The installers of our organization have been extremely busy as of late. Gone (at least temporarily) are the days of struggling to find the next job. Our bigger issues today have to do with finding enough people to help us get more work and handle the work we already have on the books. Given the two we would all much rather have the second problem. As installers we should be looking at what can we do to prepare for the next inevitable down turn. One thing you will see Masonry begin to promote and feature are new installation opportunities for mason contractor members. Some of these new installation ideas will not be vastly different stretches for masons, some may be a little more beyond what we have thought of as our markets. The reality is as installers the more diverse we are in the work we install; the more opportunities we will have in the future when the economy turns.

As I speak with contractors around the country, many are already doing this. Finding smaller segments of the marketplace that compliment the work they already do. Installing interior tile, can be a great addition for contractors who look on high end residential and commercial projects. Many in our industry are already going the way of trying to be a one stop shop installer. Installing as many pieces of our projects as possible. Other contractors are looking at and installing outdoor living spaces. This is quite possibly one of the biggest trends out there today and it can be very profitable. You will see more ideas on ways to expand in this area from our friends Dean and Derek. What about natural stone installations? A lot of masons are afraid to go into natural stone as it is viewed more of a craft than some of the traditional products we install. There have been changes in that segment which make the installation easier than in the past. Exposing more to these techniques may intrigue some to want to explore new opportunities there.

What about non-traditional masonry products? Are there segments of the installation side that masons have not touched simply because it has never been viewed “masonry work”? I think there are quite a few. Many of our installer members do install non-traditional masonry materials. If you had a concrete division through the past recession, you likely saw that division of your company hold together better. While no one will contend it was thriving during the recession, you most will likely agree that there were more concrete opportunities than there was masonry. Likely it would have doubled your ability to compete for work. Many masons have found concrete work to be a natural addition to their companies and have seen their ability to get more work and bigger shares of projects expand do to their increased capabilities.

Interestingly enough there are masons currently installing materials sometimes viewed as competitors to masonry materials. One such product is Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs). While this material has traditionally been viewed as a competitor to masonry (and it is on the material side), as installers, should we pass on opportunities to install a material that the end user is looking for or building? We have many masons currently installing the material and many of them have done well with the installs and have found them to be profitable. In addition to profitable, they have found that the installs take less toll on their labor. This is a huge plus when we have an aging workforce. Are ICFs much different than a clay brick being installed versus a concrete brick? Or natural stone being installed versus a brick. Each of those differences have to be weighed during the material selection process and those materials have always viewed each other as competitors for wall share.

We can all argue the performance differences of the material and as installers we should understand those and be able to explain them to the end user. Ultimately, if performance differences are identified and the end user knows what they are getting why we would we not want to install what they want? Is it the position of the installer to argue for one material over another or is it to give the end user an understanding of what they will be getting? Yes, a poor application of a material would be horrible and we see it happen, but as installers we would be able to help identify those issues if we installed all the materials being considered. I believe as an installer you would have more credibility if you did not have the potential to lose work by their selection. I believe these are all good questions that mason contractors will need to address for their own companies in order to look out for their best interests. As an organization and as a magazine we will present some new ideas and thinking and show some case studies of what other mason contractors are doing and provide you insight into what worked and what did not, to help you make informed decisions. We also look forward to offering learning opportunities for installers and ultimately it will be the decisions of each of you the direction you want to take your company.

All this talk reminds me of a situation I once had. I received a phone call from a trustee from a local city. They had asked me if a there was a difference between a concrete brick and a brick. They had a meeting that evening and a developer was requesting a change to the ordinance that the city had in place, which required brick on the use of commercial exteriors. I was faced with a little with a dilemma. Which way was I going to sway this person on the phone or should I even sway them? Should I just tell there was no difference since our people install both products? No, I told her that a clay brick will perform as a clay brick over the lifetime of structure and that a concrete brick would perform differently. They were two different materials, both are excellent products, but she should be aware there is a difference between clay and concrete performance and as such if they gave a variance they should likely investigate the differences between the two specific materials being considered and understand the performance differences. If there would be color-fading issues, they should require some type of maintenance program if that was a concern for them and of course I went on about some other potential performance issues they should investigate before making a selection. Ultimately, as a person representing the installers of those products, I was not too concerned what they chose. I just felt they needed to understand that there were differences. Since our members install both, we became the experts she was going to for an opinion. I likely gave her different opinions versus what the material suppliers of the brick and block would have promoted.

We look forward to bringing new opportunities to the readers of Masonry and having open discussions and case studies on new installation opportunities that others are taking advantage of, and ultimately helping you decide if they would be a good fit for your company. Not all options will be good for everyone, but if you can pick-up one good fit, it will be all worth it. We see it as a sharing of information among installers. Something not hindered by the politics of our industry. If we miss something that your company does and you would like to share a story or help with a case study, please contact our Editor. We are always looking for creative installers; I am always amazed at the things I hear when I am visiting with contractors and the diverse business models that exist.

Words: Jeff Buczkiewicz, MCAA President