How to Build a Quality Mark Globally

FM Approvals evolves to meet customer needs around the world.

What began in 1886 as FM Laboratories continues today as FM Approvals LLC. In 1897, the first FM Approved electrical products were listed in a book, appropriately entitled Approved Electrical Fittings. In 1907, the first listing of Approved fire hoses was published.

Fast forward to the early 2000s. FM Approvals has now seen a major shift in its customer base, from predominantly North America-centric to an expansive global distribution. In fact, last year a full 49 percent of customers who obtained one or more Approval, came from outside the Americas, up from 19 percent in 2002.

This dramatic globalization is the result of the expansion of many of its North American customers, as well as an active program of global growth carried out by FM Approvals to meet the needs of its customers.

With the opening of an office in Windsor, England, in 2005, FM Approvals began the process of formally establishing fully staffed offices in major markets outside its North American base. This office was soon followed by similar openings in Beijing, China; Singapore; Hong Kong and Shanghai, China; Frankfurt, Germany; Yokohama, Japan; Bangalore, India; São Paulo, Brazil; and Paris, France.

To support this global expansion, FM Approvals strategically reorganized its management structure in 2007 and again in 2014. The changes implemented in 2007 helped support FM Approvals’ fledgling global offices. By 2013, these remote offices had evolved from start-ups to mature organizations with staff drawn from local countries supporting indigenous manufacturers of FM Approved products.

The 2014 initiative was designed to enhance delivery of services and continue to promote strategic business growth on a global basis. A key change was the formalization of business development organizations for each key global region: the Americas; Europe, Mideast and Africa (EMEA); and Asia-Pacific. These business development organizations report directly to FM Approvals General Manager Paris Stavrianidis and are tasked with promoting strategic business growth.

Global demand accelerates

FM Approved products have always been in high demand by commercial and industrial organizations around the world. Along with this demand is the growing reputation of the FM Approvals “diamond” as a symbol of quality and technical integrity in emerging markets worldwide.

“We find that an increasing number of customers are interested in FM Approvals certification because of what the mark signifies in their local markets,” notes Stavrianidis. “Manufacturers in Germany, China, South Korea and India, for instance, are not earning the diamond in order to sell to North America; they are selling to their indigenous markets or surrounding regions. This growing awareness and acceptance of the diamond is increasing the opportunities in those markets for all manufacturers of FM Approved products, no matter where they may be located.”

FM Approvals is working on many different fronts to educate new global markets about the value offered by FM Approvals certification and the use of Approval Standards, particularly where local standards may be nonexistent or weak. Approval Standards have been adopted or incorporated into national standards used in Europe, the Mideast, China, Brazil and other regions. Many corporations, building designers and regulators around the world cite FM Approved products or Approval Standards in construction specifications as providing high levels of quality and property loss protection.

“The approach we have taken around the world has been successful,” observes Rich Ferron, FM Approvals operations vice president and manager of testing and certification services. “We don’t go into a region or join a standards committee and say our standards are the best. We present years of loss history, our research, and show them the results that we’ve achieved through our engineering approach, our standards and our FM Approved products. We explain that they can learn from our experiences and show them that this is how we resolved various loss prevention problems—we address them with our standards, our testing, our certification.”

The view from within

“We’re no longer U.S. or North America-centric,” notes Cindy Frank, assistant vice president and manager of FM Approvals’ building materials group. “We have been able to explain our strategy and what we do to a growing audience of manufacturers around the world who increasingly see the value in our approach and understand the market benefits it offers.”

Jim Marquedant, manager of FM Approvals’ electrical systems group, notes that his team is very busy meeting the needs of multinational manufacturers facing demands for multiple types of certification driven by the different markets they are selling into. “We are truly a global certification provider here in our group.”

He adds that an increasing number of manufacturers are consolidating their electrical product testing and certification programs with FM Approvals. “They want the diamond for the North American market and as a quality mark in other markets around the world. In many cases, they need Canadian certification, and ATEX and IECEx certifications for Europe and other global markets that require them. We can provide our customers with the FM diamond and, if needed, with the additional certifications they need. We can also carry out the necessary surveillance audits required, which typically saves customers time to market and reduces cost over the product’s lifecycle.

“The global recognition of the diamond for the certification of equipment for use in hazardous locations has also given us the tailwind we need to continue to expand our certification capability to support our customers around the world. For instance, last year we received accreditation as a Notified Body to test and certify flame detectors in accordance with EN 54-10 (a European harmonized standard for this type of equipment). EN 54 certification of flame detectors is required for CE marking and is mandatory for manufacturers to sell into the European market. Many of these manufacturers recognized the global acceptance of the diamond in the certification of equipment for use in hazardous locations and asked that we expand our capability to include EN 54 to support their CE marking needs.”

According to Dave Fuller, assistant vice president and new manager of FM Approvals’ fire protection group, one challenge he sees is the need to “sell” the value of fire protection products in regions where it may not be mandated by local codes. “Over the past decade of global expansion, there’s been a focused effort on trying to change attitudes and increase understanding when it comes to the need for fire protection systems. We see positive changes taking place in this respect all around the world. Businesses and other organizations are specifying and using FM Approved products in their bid specifications.”

Regionally speaking

In the Asia-Pacific region, FM Approvals business development manager Abby So sees a growing number of manufacturers in his area embracing the diamond. “Manufacturers throughout Asia-Pacific, including the Middle East and Australia, are seeking FM Approvals certification because they see the value from a business perspective in terms of gaining entry into new markets. We are seeing a growing number of specifications for FM Approved products in Asia—having FM Approved products available locally in these markets is essential. For North American and European manufacturers, this may mean setting up an alternate manufacturing site or regional distribution in a certain area. Working with regulators and local code organizations is important, but it is also critical that these products are made available locally.”

Around-the-clock access to information, project status, personal contact and other services is now essential for global operations. “Eight o’clock to five Eastern Time no longer works in the global business world,” notes Bob Azimi, business development manager for the Americas and former Asia-Pacific manager. “We have made many improvements to better accommodate and support a global operation. We have permanent indigenous staff in offices around the world; we have automated and streamlined our project management practices to make them accessible and useful 24/7; we speak the local language; and we are continuing to translate our standards into the local languages as well.”

FM Approvals has a long-standing history and ongoing influence in the European market. Since 2002, the percentage of FM Approvals customers based in Europe has jumped from 14 percent to 26 percent. “Historically, European manufacturers have sought the diamond to help them gain entry into the North American market,” says Jean-Philippe Roisin, FM Approvals assistant vice president and business development manager for Europe. “In fire protection, roofing, hazardous locations and other markets, it was required by code and/or by our clients. Today, we see the same thing happening among European manufacturers that we see in other regions—they want FM Approvals certification as a mark of quality and to meet bid specifications for all types of local projects.”