Farewell, My Friends
My flight has just lifted off - a routine that's become all too familiar. This flight just happens to be leaving Halifax, Canada; however, this flight has more significance than most: it signifies the end.
What began in 2000 as a presentation to a group of college professors about masonry has expanded to an often full-time job of flying around the country speaking about something that I believe in passionately - masonry! The problem with this full-time speaking job is that I have another full-time job as leader of a growing company, as well as a family that needs more of my time at home. Thus, it has come time for me to say goodbye to life as a speaker on masonry. As this signifies a change in my life, I wanted an opportunity to make a few "parting comments" about my experience and my observations.
Since 2000, I have had the honor and unique pleasure of speaking to approximately 200 groups across the United States and Canada. I can say, without question, that the masonry industry is full of wonderful people. During my journeys, I have had the pleasure of meeting many people that make this industry great. Thank you for making my travels away from my family and home such a positive experience.
Now, more than ever, I believe that masonry is the best construction material on the market - period. Owners that want to construct quality buildings in their community need masonry as a basis for their new projects. There is no other material available that can compete with the beauty, quality and durability of masonry. However, I'm just an architect; I don't make my living from masonry. I share my masonry message because I think we owe it to building owners to help them understand what they are buying. My message is that more buildings would be built with masonry if more "buyers" understood the implications of their building material selections - especially many years down the road. What has surprised me the most during my travels and speaking engagements is how many people that make their living from the masonry industry that do not passionately share my belief.
Last year, I had the pleasure of following a presentation by members of the Brick Industry Association that outlined the study of wall systems used today. In that report, it was revealed that masonry continues to lose market share as a wall system. Many people don't realize this because workloads seem to be steady or even rising. The problem is that masonry market share has not risen relative to overall construction spending. Masonry has fallen - significantly - when compared to other systems. One of the shocking statistics to me is that brick and block combined share less of the market than EIFS. When I first saw that statistic, I was shocked. A system that has had its share of "challenges" in the press still had more market share than masonry. How can this be? Masonry is obviously a significant step up from EIFS right? Well, the buying public must not think so.
To truly understand the deeply rooted issues with masonry promotion, I need to start by telling you a true story. In 2002, I was asked to join masonry leaders from across the United States in discussing the possibility of a masonry lifecycle study. This study would help demonstrate once and for all that masonry was the unquestioned leader of quality and value. Being new to this group, I began talking about masonry as compared to other systems and quickly found a room filled with "special interest" parties. The talk was not about masonry as a whole; it was about pieces of masonry - stone, brick, block, labor and concrete - depending on the particular person. I quickly learned that masonry has many special groups; some of those groups also have an interest in "protecting" other types of wall systems. The concept of "one voice, one message" for masonry was impossible.
Since that day, I have come to understand how fragmented the masonry industry really is. I don't understand the concept of "protect my turf at all cost." I firmly believe the concept of masonry as a whole, with no special interest message, is the only way that this superior system can once again be restored to its former glory. Masonry leaders must find the message, and everyone must get on the same page with how that message will be delivered. All other building systems speak with one voice and, quite frankly, they are winning. The concept for me is simple: If a unified masonry message is developed, and the message is given again and again and again, the buyer will get it.
Today, masonry suffers from a lack of understanding by the architect and builder. These two groups have a tremendous influence on the building owner or buyer. They must understand why they would want to select masonry over other systems. The message must come from you - one unified message! When this occurs, market share will increase and everyone will win - especially the building owner.
For those who don't feel that they can represent masonry as a single voice, or don't believe as passionately as I do that masonry is the only choice for building owners, maybe it's time for a job change! If you represent other wall systems, pick a team. Represent masonry, all of masonry, and you will win.
As I traveled around the country, I often asked architects, contractors and suppliers to send me cost information in advance of my trip. The purpose was to compare masonry system costs to other systems in the market. The results always amazed me. People always think solid masonry buildings are more expensive, although I didn't find that to be the case. Unfortunately, perception is reality; change this perception through education and accurate information. Give architects, builders and owners a single source for accurate information and support when they need help with masonry.
Yes, there are so many reasons that I have supported the masonry industry. I'll end by listing just a few of these below:
Masonry is THE system because...
- It's cost effective, beginning with the first day and over the life of a building.
- One-third of building costs are spent on Day 1; two-thirds are spent maintaining the building. Masonry can substantially reduce maintenance over that lifetime.
- It's easy to maintain, and requires no paint or harsh chemicals when properly designed for interior use.
- It's safe - from fire, tornado and hurricane issues, to mold and other indoor air quality problems. Masonry is the solution.
- It can be cleaned when it gets wet - no demolition required.
- It's durable - try to kick a hole in a masonry wall. Try the same thing with wallboard!
- It's environmentally friendly. When you use masonry, you don't spend your annual maintenance dollars on reconstruction costs.
- It's beautiful - nothing looks like a masonry building.
- It's flexible, adaptable and appropriate for most design solutions.
- It's the best, most proven, wall system on the market today.
It needs just one thing ... you. Masonry needs each of you to stand up and take back your market. Don't let another building be built without a fight. Fight for your industry, not your niche or specialty. Fight to see the masonry industry with one strong voice and one strong message.
About the Author
Christopher Huckabee, AIA, is CEO of Huckabee and Associates, Inc. in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has considerable experience with educational facility design, planning and construction document preparation, and has been responsible for more than 250 educational projects.