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4 Ways to Specify Products the Every Manufacturer Should Know

Nov 2014

Several months ago we looked at the importance of providing high quality guide specifications for design professionals. You may recall the purpose of guide specifications is to influence the Project specifications, which serve as part of the construction contract between the building owner and the general contractor. Products that get specified are generally the products that get purchased, paid for and installed.

These documents are typically written in CSI’s three-part Section Format (developed by members of The Construction Specifications Institute) that are helpful to the specifier and contain the recommended language to specify the manufacturer’s product. Well-written, up-to-date guide specifications should always be part of the manufacturer’s technical marketing toolkit to educate and influence design professionals. 

But whether the specifier uses guide specifications provided by the manufacturer, or they write their own documents from scratch, or they edit documents from one of the commercially-available master specification authoring tools like BSD’s SpecLink or Masterspec, there are four ways of writing a specification that all manufacturers should know about.

First there are performance specifications. These requirements answer the important question ‘What are the measurable things this product must do in order to comply with the Project requirements?’ Specifications almost always rely on the convention of a ‘feature’ accompanied by a ‘value.’ A simple example would be where a feature is ‘color’ and the value for that feature is ‘blue.’ So with a performance specification for a sheet vinyl floor product we might expect to see something like this: ‘Weight: Not more than 0.5 pounds/sq. ft.’ By placing a square foot of the material on a scale and weighing it, we would know whether the product complies with the requirement.

Second, there are industry reference standards and testing protocols like UL, ANSI, ISO, ASTM and many others. For that same sheet vinyl floor, we might want the specifier to use this requirement: ‘Unbacked Vinyl Sheet Floor Covering: Comply with ASTM F1913.’ The contractor would then be required to provide and install a product meeting the requirements of the standard widely known as the ‘Standard Specification for Vinyl Sheet Floor Covering Without Backing.’

Third, there are generic descriptions of product features. This term means only that there is no commercial brand associated with the requirement. Staying with the sheet vinyl floor example, we might want our example product to be described like this: ‘Seaming Method: Heat welded.’ There is nothing to measure, no specific performance requirements to pass or fail, simply heat welding must be the value for the feature ‘seaming method.’ 

Finally, we get into the fourth type of specification that for some reason is always the one manufacturers seem to focus on, the proprietary specification. Proprietary only means that there is a brand associated with the product. In this context it does not mean ‘sole source’ or ‘single supplier.’ We might want the specification to read: ‘Acceptable Manufacturers: Subject to compliance with requirements, provide products by one of the following: 1.) My company, 2.) A suitable competitor, 3.) Another suitable competitor.’ 

Now here is the important takeaway from all this. The best specifications use all four methods of specifying. So whether it’s a manufacturer’s guide spec, or a unique specifier-written document or an edited office master specification, the document that contains the clearest and best language to describe what the owner really wants is the specification that will most likely deliver the desired result for the owner and ultimately the manufacturer, too. It will be the one least likely to cause problems, misunderstandings and last-minute product substitutions. 

Providing good specification support to design firms presents an excellent opportunity to educate design professionals, who always want to know about the products available to them and to make good choices for their clients. And don’t forget, manufacturers typically know more about their product than anyone else involved with the Project. So providing high quality technical marketing support enables manufacturers to assist Architects, designers and other specifiers, helping them evaluate and select the best products for the Project.