from my perspective, so that if I am specifying a product or an element that it can fit nicely into the construction schedule.
What are ways that these products could help differentiate themselves to you? Right. What, you know, you had mentioned availability price compared to competition and uniqueness, or why.
So, tell me over the last couple of months, any products you don’t have to mention by name, but any products that had done a really good job jumping out as being unique as not something that you’re going to want to value engineer out?
There have been pretty much more so lately because we’re digging deeper and quicker into things because of the current market situation. Looking at doors, looking at windows. Again, I still believe you get what you pay for in most products. And it’s a matter of, for me, it’s the performance, as well as the detailing on a lot of these products, it’s for the clients, what does it look like if they’re doing doors throughout their home? It could be anywhere from a dozen to three or four dozen different doors. It’s a huge statement, a huge statement that happens. The clients usually don’t even think about the performance of them. And it goes back to what we discussed earlier, soundproofing, or sound absorbing in situations where we’re creating a lot of new home office situations. I will make sure that the product meets the specs that we’re trying to accomplish, and that it looks right for the client. Windows, same deal. Wall systems right now, a lot of people are dividing larger rooms into smaller rooms. There are so many opportunities out there. And again, it’s going to go by performance, it’s going to go by detailing engineering, what it looks like, what it feels like, how it gets applied, how simple is it to apply or install.
Now let’s get to the third phase, which is in my world. It’s always trial.
What are things that different companies are doing that make you want to try them, companies you don’t have experience with? Is there anything that you’ve seen any company do, whether it’s some sort of incentive, or I don’t know, are there any things that you’ve seen that you say, wow, you know, I’m going to try this because I feel really comfortable trying this particular product on this job.
It’s been the innovation side of it. I’ve seen it recently where I have never seen that product before used locally. I just liked the opportunity to apply it and just the functionality of these things they’re, some of them are amazing and a lot of creativity is coming locally. A lot of the older companies are being forced to get more creative, more inventive, and really to evolve their companies and their products. Even though it’s the same product its use might be able to be applied in different situations today and definitely worth a look definitely worth considering. And that’s what I’ve been doing lately as well.
So, quick recap, it sounds as though number 1, at least the minute we’re in, things are changing rapidly and home office, homework area utilizing space in your residential area has become more and more important. With that said, there’s that commercial bend that’s seeping into the residential space. You’re a building material company, and you want to get on, on Scott, your radar, any top architects, radar. Number 1, the words that you’re, what you’re sharing with us is number 1, make sure that you’re on the different social channels, like the Pinterest’s and teasing out socially your product, create that relationship where they’re on your radar and a really smart way to do it, it sounds like, is make sure that you’re communicating with the end end user, the customer, and providing that customer with clear information that they could provide you with to get on your radar. That might be a really smart approach.
Number 2 is unique selling proposition, make sure that as a manufacturer or even a service provider, that you’re showcasing performance details, all the reasons why the product is unique, interesting, different, and in there make certain that you have in cost compared to alternate alternative products, so there is a reference point. 3 is trial, to get in your hands for you to make that leap if you don’t have experience with it, make sure there’s a real reason, show your innovation, show your what makes you unique show trials, show things that will make you feel comfortable trying this. So if there are studies you’ve done, if there’s testimonials, maybe from other people who have used it, make sure that’s readily available, right? So that you feel comfortable trying it.
And availability don’t want to forget that. So, with all that said, I mean, I think you’ve given our listeners a whole lot of great advice on how to move forward. Any other things that you can think of that would help these folks in what’s the right approach to make sure that they’re doing the right thing by you?
It’s really standing behind their product, standing behind the testimonials, standing behind what they’re presenting, what they’re putting out there. The hardest situation is when a product is specified whether I find it or identify it, or my client identifies it, we bring it to the table. I bring in either the manufacturer or the rep to again, make sure that I’m specifying it properly, making sure the contractor understands how to install it or apply their product. And then all of a sudden there’s a question during construction or installation, and we can’t get that attention. We can’t get that direct communication back to either the manufacturer or the distributor, that’s very, very important. It’s again, client satisfaction. I’m the client, as well as the end user. Ultimately, as well as the contractor I’ve seen in situations where a contractor has installed the product for some reason it just doesn’t work or function the way it was thought to be able to function. And it could be an installation issue. It could just be, wasn’t the right product at the time, whatever it is. And the contractor tries to stand behind it, but they need the manufacturer to stand behind it with them. That’s huge. And when that doesn’t happen, contractor is not going to use it again, even if it is specified on a project, they’ll come back and try to do an improved equal. It’s just making sure there’s a level of client support and communication is key.
Scott, I think you’ve shared so much with us. I can’t thank you enough, Scott Hoffman. What are the best way? If someone wants to reach out to you and get in touch with you, what’s the best way to do so?
[email protected] and again, through that, if you have any questions or thoughts we can communicate through email or I can send my cell number, whatever was easy. Thank you.
Scott. Thank you very much. Thank you for your time and thank you for all your knowledge. I appreciate it.
My pleasure. Thanks very much, Eric.
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