Brand Talk: Innovations beyond products

Innovation development by Ply Gem

A Q&A with Lee Clark-Sellers, Innovation Officer, Ply Gem Building Products

Lee Clark-Sellers is the innovation officer at Ply Gem, North America’s leading manufacturer of building products. She has more than 20 years’ experience in research and development and is the leader of Foundation Labs, a Ply Gem entity focused on identifying trends, rapid prototyping and incubation of new ideas.


Q: Please tell our readers about the Ply Gem approach to innovation and product development.
A: Ply Gem has been a leading exterior building products manufacturer for 75 years. Our commitment to design and innovation led to the 2012 formation of Foundation Labs and subsequently the creation of the Ply Gem Insight Center — a facility solely dedicated to new product innovation — located strategically in the heart of Raleigh-Durham’s Research Triangle. The mandate is not just to create, but to do so in a sustainable manner, while evaluating the entire life cycle of each product, from how it’s made and sold to shipped and installed. For example, Foundation Labs produced Ply Gem engineered slate and cedar roofing products, which are made with nearly 100% recycled resins and are extremely durable and weather resistant. These products are currently being installed in several projects nationwide, including a housing development in Naples, Florida, that is recovering from the terrible hurricane season.

Q: How does Ply Gem work with distributors to develop products?
A: We regularly solicit feedback from our distributor customers to develop solutions intended to make their job easier, improve profit margins and enhance relationships with their professional builder and contractor customers. This includes going beyond product development to issues related to packaging and delivery. For example, one packaging solution inspired by distributor insight is our newly expanded Ply Gem cellular PVC trim portfolio, which comes shipped in a laminated film that peels off once the trim is in place so the pieces stay protected and clean. Another example is our weather bag, a polypropylene cover that slides over a wood product crate to protect siding cartons from water and debris while in transit. The productivity of the weather bag allowed trucks to be loaded 30 percent faster, as tarping was no longer required.

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Q: How is Ply Gem addressing the individual needs of dealers and their customers?
A: Distributor and builder needs can be very different at times. For example, we understand that dealers prefer products that can be easily stored and protected during construction; while builders are concerned about worksite waste. Because we recognize builders don’t want to see their jobsite dumpsters filled with tons of packaging materials, we choose materials that are thin, yet strong. Through an incentivized program, we also encourage builders to return palettes to Ply Gem for recycling or re-use.

Ease of transportation and installation are equally important concerns and have been addressed creatively by our window brands. For example, the Inovo Patio Door, a popular option from the Ply Gem Simonton brand, is shipped fully-assembled with reinforced carry handles and can be installed by a professional contractor directly from the box into an opening. We take pride in products and processes such as these that help make Ply Gem a true partner to our dealer and lumberyard customers.

Q: Can you share with our readers a new innovation you’re working on now?
A: At Ply Gem, we focus our research and development efforts on materials that truly add value to a home and building process. We believe every product we produce should deliver longterm improvements to how people live and work.

For example, we are currently researching a smart pod mobile distribution unit in Canada that will monitor inventory in realtime. The product boasts a technology that keeps track of its location, making it easier for dealers to maintain inventory count and improve stocking efficiencies. Additionally, we have recently completed our first-annual Innovation Challenge, inviting all Ply Gem associates to bring forward solutions that address the needs of builders and distributors. We can’t give all our secrets away, but we can tell you the first-place prize went to a team that is developing a prototype of a solution that can make Ply Gem products more accessible and secure at the jobsite.