“Change” and “flexibility” are two terms that come to me as I reflect on how the cleanroom business has evolved in recent years. Over more than 25 years, I’ve grappled with the challenges of building cleanrooms for fun and profit. Ever since I sold vacuum cleaners in college, it has been plain to me that nothing happens until there is a sale. You have no doubt heard the expression that “people buy from people” as the basis for sales success. Your challenge in making the sale is to become, in the eyes of your potential customer, the “people” they want to entrust with their business. A principle is a truism that crosses all boundaries, and whether we talk vacuum cleaners or cleanrooms, shaping yourself into the “people” that make the sale is the principle that should guide your business.
Those with some history in the cleanroom construction business have seen it change from a small specialty business addressing a wide variety of industries to a large business focusing primarily on the boom in microelectronics and allied products to a business seeking growth through addition of a second primary industry in health sciences as a growing number of offshore suppliers and customers tap into microelectronics and reduce opportunities for domestic cleanroom projects. The flexibility of cleanroom suppliers at all levels to adapt to a customer base with a new vocabulary and mindset will be the key to future success and growth (and, in fact, to survival).
When faced with a changing cleanroom market several years ago where the term “pharmaceutical” was heard more often than the term “microelectronics,” the division I led was seemingly headed for financial difficulty. The solution adopted was to identify our most flexible sales executive and designate him “Director of Marketing, Pharmaceutical Division.” His charge was to immerse himself in the pharmaceutical industry, joining the societies, attending the conferences, identifying the companies, meeting the people, learning the buzzwords, seeking out issues, identifying vendors that have gained industry respect, absorbing the decision making/breaking factors that won/lost business, and bringing back to our project delivery team the information needed to retool our engineeringand construction capability.
As reports from this educational process were presented, the project delivery team became increasingly impatient. “Where’s the magic?”, “We can do all of that now!”, “We want the Rosetta Stone!!” Our “Director of Marketing, Pharmaceutical Division” looked them in the eye and said “OK. Do you have your pencils ready? Here it is: ‘Ask them for the business.’” Huh?
He then proceeded to explain that we did in fact have most of the expertise required to compete in this market. We’re contamination control professionals. Our products and services are aimed at reducing contamination in an industrial workplace. We do that through the application of products and physical principles and expertise. In many cases, we apply what we have learned from previous projects but in many more cases we tread new ground and apply a combination of common sense, book learning, industry practice, and empirical data. He pointed out that the major deficiency of the project team was confidence. At that point, he stated that his job, in addition to bringing in a sale, was to instill confidence in the project team, that it had all the magic it needed to function in this “new” competitive environment.
Certainly our pharma clients want to know that we understand the notion of “sterility” and that we are able to identify materials of construction that lend themselves to sterilizing processes and agents. They want to know that we can design and install walls, floors, and ceilings that are readily maintainable and will not harbor “viable” contaminants. They would like to have a level of comfort that we can recognize facility and process equipment that is compatible with their production requirements and be able to integrate that equipment into their facility. Our “Director of Marketing, Pharmaceutical Division” was the conduit for the questions and answers of our project team, just as he was the conduit for alerting the industry that we were a “full service” company serving microelectronics, health sciences, bio-pharmaceutical, medical device, and nanotechnol-ogy partners. Our first “health sciences” project was a tough slog to win, the second, not so bad, the third, easier still, and then we found ourselves in the game. There was no magic.
Ray Schneider is the Chair of the Department of Construction Science and Managementat Clemson University.He can be reached at www.practicaltechonline.com.