Time was, says Bill Tucker, "a material man was a material man, and that was it. Now, consumers trust that the seller has expertise." But the veteran director of the Florida Building Material Association (FBMA) sees that shift in roles–combined with several recent events–as cause for worry.
Tucker's response was to spearhead the creation of the Building Product Retailers Alliance (BPRA), a limited liability corporation that has partnered with Intertek, the giant testing, inspection and certification company, to provide LBM dealers with an extra layer of security that manufacturers' product claims can be trusted.
Faulty Chinese drywall scared folks, Tucker says. Concerns over greenwashing aggravated those worries. Florida dealers feared their state's implied warranty law–which Tucker says most states have–might render dealers legally liable for defective products or for green products whose performance didn't match up to their claims. FBMA's lawyer warned Tucker as much.
What tipped Tucker and his members over the edge was the Certified Green Dealer Program. That program uses a module of online tutorials to teach dealers and their employees about green building procedure and green products. It then certifies participants as a green dealer based on successful completion of the module.
Tucker says he fears the rise in purportedly green products, combined with attempts by groups to establish dealers as experts on green construction, could expose dealers to legal problems. After all, "How do we know if something advertised as 50% recycled is actually 50% recycled?" he asks. "Any new product raises eyebrows. Any green product. Who validates that you really run the tests?"
Tucker's response–the alliance–is owned by the FBMA and six other state and regional building material associations. The others have until June 30 to decide whether to join.
Those groups may give the alliance credibility, but Tucker regards Intertek as BPRA's biggest asset. With locations all over the world, including southeast Asia, Intertek can provide not only validation of product quality data a manufacturer already possesses, but verification services if needed at the manufacturer's site, just about wherever it's based.
Details of the partnership are being fine-tuned and the fee structure has yet to be nailed down. Tucker expects the program to roll out sometime in April.
The plan calls for product manufacturers to pay a fee to have their product lines validated. A manufacturer can choose to validate all or only a select number of product lines.
Dealers wouldn't incur any costs.
Manufacturers who sign on and have their product lines validated or verified will then have those lines entered into a BPRA website database that dealers could access to learn more about whether current and potential products perform as claimed.
Tucker admits manufacturers haven't exactly felt the love for this idea, particularly given the recession. But he says his pitch has resonated with some manufacturers.
"This program really makes sense to manufacturers just coming into the market," he says. "We talk to them, and a light just goes on." Tucker also believes companies will use validation to distinguish themselves from their competitors, and he counts on manufacturers to help police each other.
"If you're not a good guy, your competition will be on you like a gator on a poodle," he predicts.
The FBMA rolled with this idea, says Tucker, "because we felt our guys were really exposed."
"We knew that somebody–whether it was the government, the International Code Council, or the U.S. Green Building Council–was going to do it," he says. "We decided that group should be us. Our concept was to be the firstest with the mostest."
–Kate Tyndall is a contributing editor to ProSales