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Gregg Borchelt was named president and CEO of the Brick Industry Association (BIA) earlier this year; his term extends through 2012. Borchelt joined the association in 1988 as head of the Engineering & Research Division, and he has been instrumental in representing the brick industry's interests during the development of a variety of voluntary standards with organizations such as ASTM International and the National Association of Homebuilders.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Borchelt about the BIA's mission, its support of the brick industry and its plans for the future.
What is the current state of the domestic brick industry?
Shipments in both 2008 and 2009 were down to the lowest levels since 1982 (about 3.5 billion brick in 2009). Shipments thus far in 2010 are pretty much flat from 2009, so we haven't begun to see any type of a turnaround yet.
As a result, we've got companies that are closing some of their plants. Others are operating well below capacity and weathering the slowdown with some layoffs. They're also making some improvements to some of the plants so they'll be able to operate more efficiently when they do come back on-stream.
What is the goal of the BIA, and how does it support the brick industry?
Our mission statement is pretty straightforward: to promote clay brick, to increase its market share and to safeguard the clay brick industry. In order to support that, we've got seven strategic goals, which pretty much outline what we're trying to do [see sidebar].
Three of these goals address our core market, which is the residential area. Around 75-80% of our brick sales are in the residential market. We reach those areas primarily through information that we offer on our website. We don't do any direct consumer advertising, but we've got a significant amount of technical information on our website that consumers can access. We've also got lots of pictures and other applications so people can see what brick can look like on houses. We focus more on the builder than the consumer in order to reach that residential market area.
We also offer educational programs that we make available to our members. For example, we do some surveys related to the market and the manufacturing and distribution of brick, so we can see where the brick is made and used in the different geographical locations across the U.S. That information helps our members as they look at their markets and where they might be shipping brick or where they might change distributors and so on.
How is the BIA helping the brick industry address sustainability-related opportunities?
We've been working in the sustainability arena for a long time. One thing we have been trying to do recently is get more information from our members with respect to a lifecycle analysis of brick: how brick goes from the raw materials state into the finished unit, then on to projects, and what happens with it after it gets on the buildings themselves.
Our manufacturers have a lot of information related to the production side of that equation, but we don't have much as it relates to the life of buildings. Everyone has anecdotal information about an old train station being turned into a restaurant or an old school building being turned into condominiums or something like that, but there haven't been any definitive studies to show how long those buildings last, what the actual life of the building is, and then what happens to the brick if the building is demolished. Everybody knows there's a great market for used brick, but it hasn't really been quantified.
We also really need to know about the whole wall assembly, which means that we need to count on some of our industry allies to get information on items such as the cement and mortar materials that go into it. It can be challenging to gather all of that information, but we're doing what we can.
We've also served on a variety of code and standards organizations that relate specifically to sustainability. The National Association of Homebuilders started off with a guide to building green homes, and we worked on that back in about 2002. That guide ended up being accepted and converted into a standard, which is now referenced through the International Code Council. We had technical staff on both the development of the guidelines and the development of the standard so that the brick industry was appropriately recognized in that process.
We've done the same thing with the International Code Council. They're currently trying to write an international green code and we've got technical staff working with that organization. ASTM International also has committees that work with sustainability efforts, and we again have some technical staff on those committees looking at those documents as they come forward.
In addition, we've also put together a lot of educational information for our members. We developed an online course in 2008 that looks at the green aspects of brick from a manufacturing standpoint. It focuses on the different standards that are out there, such as the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED program and the National Association of Home Builders' National Green Building Standard.
The course provides information to the sales people, primarily, on how they can use that information, how brick fits into those different standards, and how designers and builders can get points for doing an environmentally sensitive building using brick. About 1000 of our brick salesmen have taken that series of classes. We recognize those who successfully complete the courses and exams as Green Brick Specialists.
We also recently did something relatively unique with the National Brick Research Center (NBRC). A lot of those standards for environmentally preferable products and buildings want to have some documentation of either recycled content in the products or the use of renewable energy from a manufacturing standpoint. The BIA worked with the NBRC to come up with a process by which the NBRC certifies the amount of recycled material that goes into a brick and how much of the energy used to produce that brick came from renewable sources.
We completed that program last year and we're getting some good push of that acceptance. Individual companies to go the NBRC, submit all of the data that they have to meet the certification process, and then they get a letter from the NBRC that can be used for documentation under the points-generating programs for the rating systems.
Of course, we've got our Technical Notes that deal with sustainability, and those are directed primarily to architects and designers. We also have a Brick Brief that discusses the sustainable aspects of brick masonry and how they can incorporate brick in a sustainable manner into residential constructions.
One of our most popular educational programs dealing with architectural education and the requirements for taking certified courses to maintain registration is one we call Brick Revisited. The program discusses all of those sustainable aspects of brick masonry, as well as things that the manufacturers are doing in their plants in the handling of raw materials and looking at recycled content. Information is included on how brick can achieve points in the different ratings systems using everything from porous or permeable pavements, as they're sometimes called, through recycled content and proximity to the jobsite.
What other opportunities can the brick industry take advantage of, and how is the BIA helping in those areas?
We recognize there has long been a strong consumer preference for brick, one that's been maintained through the years at a relatively constant value in the range of 40-50%. That's really an opportunity that we can work on, to take that consumer desire for brick and translate it into a greater share of the marketplace.
Another area where we've found success is our Masonry Planning Policies. Our regional community planners go to cities and counties and try to encourage those areas to pass ordinances that require a certain percentage of brick on both residential and commercial construction in their cities. We've got data that show that cities that have had Masonry Planning Policies in effect have increased their growth and have a better tax base than cities that did not do that sort of thing.
It's also helpful to recognize the fact that the builder may not be too concerned about maintenance or long-term appearance. However, the community keeps that building as long as it's there. Having a more durable product on the outside of the house or building can really lead to a better appearance and a higher resale value for the community itself.
Another thing that we have done is to offer sales staff courses on selling against competitive materials. We've got Competitive Product Sheets that outline the advantages and disadvantages of those other materials compared to brick, so salesmen can provide accurate information on the benefits of brick when they talk to an architect or a builder. We're developing some online courses for that training as well.
We've also reorganized in order to provide a more unified program between the national BIA organization and the various regions around the country. The regions had been autonomous, with their own board of directors and individual members, and they operated independently of the national office of the BIA.
We now have developed four regions: Midwest/Northeast (encompassing 18 states), Southeast (from North Carolina down to the Gulf Coast and including Mississippi), Southwest (Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana) and what we refer to as the Heartland Brick Council (from Kansas up through the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin). These four regions have committed to having the same BIA national mission statement and the same strategic goals. Each of those regions does have its own board of directors and their own staff. But that staff now reports to BIA national, so we have a more cohesive effort throughout the brick industry.
What will be the main focus of the BIA in the coming years?
Since we don't really see a big turnaround in the market yet, what we're going to do is build on our strengths. We have a significant amount of strong technical information that's widely recognized throughout the design and construction industry, and we're going to exploit that as much as we can with a series of programs that will be tailored to designers and contractors.
The other thing that we notice is a very strong influence on government, specifically with respect to the manufacture of brick, in terms of issues like emissions control, greenhouse gas emissions, hiring practices, labor negotiations, and organization at the plants, things of that nature. Within the past five years, we have developed a very strong presence on Capitol Hill and have done some advocacy work with the Environmental Protection Agency as they were developing emissions controls within the industry.
It looks as if those types of controls, and government intervention in the capital enterprise, are going to become more severe as things go forward. We're going to be paying very close attention to developments in those areas, at the national, state and regional levels.
What I'm looking to do moving forward is to get more cooperation and feedback from the region level, as well as our members (the manufacturers and distributors), so we have more cooperation within the industry as we move forward.
For additional details regarding the BIA, visit www.gobrick.com or www.greenbrick.com.
SIDEBAR: BIA's Strategic Goals
- Increase the offering and use of brick by production builders
- Expand the use of brick by custom builders
- Maintain the high level of consumer preference and desire for brick
- Establish favorable perception of labor and brick masonry trades
- Aggressively represent the brick industry before public sector entities (environmental, operational, federal, local, etc.)
- Increase the specification of brick in non-residential applications
- Commit to developing ongoing knowledge of influencers and market characteristics