Offering warranties on your precast concrete products may create an added level of assurance for the customers and owners you serve.
By Mason Nichols
Jeff Hoffman, managing member at Flemington Precast & Supply in Flemington, N.J., was looking for a way to set his company apart from others in the region more than a decade ago. While Flemington Precast had successfully sold a wide variety of precast products throughout the company’s history, Hoffman’s focus was on the product line representing the lion’s share of the company’s sales – wastewater treatment tanks.
“Back then, we were the first and only company doing any type of watertightness testing in New Jersey,” he said. “We saw that as an opportunity to do something different.”
Flemington Precast started offering a five-year warranty to cover watertightness and structural integrity on its tanks during a time when the test wasn’t a state requirement. This decision resulted in a distinct competitive advantage for the company for nearly a decade before state testing requirements shifted.
Offering warranties on your precast concrete products can pay massive dividends for your business. The recipe for success is simpler than you might think and involves both proper planning and strategic foresight.
Constructing the foundation
For precasters considering offering warranties, the first decision to make is what products or product lines should be covered. Wastewater treatment tanks, which comprise a large portion of Flemington Precast’s production volume, were the obvious choice for Hoffman. Wieser Concrete Products of Maiden Rock, Wis., offers a limited 1-year warranty on many of its products and has developed a specialized 20-year warranty for septic tanks. The company also offers a 10-year warranty for its precast concrete cattle slats. No matter which products you decide to warranty, the key is to perform the necessary legal research.
Under the Uniform Commercial Code, all products sold generally possess an implied warranty of merchantability. For your customers, this functions as an assurance that the products they purchase can be used for their designed purpose. For example, if a new dishwasher does not clean dishes, or a recently installed tire does not hold air, those products would fall under an implied warranty of merchantability.
Typically, warranties should extend well beyond this standard form of protection. As such, you’ll need to consider what you’d like to cover along with what you’d like to omit. You’ll also need to determine and clearly specify the length of the warranty. When Hoffman crafted the tank warranty for Flemington Precast, he initially stitched the concept together by examining both the National Precast Concrete Association’s Best Practices Manual for On-site Wastewater Systems and warranties offered by competitors in the area. But he also referenced one particularly important step in the process.
“I would highly recommend that any precaster developing a warranty run the language in their document past legal counsel,” Hoffman said.
Nicholas Vander Veen, managing partner at Brower Vander Veen, PLC, in Grand Rapids, Mich., echoed his assessment.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” he said. “Your attorney can help you identify risks and take care of issues before they become bigger concerns so that mitigation ends up preventing litigation.”
The proof is in the engineering
Selecting your warrantied products and developing the associated language should be supplemented by an assessment of your products and what they can achieve. Andy Winkler, general manager at Wieser Concrete, explained that the company worked directly with suppliers to create its septic tank warranty. These groups helped Wieser Concrete determine what type of mix design to develop to increase the longevity and durability of its tanks.
In addition to consulting with third parties, it’s also imperative to consult with your engineers – whether internal or external – to determine the design parameters under which your products can operate. Are the products guaranteed to perform under a certain load or pressure? Will the design allow them to maintain efficiency and function throughout their service life?
“We do a lot of proof testing,” Winkler said. “For instance, with our cattle slats, we load-test them at the plant to determine what they can withstand. So, you not only conduct the necessary engineering, but also complete the proof testing to make certain that the product can perform as expected.”
Vander Veen confirmed this method as the optimal approach by pointing out that while your attorney will help create and verify the language in your warranties, your products must still stand firm on their engineering. He added that precasters must also consider how they will handle a warranty should an issue arise during the coverage period. This resolution can include repair, partial replacement or full replacement.
Ultimately, providing a warranty isn’t just about offering a solution to customers when a product fails to perform as expected. It’s also about instilling a sense of confidence in your product lines, both for the team manufacturing the products and for the customers purchasing them.
“If we have a client who isn’t familiar with us, how do they know that we’re any good?” Winkler said. “If we do have a warranty, for that initial sale, this will often make them feel better about working with us.”
Even if your products are high-performing and consistently function without issue, another benefit of having a warranty option available is the ability to quickly recover should problems ever arise.
As Hoffman stated, “Good word about you travels very slowly – bad word travels like lightning.”
Winkler noted the warranty can be especially helpful at the tail end of some sales conversations. And sometimes, the availability of the warranty is the determining factor in closing a deal. Wieser Concrete’s decision to offer warranties has also led to prospects contacting them to ask for assessments and repairs – even on septic tank systems installed by other companies. As such, Wieser Concrete’s warranties have proven to be a successful method for generating and capturing leads.
Beyond relationships with customers, offering warranties can also improve your relationships with specifiers. The availability of a warranty reassures specifiers that they are working with high-quality products and reputable companies that stand behind their work.
Putting your confidence on paper
Offering warranties at your precast plant is a multi-step process that involves selecting the appropriate products and product lines, proof testing these products to ensure the engineering is sound, developing your warranty language and approving this language through an attorney. While this endeavor may at first seem complex, as Winkler explained, the logic behind offering warranties makes it quite simple.
“Whether or not you put it in writing, you’re going to stand behind your product anyway,” Winkler said. “Why wouldn’t you put it on paper?”
If you are confident in your products, team and company, offering a warranty should be an easy decision.
Mason Nichols is a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based writer and editor who has covered the precast concrete industry since 2013.