How Building Materials Companies Can Position Their Products as a Value-Engineering Option

“Value engineering” is a strategic approach to developing, designing and constructing buildings that is focused on delivering the most value at every stage of the project, from every component.

“Value engineering” also refers more specifically to the stage in a project when stakeholders start looking at what can be cut or done less expensively. This could be because something else caused the project to go over budget, or because the budget has been revised and there’s no way to make the originally specified design and products work.

While the first definition – an overall approach – matters to building materials companies, the second definition – mid-project budget revisions – really matters.

Why? Because this stage creates opportunities for building products brands and distributors. It also presents potential threats to brands whose products have already been specified.

Scenario 1: Your product has already been specified and is in danger of being VE’d out.

In this scenario, your product has made it into the final project and has been approved by the owner and the architect. Everything was moving along until the contractor identified ways to cut costs – and your product is on the chopping block.

The best way to be prepared for this is to have made the case for your product throughout the entire process and to have equipped each of the stakeholder groups with information about your product that resonates specifically with their concerns. This is not about cutting your prices to make your product the cheapest option. It’s about conveying the value of your product and what it will mean to the overall project ROI:

  • Any costs your product makes necessary (installation, other systems to support your product) and how those can be mitigated
  • How your product supports LEED or other certifications
  • How your product supports tax credits
  • The lifespan of your product and maintenance costs
  • How your product contributes to safety goals
  • How your product supports environmental goals
  • How your product contributes to accessibility
  • How easy your product is to use
  • How infrequently your product malfunctions
  • How your product can help meet project timelines
  • Case studies of previous installations of your product, with data if possible
  • The “curb appeal” of your product and how that will support long-term interest in the building, including awards
  • Testimonials from architects and owners about your product and your company
  • What will need to be added to the project to achieve the same look or function that your product delivers, and, if true, that this cost matches or exceeds what will be “saved” by cutting your product

As an example, let’s say your roller shades have been specified for a nine-story building. The general contractor needs to cut 25% across the board. If you’ve already shown that your roller shades reduce solar gain and therefore heating and cooling costs by 30% annually and the shades have a lifespan of 15 years, the general contractor is less likely to consider value-engineering them out.

If you haven’t made the case for your product earlier on, the general contractor may in fact decide to reduce the window coverings budget by 25%, which would make your product impossible to include. You can present the same case for your product after this decision has been made, but you’ll be working against a decision instead of helping to make one.

Scenario 2: Your product would make a good VE alternative to the specified product.

In this scenario, the architect may have originally envisioned a different material, shape, or feature that wasn’t a good fit for your product. Now that the general contractor has identified a need for a different approach, you want the opportunity to sell your product. The best way to make sure you’re on the radar as a value-engineered solution is to build up awareness ahead of time.

Brands often bristle at associating their product with the term “value-engineering,” because they feel it makes their brand seem cheap. There are three reasons that’s the wrong way to look at it:

  1. This is a decision about value, not price.
  2. You will miss out on sales opportunities if people don’t know how you could be a valuable alternative.
  3. There are many ways to make “value-engineering” clear and obvious to relevant audiences without diminishing your product.

The most important question to answer is, “What other product or system could my product replace?” Put another way, your product is a value-engineered alternative to what?

Next, identify the ways in which your product delivers value as compared to the product you’re seeking to replace. Tables and charts can be very helpful. If your product has shortcomings relative to the originally specified product, identify those as well. This will not only help the general contractor make an informed decision, but it will also help stakeholders know that they can trust you.

Using this information, create a landing page on your website that explains how your product is a good value-engineering solution for (doors, window coverings, marble floors, etc.) The important thing is to name the category, not a competitor (“doors” vs. “Brand X Supreme Door 7”). Make sure the page is optimized so it can be found by people searching for this solution.

Create a downloadable brochure that includes the information on your landing page as well as other details that would help someone make a decision. While the gold standard may be a conversation with the general contractor, they may be searching for solutions at 1 a.m. You may not get the chance to have that conversation if you don’t provide them with the materials they need when they need them. This also allows them to mark up the brochure and share it with other team members. You can gate the brochure, meaning you can require someone to give you their email address before downloading it. This tells you which contractors are looking for VE solutions and gives you a way to follow up with them.

Consider sending short emails to general contractors who work on projects that your product would be a good fit for, explaining (briefly) what your product is and how it could work as a VE solution. Don’t make it too long or too salesy – think about the kind of email that you would find useful and use that to guide your writing. The point is to provide information and a point of contact.

Lastly, digital advertising can boost the visibility of your value-engineering landing page to the right audiences. Pay-per-click can increase search engine visibility, display ads can grow general awareness, and LinkedIn ads can target specific companies and job roles (assuming the people you want to reach are using LinkedIn).

It’s Worth the Effort to Make Your VE Case

Value-engineering can mean the end of your involvement in a project, or it can mean that many more opportunities just opened up to you. Making sure you’re positioned to capitalize on those opportunities takes upfront work, but that work can set you up for repeated success.

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Patience Jones