In this Industry Interview, Monarch Metal CEO Brandon Bingham speaks with Kevin Scott of Cannan Alexander & Scott http://www.casreps.com, a manufacturer’s representative firm that specializes in cladding and building envelope products for commercial and residential applications.
Can you tell us about your background and about Cannan and Alexander?
Cannan Alexander & Scott was formed about 20 years ago, 21 actually now, but it was Cannan Alexander when I started with them. I was one of the first employees. And that was in 2005 and I became a partner in 2010. It’s kind of how it started. And my background is in teaching. So I was a Special-Ed and English teacher in high school, locally. And was looking at other opportunities, so I was doing some real estate stuff but this came along and so I took a swing at it and it worked out, worked out really well. So I found a good spot for myself here. And it’s been going great, and there isn’t a day where I don’t love what I do, like every day is a great day.
So Cannan Alexander & Scott specializes in many areas, you sell other manufacturing products then? Or is there a specialization?
Yeah, we have our specialization and that is primarily in the exterior of the building. So the company was pretty much started with commercial roofing. So we represent a few different international manufacturers in the commercial roofing industry and a lot of accessories and components related to that. And that slowly started morphing into walls, waterproofing, and air barriers. And it kind of really started with waterproofing. One of the manufacturers and roofing that we represent, also manufactured waterproofing products. That got us into waterproofing applications and then air barriers situations as air barriers became code, we started focusing on air barriers.
And then one thing kind of led to another. I would get questions about claddings, and if we represent different types of exterior claddings. And that turned into looking for some cladding companies. And then insulation became code, we started working with insulation manufacturers and framing was a result of that. How are you gonna put this thing on the wall to meet the energy code? So we started working on that side of things as well. So just kind of snowballed. And now we have a lot of different manufacturers, there’s nine of us in the group. And we probably have, you know much to the dismay of some of the manufacturers we represent, we probably have about 30 different lines. We don’t all overlap and all handle the same thing, we’re kind of split up geographically and by product group. So we don’t represent doorknobs, or hardware, or carpet, or anything like that. We really stick to the exterior of the building, and now on occasion some of our wall panels will go on the inside of the building. But that’s really been our expertise.
So when we work with manufacturers and architects, it’s pretty much the same people all the time because it’s the area we work in. So we don’t do a lot with interior architects, or landscape architects or, we don’t really do a lot with engineers either. So that’s where we found our comfort zone and where we think we are most beneficial to the architect is a resource, we just focus on what we know.
Can you tell us about some of the projects CAS has been involved in?
Yeah so we’ve been involved in, I mean there’s a lot of projects. So our area is upstate New York, we don’t have New York City. And so because of that, we don’t really pick and choose our jobs, we just are lucky to have jobs at all. It’s not a hotbed of construction, so we have to make do with what we have. Geographically we’re kind of locked up in that we have a massive body of water north of us and in the south of us is somebody else’s territory, and you know, in their whole program down in Pennsylvania.
So we have a lot of smaller jobs, we have some really large notable projects that we’ve worked on. Rochester Regional Health was a huge panel project that we provided a lot of material on. Pretty much the whole job, anything on the outside of that building, we pretty much provided everything on that. That was a hundred thousand square foot terracotta project. So everything behind the terracotta we got, including the air barrier and all that. And then we did the roofing as well. All the waterproofing was a massive waterproofing project. So we did really well with that, it was a great job. The local architectural firm, that’s really where we succeed on projects like that.
We’ve got involved in a lot of other projects, casino projects that are monster panel jobs. A lot of small, medium-sized projects because that’s typically what we get. There’s a lot of wood construction going on right now and that’s kind of working against us in that people are opting to go with wood construction instead of steel stud and concrete. And that is a problem that we can talk about later. So Rochester Regional Health, a huge project. [Montreign] Casino, another really big project that we supplied 40,000 square feet of wall panels on. And then Cuba Rushford, Maples CSD, a lot of school jobs and they’re not really building schools, they’re just putting additions on so. 5,000-10,000 square feet of panels, maybe 15-20,000 square-foot jobs peppered in there.
So we really have to work hard to string a lot of small jobs together with, sometimes it’s difficult when you have a lot of components on the project, there’s a fair amount of management on our end that we need to keep track of. Because we’re selling the wall panels, the framing, the exterior insulation, the air barrier. And we sometimes have to coordinate shop drawings, and engineering as well, and those don’t always come from the same people either. So [there’s] a lot of coordination that goes in it from our end, for some people it may seem like a lot of extra work, but without doing that it’s, you know, the chances of getting that job are a lot slimmer. So we provide a service to the contractor as kind of a one-stop shop. But it does take a little bit more of our coordination and organization to make it happen.
Can you tell us who usually begins the dialogue with CAS? Is it the architect, the GCE, or a sub?
It’s a little bit of all that, we probably in our entire area have maybe 5 million people, but that’s spread out hours apart from each area. So each little area we go into is a kind of a big town. They’re small cities, they’re big towns. And so there aren’t 20 contractors in each area doing what we do, there may only be one or two. It’s been very helpful for us to establish good relationships with the guys that do the work that we do. So sometimes with contractors, they’ll tell us we got this job, this is on a project, we don’t want to use it. It’s similar to what you do and they get us involved in that way. And we really had nothing to do with the project and we were just really supportive to the contractor. And sometimes we get in on that side of things.
As far as architects go, it really was in the beginning we had to go find work. We had to show them, you know. Framing systems are nice but they’re not that sexy. So it’s the panels that help, and if you don’t have a panel, you don’t have a framing system. So we really show them the sexier side of the business, which is the panel’s. The cool ideas the inspirational projects that other designers work on in its showcase.
We bring that to them and this is not a hotbed area, it’s not a New York City, it’s not a major metropolitan area. So a lot of that stuff may seem out of reach to them. We bring it to them, and they see that, oh this is a big-city product but we can actually use it here in upstate New York, I think it makes the architects feel like they’re not forgotten about. Because they’re not in a big city and you know we’re all dealing with the same really bad weather up here, depending how you look at it but, in the same conditions up here.
We used to really have to hunt hard, but now we have a reputation and industry of being a provider of these things. And we know what we do, we’re very technically savvy. Because we’re involved in so many of the aspects with roofing, and tying in roofing panels to the top of the roof, and how it turns into the below grade area. We know all the ins and outs, the details, the fire code. Some manufacturers like us, only do panels and that’s it. They have no clue about the fire code. We do, we know it all. We know the energy code, we know the fire code. We want to be the best. We want to be the most knowledgeable reps, at least in this area.
We haven’t had to go out as much, now we’re starting to get people calling us. We’ll still go out and hunt, like we normally do, but it’s getting a lot better where we’re getting more calls. Where we didn’t go in and hunt them down, they actually found us. And it’s turning into kind of that annuity that a sales rep looks for. Where people start coming to you now, you know. You’re not having to go out and find friends, now the friends are coming back and asking questions and getting us involved on jobs. Because hopefully they find that we make it easier for them.
Speaking of that, can you tell us about some of the innovative ways you’ve value engineered projects to help customers achieve better results?
There’s a lot of different components on these jobs, and that is another huge feather in our cap. We have so many different solutions. If you only have one product, you really don’t have control of a lot of the other variables that make your product the complete system. Some manufacturers don’t have a framing system. They just have, or manufacturer’s reps, they just have a panel and that’s it. Some guys may just have an air barrier, that’s it. We have it all. So we have a lot of variables that we can play with to make it a win for everybody.
So will be the typical panels, sometimes we can maybe switch the panel to something very similar that may be more cost effective. Or simply as just as expensive, but maybe easier to install. Sometimes we will help them with the framing. So a lot of the framing, it starts off with a very prescribed framing spacing, that everybody knows will pass engineering. It’ll work everybody knows it. Typically it’s two feet on center and maybe 16 inches horizontally. But we’ll always start off with that but a lot of times we know if we get the job, we can probably space that out. Instead of two feet on center, we’ll reduce those brackets and maybe go three feet or on occasion four feet on center. Now we just reduced that number of brackets and the labor to install all those brackets, the fasteners, all that stuff. We help by reducing the framing. We know we won’t do things that won’t work, it’ll all be engineered, but there’s a money-saving option there.
Sometimes we can change the installation types. There’s a lot of different things we can do. We can change the air barrier to something else. We have a lot of variables at our fingertips that we can play around with. It’s a benefit for everybody involved. It’s a benefit for the architect because they get a concept that they’re looking for or the exact materials that they’re looking for. For the subcontractor, it makes his job easier and maybe he is able to save a little money. For the general contractor, maybe saving money with the subcontractor, somehow ends up a credit in his favor or a faster job. Or just a more succinct installation of the whole entire assembly. It’s tough sometimes, some of these architects will choose a product that nobody’s ever used before. It’s a one-off and it just can turn into a real coordination nightmare and it’s gonna be pretty expensive so. We think we bring a lot to the table in that respect.
Can you tell us about some of the design flaws you typically see early in the process?
Sometimes architects will, and it generally comes from them, they will have great intent, they want to use a specific panel on a project. But there’s a lot more to it than just picking a panel and putting it on the job. Knowing the yield, the actual physical size of the panel, is extremely helpful in making this a practical project, in our area. But it’s a very sensitive budget area, and sometimes just throwing a panel on the wall with a certain module or dimension is not always the best way to go about it. Find out what the panel size is, and then design your modules around that.
The name of the game with all these panels is reducing the waste. If you have a panel, and most of these are coming from Europe, you’re shipping this panel over and they’re, a subcontractor’s gonna fabricate it and throw out 40% of it in the trash, because of the module size that the architect has chosen. That’s that’s a downfall, that’s a problem. So when we work with architects, we’re very upfront about panel sizes. We want to make sure that before they jump the gun, before they start doing module and massing, to make sure we understand the size of the panel first so we’re not creating a panel or a module that has a significant waste factor.
So that’s one thing. Also making sure they choose products that are appropriate for the environment, and appropriate for the area. Putting a specific, I don’t know, terracotta tile. There’s some of these thinner terracotta tiles out there, they’re beautiful, they’re great, but not always great in an area that may have a lot of impact. Kids throwing lacrosse balls at the wall, probably not a great place to put a thinner terracotta. So someone’s salting the sidewalk all the time, there’s certain products that are not great with that and some that are totally fine with that.
So sometimes we see what we would look at as, not the best product, or the best use of that product in that particular area. Knowing what we know, and maybe sometimes the architect didn’t know or didn’t ask the right question. That’s an issue and then the third one is the fire code. We’re still seeing manufacturers allow, and architects design, projects that do not appear to address the fire code. The NFPA 285 fire code, which in my opinion that’s a big deal. And we’re seeing, and maybe it’s from even manufacturers reps like us who don’t have insulation and don’t bother to learn the fire codes related to their panels. We see some manufacturer reps getting involved in projects that they just don’t meet the fire code. And we know it, and maybe they don’t know it, I’m sure they probably don’t. I don’t think they would be purposely skating around the fire code but, we’re still seeing that as an issue because that is setting this project up for massive change orders. Because sometimes we’ll let people know it doesn’t meet the fire code.
What are the current design trends you see in conversations with clients currently?
Panels. Panels are huge right now. Even in our area it’s been great. We are in a very [old] area, upstate New York. You know a lot of these towns were established in the late 1700’s. A lot of brick and mortar, a lot of old classic buildings. That has been a prevailing style for a long time. And architects seeing what we have to offer and what’s in all these magazines and architectural related periodicals. They see all these designs and it’s not brick, generally, it’s not masonry, it’s all panels.
But what we’re seeing now is, architects being able to convince owners of school districts and universities to go the way of the panel. And it was really hard for them because you know they liked the idea, architects have always been on board. But the owners are no we want brick, we want brick, we want brick. And it’s changing. It’s changing really quick. So we’re really happy about that. It’s a great trend right now. Panels are everywhere. Tons of schools are putting panels on their buildings.
Seen a lot of planks, seem to be popular within that panel genre. A lot of planks. Vertical and horizontal, it seems to be pretty popular now. Brighter colors are becoming more popular, as opposed to just the standard earth tones. And I think earth tones maybe were a result of a departure from that brick. Which is an earthy kind of look. They kind of took that look and just made it into a panel.
And now we’re starting to see more colors, more vibrant colors from now. We’re really leaving that classic look and going to something more contemporary. And the architects have always been on board but the owners, that’s the school boards and the the officials, and the administration at the collegiate level, they’re starting to embrace these colors. And do a lot more and just really kind of get more adventurous with all that stuff. So panels for right now, and it doesn’t look like that’s gonna change anytime soon, we’re always a little behind too. What may be a trend down in the larger city may still take you know five or 10 years to work it’s way up here.
Do you see a certain panel type, plank or other having a current grip on the market based on performance or popularity? Is it the HPL, the ACM?
I see ACM is starting to take a backseat. ACM was really the first panel that people started going with. It was either Eavis or Yves, or ACM composite, aluminum composite metal panels. Those have been on the market for probably, in our area for 10 to 15 years now, in varying capacities. And those are really starting to show their wear. You know, we don’t deal a lot with aluminum composite panels but thankfully their use is starting to fall in our area, starting to slow down.
HPL panels are extremely popular right now, terracotta. I’m involved in probably three or four terracotta jobs right now. Pan HBL panels, I’m probably involved in six or seven jobs right now. There’s ultra-compact panels, which are stone based materials, those are becoming pretty popular. We’re in a great position right now. The manufacturers that we have are not dogs, they are hot products that are just really popular right now. And we try to stay with the trends. We don’t really drop lines as you know as trends change but we just happen to be lucky with the lines that we have are pretty popular lines. So I see metal slowing down and other options, metal’s kind of getting played out. So I see a lot of people switching it up a little bit, spending more money on claddings. Switching to a bunch of different types.
What are some of the challenges you face personally in the market, maybe your line space in the market?
There’s always challenges. Budgets, budgets in our area is always a big challenge. Cost of labor is a huge challenge, right now. It’s not necessarily panel related, but the headlines around here are in the topics of conversation, at the local CSI meetings, and the AIA meetings, you know CFMA, any construction related industry meetings, labor shortage. For a long time schools pushed computers and technology and that’s a problem right now. We have a major labor shortage. The economy in this area shrunk over the last 20-30 years. And as a result of that, the construction firms shrunk as well.
And now we’re starting to see a surge in construction, if you can call it that, in upstate New York. We kind of travel a very tight sine wave, and right now we’re just on a really big upturn in construction. The contractors are having a hard time manning these projects. People aren’t going into construction, it’s typically an older workforce. That is a major problem right now, and the cost to do construction in upstate New York is extremely expensive. So what is happening in the south, we don’t get to enjoy up here because it is so expensive to build. The insurance rates are extremely high, they’re very very high, probably the highest in the entire country. We’ve got some laws that nobody else has in the entire country that creates a high insurance rate. It honestly prevents companies from even starting up, because it costs so much to start a construction company. Let alone pay your workforce to have a union area. So that has an increase in cost. Everything is very expensive to do up here even though we’re not in New York City, it’s still extremely expensive.
So when you’re putting panels on a project, it’s typically not an inexpensive option. Even panels that are three dollars a square foot, which pretty much are reserved for residential construction. They’re typically almost $20 a square foot installed. The labor is extremely expensive. We don’t have the luxury of what is going on down south.
So it’s extremely expensive to do construction around here, so material cost is important, but reducing the labor costs is even more important. And so for manufacturers to figure ways out, and I think they’re already working on that, bigger ways of reducing reducing labor, speeding up construction, stuff like that is a huge help.
Insulated metal panels are also on a huge surge as well, in our area. Because of the speed of construction that an insulated metal panel brings to the industry. So that’s some of what we see going on. Some of the challenges are more labor related than panel related. There’s really no challenges with panels other than trying to get a panel on a job with the high cost of installation. When I tell people some of the costs, they’re pretty surprised.
Are there advantages of the panels you sell that you can position properly?
Yeah we represent a company that manufactures insulated metal panels. And that has been helpful. We’re working on a job with you guys right now that the entire backup of the wall assembly, aside from the studs, is an insulated metal wall panel. And your framing would go on top of that. And then the panels, the HPL panels and terracotta panels, will be attached to the framing. It’s going over the insulated metal wall panels. That is a huge way that we feel we bring to the table to help speed projects up. To help reduce costs and still give that project the look that the of the intent of the architect.
So that’s happening on a couple jobs too actually. Architects are open to the idea, and subcontractors are starting to value engineer these jobs from traditional construction. They’re finding ways to make insulated metal panels work on these jobs and they’re removing the insulation, and they’re removing the air barrier, and they’re going with insulated metal wall panels. And then the framing and then the panel itself, the cladding. So works for a lot of jobs, doesn’t work for all jobs, but that’s a big trench.
What do you think people often overlook when selecting a panel type for their project?
It’s construction, whether or not it’s the right product for that application. If it’s chemically resistant, if it’s maybe in a particular area, if it needs to be graffiti resistant. Some of these architects almost see panels as a maintenance-free item, they are not all maintenance-free. They don’t all pass the same fire codes. So understanding the maintenance on some of these panels, in understanding the fire code, that’s a challenge.
There’s a lot of information out there in the industry, and there’s also a lot of misinformation out there. And that is a pretty big challenge of making sure that, from an architect’s standpoint, that they’re meeting the fire code. And not putting the affirm that they’re in with too much exposure to liability and lawsuits and things like that.
How do you pair up sub structures for the panels you sell?
Typically the cladding drives the bus. So cladding will dictate everything for us and the architect and anybody associated with this project. The cladding will dictate the type of insulation. It’ll dictate the type of framing. It’ll dictate the spacing of the framing. It dictates a lot of the details on the job where the panels tie in to the roof or the panels tie in to the below grade or the sidewalk or whatever the deal is there. The panel starts it all. So we don’t look at anything else until we figure out the type of panel.
Once we figure the type of panel out, then the relationship starts to come together. That panel, it’s gonna need a thermally isolated framing system. It’s going to need a certain type of insulation, whether it’s mineral wool or polyiso. Air barriers have come a long way now. Used to be they needed a specific type of air barrier, but there’s a handful of barriers out there now that there’s a lot you can go with. So it’s not totally predicated on the panel, but we will work with them in making sure they have the right air barrier. That’s kind of it though, so the panel is really driving the bus on all this stuff, everything.
How have you seen the US cladding market change while you’ve been involved in it? You mentioned ACM panels earlier kind of diminishing but, what else have you noticed?
Panels have become more popular, so we’re seeing a lot of panels. We’re not seeing a lot of metal, although it is still out there. But we’re not seeing nearly as much. That was the go-to product for everybody. So we’re not seeing as much composite. We’re seeing some single skin here and there. Fiber cement’s popular. HPL panels are very popular. Insulated metal wall panels are popular. Glass is really popular. There must have been some advancements in glass because glass has become extremely popular. Curtain wall construction, that’s becoming very popular.
Unitization, I’m getting more requests for unitized assemblies. So stuff that they’re gonna unitize in a factory, horizontally, and crane it to the building. So we’re starting to see more of that going on. That’s a labor saving aspect, regardless of the type of panel. That’s a method that we’re seeing is used to reduce the cost of labor. So those are some of the trends.
Where do you see exterior cladding in the USA in five years to ten years from now?
I think we’re pretty good at looking at these trends. We pay attention to a lot of what’s going on north of us, in Canada, which seems to be heavily influenced by Europe. We see a lot of what’s going on in some of the larger cities. What I think we’re gonna start seeing more of is panels become more commonplace. Experimenting with panels in creating depth on a building. So instead of just having a flat plane of panels on a wall, I think we’re gonna see more depth and textures on the panels. I know manufacturers are starting to look at that. Alright we figured all the flat panel stuff out, we can do a plank, we can do a panel, they’re all flat. Now manufacturers are starting to incorporate textures on the panels.
You know colors, a lot of panels have always had a lot of colors, so that really isn’t a huge change. They’re still introducing new colors. But textures on the panel and adding depth to the panels. Whether it’s a wide panel or incorporating framing systems that may be and the primary rail is the same for the whole backup system. But the secondary rail, maybe a couple is wider and a couple are not as wide or shallower. And it allows panels to kind of jump off the wall a little bit. So we’re starting to see more of that.
Not so many applications of that but requests or enquiries, well can you do this with your panel? We’re trying to show depth, how can we do this with your framing system or your panels? And so we’re seeing more of that as the whole flat wall starts to get, kind of, played out.
What is like to partner with Monarch Metal as a manufacturing rep?
What I like about Monarch is their willingness to please. You guys go out of your way to quickly respond to questions. Whether it’s, let me check on it, or you have to do this or that. So getting answers back quickly, in this industry, it has become imperative. The idea that you know you can get back to somebody in the next couple of days, you’re out of business doing stuff like that. There’s no place for that anymore. There’s too much competition, there are too many other people that will jump on that answer quicker. So I have to, in an effort to be better before my end-user, it always helps to partner with manufacturers who are also equally interested in getting back to people as I am. So I think we both are on the same page and we share the interest in urgency, in responding to questions and getting information out in an appropriate time frame. So I really enjoyed that about you guys.
I also like that you’re local, so that really helps out. It’s I deal with a lot of European companies. And generally it works out fine and a lot of times they understand it to work in the U.S. you need to be based locally. So having you based in the US is a huge help. Having you on my time zone is also nice too. So that’s always helpful.
And you know the area, you know panels, you deal with panels. That’s really all you do. This is not some, as far as I know, some side project that you just stumbled upon. But normally you’re doing carpet or something like that you know? This is your business, this is what you do, day-in and day-out. And I know that you guys are in it for the long haul. You’re interested in building long-term relationships. Very comfortable with you talking with the customers that we’ve introduced you to, throughout this whole panel industry project that we’re working on. So your professionalism is always appreciated. I know that if you’re gonna call on some of our customers, I’m more than happy to have you guys work on something with them, get them the answers they need quickly. That it never makes me uncomfortable to know that you guys are talking with them. Because you know more than I do about your product, but you’re also professional you know, you’re not a bunch of goofy clowns. And if you are, at least you’re not on the phone. So I feel comfortable in knowing that what you’re telling them, generally is along the lines of what I’m telling them. They’re getting the answers from both sides. And you know I think we’re all on the same page with that stuff, so that’s a huge help.