When a person is in an industry long enough, they often recognize trends and will adjust their business for these trends. Well, at least that is how it is supposed to be. I have related business to perch fishing in the Great Lakes on more than one occasion. In short, it is easy to see where the perch are biting on a lake because that is where all the boats are parked and the area becomes crowded and the perch either move on or are fished out. Who found the fish first? The word must of gotten out that the perch were in a certain location, otherwise no other boats would have been parked in the location where the perch are. It’s important to keep ones lips sealed when it comes to fishing but inevitably, people will find where the productive areas are simply by watching. Business is no different.
Call it envy, call it drive, call it what you will but the fact is, people want to be as successful as other people. In the building business, the large suppliers take years to adjust to the trends and that is currently happening with Andersen Windows Corporation. I have insisted on using Andersen windows for many years and not just because they offer a great product that compliments the types of homes that we build. For years, I and a few others have tried to get Andersen to focus on sustainability and there seemed to be a refusal to do that. Andersen Windows brought me and others up to their Bayport Minnesota ‘hub of operations’ for meetings on sustainability and also to have me tour their facilities to see how they could get the word out about what makes them sustainable in their business practices.
I would get frustrated because Andersen would get this information and never seem to do anything with it. There was a big management change at Andersen and everyone I knew there moved on and my involvement in their sustainability practices no longer mattered to the new leadership. Andersen was very generous to me and my team and helped us spread the word about sustainability as best as they could at the time. I remember what my rep from Andersen would say, “..You have to understand that getting a large company to change is like steering an aircraft carrier with a trolling motor..” This is very true. Now, I see that Andersen is putting its full focus on Net Zero and is very excited about sustainability, which is a great thing….but several years behind, as the trend and economy has once again started an inevitable change.
I am not trying to pick on Andersen Windows, especially after what they have done for me personally and after the people that were let go from the company did to spread the word about building earth friendly homes. I am using my relationship with Andersen Windows as an example of how the industry works. I used to get an email from time to time asking me what I was doing next and what I thought that the industry was doing. I remember taking a ride on the Andersen Corporate Yacht on the Saint Croix River with Andersen executives and being shown the reports of what the building industry was going to do in the future. I am amazed at how spot on those reports were for looking five years into the future. I remember seeing a report that Grand Rapids Michigan was going to be a top location in the country to live and that report and the other information that I had access to is what lead to us buying our farm just outside of Grand Rapids. Recognizing trends and being fluid enough to make the changes in real time is one of the keys to keeping the schedule book full.
It seems like there are plenty of builders who are building energy efficient homes now, mostly because our building codes require it. The question is, “what is trending now in the building industry and should we forget everything we have learned along the way?” Great question, I am glad you asked!
Sometimes it seems like humans forget about the things that they experienced along the way and other times it seems like you meet a person who uses everything they experienced, good or bad, and have found a way to use those experiences to differentiate themselves from others. The latter speaks to part of the question above, “Should we forget everything we have learned along the way?” The answer is, “NO!” don’t ever forget what you did or what you have learned. That is a very important part of the puzzle in what is trending right now or will be trending in the near future. Before, a different age group with different motivations was what was keeping the building industry alive during the downturn. Now, those same motivators are a ‘given’ with the new group that is starting to be interested in building. There are still plenty of people for everyone to build for, and the leaders of the pack are still attracting the people who are not finding companies that fully understand exactly what certain homeowners are looking for.
Where do I think things are going in the building business? Well, to answer that, I will have to say this. I can think about what directions the industry is going and I can know which way we are going to go in the industry. I am not much for sticking to any one thing, and I find myself being like a glacier, where I keep moving and gathering things along the way. That means that I am still taking the company that I am a part of and building extremely energy efficient houses, but, that is the baseline. There are many things that matter in a house that is friendly to all the stakeholders with the inhabitants and The Earth being the biggest focus. These many things change and evolve or devolve. The ‘Things’ that I am aware of are more than Geo Thermal or insulated concrete forms.
I have seen a large number of people interested in earth shelters and living off of the grid. Likewise, I have seen many people interested in our way of life on our farm and all of these ‘Things’ are becoming important to people that are hoping to build one day. The biggest ‘Thing’ that I have picked up on (ok, this is the tidbit that you have probably been waiting for) is that the new generation of clients that we have, ninety plus percent of them all mention having a parent(s) living with them at some point during the ownership of their new or remodeled house. Another ‘Thing’ that I see is that multiple family members are buying larger pieces of land and building multiple houses on that land so that everyone can live near each other. I have not heard one mention of LEED for Homes or Net Zero, rather, the conversations get filled with, “..I need extra counter space because I can a lot of food each year..” and/or ..”I would like the kitchen windows to line up on both houses, even though the houses are not very close to each other so that we can make sure mom is doing ok.” Bringing the family back together could be the theme, you heard it first here! Remember though, that the energy efficient, earth friendly, inhabitant friendly home is a given in this equation.
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