October 12, 2021

Mastering Substituting Products Can Keep You in Business

By Paul Daniels

Last weekend, I attended a wedding where I had a chance to talk with a young architect. He was telling me about a high-end hotel project that he was working on. Whenever I am speaking with an architect, I always take a minute to ask: “Who carries the most weight in making product decisions on a project? Is it the architectural specifier or the subcontractors that are bidding or installing the systems?” Like most I ask, he said that the subcontractor is the expert, and he would usually go with the submission or suggestions they receive from them.

I have talked to many companies that only quote what is on the specification, and I do not think they realize the clout they have to offer substitutions or alternate product suggestions. In the market we are in today, you want to be a solutions-based company. Supply chain issues and lead times are on everyone’s mind. Offering alternatives to the specified products will demonstrate more value to the contractor, as long as what you are suggesting is comparable to what is specified.

Over the years, as I have written many times, I have seen lead time be the most important factor in many product decisions. Architects, general contractors or project owners who are often adamant about keeping to the specifications, finishes and styles, will quickly make changes when product availability is an issue. Even price becomes secondary when lead times become critical. After spending months negotiating the price, I don’t know how many times it was quickly forgotten when I got the call, “How fast can we get this?”

If you decide to offer alternatives to a specified product, make sure you present alternatives as comparable or equal products. Take the time to include spec sheets and drawings that will support this. You may need to submit samples as well. If you have access to the general specs, you will find documents in the 00- section of the Master Spec that will guide you through quoting an alternate product or requesting substitutions. If you don’t have access, most general contractors can provide them for you. These will list what the architect needs to make the change. By offering alternatives, you may not be successful in convincing your customer to make a product change, but the effort will give them something to offer to their customers, making them part of the decision to accept extended lead times or accept product changes.

In these times, it is important that you don’t take lead times for granted. Most suppliers are facing the same issues we all are, with extended lead times on many items. Keeping your customers updated concerning lead times and offering solutions will add value to your relationship.