In early April 2014, Saint Gobain | CertainTeed (the world’s largest building materials company) announced plans for a new, state-of-the-art North American corporate headquarters in Malvern, PA.
Binswanger, who brokered the lease agreement on behalf of Saint Gobain, also recommended Transwall’s LP office fronts to the project’s interior architect – Jacobs. ONE LP office front system offers a structural yet minimalistic aesthetic, accepts tempered and laminated 1/2” glass, and is available in a clear anodized finish and multiple powder coat finishes. Jacobs appreciated the minimal framing and clean aesthetic that the LP product provides.
Transwall’s unchallenged reputation for product and process integrity and responsiveness helped land the job. Transwall’s project management team worked closely with D. Fickler Construction (GC) to achieve a successful installation.
During 2011-2013, the Mars HQ in West Chester, PA underwent a dramatic transformation at the hands of the architecture firm JacobsWyper. By removing a portion of the second floor, they created a stunning two story entry way allowing the space to fill with light on sunny days due to the high ceiling and windows.
This sense of spaciousness was continued throughout the interior with our ONE LP by Transwall® partition system. We provided 520 lineal feet of glass panels and 30 door units to create the acoustically tested conference rooms.
“The Transwall walls look and work really great, but we already knew this. We really like the reveal detail that makes them look like they float. What was really surprising was the quietness in the offices. While taking pictures of the finished conference rooms we couldn’t communicate via glass with the photographer. We had to leave the room and walk around to hear his instructions”. Magdalena Nogalski Krapf AIA
Mars Drinks is famous for Dove brand Hot Chocolate, Alterra Coffee Roasters and other tasty beverages. The headquarters is conveniently located in West Chester, close to Transwall ®.
Few of us can say we are not involved in highly competitive industries. Transwall is no exception.
Not only do we compete with others in the demountable wall industry, including major international players, but we’re also competing with drywall, and sometimes the concept of no walls at all. It can be hard to beat the cost of not building any walls at all.
To be successful we somehow have to be the best at getting through the maze of trials that lead to winning the project award. All our competitors are running the same maze with the same thought in mind: win the job in a way which enables us to complete the job to specifications in a timely and quality way, pay our bills, and maintain a return on investment for the company’s stakeholders.
What ultimately differentiates us from our competitors? On some level we’re all the same, we provide demountable and glass walls. In most other ways, we’re all different. We have different cost structures, different products, different geographical constraints, different profit goals.
Transwall has a different business model than nearly all of our competitors.
Perhaps most importantly, we have different ideas about the meaning of quality, customer service, and commitment.
What is it that’s our secret sauce that makes the difference in getting the job?
We just participated in competing for a large glass front installation for a company in northern Virginia. The prospect investigated 20 wall vendors (yes, depending on how you define the term, there are at least 20 of us ‘vendors’ out there). Over several months, the client and project team narrowed the list to 3, including us. We 3 were invited to set up sample installations.
We were awarded the project with ONE, Transwall’s first glass wall product. It’s a multi-million dollar installation which will take place in phases over the next year. Our new goal is to convert this client with a single project into becoming a member of the club of very loyal Transwall clients who call on us whenever there are demountable or glass wall needs, and do so year-after-year.
I’d like to think we won because we’re the best wall people in the world. Realistically, our industry is like most others, there are a number of companies that have high quality products, are capable of doing a good job installing them, and charge a competitive price. So why us?
Turns out our special sauce is client comfort. This client and their team took the time to clearly understand not only what they were purchasing, but who they were hiring onto their team. They saw what we had to offer in our factory in West Chester, PA. They heard what long-term clients had to say about who we were and how our unique single-point-of-accountability works so well. They trust us to do a good job, on budget, on time, to specifications and with no drama.
As in so many things, it comes down to having a reputation for being great to work with.
Of course, we start with excellent people and products. You have to get the basics right or you never get in the game. But once in the game, all our efforts to show we really do care and are dedicated to doing the job right while treating our customers like members of our family makes a difference.
We’re now competing for another multi-floor/multi-million dollar opportunity. In this case we’re 1 of 6 invited to set up sample installations. Even though it’s a project in a new local building, we’re the only US manufacturer in the running.
I don’t know if we’ll get this job yet. I do like our chances. But I do know how we got to the dance: our secret sauce.
We’ve worked hard over decades to develop relationships based on openness, trust, and a commitment to quality work and great customer service. We do this with all those involved including architects, designers, building owners, general contractors, and often furniture dealers. When it came down to deciding who to invite to the final dance, they decided that even though we’re not a European manufacturer per the initial concept, they needed us in the mix.
Good personal relationships, a commitment to our customers, and a reputation for doing what we say go a long way towards building client confidence and comfort. And client confidence and comfort go a long way towards not only getting invited to participate in the bidding process but to being trusted to do the job.
As have all of you, I’ve been following the economy. Being in the commercial construction industry, our business is closely tied to the actual state of the economy as well as the perceived state of the economy. Actual state is where the need for our great walls and services comes from. Perceived state is where the decision to build or upgrade a building comes from.
Even when the actual economy is good and companies have money and the need for new and improved buildings, if they feel the economy is not so good they put off construction. It becomes a vicious cycle. If too many believe the economy isn’t very good and so put off purchases, the economy declines and reinforces their feeling and we all suffer.
As I’ve followed the ups and downs of the economic recovery over the last few years I’ve noticed how the media and pundits have played it. They seem to get great delight in going on and on about the slow recovery. The unending debating over why it’s so slow seeps into everyone’s thinking and, in fact, slows everyone down.
I don’t understand this. The economy has been growing and continues to recover. One way I know this is that our business has grown significantly. We should be celebrating this rather than complaining it’s not fast enough.
Nice, steady growth is a good thing. Companies have a better chance to manage their resources rationally without crazy swings and random changes.
I know everyone is not participating in the growth. Tectonic changes in the global economy have wreaked havoc on the group I grew up with, those at the nexus of the working class and the middle-class. The assumptions we made about our futures have been turned up side down.
In addition to these changes, even at the best of economic times some companies do poorly and fail. But most companies that are well run with good products and services that people want are doing okay or even better.
My evidence? The backbone of the economy, the small businesses that dot the countryside, are optimistic and planning to hire. Their mood is upbeat. Upbeat in spite of the naysayer pundits.
This is good news for the economy, for those looking for work, and while those of us running businesses might complain about this, it’s good news for those looking for a wage increase. But then, even a wage increase is good news for we small businesses it you think about it. More money in our employees’ pockets means more money for them to spend and so we need to make more products for them to buy.
The vicious cycle rebuffed and inverted into a virtuous cycle: nice stable growth that isn’t flashy but is steady and continuous fed by optimistic small business owners. Forget the naysayers and pundits spreading negativism. Let’s grow them out of existence.
I have a confession to make. Writing this blog was not my idea, nor my desire. Our marketing team kept after me until I agreed. They went on about how with the fantastic new website we were launching it was the perfect time for our customers and prospects to get to know what Transwall leadership might be thinking about. In the dark art of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) things like regularly-posted blogs contribute to growing organic web search results.
Well, an interesting thing happened on the journey to this, the 14th posting. I found that I actually like writing this every week or so. It’s forced me to make sure I spend some time each week thinking about how we’re doing, what we’re working on, how we can improve, and what I’ve been thinking about that would be useful to you, our loyal fans, prospects, and random interested people.
Sure, in my role as president, I always am thinking about those things. But thinking about them with a regular blog in mind changes the thinking. It gets me more focused, brings more clarity, causes me to pay attention to things around me more carefully, and seems to get the creative juices flowing in a more powerful and ongoing way.
To my amazement…and our marketing team’s foresight…some people are reading this, and sharing some nice comments. So thanks for reading and especially for the comments. Pass along a link to anyone you know who might enjoy a bit of my musing on business life on a regular basis.
A touch more ‘Full Disclosure’: writing the blog also gives me a chance to brag a bit about some of our recent exciting accomplishments:
– Topping off the first two phases of Twitter’s new HQ in NYC
– The award of Politico’s offices in Washington
– Celebrating the completion of our 80th branch office successfully installed for TD Ameritrade.
These come on the heels of completing the manufacture and on time installation of two record-setting projects for agencies of the Federal Government: over 6 miles of moveable walls in 2014.
Writing it gives me a chance to share things we’ve doing that have improved our operations and could be useful to other companies. Our partnership with the local VA Hospital where we bring recovering vets on board and help them return to the civilian workforce comes to mind.
Writing it gives me a chance to give all the credit to our employees who are an amazingly knowledgeable and dedicated bunch. They are driven to turn out the highest quality work to meet our client’s exacting standards. It’s clear that if you get the right people into the right seats, give them clear objectives and metrics, allow them freedom to act, and hold them accountable for what they do while rewarding them properly, they push themselves to be their best. Managing such an organization is so much easier.
Most fun of all, writing it has given me a chance to reach out and share my thoughts with all of you. Best of all, you’ve reached back. One thing I’ve known for a long time is there are a lot of smart people out there with ideas I’d like to know about. This blog gives me an ongoing way to keep a dialogue going.
So I’m ending with a request. Be an active partner in this blog. Keep on reading and trying out things I mention are working for us, and write back. Post a comment and share an idea about something working well for you. The more we share ideas the better it will be for all of us and our companies. I look forward to hearing from you.
Issues pop up every day. Some good, some bad, some somewhere in the middle.
It happens to everyone: schoolteachers, managers, doctors, entrepreneurs, you.
So much of the time and energy surrounding solving issues is wasted.
Waste. What a concept.
I’m not interested in eliminating waste. I think there is an optimal amount of waste. An amount that’s a natural result of work, risk, creativity. An amount which is a byproduct of good ideas and solutions.
But wasted waste is no good. Wasted waste slows things down, leads to lost time and higher costs. It confuses things.
As an example, I regularly see someone asked an exploratory question and responding to it like it’s a directive. Someone asks “what would happen if…?” The other hears “ we need to do this…”
The first person is merely wondering, just asking for some speculation about what would happen if they did something specific. The other person is hearing a directive to do something specific. Instead of gathering information so they can make a reasoned decision…a rush to action.
It can be entertaining to watch, at least if it’s not something important. A casual comment of speculation turned into a sprint to action. Often action without thought, without information, without agreement, without knowing if it makes any sense at all.
How long does the sprint go on? How far does the runner get? Where does the runner go?
The amazing thing is how once started the action is hard to stop. A casual question sets off action that takes on a life of its own.
Does it lead to better results? Does it solve whatever issue led to the initial question? Does anyone even remember why the action got started? Is it ever productive?
So much effort for such little chance of reward. Wasted effort. Effort wasted due to a failure to communicate effectively. Waste.
One thing sure to result: excess stomach acid. That’s a waste too.
So, why start a blog post with a picture of a flying car…or maybe it’s a driving airplane. Hard to say. I find the ambiguity of it intriguing.
Beyond the intrigue of the ambiguity, when I saw this amazing vehicle I got thinking about creativity and innovation and what it takes to keep from getting complacent in your success. I got thinking about the state of thinking of the people behind the development of this breakthrough idea.
How differently are they thinking than all the people on our team? The idea of a flying car can generate interest and sustainable levels of excitement. But walls? Not so exciting…I first thought.
Then my thinking shifted to the challenges facing other people who don’t forge careers involved with such grandiose concepts as flying vehicles. What is it like to work for one of the many companies responsible for helping their toothpaste company come up with minty and fresh new ideas of providing dental hygiene. Or, people at work on improving the breakfast cereal experience?
At Transwall we make, install and service…walls. Glass walls, steel walls, laminate walls, double walls. They are thoughtfully designed and together offer options, durability and very high value. They are brought to market by some of the most talented and committed people you will find, but still, they’re walls. When I was recently walking around Washington DC and saw the flying car, I repeatedly considered how enthusiasm and creativity is maintained in most other business with presumably lesser inventive challenges. Really, how could we at Transwall possibly be as creative and innovative when we make…walls?
We’re great at figuring out how to improve what we do in incremental ways. Refine door design to better address acoustic issues, adapt standard hardware for unique specification requirements, and even repurpose an 11 year old modular product from retail store fixture to a highly effective acoustical barrier/wall. What can we do to make that quantum leap into brand new ideas? Driving Planes/Flying Cars?
I decided creativity had to start right at the top…with me. I needed to let everyone know that I was interested in having them come up with creative and innovative ideas for our business. Actually, not only interested but encouraging and expecting them to wow me with their ideas. Some would be good, some not so good, every now and then one would be spectacular.
Everyone was encouraged to share their ideas. No penalties for the silly ones but rewards for the good ones.
At first it was slow. Then the idea flow sped up. Now we have a company full of people always thinking about not just ways to improve what we already do but also about what we can do that we haven’t done before to build our business and fill customer needs.
I must admit, we haven’t come up with something to compare to the flying car…yet. But we have come up with ideas that have led to a quantum leap for Transwall, our clients, and everyone else we touch.
My learning? Creativity and innovation need to be inculcated into your organization. You need to build a culture that encourages and rewards new ideas even if at first they seem crazy. Each and every person, starting at the top, needs to be thinking all the time about how to both improve existing while watching for the completely new. Creativity and innovation live everywhere, the tough thing is noticing them, having the courage to grab them when they appear, and the willingness to completely shake things up in spite of the risk.
Once we broke out of our box, amazing things began to happen and continue to happen as we re-imagine Transwall, our products, our customers, and the way we do what we do. The flying vehicle got me thinking about airplanes. I’ve been flying quite a bit and for the first time ever began to think about how each and every airplane has walls…