The sector is being covered by a so called patina of crisis, a nearly invisible mist that influences everything the companies do and think. You can’t see it, but you can feel it when you talk to businesspeople. “Most of them are doing their best simply to survive. What companies want more than anything is to continue to be in business today. Only a handful are looking towards tomorrow. That is understandable, of course. The economy is stagnating, the government is postponing investments, and you can hardly see the opportunities in the future for the crisis. Good entrepreneurship demands that you focus both on now and then.” These words were spoken by Bert Lieverse, Director of the façade organisation VRMG – The Metal Windows and Façades Sector Association. “Only true entrepreneurs seek out opportunities and turn away from threats.” Lieverse sees four strategies for success in the façade-construction sector. But first over to the VMRG.
Network organisation Metals used to be dominant as a construction material, but today the range of innovative materials being used is much broader. That is why Lieverse prefers to talk about industrial façade construction. “Representing the interests of the membership is job one for the sector association,” he says. “The 200 members include façade producers, consultants, and suppliers. We see ourselves more as a network organisation that also develops and disseminates knowledge. We ensure that construction companies, building partners, clients and others are informed about the latest techniques and developments related to façade construction.”
Breaking through the crisis mindset Communication – internal and external, national and international – is critical. As is quality. “All members are required to take part in the annual inspection in order to be eligible to display the VMRG seal of approval. That seal represents the quality of the product and of the organisation. And finally, we strive to achieve continuous innovation within the individual companies. As a sector, we have set ourselves the task of stimulating innovation and promoting it.” Lieverse understands that innovation is not at the top of every businessperson’s agenda. “They have to put food on the table, of course, but they have to do that next year, too. That is why it makes sense to break through the crisis mindset.” To do that, the VMRG director lists four strategies.
1. Delivery to the end user comfortably Reorientation and focusing on the end user is the first step. “Move the perspective from building to using. Too often, costs get the lion’s share of the attention. That’s not to say that they are not important, because they are. But the ultimate administrator or user is at least as important. If you want to build a good building, you have to know what the end user wants. And that end user is not always the client. The user is where the true appreciation of the façade will be found. So less focus on costs and standard products and more on value.”
‘All of the building partners should reorient themselves to new materials; otherwise the whole sector will end up as a sort of open-air museum’
2. Innovation through collaboration "The products that have been used over the past few decades are fine. But will they continue to be fine over the next few decades? As a sector, we have to join forces to investigate innovative materials.Innovation in design, as well as from a technical perspective. A shift is taking place. And that’s great. Otherwise the whole sector will become just another bit of cultural heritage. Then you deliver buildings that would not be out of place in an open-air museum. All of the building partners should therefore reorient themselves to the new materials. There are already building organisations that, by way of example, are including composite companies into their concerns. That creates dynamism. There are more than enough possibilities, from electronics in the façade to sensor technologies.”
3. Sustainability as a trend for global and innovative expansion “We have become aware that sustainability is not just a fashionable slogan. Sustainability has become a driver for innovation in business. You do not want to put up a building that gulps energy, you want buildings and façades that can be recycled. One of the best aspects is that sustainability transcends villages, cities and national borders. The whole world is doing it. What is being developed in Zwolle or Middelburg can be sold in Boston or Shanghai. That does require a change in thinking and action.”
4. Build market share through exports According to Lieverse, the products that the façade sector create have the potential and opportunities that fit perfectly with successful designers and architects in growth economies. “The interleave of international business is increasing even further. Global companies are taking each other over or are going to collaborate intensively. The borders are fading in many areas. So why not take one’s knowledge from Australia or the US? The Chinese, for example, come here to study and take their knowledge from Europe to Asia. Seek out knowledge and clients beyond the borders.”
Worldwide FACE platform With respect to internationalisation, the VMRG itself recently founded the global FACE International Façade Community. It’s an Internet community that brings together all of the façade partners from around the world. Lieverse: “More companies join every day. All of the pieces of the façade chain: architects, designers and façade suppliers want to share their knowledge and ideas to take façade notch.” Check: www.internationalfacade.com.