June/July 2009 Newsletters

Should You Name Your Competitors?

**** The 4specs Perspective

Should you and your reps provide only proprietary specifications or should you name your competitors and help the specifier or project architect by providing competitive specs?

As a former independent product rep, I understood the importance of long-term relationships with specifiers and project architects to my future business on projects with their specifications. I tried to help the specifier understand the local product marketplace and tried to place the products I represented in a fair way. I think it paid off in the long run.

Phil Kabza (the SpecGuy) has his perspective:

Naming your competition? Yes. A powerful way to increase your credibility as a product representative - and to achieve a more frequent, defendable place in project specifications...

[link no longer available]

Remember the specification is the hunting license not the sale. Your goal during design should be to have your products included where appropriate. At bidding time is when you, your reps, distributors, contractors and competitors work out who gets the sale.

I always recommend that your specs on your website include the competitors' names. This increases the likelihood of your spec being used verbatim. At a minimum, your reps should know the competitors' products well enough to provide the specifier or project architect with the information they need to write a competitive spec.

That was May's newsletter. Several manufacturers objected to the premise, saying they work to get exclusive and proprietary specifications. I sent a copy of my response to one manufacturer with a copy to Phil Kabza. Phil shared his perspective with the manufacturer.

I suspect a large proportion of [your company's] work is on public projects funded with taxpayer money. Most public work in the US is performed under state public bidding model statutes that either forbid the use of proprietary specifications outright (the "naming" of manufacturers or products) or require that when a manufacturer or product is referred to in a specification in order to establish a basis of design quality, that a minimum of 3 comparable manufacturers/products be named, and that a procedure be established to review and approve additional manufacturers and products during the bidding period. The purpose of this common requirement is to attempt to limit graft and corruption with taxpayer money, a seemingly human trait that is not the sole province of a single political party or economic system.

In the state of North Carolina, it is a misdemeanor for an architect or engineer to use documents prepared by a vendor in order to solicit work for a public project.

That being said, many municipalities and agencies play fast and loose with public bidding statutes. It occasionally gets them, and their A/E consultants, in serious trouble. So a local DOT project manager may have no objection to a civil engineer issuing a specification for [your company's products], excluding substitutions, even though under the public bidding statutes this is illegal. Bid protests may result in rejected bids and costly rebidding. Attorneys-General investigations may result in suspended licenses to practice.

We don't think this is a good way for a manufacturer to build relationships in the industry. If [your company] goes into a project specification named as basis of design, it's an incentive for the successful bidding contractor to call you first anyway They may also call the other two manufacturers listed, or not. But you've kept your engineer and your owner legal, which is a service to them that they should be wise enough to respect.

A specification is not an advertisement - it is an instrument of a licensed professional practice. If manufacturers get into the specification business as part of their marketing efforts, and many should and do, we think it's pretty important for them to understand how the system works and err on the side of caution. You may be working with a young and inexperienced design professional who will either appreciate your assistance in keeping her legal, or remember for the rest of her work life that she got in trouble because of your specification.

I hope these comments are helpful.

Phil Kabza, FCSI CCS AIA

Questions and comments always appreciated.


Colin Gilboy
Publisher - 4specs
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