Episode 45 – An Interview with the Whizard

 

Jessica:   Discover how you can green in your life by building a knowledge base of current sustainable and eco-savvy trends. This series will delve into hot topics, current standards and practices, ways to design better spaces, and specify material to benefit not only us as consumers but the world as a whole. Members of CaraGreen a sustainable materials distributors and other industry leaders weigh in throughout the series. This is Build Green Live Green.

 

Jessica: Hi, This is Jessica with Build green Live Green. And today we're here with Mark Mitchell, also known as the Whizard, and he's here to talk to us about some of the things that companies are facing during the stay at home sort of workspace and how they can adapt and adjust to you know our changed circumstances. Welcome, Mark.

 

Mark:  Oh, thank you. Thank you for having me, Jessica. Looking forward to this

 

Jessica:   Yeah. So, I've been reading a lot of the literature that you've been posting on the wizard on LinkedIn and things like that. And I think there are some really interesting things that people are, challenges that they're facing as everyone has worked from home. So, my first question for you is, you know, you're a marketing expert and building materials. So, what are you seeing about how the quarantine and the stay at home has impacted marketing? And specifically, you know, how are people changing their marketing presence to be sympathetic to this terrible situation, but also to try to keep their companies afloat and generate sales in a very difficult time to do that. 

 

Mark:  Wow. That's a big one. So, the first thing I noticed was a bit surprising but good. And that was that companies, every company I talked to told me that they had a very good March, a surprisingly good March. Most of them exceeded what they had planned to do.  I haven't heard from them about how April has been going, but they were pleasantly surprised that March held up as well as it did, in terms of I think that was about there's a lot of projects underway and we most states viewed construction as an essential activity. And so they saw you know, business continue on, and then perhaps somebody had ordered something, you know, some flooring from Italy or something and that's not going to come for a while. So, they needed to find a replacement. I think things like that helped people. The second thing was how do you function, particularly things like customer service,  order acknowledgement, accounts receivable payable, whatever. People that go in the office and they work in the office with a company computer that's tied into their big systems. And many companies said, you know, Mark,  we didn't equip those people with laptops and we didn't expect like that they would need access to our mainframe from their home. But how can they help a customer like, yes, the truck will leave on Tuesday, the lead time is four weeks or whatever they need to do if they can have access to that. So, I think most companies have figured that out. But there was a little bit of time when they weren't quite sure how to be able to still provide customers with the information that they needed. I think most people have worked that out. And I saw, you know, a lot of companies, too many companies to me send out a piece of communication like,  it literally they all read the same, like we're all in this together, and we're here to, blah, blah, blah. It's kind of like oh, I have to send one of these out. 

 

Jessica:   You're kidding.

 

Mark:  So, I checked that all. But there were a few companies have. There's one I think; they're called Accufelt. They do sound control panels; they're out of Australia. And they did just, I thought, a beautiful job of literally like saying, you know, here's pictures of all our people at home ready to work with you. And they took it another step is like we don't care if you want to talk by phone, by email, by text, by chat, you know, buy whatever. Here, push any of these buttons, and someone is here to talk to you the way you want to be talked to.

 

Jessica:   Well, that's interesting. That was kind of my second question here, which was what is the right tone to strike now? So, you know, Keagreen, we always try to be really careful about how sensitive we are communicating and not trying to capitalize on a terrible time. But at the same time, you want to make sure that you are saying we are here for you but doing it in a way that's not opportunistic. I've seen so many opportunistic marketing things that I'm sure you have to but.

 

Mark:  Yes.

 

Jessica:   How do you address the right tone in the right messaging at this time? 

 

Mark:  Well, I think it took salespeople a little while to mentally first of all go I'm used to being on the road, flying, traveling hotels, getting meetings in front of people. Geez, what do I do now? Right. And so it took salespeople a little while to kind of readjust. I think they've done a good job of that. But that was a big, like, kind of, you know. Like, some of them their self-worth was tied to their ability to meet face to face with customers and close deals. And that also then took them, some of them are still having trouble with like, it's like, turn off the sales thing right now. I turn on the empathy thing. Turn on the curiosity thing. Turn on the how are you doing? Is there anything we can do to help? Okay. 

 

Jessica:   Yeah.

 

Mark:  And what do you need, whatever it is, and you know, and I kind of, look there's the sales side, but then I also saw marketing departments that had carefully set up these things. like automated series of emails to send out to somebody that like came to their website or something and they were still sending those same emails out; like they didn't like, turn that off for now, rewrite those. It was kind of like tone-deaf. Like, where are you in Mars and I'm here on Earth, and we have this problem here.

 

Jessica:   So, you're saying almost something that was scheduled, and instead of going back and making sure that they weren't, you know, offensive in some way or just looking considering it?

 

Mark:  Yes. Right. And I think part of that is that we have many building material companies have marketing departments that do what they're told. They're not expected to think and to act and to add value. They're just like, I'm supposed to put together this automated campaign. So, it's done. It's supposed to run no one has come to me and said, you know, with this how should we change our marketing because they're used to dictating to me prepare this tradeshow booth, prepare a new brochure, update the website. So I'm a doer rather than a thinker. And so I think it's really pointed out the value of having a marketing department that thinks as well as does and adds value. And most of them can do a great job. They just are frequently not allowed to, I guess. 

 

Jessica:   Yeah, I've been pretty clear with our marketing department that their value is so critical right now. The content that they create right now is really our outward face to the world. So, that's the best way that we have to represent all of our brands right now. And that can get tricky. I wanted to go back a little bit though to what you were saying about salespeople. I've always struggled with remote salespeople being effective. And I've always wondered, you know, are they being efficient are they going for a run in the middle of the day and then going to lunch with a friend and taking a yoga class. I've always been kind of skeptical about people's ability to work from home. I think that's changed so much that people had to learn how to be more effective working from home. Have you seen something similar? And do you expect when we come out on the other side of this, that the work from home paradigm has kind of shifted?

 

Mark:  Oh, yes, I actually, many of the customers were already ahead of us. You know you take an architectural firm, general contractor, you know, whoever. Typically, as you're dealing with a younger person, as younger people come in and move up the ladder in these organizations, younger people are more likely to say I really don't want to meet with you. Like it's a waste of your time and my time. We should be able to handle this on the phone, or a video call or something. But like, I don't need you to come to town and take me out to dinner or entertain me and so forth. The relationship to me, the customers that already been moving here, and  I felt like the building material salesperson was still stuck in the past. Like my goal is to get a face to face meeting when maybe the customer wants to buy from you, but they don't want or need a face to face meeting. That makes sense?

 

Jessica:   Yeah, absolutely. 

 

Mark:  So, I think as we go out of this, we'll start to see that we continue to do business successfully without having face to face sales calls. We lowered our operating costs by not having the salespeople with big travel expenses. And with CRM tools like Salesforce and so forth, you can measure; I'm a big thing about I want to see results. I don't need to see that you made 20 phone calls today. I need to see that some of those phone calls resulted in something. 

 

Jessica:   Yeah. 

 

Mark:  And I think that that  we're shifting with CRMs, like Salesforce and so forth; that we're shifting to be able to monitor the salesperson's performance without having to be looking over their shoulder,

 

Jessica:   I totally agree. And I can tell you that as you talk through some of these things that companies have done to prepare themselves for a situation like this, I'm actually really pleased to see that. At CaraGreen, we've been on Salesforce. We use that as kind of the engine to run the company. We have been on Gmail as a platform, and all of our accounting and everything is also online. So, our transition to remote, there was very little transition that we actually had to do. So, that was very beneficial to us. One of the things I've noticed internally, though, and you've talked about these younger people and their expectations and doing things differently, like not doing in-person meetings, we've also been able to save a lot of money on lunch and learns, but more importantly, is the way that we communicate. We started using a program called Slack and I'm not sure if you're familiar with that.

 

Mark:  Yes, I have several clients that.

 

Jessica:   When you see people shifting the way they communicate away from email for internal communication.

 

Mark:  Yeah, I have several clients that use Slack. And when I'm engaged with them, I'm on their slack, and that's how we communicate.

 

Jessica:   

Yeah. So yeah, we use it mostly for like internal communication. But yeah, I've seen that and like Microsoft Teams have sort of emerged in this as, like, I'm starting to see a shift away from email, which I couldn't have even fathomed, probably six months ago.

 

Mark:  Well, I'm also seeing that with LinkedIn, where I'm seeing people like I will get usually like three inquiries per week of companies will say, hey, I want to talk to you if you could help us or something. And one of those inquiries comes from LinkedIn. Okay. Not through email, not a phone call, not my website. It's LinkedIn. They send me a message on LinkedIn, and they're frequently people I do not know. We've not been connected, but somehow they found me. The other thing I found is I could take the high-level person at a big company that know. And I have their cell phone number, their office number, their personal email and their business email. And I could leave voicemails and not get a callback. I can send them an email, not get a response. But on certain people, I can send them a message on LinkedIn. Hey, I'm going to be at the roofing show next week, could we have lunch? And in 30 minutes, they're back to me. 

 

Jessica:   Yeah. 

 

Mark:  And so I'm also finding people taking things like LinkedIn and saying this is going to help separate my email inbox, someone that I know on LinkedIn is more of a priority than someone that just has my email address.

 

Jessica:   Yeah, I think that makes sense. And I think we've all seen LinkedIn sort of emerged as not just another, social media platform, but rather kind of a networking platform that's a little bit more vetted for information than some of the others. 

 

Mark:  Yes. 

 

Jessica:   On another topic, which you bring up LinkedIn. You cover this topic a lot on LinkedIn, and it's one that I think is near and dear to your heart. I think it's one that will be impacted here. And I don't know how but I think that you could probably connect the dots. So, you talk a lot about modular building. And now we're in this health crisis, and we're trying to build things in an efficient way. That's the safest for everyone involved. What impact does this have on that Cantera style modular building? Do you see it impacting that in any way? And if so, how?

 

Mark:  Well, I think when I go back and look at Cantera and Intechra, I'm surprised everywhere I turn. There's somebody doing something new in panelized modular, and it could be a general contractor in Nashville who decided we're going to build this apartment building and we're going to build in a factory. We don't know what we're doing. But I found a building that we can lease for a couple years. And we understand project management, how to do things, you know. Let's just do this. So, it's amazing to me too, you know, to see how; I'll just call it the growth in interest in it. And I think this started before the Coronavirus, and that was that all of a sudden, I'll call it Wall Street, the people that fund buildings, people that lend you the money. 

 

Jessica:   Yeah. 

 

Mark:  People that invest in the building. Even somebody that comes off as being a powerful person like Donald Trump, okay? If he's going to build a new hotel in Chicago, right? He's kind of like, rolls his eyes and goes, well, that's just how the building industry works. It's horrible. It's inefficient.

 

Jessica:   I know how he feels.

 

Mark:  You know, all these things, right? And even a guy that you think like he's not going to put up with that crap. Well, he puts up with that crap. And so now, companies like Catera and Intechra have shown the financial people that you're probably spending 30% more than you need to on a building, right? Now, once you've kind of opened their eyes, they're gravitating toward that. And so I find the investment community, the money people are asking smarter questions. They're not just saying, okay, you're going to build this hotel in this city. And this is why it's going to work and all that kind of stuff. They're then saying, okay, that's fine. How are you going to build it? And how long is it going to take? And are you going to site build it? You're going to do some of it panelized, some modular? What are you going to do? 

 

Jessica:   Well, I think the overall argument for modular building. And I think that's what you're making here. And I think that you're right that that was out there far before the Coronavirus hit. However, my question is, are people going to be building differently? Are they going to be building smarter? Are they going to be using materials that incorporate things like copper? Or are they going to be going for seamless materials that are easy to clean? Like, what is the shift here? I mean, they're going to have to rethink everything they're doing on the modular side. To have it have a healthier bent so that you can't just have cheap quick turnkey modular, but you have to have an aspect of it that is using healthier material.

 

Mark:  I think that what you're talking about has nothing to do or I would say has nothing to do with modular, but I think it has everything to do with I think healthy is going to be the new green. Okay. That I think that you're going to see where. I learned years ago when I first started this business my client was Owens Corning, and I was helping them to sell more insulation, you know. And they were, you know, sure that people wanted to buy insulation because it would help lower their fuel bill because it was good for the environment. And to me, they made the two mistakes they assumed that and they also assumed that the man was the decision-maker, right? And what found was the woman was the decision-maker, the guy may have actually bought the installation or put it in, but the woman was the one that says we're going to do this, okay? And then the other big driver was that to me, they would say my home is less drafty. My home is more comfortable. I can now sit in my favorite chair by the window or in the corner, and I don't have to, like have a blanket on, right? And so there was this personal benefit part that really resonated with me. And so I feel like that health is something now that we've scared to shit out of people. And now they're going to, as you say, they're going to be looking at surfaces that have antimicrobials. They're going to be looking at things: HVAC systems.

 

Jessica:   Down carbon, mold, moisture and growth. 

 

Mark:  Yeah, just to me, I just see that like Quick Set; like I was at the builder's show in January with an antimicrobial company. And I was taking them and introducing them to different building material companies. And Quick Set uses an antimicrobial on some of their door hardware. I don't know if it's on all of it, or most of it or whatever, but it's an antimicrobial, that's part of the final finish. And so, if you put your germ-laden hands or your kids do coming back from school on the door, well, it kills whatever those germs are. I asked Quick Set, okay, how's this working for you? They go, well, you know, it's really nobody cares. This is in January. It's kind of a nice to have if like, they're comparing us to a competitor, and everything's the same and we provide this antimicrobial that may be the difference that gets us the business. And so right after that,  I started you know, as this took off, I talked to some builders that use Quick Set. And I said, help me understand something, you're using Quick Set but yet you are not telling a new homebuyers that you have antimicrobial door handles. And they go, I didn't know that I had a microbial door handles. And they said, Oh my god, Thanks, Mark. I'm gonna call my salespeople right now and make sure they point that out to everybody that's walking into our homes, right? 

 

Jessica:   Yeah. 

 

Mark:  And so I think we're going to see from flooring to surfaces to HVAC, just whether it's we're going to see more touchless stuff. Or if you do touch it, does it has any microbial on it? I think it's gonna be huge. I mean, I just like Marriott hotels. It's just announced this big; last week I wrote an article about how they're super cleaning their hotel. So, they want to be known as the hotel that you are least likely to get sick. Very smart. I think we're going to see as new hotels are built, or new homes or apartments and hospitals, they're going to say, oh, I can up the game.

 

Jessica:   Okay, so let me stop you there for a second because that's part of my question about modular building. Now we've got this, we've kind of hit pause on this cost-effective piece of the market. And we're looking at promoting how healthy things are. And as you know, Mark, I mean, I gave a talk on healthy is the new green last April. 

 

Mark:  Yeah. 

 

Jessica:   With you. And this week, we're kind of pushing this direction. Now it's really interesting to see that something dramatic has kind of probably forced this conversation into the mainstream a little bit quicker. But my question is really about are we going to adopt these new materials and is modular going to do it at the same time. I've been trying to find the intersection between modular building and healthy materials and see if Catera and Intechra are going to start a division that's healthy materials. Because I want to know as Keragreen's selling healthy building materials, where do we fit in a modular building model? So, that's kind of a question that this is forcing here and I'm just curious what your thoughts are on where those two intersect.

 

Mark:  Oh, well I mean the first thing is I just see whether you're site-building or panelized modular that I think there's going to be this huge interest in healthy. So, if I'm building a new apartment building where in the past I'd worry about is do I have the biggest hot tub in the neighborhood and do I have two pool tables. Or what cool amenities do I have? Now I'm going to be saying our apartments are the healthiest ones in the city. Right? And I think that people are going to go, it's okay if like your hot tub isn't as cool as the other guys. I just feel more secure here. So, I think that across the board is going to be there. I don't see modular and Being ahead of the market in this.

 

Jessica:    Okay.

 

Mark:  I think they will follow the market wherever the market goes, there'll be on par with the market. I don't see them. Unless they, Catera particularly, always impresses me that they are identifying problems. And they will then say, okay, if we can't get the current manufacturers to solve the problem, then we will go solve it ourselves. And so this year at the builders show, they had a really relatively simple like, why didn't I think of this idea, and it literally was alight switch that will say control the light, but it did it  wirelessly. So, I don't have to put a light switch in, run wiring up the wall and across the ceiling to where the light fixture or fan is. Okay. It can just do it wirelessly and you start to think about. I first hought about, wow, how convenient that would be if I already live in a house and I want to change something, but then I thought, wait a minute, even when I'm building something new, I don't have to pay for wiring, I don't have to pay for the electrician to spend that extra time to run the wires. It's like, whoa. And if you stay in a, you know, I'll use the word motel or cheap hotel, you'll tend to have this horrible heating cooling thing in the window. And I think it's called a p-tech system. You can never get the temperature right, they're always loud and stuff. Catera thought this is more how homes are heated and cooled in Europe. It's very smart. This system sucks. And so they invented their own p-tech system; well, their own heating and cooling system. And so I think they'll be looking and saying, if there's some part of the building; like I'm really curious about HVAC. There's something about like when we think about Legionnaires' disease. 

 

Jessica:   Yeah, like [inaudible 24:08].

 

Mark:  Something in the air and all those copper pipes that get cold and hot and there's moisture. And apparently, there can be a real attractive thing for mold. And so just wondering, not sure where this is all going to go, but you notice you go into like; like I see in commercial restrooms where they go out of their way; you don't have to touch something; like you can open the door with your foot. So, after you've washed your hands, you don't have to touch the door handle to open the door to leave the restroom. And so I think commercial, residential, just across the board and I just think about if I'm building a $600,000 home, there are two other builders in my market, also building this same exact home. They have granite countertops, they have a deck, they have a fireplace that whatever I'm supposed to have at that price point. 

 

Jessica:   That's not great.

 

Mark:  And it's literally impossible or very difficult for the builder to differentiate themselves. And I think this healthy thing will be something that you're going to see some builders really grab a hold of. Because every builder says their home's energy-efficient, whether or not it is.

 

Jessica:   Yeah.

 

Mark:  Depends on your definition of energy efficiency, I guess. Like if I meet code, I'm energy efficient. And other builders go over the top. 

 

Jessica:   Yeah. I think what I hear you saying too is the builders will embrace this, but also the architect and design community is going to rethink the way that they're designing things like you talked about with light switches and trying to design for more healthier interactions between people and maybe more space or trying to design people to be able to distance themselves if needed, which is kind of different than the way we've been designing lately, which is kind of like this communal open floor plans where all these people are interacting. So, it'll be interesting to see how design changes too.

 

Mark:  I think it's gonna be. The designers are going to. I was talking to my son today about what will fine dining be like. I have a hard time imagining going to one of my favorite five star restaurants and having a mask on and gloves and all this. So, I'm really excited to see what the creative designers come at us in many of these instances.

 

Jessica:   Yeah. I don't know if you follow Brett Hotep. on LinkedIn. He writes a lot about their design, but his last name is H-A-U-T-O-P. But he's written some really interesting things because he is the designer for LinkedIn. So, he's written some interesting articles about.

 

Mark:  I have to follow him. No.

 

Jessica:   Yeah, you should follow him. He used to live here in Raleigh. He was one of the architecture firms that I called on in my very early days and he eventually got hired by LinkedIn. And he's written some really neat things about how design is going to change. You should follow him. 

 

Mark:  Oh yeah. I will.

 

Jessica:   One last comment I wanted to make going back to what you were saying about the insulation. We've always known that women make the decisions. That's why we're mostly a female company. I'm just kidding. But I did meet your wife and I know she makes decisions too.

 

Mark:  Right.

 

Jessica:   Except what kind of mustard.

 

Mark:  Right.

 

Jessica:   Anyway, I think we're running up against time here. So, I appreciate your time today, Mark. I would encourage our audience to follow Mark Mitchell, the wizard, W-H-I-Z-A-R-D. And if you have the chance to attend one of his building materials, marketing symposiums or you're doing some virtually now?

 

Mark:   Yes.

 

Jessica:   The wizard summit. I would encourage our listeners to do that as well. It's very informative and you'll learn a lot about how to kind of brand yourself and market your materials during this difficult time and when we're all back in action as well.

 

Mark:  Great. Well, this has been great. I've really as always, when the first time, I remember meeting you at Greenbuild. And I love having different opinions and having good lively discussions, as I always do with you and I always learned something. So, I've really enjoyed the opportunity to be part of this.

 

Jessica:   Well, thanks for joining us today, and sometime we'll talk about politics as I know we'll get into it then.

 

Mark:  For sure.

 

Jessica:   All right, thanks Mark. 

 

Mark:  Take care. Bye now.

 

Jessica:   This is Jessica with build green, live green.