Finding & Growing Within A Niche

Building Brands Ep 20 - Christopher Lyon - Finding & Growing Within A Niche

Christopher Lyon, President of Tournesol Siteworks talks about how Tournesol leveraged growth through a distinct technology that met a budding need in the outdoor market and expanded upon that to reshape how architects, designers, and contractors approached outdoor spaces. From there, he talks about Tournesol’s path to growth, differentiation in the market, and becoming a go-to partner.

Episode Links
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Episode Transcript
Tim
Welcome Building Brands listeners for our 20th episode, yes, we’ve made it to 20 episodes, I’m joined by Christopher Lyon president at Tournesol Siteworks. Tournesol has been known as the company at the intersection of landscape and architecture. but also their team works with designers and contractors across the country, helping to inspire them to dream big and work with their teams to build big. And this episode, Christopher talks about how turn us on leverage growth through a distinct technology that met a budding need in the outdoor market, and expanded upon that to reshape how architects, designers and contractors approached outdoor spaces. From there he talks about Tournesols path to growth, differentiation in the market and becoming a go to partner enjoy the episode.

Tim
If you’re an owner or marketer in the building materials, manufacturing, distribution, or contracting spaces, looking to set up your brand for success now and in the future, this is the podcast for you. on this show, we talk about brand and market strategies used in the real world that grow companies and truly connect with consumer audiences. So sit back, listen in, and let’s get to it. Okay, welcome. Christopher Lyon, president of Tournesol Siteworks. Thanks for coming on.

Christopher
Tim, I’m glad to be here today really appreciate the opportunity to speak with you about the topics you’ve got suggested for us.

Tim
Awesome. It’s gonna be a good conversation. Before we get into that conversation. Why don’t you tell everyone a little bit about who you are, what you do at Tournesol? And sort of how you got started in the landscaping site solutions building materials market?

Christopher
Yeah, thanks. Again, my name is Christopher Lyon, and I’m the President of Tournesol Siteworks. I’ve been doing it now for just about 26 years, but I had absolutely no intention of getting into the building materials business in the very beginning. I was actually an industrial OEM salesperson and decided to go back to grad school and got out in the middle of a recession and couldn’t find a job. So a friend actually referred me to a little tiny company not too far from me, that made self watering flowerpots. And he said, Oh, it’s a really cool technology, you should check this out. And I was the guy who couldn’t keep a house plant alive to save my soul. So I thought, I mean, it made me interesting, right? It’s like, okay, so I went and talked to the owner of the company. And he just, he was looking for somebody to run the business. But I thought, you know, I didn’t really want to run a tiny business for him.

Christopher
So I put together some friends and family money, and we actually bought the business and being the young smart guy was, you know, they were mostly at that time in the commercial landscape business selling the commercial landscapers. But I knew better than them. I said, I’m going to go out and sell retail, because we’re going to make some big bucks on retail. I’m going to work it for about five years, flip it and go. So that was that was the idea. And, and honestly, I was we were everywhere. We tried Home Depot, we tried local garden centers. I was on home shopping network and QVC. I mean, we, we did everything to get these planters out in the marketplace. Because the technology really is. You know, for a guy who can’t take care of plants. The technology is nothing short of miraculous. So it didn’t work, plan flat out, it didn’t work a year later. I had to regroup. We got through a lot of the money and say what are we going to do now and realize that the technology was still interesting, but the but the way it was presented as a little self watering, flowerpot was not ever going to really make it. So what we did is we turned to back to the commercial marketplace and started just asking your customers, what is it that you want and looked at what some of the some of our competition was doing. And we realized that the core of what we were selling was the irrigation piece, not so much the plastic pot, people didn’t want to buy plastic parts they wanted to buy the irrigation piece that we were selling.

Christopher
So we created the irrigation component that would drop into anybody else’s plastic containers, or anybody else’s containers for that matter. And then started figuring out how to how to scale this, how to make it bigger, how to make it work for a larger marketplace. And it took a while It took about 10 years to really get established to get the product out in front of the specification channel work with landscape architects sell into landscape contractors and really understand the market better. And after about 10 years, we were there. We were established, the product was selling pretty well. Mostly through the specification channel and we really listen to landscape architects. And that’s then when I started looking around and said, Okay, what more is there? You know, I’ve been doing this for 10 years, the business wasn’t very big. We were a handful of people and manufacturing Northern California. At that point was sort of that moment that you look around and say now what? Well, what we did have and I I’m a sales guy from from way back and so what I did As I started listening to our customers listen to our customers talk about what was going on in the marketplace where they thought we had opportunities, and asking them, you know, why are you specifying these self watering irrigation systems in your products. And what came back out of the discussions was that the that the business was changing, and in fact, where we were being specified frequently was on rooftop applications. And, and about that time, this was probably in the early 2000s or so waterproofing technologies was changing in the building material sector, the style that the way that people were waterproofing their rooftops, was going towards monolithic membranes, they were going away from the trip typical typical fluid applied asphaltic products. And what that meant was, there was no more casting of CMU walls on roofs, there was no more they weren’t going to be building in place planters anymore, as it were. And that building a place planners, they were usually traditionally irrigated, and the waterproofing would fail and go all over the all over the penthouse, the most expensive apartment in the whole building. So the architects were taking our self contained irrigation systems and putting there so they didn’t have to run irrigation. And what they kept asking us was, you know, there’s no any lightweight container manufacturers, because the only thing we can buy out here is concrete and concrete, it’s really heavy. And the engineer has to reinforce the roof of the building. And the reality is that we’d really like to find something lightweight. Well, you know, good marketer and sales guy that I am, I listened, I said, light bulb went off and said, Well, maybe there’s an opportunity here, because there’s not very much in this space. We were already selling the, the the irrigation component to the same landscape architects.

Christopher
So we went out and about 2004, we developed a line of lightweight fiberglass, pots and planters. And being that I’d been in the market for over 10 years. At that point in time, I knew pretty well, the way that landscape architects were going to be designing these roof spaces, they needed, matching products in different shapes and sizes, and they need large sizes and those kinds of things. So we introduced a line of these lightweight pots and planters. And that’s when the business changed that the dirty little secret of selling these irrigation systems was, it could never cost more than about a third of the cost of the pot itself. So the real money was in the planter. But nobody really wanted to talk about the planner they just wanted, they needed the irrigation system. So we were adding a, you know, we were working backwards, we were selling hamburgers with the fries, we were selling fries, and we said, let’s start making hamburgers too. So getting into the lightweight pots and planters was really an opportunity for us that that got us on our way. And the next thing that happened in this was, again, a revelation that wasn’t necessarily something that we were so smart, we figured it out, it was the market telling us, we started making a couple rectangular products. And that is you know, maybe I call it four feet, five feet, six feet long rectangles, and they weren’t very big, maybe 18 inches, 24 inches high, something like that. And the architects just kept specifying it over and over and over again. And it took us a while to really understand why this was becoming our best selling product. And it was because instead of building these planters and these and essentially lining walls and creating spaces, using using precast in a using a built in place planter, they were putting our fiberglass pots in place of these precast walls, we made the cast in place walls. And every time we come up with a larger size, it would become our most popular size. So suddenly 24 by 24, and then 30 by 30. And now we make things up to 10 feet long, 48 inches wide, 48 inches tall. And the specifiers use it to configure spaces on roof gardens. A lot of times there’s issues with with the the amount of people that they’re allowed to have in the middle of a roof garden. That’s oftentimes a big issue. They use these these planters then to soften the space they use the landscape to to control people and control access and egress and all kinds of different things. So it got us on our way.

Christopher
So started about 2004 step by step we continued to increase the line, listening to our customers and asking them, you know, not even so much asking them but offering one piece at a time, and it would sell better and eventually we started figuring out this is where the markets going. So while we were following our customer at the same time, we were helping them get to a place that they couldn’t get with any other manufacturer. Nobody else was doing what we were doing, and it gave us the momentum to become sort of the leading manufacturer in the space.

Tim
Cool. Is there a project That you like telling people about the kind of showcases the use of this, you guys do national work, right? You’re all over the country,

Christopher
We do national work today all over the country, you know, what’s become kind of our our go to projects are about 40% of our work is in multi families construction. So while you may not see one specific special location that’s on this roof garden, what you do is you see them everywhere. And because what ended up happening was that that the about this time in about the mid 2000s, there was this realization of the development community, the developers community, that they were missing out on a pretty good amount of square footage on every building that they were building, because there was a roof that nobody used for anything. And by putting a little bit of money into it, suddenly they had an outdoor space that the that was became very, very valuable to the to either the tenants or the owners in the condo, that people really, really were excited about this outdoor space. So they might put a dog run or a kitchen area or a son sunning area and and this became not only in the multifamily residential. Well, I mean, first of all you think about it way back when they used to sell apartments and condos based on having you know, stainless steel appliances and granite countertops. And then everybody had stainless steel clad appliances and granite countertops. So they had to look at a new way of differentiating, and the the rooftop amenity space truly became the measure of differentiation between these different projects. And you know, we joke about it today, we said we were kind of like the arms dealer selling to all the different developers and their competition with one another, we would sell them planters and soften their spaces and and truly make the make the spaces special. So while there isn’t necessarily one very special thing, you can see them everywhere now in almost any any large urban area. And now really moving into the secondary markets where where they start to see the values of these these urban infill projects and these multifamily locations going in the roof amenity space has become an absolute must in selling or renting the building.

Tim
Are you primarily trying to bring in the architects to spec these? Are you trying to drive demand from the building owners that say like we need to maximize our space and make the buildings stand out? And it goes through the architects use like, or is it? I mean, the the easy answer could be it’s both but who’s the primary target to bring into your world to to get these into into the build specs?

Christopher
Well, that’s that’s a great question. And it really goes back to the heart of how we developed as a as a company in terms of the marketing and the work that we did. And that is that we focused 99.9% of our effort in the beginning on the specification community, we we were one of the very first we came out of an industry that was extremely small and fragmented. And we were small and we were fragmented at the time, we were still figuring things out. So but what we did do is that we invested in a sales channel, we invested in our own sales people. And that was something that for anybody else who was in that kind of business with us, you know, again, really small companies, they were using independent reps, they were out there trying to figure out some way to reach out to the specifiers. And we said, Now we’re going to actually hire our own salespeople. And we’re going to keep get you in the field. And we’re going to have you call on landscape architects and architects. And that’s all you’re going to do is talk to them.

Christopher
So our marketing was essentially carried office to office to office by our sales team. So the sales team doubled as a marketing team essentially, going out and telling the story explaining what we were doing, and, and listening to the customer and then bringing that feedback back to us as manufacturer. So we really focused very heavily on the specifier. And it’s it’s almost funny, in the beginning, we didn’t know, we didn’t know where the products would go, we didn’t see the projects going on, we knew that the specifier specified it somewhere. And it turns out in the long haul, a lot of it became multifamily. Some of it was hospitality, we do a lot of institutional work, you know, you might see a healing garden on a hospital, those kinds of things. But over and over time, you know, well, more than 50% of our works on the roof. And almost all of it went into the specification community. But that was our that was really the means for us to to promote the product communicate. And to get out of those jobs. We didn’t know the developers. And we also figured the problem with a developer is unless you get to one of the really, really big ones, they only develop a couple buildings, they might develop one or two buildings, you got to make that sale over and over again. Like I said, I’m a sales guy from way back. And I knew if you got a specifier to specify you the first time and you did it right and you took care of them and made sure their job was a success. pretty likely that they’d use you over and over and over again, which allowed you to make that one call Then take care of the customer, but then go on to the next specifier. And it made your sales team much more efficient. And that was a big part of how we continued to promote the product was by taking good care of our specifiers making sure the jobs were successful, and and really promoting the use of this kind of technology on the roof.

Tim
Would you say that through that process, you helped create the demand? Or was the demand there, and you sort of stumbled into it and found the right formula to put up against it to grow?

Christopher
Yes, absolutely. point was, we we did a little bit of both. And in the beginning, we provided the product, where I heard that there was some sort of demand. But by continuing to push the envelope, we continued to create opportunities for architects and designers to do more on these spaces. So the build out of these spaces became, and I don’t want to take credit for it. But we enhance the capabilities of the designers to put more sophisticated products onto the roof. What we started then doing is once we’ve had we have a very robust selection of different products out there, we started listening and asking them, what else do you want in this product. And we realized there were accessory components that they wanted. So we started doing trellis panels that would be connected to planters so that you could use privacy screens. And then we then started doing the literally privacy screens made out of laser cut steel at, we put in cast in place light pockets, so that you know the architects were complaining that they would put our planter in place along a wall, and then they would have to put a bollard in front of it with a light on there. Because that was the egress lighting is so we said we can just cast in the light pocket right in the sidewall of that planter. And then you can put your light your light fixture right in there and you have the egress lighting. And you don’t have to put the bollard in place. Or now some of the more recent developments, we’ve been doing a lot of bioretention work. And that is the when you hear about bioswales and getting water filtered before it goes into the it goes out to the environment, the designers are being pushed to to actually integrate this onto the structure. So you need a drainage plant or kind of going on structure. And you need to make a special billing for that. And it’s a it’s quite a unique a unique product that we’ve been manufacturing. And it’s something that we’ve been listening to our clients, they asked for it, we figure out how to do that. And at the same time, we’re pushing the envelope a little bit because maybe a couple guys have asked for it. But not everybody has. So they didn’t know they needed it until they saw that we offer it.

Tim
A couple of things there, sales and marketing do run side by side very, very closely, they do have very fringe things that they can only accomplish on their own, individually with their specialized skill sets. But they do run very close together. There’s another there’s a third element to this, which is the company needs to be able to react to what sales and marketing are getting back from the consumer saying this is where you need to go if the company doesn’t actually get stale, but it also gives the sales and marketing another place to go with conversations and, and listening to customers and getting them what they need. Which is kind of that innovation element to which factors into some of this?

Christopher
Well, about 20 to 25% of our work is custom. And we joke about it because we say there isn’t a large architect born that wants to design the same building twice. So you end up with a lot of unique elements, you end up with a lot of things that people bring to you and say, Can you do this? So the so the question is, then well, okay, if they want this does someone else want it and it’s understanding the marketplace, listening to your sales team, you know, we have guys out there. There’s a whole team of our regional sales managers who were making pre COVID days 10 sales calls a week, and they were in 10 landscapes to keep architectural or architectural offices. And this is a whole team of doing this, you get a lot of feedback from the field. So one of the key components for us was then not only taking this fiberglass piece, this lightweight fiberglass piece that we started, but then expanding and being able to do more and listen to our customers to be able to go further. So in about in 2015, we quietly acquired a small manufacturer of lightweight concrete gfrc. And this is a cat casting facility down in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, with a partner facility over the border in El Paso, Texas. And that’s become a key manufacturing point for us now, where we’re doing both fiberglass and lightweight concrete out of that facility and shipping it around the country. And it gives us a lot more capabilities not only on structure, but also on the sidewalks off structure unique elements.

Christopher
A real special project that we did last year combined not only that facility out of El Paso, but the manufacturing plant we bought up in Washington site furnishings manufacturer, which was essentially a large metal and woodshop. In 2017. Just two years ago, we were able to do the LaGuardia Terminal B project. And that was a really unique special design done by a wonderful landscape architect out of out of New York. And they wanted to recreate pocket parks within the LaGuardia Airport Terminal. But the contractor had sort of left is this to the very end. And we said that them, you know, we looked at the job a couple times, and they finally came back around and said, we really need you to do this. So we were able to combine custom gfrc manufacturing, doing a unique technology where we were custom cutting the molds as we went and building in place, metal benches that went on top of the whole thing, and did what was we thought was going to be about eight months worth of work and about four months, because the contractor would call me periodically and tell me, Governor Cuomo is breathing down our neck to get this thing open. And you guys are the ones who really have to make it happen. So it was it was a wonderful installation. And it’s a beautiful, beautiful place. The new LaGuardia terminal is really dynamite. And they’re doing some wonderful things out there. And we’ve been part of not only that job, the contractor was, was really thought we did such a great job. They brought us on to terminal a now we’re doing the head house next year, one of the contractors associated that called us up and said, Hey, they’re redoing JFK, can you get involved in that, too. So we think we must be doing a pretty good job, not only of really pushing the envelope with some of the products that we manufacture in these custom site solutions, but also really helping the customer to be a success.

Tim
What do you think the main benefits of the architects and designers are, I mean, you’re helping them do their jobs, too, right? You’re not just giving them an awesome product and helping them get it in to the contractors hands and make it easy to install, like, What’s also benefiting them and how you’re approaching the work with them and what they get out of it.

Christopher
Well, that is actually one thing that I learned really early on and dealing with, with the specified specification community. And that was, if they had to design something from scratch, that took a lot of their time. So if they had the design that call it a the cast in place, while they had to, they had to write the specs for it, they had designed it, they had to make sure and they would usually over engineer it to make sure it didn’t fail because they didn’t know what was going to go in in the field. Well as a manufacturer, who would bring in a pre completed specification and design, it took them a fraction of the time to put the same product in the same location. So we were essentially allowing the client, the architect or the specifier, to do the same amount of work with less time. So for them, people who build time, they were probably saving time that they were able to somewhat build the developer for get on the job. And so it was an easier process for them.

Christopher
Now, what we’ve learned over time, and what’s really driving some of our business today, is the fact that the and this works for the contractor as well, the whether it’s a general contractor or a landscape contractor, building something in the field is time consuming. Oftentimes it’s involving union labor is coordinating with other trades, there are a lot of issues with building stuff in the field. So it’s actually easier to have them build something in a factory. And even if it’s if partially assembled, bring it out onto site and assemble it in place. So that there’s much less time spent actually on the job site itself, the products usually made in a it’s more efficient, because that’s all we do, for example, in the factory, so there’s less material wasted, we have better quality control, we have guys who do this every day as opposed to a landscape contractor trying to build a wall or somebody with that it’s not really all that good at this, we’re doing it every day. And our team is really quite expert at doing the work that we do. So it’s much more efficient, this offsite construction, has been driving it. So between the specifier, who’s able to save time by specifying a pre manufactured product or a pre designed product, and the contractor who doesn’t have to build it in the field. It’s a win win all the way around. And we see this today really overall in the in the construction community that offsite manufacturing is is really becoming a trend that I think is the future of the construction industry. People don’t want to have to build something on site, they want to make it on the off site somewhere else and bring it on site.

Christopher
Now. Most of the work that you hear about are the big companies doing full buildings and wall panels and cassettes and all that kind of thing. Well, we’re focusing on a very narrow, narrow set of opportunities and that is in the landscape of the site solutions process. So we’re kind of working that scene we’re mining a seam continuing to work on knowing our customer understanding the opportunities, looking at the materials, and because we’re a vertically integrated manufacturer in lightweight fiberglass, lightweight concrete, metal, that’s aluminum and Korea weathering steel, and wood we really have can run the gamut of different kinds of site concern. struction that someone would want to do on site, we can do it all off site. And we see our business being driven, amazingly right now, just by that. So what started out, you know, now now 15 years ago, and lightweight fiberglass is being driven not just through fiberglass, but through metal through wood through all kinds of different through concrete, all kinds of different materials. But it’s still kind of that same story, we’re building in the factory. And the factory is now where we started off and one little, little small area in Northern California. Now we have plants in Washington, Northern California, and down in Texas, and over the border in Mexico, we are now producing products that go all across the country, and are being used by designers and contractors. And for each one of us, it’s a when we get bigger, we’re continuing to grow and continuing to develop the GC or the landscape contractor saves money makes it look better, the designer knows that he’s getting something he saved a little time in the drawing. And he’s has a lot more exedra he or she knows that they have more confidence in the fact that the product that they’re going to get out there as a turn assault product. And the one thing that we commit to our customers over and over again, is successful starts sites start with us, we we will make sure that projects project is a success. And that drives everything that we do. So it’s been a big part of our marketing push it recently.

Tim
Yeah, and even with all of that growth, what you’ve done is you still focused on the soft space landscaping pieces of building product products or projects, which means like, that gives you the ability to go and say we are the best at this portion of a building build and the best at helping you execute that successful finished product. Like how has that helped focus your messaging and that sales conversation to even the initial approach along with the the resell on relationship building aspect of it,

Christopher
You know that that’s actually really interesting. And this happened kind of early on in the business as well as that we were getting good at making fiberglass. And we were specified into a large project out in New York and the general contractor approached us and said, Hey, you know, I’ve got a guy here who’s great, and he’s gonna do it for 25% less than you are. And and we asked him, he said, Well, that’s great if you ever made a planner before. So he’s making shower pans. He’s making shower pans he’s making he’s making receptacles he’s making he might be making you know, tanks he does, does he know what it really takes, you know, when we’re making a fiberglass pot, it’s an eighth of an inch wall thickness typically and we’re expected to hold about two tons of soil and that can’t boat is the same Do you trust your local contractor who doesn’t really know this to do that? We You know, when we have fiberglass, we can make anything with fiberglass right guys make guys make truck parts they make the they make turbans for you know, for these these wind generator turbans, you can make anything out of fiberglass, it’s a wonderful material, we only make one thing, and we make it really, really well. And we’ve led the industry in doing that.

Christopher
And now that was we’ve continued to expand into different materials. What we found, for example, with metal and and we walked into this three years ago, manufacturing metal planters for the first time, understanding the market, looking at how we would approach doing things in metal. And we said, here’s the product that we sell. And we looked at what the specifiers were already doing out there. And they were over engineering everything because they didn’t work with the material every day. So they might take make a planter out of three eighths inch thick steel plate, because they know if they made it out three eighths inch thick steel plate, it wouldn’t bend. But we said well, you could do this at a 12 gauge. And you put some real structural reinforcement in the walls. And you can lighten up the product, you make it a better product, you less use less material, and it costs less. But they didn’t know that because they don’t design planters every day. So that’s what we you know, we have, we have eight engineers who sit there and do nothing but go through drawing planters and, and site site structure and site solutions every day. These are the guys who understand how to make this the most efficiently and be able to do that. And as we’ve continued to tell that story, it really has resonated with the with the specifiers.

Christopher
And that’s one thing in terms of my marketing. My marketing history with the company is for a long time I was the only marketing guy we had and probably wasn’t that great at one at that. But I knew a good story. When I heard when I understood what kind of a story would resonate with the specifier what kind of a story is going to resonate with the contractor? I’m a salesperson, that’s what you do. You tell stories, you talk about things. And that’s what connects you to that person and allows them to understand what it is that you can do for them and how you can do that. And so the story of this off site construction and being the expert has always really resonated and we’ve been able to back it up with the product to the delivery and the relationships over the years that have only reinforced that that people really respect and trust us they know these guys are the top of the market and our game we have we’ve developed lots there. Well we There’s a lot of competition that’s developed over the over the last, you know, last five, seven years in our market space. And it’s really because we paved the way out there. And people still recognize turtle souls at the top of the game, they are the guys who you want to go to, for this stuff. And yeah, there’s probably somebody cheaper who could do it and, and some of our competitors, we love, they’re very, they do a great job and their work. And they’re, you know, following right along with us, you know, they’re coming along in the market space too. But I think that we’ve been able to continue pushing the envelope out and expanding what was probably a really tiny seam in the beginning where they it’s really tiny niche in the beginning, and continuing to push it and push it and push it. And it’s been able to, to grow to being something that almost every landscape contractor thinks about. And frequently, now we get GCS, who recognize that this is something they have to worry about and can be considering about, because it’s on just about every project, they see,

Tim
You’re also expanding the product lines, too. So you have, it’s a very specific type of project that you do a product that you produce, it’s very specific market that you’re working in, you’re expanding that seam. Rather than finding four or five other seams to grow, you’re actually creating this, you’re making the seam bigger itself through introducing new products, which gives your salespeople the excuse to go back and keep the conversations open with their existing accounts. And like you said, you have specifiers or, or developers even where they say, yeah, you know, that’s what so and so did that 40 by 41? Well, it turns out, just came out with a 50 by 50. So I want the bigger one in my like, it’s 90 The next thing and that sort of keeps, that’s your next area of growth to grow the existing business, but also, you know, pull more people in your world.

Christopher
Well, it started with planters. But today, you know, planters are still, you know, still that more than 50% of our business. But we do so much in terms of wood, benching, and custom unique benches, we’ve done green walls over the years, we do drainage products, anything that’s on that in that space used by that customer, again, it has everything to do with the customer, and less to do with who we are. One of the things that I’ve always said at this company is always say, yes, guys always say yes. specifier asks you for something, don’t say no, the opportunities are forward, you’ve got to lean into it, you have to say yes, and then figure out how to do it. And that’s what we’ve done for 20 I what I’ve been doing now for 26 years,

Tim
And you have to have your finger on the pulse of the market to like off-site construction and modular builds are becoming a consistent topic on this podcast. And they’re obviously a consistent topic in the market itself. And if you’re able to do that through acquisitions, partnerships, whatever it might be, that’s just one of those extra value adds otherwise, if you don’t have the story of expertise to go up against someone else that can use the material. If you can’t make the specifiers life easier. If you can’t make the GCs life easier, it will come down to this person is 25% less expensive? Absolutely. Absolutely. That’s no way to position your business, there’s no way to differentiate yourself in the market, it’s no way to set your sales team up for success either.

Christopher
And, and we’ve we’ve worked very hard. You know, I said in the beginning, we spent all of our time with the specification community. And the market has been changing, we’ve seen it change. And as this business has gone from being, oh, I need a planter on this job to what what are you going to use for planters. And it’s become not just a little business, but it’s a bigger business. And it’s now a market as it were other people in there, we’ve had to really pivot to be to develop stronger relationships with our contractors, and where we probably, and I will admit that we probably took them for granted for the first 10 years of doing this. And they’ll tell you that too, I’ll turn us on, they just take us for granted. Now we realize the value that we that we can provide to them, but also the value they can provide to us and what that relationship really means. And so we’ve gone from being very, very, very specification focused to obviously still very specification focused, but really trying to make sure that we have relationships with the most important contractors, and are really doing something for them where they perceive that it’s that the reason that they should want to go go with turn us off. I mean, we’ve had guys who are out in the marketplace, were used us a ton went away, use another contractor or use another manufacturer for six months or a year, and then come back and say enough, I want to use you guys again, just make sure I get the right price and make sure we because we do deliver, that’s the thing that we will make sure of as a company is that we can deliver that product.

Tim
So let’s look at the building materials industry as a whole. How do you think that’s going to be shifting or in the next decade? The 2020s?

Christopher
Gosh, that’s a great question we still see is a lot is that there’s still a fashion element to a lot of what we do. We’re in the site furnishings, business, right furniture, right? That’s still benches and tables and things like that. So there’s a certain degree of fashion. So what we’ve seen is that materials, change the material that architects use go in and out of popularity, the look that they’re trying to drive. So we try and be sensitive to that clearly. But by having a number of different manufacturing vertical manufacturing components, we think that we can we can solve those problems for them typically. But I really think that the the future is in this off site stuff. I mean, I, you know, and I know, probably because we’re in the middle of it, and I can see it, and I’ve seen how our business has grown based upon that, and why the contractors come to us and say, I’m not going to do this any other way. And from now on, I mean, we have the guys who built the, we were about the same price for bioretention. planters made of lightweight, concrete fabricated in our factory, as the guy who was manufactured was putting CMU walls in place. So the contractor for the first phase of the project picked the local contractor, building the CMU walls, and came to us for phase two and said, I will never do that, again, ever. That guy was in there, where he was trying to, you know, in their way trying to figure these things out, had cost overruns, there was there were problems with the project. A went with us with phase two, and he says, Nope, never again, you guys are in on every job that I do this on, because it’s so much easier to coordinate on site, it’s so much less expensive when you don’t have the union labor. And, and just the fundamental nature of job site being what it isn’t trying to coordinate those contractors. I mean, I’m the reason I’m glad I’m not a contractor, is because it’s a tough job. And I and I respect those guys for what they do every day.

Tim
From a branding perspective, what’s one thing that you’ve learned over the last couple years that you see is like the big current need right now that everyone should be making sure that they do?

Christopher
Well, if you’re me, you need to hire a good director of marketing. Because for years, I was the marketing guy, and I thought we were doing just great. And then I heard a good director of marketing. And she’s been schooling me, since I hired her, I’ve learned a ton about about brand, I’ve learned about what we need to be doing better how we’re approaching brand. And that, you know, I sort of thought the brand just meant, you know, I was out of the industrial space way back when and my history is place advertisements, and go to trade shows and do all the same stuff that, you know, it’s like this is and the brand is made by the product. And I’m learning and and honestly, that’s that’s been it’s been exciting. For me, it’s been interesting. And it’s been a real education, to me, learning about trying to really assert brand for ourselves and make sure that the specification community has a relationship, not just with the products that we manufacture, which can be manufactured by somebody else for 25%, less or whatever, but rather that they have that relationship with the brand as a company they have they they’re able to they have that that willingness to say no, I really want to use turn us off. And it’s because I have the experience with them. And that they think of us when they’re looking at this. You know, and I think everybody talks about this today in the in this post COVID world that, you know, we used to have those salespeople that would go make 10 calls a week and specifiers offices. Well, now they’re fighting for the same screentime as everybody else. And how do they reestablish their relationships? How do they reach out to these folks? How do they really go through that and we’ve and we’ve worked through some strategies to do that. And but you know, if for us, we haven’t, we didn’t get started really working on our brand until late. And so we’re I think we’re continuing to build and continuing to work on that. We’re always known as the reliable guys, we’re always the guys that you can go with the high end of the market. But we want it to be more than that we want people to really understand who we are. A lot of our market space is, you know, guys who are really serious about what they do. We’re the high end guys, we’re super fashionable. They’re very, very serious about things. And we’re not we’re the approachable guys, we’re the guys that you can talk to, you can ask questions you could bounce ideas, bounce ideas off of. And we don’t take ourselves all that seriously. So it kind of I think is that is that’s going to be who we are, and who the who people will approach and say, you know, they’re the guys I like to deal with. And that’s what we really hope about our brand is going forward.

Tim
Well, and it’s also important to point out that brands evolve. And they’re always learning. They’re learning from customers. They’re learning from markets, they’re learning from economies. And it’s it’s no you can you can alter and evolve a brand over time. And it’s worth looking back on it every couple of years to make sure that your persona and your personality meets the needs of the markets and and that you’re actually fulfilling your brand promises along the way to and and that’s what builds those solid engagements and relationships with the clients. Absolutely. Is there anything that we didn’t touch on that you were hoping to get out in the sort of conversation wrapped around like finding your your niche in the seam and creating that differentiation for growth?

Christopher
I would have to say if there’s one, there’s one thing it’s just that, that we can all realize we’re in a really we’re in a really great industry. What we do is is a really it’s exciting to be part of it. love it. I love being where I am. And I’m lucky I found my way into it. And I think anybody who’s participating in this, you know, sometimes it’s you get dirty and you work hard. But there’s there’s a lot of great things about being involved in the building, building materials industry gets me excited to come to work every day be part of my team. And I think we’re all pretty fortunate to be part of it.

Tim
Yeah, that’s why we got involved. There’s always innovation, it’s design related. There’s down to earth, people love having relationships and conversations like this. It’s It is really great. Before we wrap up, why don’t you tell people where they can find more about you and more about tournesol? To?

Christopher
Yeah, thank you. Again, it’s Tournesol, which actually is the French word for sunflower. So so he’s like, turned to the sun. It’s T O U R N E S O L. And that’s tournesol.com is our website. I am at Christopher lion on LinkedIn. And we are @Tournesolsw on LinkedIn, and Facebook, all the typical places. It’s been a real pleasure being here on your show. And it’s been a lot of fun. I probably talk more than you want it. But it’s it’s fun, because I’m really passionate about what we do.

Tim
No. This was great. Thanks.

Christopher
All right, thank you.

Tim
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