MD Tony Burke: Manufacturers Specifications – Who Benefits?

Published on 19th November 2018
Avonside Group Services CEO, Tony Burke

Within Avonside Group I am constantly challenging my management teams to question the norm. To ask ‘why?’ about things that, as an industry, we either take for granted or consider as written in tablets of stone.

Why do I encourage such behaviour? I do so because it is proven that when you question why things are done, you will come up with some interesting observations – some valid, others less so. But it only takes one valid observation to lead to a “breakthrough” moment in terms of how we do things that can change the fundamentals of how we go about our business.

The Importance of Questioning the Status Quo

After all wasn’t it Albert Einstein who stated that the definition of insanity was to do the same thing over and over again – yet expect a different outcome?

As we all strive for a competitive edge, my experience has taught me that we should constantly be questioning things. Young children are brilliant at it, because they don’t have the cultural baggage that says, ‘that’s how we do things here’ they question everything. It’s how they learn. Almost as importantly, it can force the adult on the other end of the questioning to re-evaluate “why” we do things and maybe as a result actually changing the way we do some things.

So, we’ve established that challenging the status quo, whilst not always resulting in change, can be a good thing that, within the correct framework, gives a platform for differentiated thinking.

One of the things we have been questioning recently is the relative benefits of a Manufacturers Specification or System Warranty. What are the benefits and to whom do they flow?

As a Group that sits across both Residential tiled roofs and more Commercial flat roofing installations it is also interesting to compare the manufacturers approach, especially with regard to System Warranties.

So, who actually derives benefit from a Manufacturers Specification? The Manufacturer, obviously who achieves broader product adoption across tiles and accessories in return for a warranty that gives both client and occupier peace of mind when using those branded products – or do they?

Invariably, any problems with residential roofing will involve post-installation Manufacturer inspection, which usually comes back to the installing contractor for an indiscretion on fixing in line with Manufacturer instructions – sometimes real, sometime not. Does this benefit the installer?

Another ‘benefit’ for the client is that, in return for specifying a particular system, and offering volume, they will receive advantageous commercial arrangements in return – but it may be that in key components of a system specification could be procured more cost effectively elsewhere that might outweigh the upfront benefit.

Flat Roofing Manufacturers’ Approach vs Tiling Manufacturers’ Approach

Where a System Warranty is in place, it is interesting to note the contrasting approaches of ‘Flat’ Roofing manufacturers as opposed to tiling manufacturers.

The former category has a rigorous process of staged inspection and sign off that highlights any irregularities whilst the contractor is in situ and, therefore able to correct any issues whilst engaged in the contract. Once signed off and recorded by the manufacturer, the contractor has some protection based upon the standard and quality of the work completed. Moreover, the client then has a warranty that covers both materials and workmanship, thus giving real peace of mind to both client and occupier.

The process with tile manufacturers is often less robust and tends to be a retrospective and reactionary situation which does not benefit any party within the supply chain, and usually rests with the installer to pick up the cost of correction and call back – which can be ineffective and costly.

Let me be clear, I am not talking about compliance to British Standards here which are an absolute must, but in a way what we are looking at is the fragmentation of those standards by individual manufacturers so that they can gain commercial advantage – fair enough, but what it again prompts the question – who else benefits?

It might be argued that the tying in of complete systems from one source may stifle innovation and raise costs to the client without there being a performance improvement to support this added and hidden cost.

Furthermore, as an installer of many thousands of roofs per year, you might expect me to question the value of a Manufacturer’s Warranty that does not include workmanship. Surely the answer is an end-to-end warranty on an installed roof that covers both materials and workmanship, with each party underpinning its own contribution and securing a fair market price for their offering to be available on a far wider basis than what currently exists?

As I said at the outset of the article, I encourage the open questioning of the status quo, and in this area, there are a number of interesting aspects that would benefit from further questions and debate. If we can get all interested parties to participate, I believe we can improve our overall offer to the market and each take responsibility for our activity within the supply chain, whilst delivering a better, more competitive offer to our client base.