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Teaming Up: A look at authorized builder networks and the manufacturer-builder relationship


Metal building manufacturers often partner with builders around the country to form authorized builder networks. While these networks of partner builders are instrumental in the success of the manufacturer, the partnership works both ways.


The makings of a good partnership

Like any good partnership, there must be trust between a manufacturer and builder, says Chuck Haslebacher, president of Varco Pruden Buildings, Memphis, Tenn. "The builder must be able to trust that his manufacturer is going to support his efforts to be successful in his market," he explains. "The builder expects the manufacturer to supply quality competitive products that meet the needs of building owners. Likewise, the manufacturer must trust the builder to professionally represent its brand in the local market."


Jeff Carmean, president of Waterloo, Ind.-based Nucor Building Systems, agrees trust and respect for each other are keys to making a good partnership. He notes that open and honest communication, along with honoring and meeting each other's commitments are also important aspects of a great partnership.


Sheryl Cattau, sales manager at Behlen Building Systems, Columbus, Neb., says the Behlen team works with its builders to achieve profitable common purposes and specific tasks, allowing for both parties to grow. "We share together the responsibilities, resources, risks and benefits of this respected and trusted relationship," she notes. "Building strong relationships that last for many years has proven to be a strength. We have several builders that are third generation families that have been with Behlen for more than 50 years, as well as many new builders that have joined the team."


John D. Prahl, president and owner of VP authorized builder Canco General Contractors Inc., Plant City, Fla., agrees, saying, "a good partnership is one in which both the builder and the manufacturer are totally committed to working together with a goal of making a reasonable profit in the sale and completion of quality building products."


ab4Open communication is key

Builders especially realize the importance of open communications with their manufacturer partners. According to Dennis Durrant, owner and general manager of Big D Builders Inc. in Meridian, Idaho, a good partnership is built on "the ability to communicate openly, meet performance deadlines, help one another see both opportunities in the market, as well as weakness that we can improve on collectively to gain market share and better serve our customer."


"The better the communication, the better the relationship and the better the outcome," adds Douglas A. Awe, owner and partner of Elk Mound, Wis.-based Design Builders & Contractors, a Nucor authorized builder since 2007.


ab2Building a network

When building their authorized builder networks, manufacturers are looking for some very specific things. Manufacturers may look for local contractors in markets where they do not already have a strong presence. Haslebacher notes that VP identifies these markets and looks for successful local contractors through the quality, service and professionalism they provide to building owners.


Behlen looks for builders who want to grow and be involved with the projects they are providing for clients, while also being diversified and doing quality work. "The Behlen district manager is an extension of their business, that will offer additional value and assist with winning successful projects that will keep both of our businesses united with work," says Cattau.


Carmean adds that it's important to find someone that's in the same business and works with metal buildings. "It doesn't do any good to put a builder on and they're in a different business and only occasionally dabble in metal buildings," he says. "That's not who we're looking for."


Additionally, Carmean notes that it's really about setting expectations. "It's about partnering together, understanding how we're going to do business together and then committing to helping each other be better and successful."


ab5Quality manufacturers

Awe explains that they were looking for an established American company with a good reputation and quality product. A VP builder for 28 years, Matt Lock, president of Carrollton, Mo.-based Lock Steel Building Co., says they were also looking for a quality manufacturer with a good reputation. Along with being an asset to its sales plan, Lock feels anyone his company partners with is a good representation of his company.


Similarily, Prahl was looking for "a recognized leader in the manufacturing of quality building systems that is committed to selling through a network of authorized builders with sales, marketing and service departments that meet the builder's needs." Also important was having a strong corporate account sales department that promotes business for its builders to the Fortune 1,000-type firms.


In addition to being a Behlen authorized builder for the past 10 years, Big D Builders is also an authorized builder for Nucor. Durrant says they were looking for a manufacturer with a reputation of quality, with people that have high ethical and moral standards, and the resources to meet their needs. "A company that understood the team concept, that understood that we were vital to their success, just as they are vital to ours," he says. "This win-win attitude is what we were looking for. It is the culture of our company and we needed a manufacturer with the same culture."


Also, they were looking for a manufacturer that they could have a long-term relationship with. "The relationship brings stability to an environment which is constantly changing," continues Durrant. "We wanted to be teamed with someone and something that we felt would be lasting to bring another element of confidence to our customers."


A long-term relationship gives builders a respect that buying from multiple manufacturers cannot, Prahl says. "Telling a potential client that your company has completed 9 million square feet of buildings all from one of the most respected manufacturers in the industry creates credibility," he says. "The long-term relationship with the manufacturer is also a real benefit to our clients in a couple of projects when problems surfaced years after the building was completed."

ab3Partnership benefits

Manufacturers and builders can both benefit from a partnership. "One of the first things a builder will tell you is that we bring him leads and opportunities," Carmean adds. That's due to Nucor's strong marketing campaign and national account program that goes out and generates leads. Also, Nucor offers products that fit today's construction needs and has tools that will help builders estimate and win jobs.


"One of the main benefits a builder has in working with Behlen is our seasoned staff not only in the field, but inside at our factory," notes Cattau. "We want a builder to have a 'Good Iron Great Experience' every time they work with our team."


"We gain the expertise of hundreds of years of experience in the industry," says Durrant. "We have been able to use the resources offered by this experience to work through simple and complex challenges in the metal building market."


"Our goal is to provide the Authorized VP Builders with tools to help them be successful in their local market," explains Haslebacher. "While it certainly includes quality products and services, it also includes services in areas of marketing, business development, succession planning and innovative new products. Our expertise in the area of green, sustainable construction, for example, can help builders offer these value-added services to their customers."


Builders bring their local reputation and sales efforts to the partnership, along with an understanding of the construction market, according to Carmean. Additionally, builders provide exceptional feedback that allows for positive change to products, as Cattau notes. "Who better to help you become the best you can be than the individual that sells, orders and erects the building. We respect the knowledge that our builders have and appreciate their expert opinions."


ab6Secrets to success

There are many things that make up a successful partnership. For one, there needs to be a mutual commitment from each side. "Suppliers need to be consistently competitive and reliable to help their builders win any project they pursue," says Haslebacher. "Builders need to be knowledgeable about the systems they represent and be loyal to their source. Together, that mutual commitment will build the reputation for the builder and the manufacturer."


Deeper relationships can also lead to more profit for both partners. "And that's really where the partnership comes in," explains Carmean. "The more that you rely on each other, help each other, support each other, understand each other, then the more profitable we can both be in winning in the marketplace."


"These relationships can be a great way to do business," Durrant adds. "If the goals of each individual company are in line, there are synergies that allow for great growth on each side. The key is making sure the culture of each company is compatible with each other. With a little bit of hard work, great things can happen."


"Without a doubt, we would cease to exist without our family of builders," Carmean says. "We could change our model, sell direct, do all sorts of stuff, but it would be absolutely pointless. Because without our builders, there would be no success for Nucor Building Systems."