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A Clean, Well-lighted Industry

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In the mid 90s, I participated in a conference that tried to address the dearth of reliable market data in the residential remodeling industry, which was then believed to be more than a $100 billion industry. To solve the problem required the participation of private industry-primarily through building product manufacturers and their marketing departments-as well as government, academic and other institutions. The only entity large enough to gather the data necessary was the Federal government.

A U.S. Census Bureau staff person made it clear that the government would to undertake public projects that only benefitted private industry. After all, this is a free market, and those data gathering costs are part of the cost of doing business, was the underlying reasoning.

Nonetheless, there was a role for government to help define the industry, and now residential contractors have their own Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code that allows data to be broken out separately from the housing industry. So, any housing data that is gathered through surveys can be cross tabbed to show what's really happening in the industry.

We are at the same point in the metal construction industry as we were in the remodeling industry. Remodeling has distinct segments that include maintenance and repair, major replacement and additions and alterations. Metal construction has pre-engineered metal buildings, metal building components. As with home remodeling segments, the motivations, players and results for these segments are distinct from each other.

And, as with the residential remodeling industry in the 1990s, we are woefully uninformed about what the exact size and nature of our industry is. Wouldn't it be great if we could put a total dollar figure on the amount of construction put in place in the metal construction industry?

In fact, just defining the supply chain for the metal products is like stumbling into a cobweb woven by a drunken spider. (One note: I am working on a feature on supply chain issues in the industry, so please contact me if you'd like to discuss.) No beginning seems to connect to any end. There are, of course, some products that are pretty straightforward. PEMBs, for example, have a well-defined supply chain from supplier to installer. But even that industry struggles to define its size, scope and importance. The Metal Building Manufacturers Association (MBMA) tracks shipments by its members but that data is privately held for members only. That's as it should be since they pay for it. It's one of the few data sources for the metal construction industry, and even that data doesn't elucidate the larger issue of the overall size of the industry. It's just one segment.

What about the metal components segment and the value of those products put in place? Look at the value added in that supply chain from coil coaters to fabricators to installers and others.

At the end of the day, we struggle to say how big our whole industry is. (At MCN, we can tell you how big our audience is and the value of construction they put in place, but even as successful as we've been we're not naïve enough to say we've wrapped our arms around the entire industry.)

I believe we need to begin a concerted effort to bring real data to the industry, using all the combined resources we posses.

Why does this matter? Simple. A well-defined industry raises its profile and makes it simpler to promote and grow.

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