New Plumbing Systems for Urine?

New technology to extract hydrogen from urine may have implications for building plumbing systems. Researchers at Ohio University are developing methods to extract hydrogen from urine and use the gas to generate electricity. Their press releases optimistically predict that large scale systems for use in industrial animal husbandry will be online within a year.

Changes in building design are necessarily slower, but could follow within 5 to 10 years if the agricultural prototypes are cost effective. I speculate that penetration into building design will follow the growing acceptance of waterless urinals. Instead of draining the urinals into the conventional sanitary drain lines, the fixtures would have separate drainage lines leading to urine collection tanks and power generation. Once the value of the power is established, combined with further efforts promoting water conservation, we may see an increased use of bidets to collect urine from women.

I further speculate that the initial market will be in larger projects -- stadia, schools, and office buildings for example -- where urinals are already in use and there would be an economy of scale.

Simultaneously, there may be a boutique business for homeowners trying to live off-the-grid.

Acceptance in building types that do not already have urinals (or bidets) will have the initial cost burden of providing additional fixtures and the floor area for them. But the operational and environmental benefits of generating power and conserving water may yet justify the expense. An alternative would be the invention of new types of water closets that could flush solids while simply draining liquids.

Plumbing goods manufacturers would be well advised to monitor this technology.

FOLLOW-UP: A televised public service announcement in Brazil is urging people to urinate while they shower as a way to conserve water and protect the rainforests. It looks like Ohio University ought to pack a bag and pay a visit to the water districts in Brazil.


Broken Guitars and Missed Opportunity

The song is about a broken guitar, the company in question is an airline, but the message is crucial for building product manufacturers.

The story, in brief: Musician David Carroll’s guitar was broken by, he claims, baggage handlers on a United flight. He contacted United about the incident, but became so frustrated that he promised to write three songs about the incident; here is the first:

The video instantly became a viral success, with well over 4 million views so far, mentions on the evening news, in news papers, and forums across the internet.

Needless to say, United is not happy.

Responses have favored both sides. My mother is a music teacher; she and her colleagues have discussed the video extensively. Typical of their responses is this:

“If he had been flying Southwest or Delta you’d have the same situation, different song title, because baggage handlers throw luggage...It’s the owner’s responsibility – who else? – to pack fragile items so they are protected in transit.”
Imagine this happening in the construction industry. No one gets off the hook, and the repercussions are measured in lawsuits and dollars instead of videos and viewers.

The real problem, though, is not the baggage handling or broken instrument, but the customer service failure. Baggage gets broken, we all know that; if you're really worried about a bag you take it as a carry-on, or have professionals ship it to meet you at your destination. The problem, the reason he's upset and writing these songs, is because of the (in his mind) disrespectful, unhelpful treatment he got from United. The song is about guitars, but the message is about customer service.

Customer service is a vital part of every business. I love it when customers called in with complaints because it gives me an opportunity to strengthen the relationship by addressing their problems, and shows me what needs to be fixed.

The way unhappy customers react depends a lot on how they are treated. Treat them well and they leave satisfied. The fact that you listened to them and supported them is very meaningful, so much so that it sometimes overshadows the actual incident that led to the call. Treat them poorly, however, and you poison the relationship. You lose not only their business, but all their friends and co-workers that hear the story.

In the age of social media, these poisoned stories spread with lightening speed, which is one of the reasons it is important to monitor how people talk about your company and product. More importantly, be sure your customer service is helpful, responsive, respectful, and polite so that the stories never get started.


A few days after the video was posted, there was an interesting response. The manufacturer of a line of folding, air-travel-friendly guitars offered Dave Carroll a free guitar. The video is not high quality, but it is a great example of using social media trends to promote your product.


Fundraiser to Support Helmets to Hardhats

On September 10, 2009 Chicago’s labor community and the State of Illinois will host “Fighting for Those who Fought for Us” - a fun evening of food, music, raffles, and celebrity guests in honor of our disabled Veterans.

The goal of the event is to raise funds for the Helmets to Hardhats Wounded Warriors program, which supports disabled Veterans by providing the tools, information and community to help Veterans gain careers in the Building and Construction Trades. A special section of the Helmets to Hardhats website provides listings of construction careers that employers have specifically identified as suitable for disabled Veterans.

Robert Schwartz, Wounded Warriors Program Director at Helmets to Hardhats, is overseeing the planning of the Chicago event. “It promises to be a very enjoyable evening and we’re expecting a large turnout,” Schwartz reports, “This is such an important fundraiser because with the money we raise we’ll be able to offer even more assistance to our Wounded Warriors as they strive to meet the challenges they face once back in civilian life.”

Chicago labor leaders have come together in support of the effort. Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White is serving as chairman for the event. Secretary White is a Veteran of the 101st Airborne Division, and the only constitutional officer in the State of Illinois that is a Veteran. Co-chairs of the event are Chicago Building Trades President Tom Villanova, Chicago Teamsters Joint Council President John Coli, and Chicago Federation of Labor President Dennis Gannon.

The Wounded Warriors fundraiser will be held at Dick’s Last Resort, a legendary Chicago restaurant. The venue has been generously donated for the evening by CEO Steve Schiff.

Tickets cost $50 each, and sponsorship opportunities are available. Additionally, monetary donations as well as in-kind contributions will be accepted for raffles and silent auctions. Please contact Rob Schwartz for further information, or if you would like to make a donation or purchase a ticket to support this wonderful cause.


American National Exhibition in Moscow, 1959

Today is the 50th anniversary of the opening of the American National Exhibition in Moscow. There, for the first time in Soviet history, the Russians were exposed to the best and worst of American design. The best included:

  • The overall space design by George Nelson and Charles Eames;
  • The geodesic dome by Buckminster Fuller;
  • The seven-screen film shows by Charles Eames and Billy Wilder;
  • Architectural projects by Frank Lloyd Wright, I. M. Pei, Louis I. Kahn, Walter Gropius, Eero Saarinen, Richard Neutra and Philip Johnson;

The worst included decadent American cars of the 1950s.

Read The Globe and Mail’s account of my drinking free Pepsi there. John Barber, who has interviewed me for the article, does not explain the origin of my term “poisonous blankets.” For that you have to see the original story.


Marketing 101 - Part 2


Understanding the differences between advertising, publicity (aka PR) and promotion makes any marketing discussion run more smoothly. If you don’t understand these distinctions, a quick review will clear up a lot of misconceptions.

Of course, everybody knows what advertising is. We bathe in it daily, like it or not. But for the sake of thoroughness, a short definition needs to be included. Indulge me.

Advertising is when you create a commercial message and pay for the communications channel(s) to disseminate it. It is a postcard in the mail, or space in a newspaper or magazine, on a billboard, website, or blimp. It is time on a TV or radio broadcast, before the feature at a movie theater, before the video on your cellphone, etc.

The key point to understand is that in advertising, you pay for the space or time, and you get to control the content of the message completely. In most media, you also get complete or partial control over when the message appears.

In advertising, the greatest expense is usually the space or time itself. The expense of creating the ad is generally dwarfed by the placement costs, especially when the ad is reused many times. The size of investment for space or time makes it worthwhile to spend a bit of extra effort, thought and money to create great, effective materials.

Publicity or PR (which might stand for either Public Relations or Press Relations) is the art of getting space or time for free. You do this by providing content for a magazine, newspaper, TV or radio show, website, etc. They get to use your content for free, which they like, and your message reaches their audience.

With a publication, this may be done by sending out a press release or electronic press kit that contains your message (couched in the form of news), which the publication’s own writing staff can then edit, rewrite, or enhance. It may also be done by arranging for the publication to interview someone who will tell your story to one of their writers, who then writes the interview into an article. You may also arrange to give the publication a “contributed article” that the publication will run - more or less - in the form that you write it. Most construction trade magazines and websites have little or no writing staff, just an editor or two, and get the majority of their content from contributed articles.

For audio and visual media, you may supply pre-recorded content, or provide a spokesperson who will appear for you.

The truth is, we bathe in publicity daily, too, but we are largely unaware of it. Most news media derive a huge proportion of their “editorial” content from the work of publicists. Press releases alert them to what the news is (and spin it to meets the needs of the issuer or the release). The fact of a press release hitting every news outlet simultaneously can, to some degree, create news.

The key difference from advertising is that Publicity is space or time you get for free - your only cost is the creation of the content – but you give up absolute control of how and when it will appear. Publicity is more of a negotiation with the publication, show, etc. The editor can edit it, add to it, and alter it. If PR is handled professionally, this is a collaborative process between the editor and your PR agency or in-house PR rep, who defends your interests and works with the editor to keep the content you want.

(Note: the aforementioned PR agency or in-house department also usually gets the job of Damage Control in the event of mishap or scandal. They get the job because they have experience and relationships with the media. However, it is a thoroughly different activity than what we’re discussing here.)

Promotion is a catchall phrase that covers a very wide range of activities and endeavors. Most people think of promotion as a free pen with your company’s name printed on it, but there are many other forms of promotion. What they have in common is that they have more direct engagement with the potential customer, and usually involve giving away something to encourage business.

The giveaway is sometimes just information (a gray area bordering on advertising), but more often it's in the form of a product discount, a gift-with-purchase, a tie-in with a related product, or that pen with the company name on it. It may be a personal appearance by someone connected with the product, or by someone utterly unconnected with it (i.e. a race car driver who has nothing to do with construction) who can attract the attendance of potential customers. It may be a trade show booth.

Promotion is a message, but it is more a communication of goodwill than of information. Promotion helps create a relationship.

Working Together
Each of these forms of marketing help in their own way to create awareness, recognition, and familiarity with a product, brand or company. There is little overlap between them, and well-planned marketing strategy uses each mode in its strength to raise the product’s marketing profile. Each of them, and all of them together, open the door for sales.

Next time: What Advertising Does Best


Green Enough To Eat Off?

How do you, the building product manufacturer, communicate your product's quality to the end user of a building? How do you show them that it's safe? That it's sustainable?

The Green Restaurant Association announced this week that it is starting a new certification program for restaurants that works similarly to LEED:

Points are collected for sustainable actions and activities in the following seven categories:

* Water Efficiency
* Waste Reduction & Recycling
* Sustainable Furnishings and Building Materials
* Sustainable Food
* Energy
* Disposables
* Chemical & Pollution Reduction

The opportunity here is a kind of "Intel Inside" moment. Beyond expanding existing campaigns to include restaurant owners, can you reach the diners as well? There's a 50's diner near me with a sign in the window boasting, "We Have Air Conditioning!" In the San Fernando valley in the summer, that's not a trivial issue. My first summer in LA, the air conditioner in my apartment died at 11pm. I needed to go somewhere and cool off, and guess which late-night eatery I chose.

How can your brand message reach the diners?


Product Reports Entries due Sept. 11

Contact marketing experts, Chusid Associates, to design your entry!


New US home starts surge in June


"The construction of new homes in the US rose 3.6% between May and June to the highest level in seven months, official figures have shown.

This is the second month in a row that housing starts have risen following a post-war low in April."
There is an implication these numbers may be soft, so the industry should not get too excited over them, but still a good sign.

From a marketing perspective, now is the time to increase marketing efforts. As discussed previously, companies that focus on marketing during a down economy show stronger growth when things pick up. If your company has not yet built a economic recovery marketing plan, this is your opportunity to start one. If you do have a plan, get it started.


Fortune Cookies Predict End to Recession

Here is a link to an article from Environmental Design + Construction that shows a bit of optimism and humor about the current economy.

Click here for Article


CONSTRUCT 2010 Call For Presentations

The CONSTRUCT 2010 call for presentations went out last week. The deadline is July 27, so there is still time to submit a proposal.

CONSTRUCT is CSI’s annual show, and it draws high-quality attendees. It is colocated with the TFM show for facility managers, providing an additional audience for your message. Participants in the educational sessions are decision makers, trend setters, and early adopters who are always looking for better ways to build. Presenting creates an excellent opportunity for face time with these decision makers and raises your company’s profile.

If you have questions or would like help preparing a submission, please email me.


Teaching Architects a Thing or Two

Architects are overwhelmed by the need to know so much more. That's the thesis of a recent article in US Glass. Sales reps need to understand this to tailor their approach when calling on designers or specifiers. And marketing execs can diferentiate their products by providing education and simplifying product selection.

The article also includes findings from a survey of the contract glazing:

The article provides solace, and encouragement, to anyone confronted with the challenges of selling to architects.


Inspiration is 90% Information

We agree.


ASTM Committee

ASTM Committee E60 Drafting Building Sustainability Standards

Building product manufacturers concerned about providing sustainable solutions for the global marketplace can join ASTM International's newly formed Committee E60 on Sustainability. The committee creates standards that address environmental, social, and economic challenges that will impact mainstream markets including building and construction.

By joining, you get:

-Direct input into the development of new and revised standards.
-Interface with leading industry professionals.
-and the right to vote on new standards.


E60.01 on Buildings and Construction is currently working on standards, test methods, and guides for green roof systems, water reclamation, life cycle assessment, stewardship for cleaning of buildings, terminology and other issues.


Specification Quiz

Question: What is the difference between a "plan room" and a "court room"?

See comment below for answer.


Chusid Associates wins Awards for Construction Writing and Photography

Michael Chusid, right, and Steven Miller, left, received awards from the Construction Writers Association for outstanding journalism and photography about building materials and construction.

Chusid Associates won two awards in the field of construction journalism, in a competition sponsored by the Construction Writers Association (CWA). The association presented Michael Chusid, principal of Chusid Associates, the award for "superior journalistic and writing skills" as demonstrated by articles he had published in construction industry magazines and journals during the past year. The award was based upon a sample of four articles about innovations in concrete construction and sustainable construction practices. The articles appeared in The Construction Specifier, Precast Solutions, and CE News.

Sharing the award as co-author was Steven H. Miller, a freelance writer and photojournalist, and frequent collaborator with Chusid. Miller was also honored in another category by the CWA, receiving the Gordon Wright Photography Award for his series of photographs depicting the installation of a new type of wall system. The photos were commissioned by Chusid Associates to accompany an article written by Chusid and Miller.

The judges offered the following praise for Chusid's and Miller's writing:

"Well written and clear; almost literary."

"Factually, the most dense articles I read. (That's good; they contained the most factual information.)"

"I was convinced that this is a guy who really appreciates concrete."

"He's almost like a priest talking about his religion."

"Chusid is the 'Dalai Lama' of concrete."

More than 40 nominations were received for CWA's journalism awards competition this year. The panel of judges for the awards consisted of Dick Reavis - professor of journalism at North Carolina State University, Mandy Hoyle - construction reporter for the Triangle Business Journal, Kati Knowland - editor of NC Magazine, a business publication, and Judy Kienle - a business writer and president of Kienle Communications.

Chusid has written more than 200 published articles about construction materials, techniques, innovations, and building product marketing. He is a Registered Architect, a Certified Construction Specifier, and a Fellow of the Construction Specifications Institute. His company, Chusid Associates. now in its 20th year, provides marketing and technical consulting services to building product manufacturers and other construction industry organizations.

Miller has over 30 years experience in journalism, public relations, advertising and marketing. He has won numerous honors for his work including the CLIO, the One Show Silver Pencil, The Art Directors of Los Angeles award, and the Hollywood Reporter Key Art award.

CWA is a non-profit, non-partisan, international organization for professional journalists, writers, editors, and publicists serving the information needs of the construction industry. The group strives to provide educational benefits to its members and to promote high standards in construction communication. The group celebrated its 50th Anniversary at its recent convention.

The award-winning articles and photographs can be seen at


New Product Announcements in Architectural Record

Architectural Record has issued a call for entries for the best building products of 2009 for exposure in their December issue. See Product Reports or contact Chusid Associates. Deadline for submittals is September 11.


Blackburied by a Sales Rep

During a recent visit by a building product rep to my office, I asked the salesman for a copy of a technical report on his product. "No problem," he said, "I have it right here on my BlackBerry. I will e-mail it to you right now."

"Cool!" I thought. What a convenient way to keep product literature on hand.

But in retrospect, I felt "blackburied" by the experience. Both the rep and I became distracted by our technical tools. He had his face in his cell phone -- probably trying to send me info -- but it felt too much like he was checking his email. I had moved my computer monitor off to the side of my desk so I could see him across the table. But now I had to place the monitor between us in order to download his email. And then the printer jammed, and distracted me further.

I don't expect we will return to the paper delivery days of building product sales. That said, we have much to learn about using our new tools effectively during sales meetings.


Do a Webinar for CSI

Webinars are an increasingly effective means of providing continuing education to architects. They are also economical: You don't have to travel, and you don't have to buy lunch for a roomful of disinterested people.

Here's the link if you want to propose a webinar to CSI National:

Look for "propose a webinar" on the right. The person at Institute to talk to is Josh Spiler.

One of our clients will be presenting a webinar through CSI later this month. Not only does he get exposure during the webinar, but his message has been distributed to thousands through CSI's website and newsletters. We will record the presentation and post it on our client's website for future training purposes.


ProductFormat for Building Product Data

Construction Specifications Canada (CSC) has endorsed a new format for organizing building product information. The format, called ProductFormat 2008 will improve the organization of technical data and product presentations for building products.

The construction industry has many well established formats for organizing information. Standardized formats increase efficiency on the part of someone looking for usable data and decrease risks that critical information might be overlooked. Specification organization benefits from CSI formats, drawings are increasingly organized according to the National CAD Standard, and a host of new formats are being developed to accommodate increasing computerization of construction information. Unfortunately, the US construction industry does not have an agreed upon format for building product data.

In the past, CSI's popular Spec-Data Format provided a widely used format for technical data sheet; it has all but dissappeard since CSI sold the program to Reed Construction Data. McGraw Hill had a cumbersome format for Sweets catalog files, but now Sweets has all but dissappeared. The applicabilty of both these programs was limited by the need to pay to be in either Spec-Data or Sweets, making them less than universally available as a industry standard.

A ProductFormat presentation is organized around three headings that generally parallel the three parts of the industry standard SectionFormat:

ProductFormat SectionFormat
Product Features Part 1 - General
Product Properties Part 2 - Products
Product Placement Part 3 - Execution

This will make it familiar to architects, engineers, and builders, and simplify the transition from product selection to product specification.

Feel free to call me at 818-774-0003 to discuss whether SectionFormat can be useful to your product presentation.


Wisconsin Becomes First State To Require BIM

More states will follow this trend. The design firms that use BIM will start winning more and more contracts, which means the manufacturers that provide BIM support will get more sales.

From BD&C, Wisconsin becomes the first state to require BIM on large, public projects:

As of July 1 the Wisconsin Division of State Facilities will require all projects with a total budget of $5 million or more and all new construction with a budget of $2.5 million or more to have their designs begin with a Building Information Model.
BIM models are becoming the new essential piece of your marketing literature. It used to be the product binder, then the website; now, if you don't provide useful, accurate models of your products, architects will go to a competitor that does.


Marketing 101 - Part 1

In the course of helping clients define marketing strategy, I discover that there is confusion about what the basic tools of marketing are and what functions they serve best. This is most often true with people who are trying to start a new business. We’ve had this conversation many times at Chusid Associates. If new clients came to their first meeting already in command of these concepts, we could get to the serious work an hour sooner.

So, in the interest of relieving the confusion and improving the general understanding of marketing, I thought I might put the substance of that conversation online. Specifically, I want to present a brief overview of the relationships between Marketing (Advertising, Public Relations, Promotion) and Sales.

It’s easiest to understand with reference to the most common experience: the retail interaction. At least once in your life, you’ve undoubtedly walked into a retail establishment and been greeted by a salesperson who took you by the arm and proceeded to practice his art on you more or less without mercy. It’s a heady cocktail of education, inspiration and intimidation.

I admire salesmen, and often let them work out on me just to watch them in action. A good salesman knows every selling point of his product – he may have a dozen or more – and all the selling points of his competition that he needs to undermine or beat. Once he gets you into the store, he can work his magic on you.

And there’s his problem: getting them into the store. Sometimes, a salesman desperate for customers will stand on the sidewalk trying to attract the attention of passersby. This, however, is often not his strong suit, and often not the best use of his time. A smarter salesman will hire a guy with a sandwich board to walk up and down in front of the store with something attention-getting written on the board. This is the birth of marketing.

If sales is all about closing, marketing is about opening: opening the door to the figurative store, opening the conversation, opening the potential customer’s curiosity.

What this means is that marketing – advertising, publicity and promotion – are not supposed to sell the product; they're supposed to identify customers for the sales force to sell to. This identification process can include educating people into becoming customers, connecting an identified need with a potential solution, or inspiring a customer to reach further by adopting a different alternative to his customary one.

When I’m beginning to work with a new client, it’s very useful for the client to try to “sell” me the product. He knows all the selling points, and I learn about the product very quickly. Then I pick out the one or two I that I think most likely to grab a stranger’s attention, and I can begin.

Next time: The difference between Publicity and Advertising.


Society of American Military Engineers (SAME)

SAME provides networking opportunities for building product manufacturers wanting to do business with the US uniformed services (Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and U.S. Public Health Service). In addition to construction on military bases, SAME members are responsible for billions of dollars of civil construction through the infrastructure projects of the Corps of Engineers.
Its mission statement is, “To promote and facilitate engineering support for national security by developing and enhancing relationships and competencies among uniformed services, public and private sector engineers, and related professionals.” (Emphasis added.) As a long-time member explained it to me, "Military officers, including those charged with construction, are regularly transferred for post to post. SAME gives them a networking group so they can quickly get to know the local expertise and resources available at each posting." In addition to meeting the brass, participation in SAME allows you to meet the design firms and contractors vying for work in the area.

In addition to participation in local Post (chapter) activities, SAME offers plenty of opportunities for sponsorship. Its magazine, The Military Engineer accepts contributed non-proprietary articles, and its Directory is a great prospecting tool. Individual membership is surprisingly affordable.


CONSTRUCT2010 Call for Presentations is Open

Contact Chusid Associates to help you shape a winning proposal.


Green moving from voluntary program to building code regulations

The formation of a task force to draft an International Green Construction Code is another step in the evolution from voluntary environmental programs like LEED to code-mandated sustainability standards.

Michael Chusid has been a consultant to over 100 successful organizations in the building products industry. He serves an international clientele from offices in Los Angeles, California.
- Marketing Strategy, Start-Up, Repositioning
- Product Development, Testing, Approvals
- Advertising, Public Relations, Online Media
- Promotion, Continuing Education, Trade Shows
- Sales & Technical Literature, Guide Specifications

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