By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/7/2008
In Googling more about the All Wall System, I found some old threads on OBB where others had contact with All Wall and decided not to use it: ownerbuilderbook.com/Message10494. I tried to reply to that thread, but apparently, old dead threads can be posted to, but the original posters may not be around any more to respond. I also found where John Griffin is not very tactful in his bulletin-board postings all across the Internet...
At any rate, the gist of the thread postings was that John Griffin responded to inquiries VERY rudely and they simply decided not to work with him. With all of the positive things I've had to say about the All Wall technology in my recent posts, I thought I should ensure that this other side of the coin was addressed as well.
Here is my post that I sent to the old thread today:
I called and spoke with John Griffin about All Wall. We had a good conversation. He is terse. He comes across as someone who "doesn't suffer fools" and he is definitely an engineer and not a salesperson, but I honestly liked him anyway. With the lack of marketing savvy as shown in his response to you (and with the less-than-polished presentation of his "facts" on his website and in multiple bulletin boards), I am not surprised he didn't get your business. I, myself, am the VP of Marketing for a technical sales-driven product used by engineers and contractors... I understand what happened.
When I spoke with him, I let John be John, and focused on the technical discussion. From a technical standpoint, I liked his answers and I liked what I heard. He has a well-thought-out, well-engineered product, and he knows when and how to use it, and I think he also knows its limitations. He just really doesn't know how to "sell." He is more of an extremely competent Technical Director, but no such much of a Marketing Director... Some people just do a better job of interfacing with other technical people, and can't "relate" to less technical people as well. And still others are just "arrogant jerks" <grin>, but I don't actually think that is the case with John.
I'm concerned that John's terse attitude and his understandable pride in his engineering accomplishments may make it difficult for him to interface with many tradesmen and prospective O-B's. For me, that isn't a problem, because with my engineering-design background I can interface with the contractors and be the conduit for the technical information from John, myself.
Personally, I think I will get along with John famously. In many ways, he and I are a lot alike and I was impressed with and liked the guy.
My brother-in-law will likely help me as well; he is a construction manager who is in charge of the technical field training for the engineered products for our company. He's EXCEPTIONALLY good at relating to field personnel and motivating them while accomplishing the engineering goals of the project. If I have difficulty interfacing with my subs, I'm sure my brother-in-law won't mind stepping in and helping be the interface. My father is also excellent at relating to tradesmen. I know my limitations as an O-B, and I am making plans to surround myself with the talents I am lacking, including such managerial talents.
In a recent OBB forum thread I received some invaluable advice to avoid using a technical, "formal" CSI-formatted specification process for bidding my residential construction project, because it would alienate the residential construction personnel and cause problems. Technical people like myself and probably like John don't always have the social skills required to "relate" to the field construction tradesmen. If I (together with my brother-in-law and father) were incapable to function as the intermediary and had to rely upon John to directly train the tradesmen for my house, it might actually make me a bit nervous that such personality conflicts might muck things up...
And if John reads this, I hope he will still be willing to do business with me afterward, because I like his product and I think he is an excellent engineer. This isn't meant as a negative criticism but rather as constructive observation/something that needs to be planned around. John just needs help with marketing, and I have a suspicion he may also need help with interfacing with contractors and O-B's who aren't engineering oriented... I'm lucky that I have my brother-in-law to be the primary interface with our contractor customers. I'm too much of a stuffed-suit engineering type, and the field guys aren't as willing to listen to me. My brother-in-law provides that much-needed "translation" to the skilled tradesmen. John at All Wall may need something similar to expand upon his successes further.
Personality quirks aside, the All Wall system is very impressive, and I am highly likely to get trained to make my own panels and use it on my own house.
Anyone deciding to work with a vendor needs to feel comfortable with the relationship and the ability to receive technical support. Obviously, buying an ICF system from a large, public company is going to have some "security" in regards to validity of warranties that you won't have with an entrepreneurial start-up. For the biggest investment you'll likely make in your life, that security can be important. What will be your recourse if something goes wrong? Can you work through the problem with the vendor? Will you receive the level of hand-holding that you want?
I know that if I go with the ICF sales rep in Atlanta, Georgia that he will answer EVERY question and walk me through the entire process from preliminary plans to how to take care of the house after we move in. The particular ICF rep spent almost two hours answering my questions at a local construction trade show. I trust his professionalism and his willingness to take care of his customer.
Will I get that with All Wall? I honestly don't think so from what I've read and experienced... But perhaps "I" don't need that.
Is the higher-quality system worth the prospective hassles? Maybe... if I can't achieve my goals any other way, or if the cost savings prove too much to otherwise ignore.
If not All Wall, what are my alternatives:
ICFs... if I add in sufficient "usable" solar mass in my flooring material choices (4" thick of masonry) and wall-surface choices. Ditto for steel SIPs.
This is REALLY causing me to think long and hard... There is a saying common in the utility-construction industry that a product is only as good as the contractor that installs it. You can have a mediocre product that is designed and installed by an excellent contractor and ultimately have an excellent project. You can have the best product in the world, but if it is installed by a horrible contractor, you will most likely have a horrible project. The contractor is actually 80% of the quality equation. What makes excellent vs horrible is subjective and really depends upon interpersonal compatibility. Some cities LOVE certain contractors, while other cities HATE them.
This axiom probably holds true with the vendor vs. the product as well... Great product with a horrible vendor could equal a horrible project. Satisfactory product (ICF) with a great vendor (the WONDERFUL sales rep in Atlanta) equals an excellent project! For you or for I, which will All Wall be: horrible or excellent? It is a subjective question, but there is probably enough evidence for each of us to come to a decision. As for me, I haven't fully decided yet, but I REALLY like the engineering advantages of the All Wall System.