Volume 415, Issue 6 - August 2006

Stairway Manufacturers’Association’s 
Special Section

The Next Step

Wake Up, Sleepy Head
Stairs – A Sleeping Industry?
by David Cooper

Not many people give thought to stairs. They are, however, some of the threads stitching together and decorating the fabric of every building. Fewer people think of stairs as the product of an industry. Everybody knows what stairs look like, how to use them, even how to count them (in huffs and puffs). Yet few wonder where they come from, contemplate their importance in the realm of vertical transportation or decide to capitalize on stair products to the full extent in their businesses.

Everyday we utilize the eternally essential stairway built with remarkable similarity to those traversed by the earliest generations. We all depend on stairs to get us where we are going and use them with more frequency than our automobiles, and, yet like cars, stairs range in function and cost from utilitarian to status warping examples that exceed the price some might pay to shelter their family or business.

Make a Splash

So where are the giants of the stair industry? Who is providing this essential product to the built environment? I would dare say that after more than 30 years in the industry, there are no giants of the magnitude of transportation czars. Rather, this niche industry brings its product to market with opportunities for many and is far from a sleepy industry. There maybe a few sleeping giants along the banks of its value stream but the more important questions are: Who is sleeping? Should you be making your splash in the stairway value stream? 

A clear indicator of interest in the industry is the growth of the Stairway Manufacturers Association by 64 percent in the past two and one-half years. This growth is due to its efforts to address issues and opportunities of industry wide proportions. More businesses are recognizing the potential of success in the stair industry and the strategic importance of the SMA in providing support to grow the industry and its companies. They recognize that the SMA, has done, can do and will continue to do what they cannot do alone and has value for the established and the newcomer.

SMA members produce products in compliance with SMA quality standards. On the cutting edge of new manufacturing technology through educational workshops and seminars, they have established a spawning ground for those wishing to participate in the industry. 

They participate in the development of industry codes and standards submitting more than 20 proposals to four different bodies for development this year. They provide for critical research of stairway safety issues. In fact, the association was the first to initiate a scientifically-controlled study of actual stairway falls. SMA members benefit from professional staff assistance in the interpretation of codes and standards affecting use of their product.

Get to Work

Understanding that consistent interpretation and enforcement of codes and standards are of equal importance to architects, builders and building officials, the SMA has recently launched a nationwide program of workshops. Each is held in discussion format with expert panelists from chapters of the AIA, NAHB and the International Code Council. Within the past nine months, workshops were held in Providence, R.I.; Sacramento, Calif., and Nashville, Tenn. 

The workshops present a constructive forum promoting open discussion of key issues of local interpretation and enforcement. Each was widely attended and successful, not only in promoting consistent interpretation, but also in educating designers, builders and code officials of their roles and responsibilities in the common goal to provide safe stairways and buildings. More importantly, they offered a mind opening experience. A recent builder participant said, “There is a huge value in doing business with members of the SMA. Do you have a member in my area I can do business with?”

In addition, the SMA staff has held specific professional training seminars on a variety of stair-related topics, providing more than 1000 accredited learning units to building officials alone from 11 different states in the past year and assisted members in successfully conducting seminars in two more states. The success of these programs and the workshops for members has forged the creation of the SMA education committee, which is now charged with development of curriculum and programs to educate members, architects, builders and building officials. The new committee will work in conjunction with the code and research committee and the quality standards committee to provide comprehensive programs.

A Visual Thing

Used by code and licensing schools across the nation, the acclaimed series of Visual Interpretations (VI) illustrates the widely adopted International Residential Code text with non-editorial photographs and drawings. The VIs provide a broader understanding based on the simple premise that a picture is worth a thousand words and at the same time bring tremendous credibility to SMA expertise. The code and research committee recently announced the completion of the 2006 IRC VI, the Rhode Island VI and Updates of the New York 2002 VI with the 2004 amendments. The Connecticut VI will be released soon and work has begun on the Florida State Residential Code VI and the IBC 2006 VI that will be critical to California members. 

Arising to meet the needs of the niche industry of manufacturing stairs and stair parts, the SMA continues to support and sustain respect for a little known trade of craftspeople. It continues to expand the awareness and opportunity for many to participate in the benefits of an industry of professionals who provide a product essential to everyone. If you would like to add professionalism and the resulting value to your stair related sales or can see the inherent value of joining the industry, your first step should be to contact an SMA member.

Current workshops being planned are: October in Baltimore, Md.; Nov. 10 in Tampa, Fla.; Jan. 19, 2007, in Dallas; May 4, 2007, in San Diego. Information on future workshops and membership can be found at www.stairways.org. All SMA Visual Interpretations are made available to the public at no charge by downloading them from the SMA website at www.stairways.org. The SMA encourages you to distribute them to your customers and learn from them why you should join and support the SMA. 

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