Answering Modern Building Envelope Challenges with Georgia-Pacific's John Chamberlin | cA Weekly Podcast Series - Full Transcript
commARCH: Well, thank you for joining me.
John Chamberlin: Sure.
CA: So, John Chamberlin, Director of Product Management for GP.
CA: So I've had a- well, over the years, a lot of conversations, and product management usually gets all their input from salespeople and then they make decisions, but we've known each other. For years-[overlapping] and that's not who you are.
JC: [overlapping] It's been a little while – don't, don't get me wrong. I value and trust the input from salespeople, for sure. But a lot of the time I want them to take me to the source, right? I'd like to hear it firsthand.
I really like talking to the customers, honestly, whether that's architect, contractor, consultant. Because I think that the salespeople are always strong advocates for their customers almost to the point where maybe they'll even be a little bit defensive when they're talking to someone like me or someone in my role. And I just, I wish- I want to hear it from the horse's mouth. Give me the good as well as the bad, right?
CA: Right. And I think you've done a really good job too, of establishing relationships. Like long-term relationships with... constituents to GP.
JC: I hope so. I mean, now- it's a really small industry, right? So, “relationships are key” is kind of the cliche, but I mean, the reality is: you run into the same people over and over and over again throughout your career in this industry.
And so, obviously, you don't want to burn bridges as a bare minimum, but realistically, like, you experience enough with these guys that they become more than just colleagues. They become friends.
CA: Yeah. Which is one of the delights of being in this industry.
JC: I agree with that.
CA: Yeah. Like it's fun.
JC: It is a fun industry.
CA: And everyone trusts each other a lot more because they know they're going to run into each other again, it's not like you're going to hide.
JC: Right, yeah - I mean, I hope that they're not thinking of it like, "Well, I’d better be honest because, you know, I can't hide," but, but I do think that it's a pretty honest industry. I think people tend to be very transparent.
CA: Yeah. Great. Yeah, I agree. Um, but no, outside of you personally: Georgia-Pacific has over the years been really focused on being like—I don't know if this is the right term— “preferred partner.”
JC: Yeah. That's absolutely one of the reasons why, when I actually just joined GP—it's been about three years—but, you know, they've been within my radius, in my radar, forever; and, you know, whether I was working for another manufacturer, whether I was a customer, I always felt like, yeah, GP's kind of right there, side-by-side with you: "preferred partner" is a great way of describing it.
CA: Yeah. Cool. And do you have—I know you are, but I think organizationally—everyone's pretty close to code changes, dynamics in the market, economics, best practices.
JC: Yeah. I mean, we said we weren't going to be too professional on this call, so I don't want to, I don't want—I don't want to serve up too much of the company Kool-Aid—but no, it's actually a part of the culture that, you know, we understand what our customers are looking for because we're taking their feedback and their input. We're getting that firsthand information and we're trying to understand, you know, what's- what's affecting their lives, what's impacting their day to day.
Even, you know, proactively, if we can, like- what code changes are coming and therefore, what do we need to be able to prepare to- to speak to when the questions start coming from our customers? So, yeah, we try and stay as close as we can to everything from regulatory changes, code changes, you know, industry trends, whether that's design trends, aesthetic trends, you know, even- even construction techniques; we want to know what- what's new and, you know, where there might be opportunity or value for our customers or where there might be challenges.
CA: Um, which- the reason why I keep, like, gushing about that side, is that's what commARCH is based on: continual listening, and having dialogues with our audience, and making sure we serve them exactly what they want. You know, it's the old rules of like, you know- you're doing product development because you're this genius that knows all these things and you're disconnected from the market. Just, I don't think we'll do [that old model] anymore. It's an old model.
JC: Yes. that's- that's not how it can work. I agree.
CA: GP from my understanding, recently, isolated an issue in the market and then put together new products based on an opportunity to help, again, your customers.
JC: You might need to help me out a little bit, Dean, 'cause I feel like we do that on a pretty regular basis- or try to, right?
CA: Well, okay. Okay, good. Wow. Good point.
JC: Thank you.
CA: One for the team, one for the team- there's a- [laughter] there's a new product, coming out.
CA: Can we talk about that? But, very well said, very well said- I salute you.
JC: Yeah. If you- if you'll forgive me a little bit, I'll take a, kind of short step back. So, you know, I talked about changes to codes and regulations and maybe the- the challenges that gives to our customers. And so for a while now—and I think this has been a trend that GP has followed for several years—but, but really started to amplify.
You know, we have seen that there's an expectation that buildings perform better, whether that's energy efficiency, resiliency to weather conditions, you know, challenges during construction on the site, off the site. We know that people expect more out of the construction itself. We also know that there's a real challenge to the industry around labor and availability of labor.
And so you've got this interesting dichotomy of, we want our buildings to progressively get better, but we are more and more limited in who is able to actually construct to that level of performance. And so, we have spent a lot of time with new product development and innovation around trying to address those, either- either coming up with a better product or an easier-to-install product. In 2015, we launched a product called DensElement Barrier System. And in this case we hope that we're addressing both, so: wonderful integrated WRB sheathing. So the sheathing itself acts as the WRB. You don't have to install a second WRB in any kind of secondary process. So you're reducing trips around the building.
So we feel that we're addressing those, those labor shortage issues, in one case, because it is a sheathing it's also less, um- call it, uh, reactive or subject to what the weather's doing during actual construction. So it's a product that actually installs whether it's cold, whether it's just recently been raining, you know, um- a heavy gust of wind isn't the easiest thing to install sheathing in, but it's much easier to install a sheathing in that situation than it is- uh, you know, a spray-applied coating as an example. So really trying to simplify installation, but also build in that, that- high level of performance. So you're not worried so much about mil thicknesses or wrinkles or things like that.
So, so- DensElement in a nutshell is bringing this expectation for higher performance, but simplifying the application, the installation, and through that simplification actually really easily addressing, um, a lot of QC challenges as well. So that's, that's- you know, 2015, that's years ago—in our industry, that's still a pretty new product—but, you know, if you compare it to like, uh, an iPhone, that's 12 models ago, probably, that [DensElement] has been very successful for us and we've been thrilled to see that growing.
But it created an interesting new challenge and that's- not all buildings are sheathed with exterior gypsum sheathing. And in most cases, buildings that are sheathed with exterior gypsum sheathing aren't solely sheathed. So maybe you've got stairwells, elevator shafts, concrete columns, shear walls- areas where it doesn't make sense to install sheathing over it. But you still need continuity of your air barrier, of your WRB. And so, how do we address that? And more importantly, how does our customer kind of wade through this complex jungle of different products that could go next to the DensElement Barrier System? How do they know that they're compatible?
You know, we're talking about now a single water resistive barrier air barrier system, but two different manufacturers that get involved. So, so who owns that warranty? How do you guarantee performance? And so GP said, okay, let's- let's figure this out. How can we, first of all, kind of create this- this easy button, this simple solution. And then secondly, how can we do that in a way that kind of continues this, you know, advantage product, addressing these same concerns around a need for performance, but also, you know, wanting to be able to, um, resist certain weather conditions, um, ease of application, things like that.
So, yeah: very, very happy to announce that we are launching a product that's called the DensDefy Liquid Barrier System. It'll be coming out this summer. And it is a product and system that will install adjacent to DensElement Barrier System. Georgia-Pacific will act to support those tie-ins, ‘cause really the tie-ins are kind of those critical areas for continuity.
So, we have this suite of products now that we guarantee will work well together. We provide all of the testing and technical support to back that up to, you know, give guidance around critical details. And then we have [a] series of warranties- warranties for the products, warranties for the systems- that really show that we're standing behind our systems and specifically our systems in concert with one another. So that, end of the day, we become a single-source solution for the entire exterior building envelope.
JC: That was a mouthful by the way.
CA: No, that was great. How is that? I'm just thinking—everything you just talked about, that impacts that people need to know in the supply chain—owners and developers need to know-
CA: -what you're talking about. Architects and contractors- and really, you have a gamut of people that need to know that all these systems now work together, and that they're, like you said, warrantied. So is everybody in GP just talking to people? Like-
JC: Yeah- I mean- yeah, we've got, um, kind of various levels of people who talk to people—and I shouldn't say levels, cause it's- it's a team really—but, you know, we have those people who are out there in front of the architect and specifier, and they're kind of giving guidance on here's how this can fit into your projects from a specification standpoint.
Separately, we have people that work with contractors and- and they provide everything from wet wall demonstrations, job site observations, you know, we try and help them through tips and tricks, best practices for installation. You know, on the back end of all of that, we have a really robust technical services team.
So if there are questions that we haven't tried to address upfront, or we haven't been able to address up front for some reason, um, they're able to be there with support, you call them up. Either you've got a guy on the phone that can walk you through things—you know, video chat is so popular now—and a lot of cases we're actually demonstrating how to do some things over video chat- but then, you know, we have people that will actually go out to the job site and help out as well.
So we're trying to hit everybody kind of across that- that chain. I think a challenge is owners. I would, I would love for owners and developers to have a little bit higher level of awareness of what goes into their buildings, and maybe even a higher level of influence on that, because I do think that they are really benefiting from something like a single-source solution. But, you know, they trust their architects, they trust their GCs to make the right choices. And so, you don't see them quite as well connected, but, um, yeah, I- I feel that we're certainly providing the support that they would need, should they ever come looking for it.
CA: It seems like, to defend owners and developers. It's a full gamut though.
JC: It is!
CA: If I'm holding onto this building long term, I'm more highly interested.
JC: Yeah. Yeah. That's absolutely true. Yeah. It's definitely, um, the type of owner that- that really influences their level of knowledge and understanding on what goes into it, right?
CA: Yeah. I'm not saying that if they're out to sell it, they're not going to be caring, but you know- it will have to fit into the sale and then to understand how to articulate that.
JC: Yeah, that's true.
CA: So while there's a lot that now you're offering, you have to get the message out. You- you hit on it now, though, where it used to be a few different meetings and a few different resources. Now you're bringing it down to a single resource, which everybody craves, right?
CA: So am I talking to different people at GP when I'm working now? Or is it- is everybody pretty much trained on how to help with the full system?
JC: You know, I would tell you, there are probably obviously areas where people have different strengths. So, my person who has a closer relationship with the contractor, [they] might not have the same level of understanding of- of a specification or, you know, which CSI division this- this product may go to or what the- you know, divisions that might be influenced would be. But he's got a very close relationship with the guy that does specialize in that.
And realistically, he's got a better-than-average knowledge himself already. You know, our technical support team, they really understand what can go wrong with a project and- and their level of experience, their level of knowledge is- is well beyond what we would expect some of our other guys to have when you're talking about, "Hey, this is a- this is a bad day."
Um, but even- even our most newly-trained guy has gone through an extensive training internally and, and has that awareness of things, if not to, you know, understand, at least to watch out for, right. Like here- here are issues that could cause problems on a job site. Let's- let's make sure we identify those proactively as opposed to, you know, having to come out and, you know, see that something has gone wrong, if it's a mistake that we could avoid. So it's fair to say that you have still different touch points depending on where you are in this process, but those guys all work together very closely as a team. And they all have, in my opinion, a higher-than-average level of knowledge of the whole construction process-
CA: Or you wouldn't put them in that role.
JC: And that's exactly right. Yeah.
CA: Yeah. But I think you hit on this before- I just want to make sure it's clear, but, members of the GP team will engage in the process at different points to ensure that everything goes properly.
JC: Yeah. So, members of our team will work with the specifiers. They're literally writing the spec cause they're designing the building; members of the team will be there with the contractor to help, to train them, to demonstrate how the products are installed, to be with them; hold hands through mock-ups, wet wall demonstration, things like that, before construction ever begins. There'll be there during the process itself, offering job site observations, kind of pointing out tips and tricks that might help to improve efficiencies, things like that. And then once—once everything is up and going—yeah, we still have more team members that are supporting it on the back- on the back end, making sure that things keep going smoothly for the lifetime of the building.
CA: Isn't that a newer, um, level of engagement where like, if we went back 10 years ago, there would have been less of that direct relationship. Am I wrong with that?
JC: I think- I think the industry is evolving and I'd say that, for GP, because, you know—if you think all the way back to, like, the mid-80s and GP launched DensGlass GOLD—and at that point we said, "Hey, we've got a product that offers a better solution."
So, um, at that time, gypsum sheathing had been recognized as a great product because of fire resistance. Paper-faced gypsum sheathing was the norm, but it also led to some moisture moisture-related issues around, you know, maybe mold or mildew- um, degradation of materials. And- and GP said, "We can do this better," and they launched DensGlass GOLD because they had that understanding and that awareness of how the products perform through the lifetime of the building.
But when you- when you do something like that, when you, when you disrupt a market like that with an innovation, you have to be prepared to answer the questions too. And so I- I feel like, to a degree, we have- we've been doing that, you know, for decades. And I think the industry has evolved in a way where they've said, "We can make a really good product"—you know, whatever the manufacturer is—"We can make a really good product, but to really have value and be a partner with our customer, we needed to understand how that product gets installed, how it works, what it's working in concert with or adjacent to."
And so, yeah, I think GP has probably gotten there faster than- than many. And I think that's why the brand is- is well-trusted. But, in my mind, that's really where the industry in general has started to move, and needs to move, to really continue to- to, you know, help out the customer and make sure these buildings are built the way they should be.
CA: So let's talk about a few different roles and—knowing what you know—okay, and the- and the experience you've had within the market-
CA: If you were an architect, what are some of the questions you would ask a member of GP that would strengthen their ability to make a great building?
JC: You know, if I were an architect, I think first and foremost, I'd want to understand from- from a member of GP, why- why would I want to use your product? What does your product bring to my project, to my building. Um, and- and I expect them to not just give a sales pitch, but really talk about, "Hey, when we talk about this product, as it relates to building code, when we talk about this product as it relates to, you know, ability to install, even when we talk about this product, in terms of maybe how it can, you know, save material cost or, or expedite construction schedule." I would think that anyone within GP can- can answer those questions.
They probably nuance that moreso, um, for the architect in this case, you know, really around performance, fire resistance, water resistance—in the case of DensElement and DensDefy—you know, what type of projects might have a big bearing on that? So, My guys can talk about fire-rated walls and maybe the need for more extensive hourly fire ratings. Just as an example: it's like a, an urban infill project where you have close adjacency to another building; they can all speak to that very, very intelligently. But it's- it's rarely just the product anymore, right?
If we talk about fire-rated walls, as an example: now we're talking assemblies, we're talking about interior, exterior, insulation and framing in between. And so they- they are very adept at either speaking to that, or know exactly where the resources are, where they can- they can point the architect that way.
And then sometimes that's the ask. Sometimes it's not, "Hey, you know, person from Georgia-Pacific, spell this out for me," it's "Show me what my options are. Give me- give me, um, you know, a good push in the right direction so that I can see for myself how I might want to design this building. And then as I have questions, you know, be available to me to, to answer those questions." And so, a lot of times that's the engagement that we'll see with our, with our design customers in particular.
CA: I'm thinking for- for an owner and developer—we hit on that earlier—what would you like them to ask you that they might not now, and in considering that their eye is on the occupant experience and the occupant seeing value of whatever they do, right?
JC: Right. Yeah, I think, um, I think I would want the owner or developer to ask exactly the question that you just asked me, like, "Why GP?" And, and "What are you guys bringing to the table other than a good product?" And that's where I would like them to see that, hey we've- we've built in all of these, um, additional supports with the thought that it's not a- it's not a single individual that makes all the decisions or constructs a building or anything.
And all these different influencers through the value chain are going to have different priorities and different questions. We've put something in place to, to try and address all of those. And so I think if an owner and a developer sees that coming from a company like Georgia Georgia-Pacific they say, I have good peace of mind, I have trust that these guys know what they're doing, and they're going to help me to build a building that you know, that I want, that I deserve.
CA: Nice. So for whoever's listening in the audience, um, obviously they should be subscribing to commARCH- they should have all of our content and all that. But in addition to commARCH, how—because you're so close to the market and you're doing all these innovations—what are the best ways that the audience could stay informed about what you're up to?
JC: Well, so Georgia-Pacific obviously has, um, our own social media channels, we're on Instagram and LinkedIn and Facebook. And- and we do a fair amount of promoting and advertising. But more than that, I think it's our, um, engagement with various industry organizations. You know, we're very active with, um, CSI, IIBEC, um, the Building Envelope Councils. I'm a little bit biased, I'm a big fan of the Air Barrier Association of America.
CA: Aren't you on the board or something?
JC: I am on the board on a number of committees. Uh, yeah, so- so we do, as we kind of talked about earlier, try and stay very engaged with the industry. And so those- those organizations that are out there to help the, the various specifiers, architects, consultants, contractors, um, we try to stay active with all of them and- and, you know, be resources for them as well.
So, I like to say that we're- we're everywhere, but, um, I'm sure there's some dark corner of the internet that, that you might not be able to find us today. Hopefully you'll let me know, and I'll- I'll make sure that we change that. Yeah.
CA: Thank you for spending time with me.
JC: Absolutely. Thank you.
CA: Take care.
JC: You too.
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