There’s something about doors that seem to inspire us, and history is replete with important portals that provide both an aesthetic and a physical purpose. Take for example the Imperial Gate of Hagia Sophia, the cathedral in Istanbul, Turkey, built in the 6th century CE under the direction of Byzantine emperor Justinian I. Constructed from oak rumored to be from Noah’s Ark and hung within a bronze frame, the Imperial Gate (or Emperor Door) was once reserved for use only by the emperor and his procession.
Windows are no less spectacular, as evidenced by Notre Dame Cathedral’s South Rose Window. Over 42′ in diameter, it’s considered to be one of the most beautiful rose windows ever created. Constructed in 1260, the window was a gift from King Saint Louis and contains 84 panes of glass divided into four circles. And while a devastating fire in 2019 destroyed much of Notre Dame itself, the South Rose Window miraculously survived.
While these ancient examples stand as icons, today’s modern doors and windows are just as important, especially to LBM dealers struggling to make sense of what the next 12 months may bring for the fenestration segment. Recent bank failures and continued threats of rising interest rates have many industry experts nervous about what’s to come, and the numbers seem to support those concerns. For example, the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported that for February of 2023 privately-owned housing starts were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,450,000— that’s 18.4% below the rate from the same time last year.
While statistics such as this spark fear in some, others see opportunity. “There are definite signs of new construction slowing, but we anticipate this will not have any significant negative impact on the remodeling segment,” says Phil Wengerd, vice president of market strategies for ProVia. “Despite the rise in interest rates a few months back, consumers are still spending money on their homes. We haven’t seen a negative effect on leads or sales.”
“The current shortage of new housing inventory, however, will eventually necessitate new construction starting back up again,” he points out. “The surge of remodeling projects that occurred while folks were working remotely and not spending money on traveling during the height of COVID-19 has subsided, but home improvement investments are still strong.”
Jennifer Renaud, chief marketing officer for Masonite, also sees potential growth pitfalls, although not ones that aren’t insurmountable. “Through 2023 we expect end-market demand to be lower due to the economic impact of steep inflation and higher mortgage interest rates we have seen over the past year,” she predicts.
“During this period, we believe latent demand in each of our markets will continue to grow as people wait on the sidelines for more predictability in interest rates and housing prices. As economic conditions stabilize, we expect the housing market to return to growth. Factors such as a continuing housing supply deficit, the aging housing stock and elevated home equity should support a rebound to more normalized levels of new home construction and repair/ replace/remodel market growth.”
If a sluggish economy is in the cards for the remainder of 2023, some door and window manufacturers see it as an opportunity for innovation. “Historically, it has been periods of economic downturn when the fenestration industry has shown the greatest propensity to innovate,” explains Jamison Eige, vice president of OEM and retail for ODL, Inc. “When the industry slows, it gives forward-thinking companies an opportunity to add new products, configurations, or features. These innovations will help guide the window and door industry out of the slow-down and ensure that builders and consumers continue to get the best possible products to meet their needs.”
Window and door manufacturers can’t simply assume, however, that growth is a given, as Anthony Matter, vice president of branding and creative for MITER Brands. “With rising interest rates and slowing demand, growth within the window and door industry will be earned in 2023,” he says. “The companies that can deliver the highest-quality products, on-time, accurate, and complete will be the ones to grow. It will be a long, down year for the manufacturers who struggle with quality, lead times, or in-full deliveries.”
Desperately seeking size
When it comes to product demand, one catchphrase seems to ring true this year for doors and windows: bigger is better. Whether it’s with taller or wider dimensions, door and window manufacturers report increasing demand for larger openings and more expansive panes of glass. “In the markets that we serve, taller doors and larger windows continue to be popular with homeowners,” says ProVia’s Wengerd.
Products in today’s homes are trending towards blended styles and connected spaces, Therma-Tru’s brand manager, Lisa Fink-Kennedy, explains. “From modern to casual, design styles are borrowing elements from each other with a focus on simple, compelling style,” she says. “Homeowners are looking for new ways to connect indoor and outdoor spaces, extending the feeling of home beyond four walls.”
Masonite’s Renaud also sees consumer trends leaning towards connecting the sense of nature with everyday living spaces. “According to research prepared exclusively for Masonite, the macro-trends driving home design present a fascinating juxtaposition between a return to glamour and a desire to reconnect with nature and calm the senses,” she points out. “The return to glamour fuses traditional and modern elements, such as a wood front door with ornate panel details and a high-gloss lacquer finish. The desire to connect with nature and find sanctuary can be brought to life through front doors with glass for maximum natural light and a mix of rugged and sleek materials, including natural woods.”
This desire to connect with nature is a concept called biophilic design, a movement that strives to bring the outside in by making use of natural materials along with larger windows and doors to create a sense of unity with the natural world. (You’ll find more about biophilic design on page 26 of this issue.)
Of course, the use of larger glass to achieve that connection brings unique challenges, and manufacturers are actively developing products to meet those specialized needs. “Consumers are looking for larger glass products with more viewing area,” says ODL’s Eige. “This has ushered in a greater need for new solutions to control light and privacy. ODL continues to meet that need with larger sizes of Blink Blinds + Glass, including a soon-to-be released Blink XL unit that will be available in sizes up to an 8′ x 8′ patio door configuration.”
Green is the new black
Since long before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched the ENERGY STAR program in 1992, energy efficiency for windows and doors has been a driving force in product development. That demand for energy-saving products has only increased over the years—especially in the wake of COVID-19 forcing homeowners to spend increasingly large amounts of time in their homes— and door and window manufacturers are taking note.
“Energy efficiency is one of the primary reasons homeowners replace their windows,” MITER Brands’ Matter comments. “With the latest round of tax rebates, you can expect to see more homeowners upgrade their windows and doors for the tax benefits as well as the energy-efficient enhancements they’ll experience.”
Masonite’s Renaud references her company’s research that shows energy efficiency as a key consumer need and purchasing decision. “Offering homeowners more energy-efficient door solutions helps them maintain a comfortable environment in their homes and reduces energy waste,” she says.
Energy efficiency is just one factor of sustainable design, a consumer trend manufacturers and other industry experts say smart LBM dealers should position themselves to be able to capitalize on. According to the National Association of Homebuilders, homebuyers will pay more for sustainable features like energy-efficient windows, and in its recent “Global Sustainability Study 2021” conducted by global strategy and pricing consultancy Simon-Kucher and Partners, it reported more than 34% of the population on average is willing to pay more for sustainable products or services, and those willing to pay more would accept a 25% premium on average.
“Fenestration manufacturers are looking to incorporate more sustainable composite materials, and continue to be leaders in recycling materials found in window and door extrusions and frames,” says ODL’s Eige. “The term is widely discussed nowadays, but to incorporate sustainability successfully, companies must tailor their efforts to be relevant, realistic, and authentic to their product.”
Sustainability is a key factor in the purchase decision process for entry doors, says Therma-Tru’s Fink-Kennedy. “Therma-Tru is committed to making safe and sustainable products, and leaving a positive, lasting impact on the environment. Most of our scrap lite frame material is reused to make new lite frames, and leftover material cut out of the door for glass inserts is reused as insulation for barns, animal shelters, utility buildings and more.”
Supply chain success
It’s one thing to know what doors and windows customers want, it’s another to be able to provide them in a timely fashion, and supply chain issues have wreaked havoc on product availability since the global pandemic began. According to the White House in July of 2021, roughly 60% of the construction segment reported significant supplier delays. Sadly, some of those problems continue to linger, and LBM dealers need to be prepared to deal with them.
“LBM dealers have been experiencing challenges with labor and their supply chain, and I expect that to continue in the near future,” says ODL’s Eige. “Keeping adequate inventory while not tying up too much money in stock will continue to be a challenge. LBM dealers who more accurately forecast their business will have a competitive advantage in this new environment.”
MITER Brands’ Anthony Matter also shares a similar opinion. “Supply chain challenges and product availability are not as prevalent as they were during the height of the pandemic, but issues still exist for some parts and pieces,” Matter points out. “These challenges are most common among smaller, regionally focused manufacturers who don’t have the same level of resources that larger manufacturers have.”
Some experts, however, see a bright spot, pointing out how those supply chain pitfalls actually led to manufacturing improvements. “I believe whatever challenges dealers may face in the near future are manageable compared to those in the past few years,” ProVia’s Wengerd says. “The pandemic and economic consequences gave manufacturers and dealers an opportunity to create a new normal in terms of dealing with product and supply chain issues and lead times. Those challenges gave us all an opportunity to become better at what we were doing.”
It’s a business model that stresses being resilient and able to adapt to changing conditions, a philosophy that door and window manufacturers suggest LBM dealers use for success. “What you improvised during those challenging times, the solutions you found and the resiliency you developed, should be integrated into your process,” Wengerd recommends. “We couldn’t have predicted the business disruptions and repercussions that the pandemic created. Forecasting and planning ahead for unknown adversities must be implemented into your business plan.”
Developing that resiliency comes in part from closely analyzing how you’re merchandising your product offerings, say manufacturers. “I recommend taking time quarterly to walk through their own doors (both physically and digitally) to examine the signage, showroom, and resources made available to their customer base,” suggests ODL’s Eige. “Do your assets impart the look and feel you want to attract the customers you need? Keeping things fresh and offering new innovations and resources will trigger your builders to look to you as an industry leader who helps them stand out and succeed.”
As well, door and window manufacturers recommend LBM dealers build strong, open lines of communication with suppliers and manufacturers to help maintain that resiliency. “LBM dealers should maintain steady contact with their window and door suppliers to ensure there are no surprises,” says MITER Brands’ Matter. “The better-prepared manufacturers are for changes or spikes in demand, the less likely supply chain challenges will arise.”
Feed the brain
That aforementioned needed preparation comes in part, say manufacturers, from taking advantage of product knowledge programs they offer, and successful LBM dealers will avail themselves of as much product knowledge as possible in order to be the best resource for their customers.
For example, Therma-Tru’s Virtual Experience is an interactive online portal that allows trade professionals to experience the latest on-trend Therma-Tru products in an immersive virtual environment. The Virtual Experience coordinates with the company’s Keys 2 Success program, which helps trade professionals stay updated on their knowledge of Therma-Tru’s new and existing products while earning entries to win prizes for their participation.
ODL has developed training modules called Blink University for its Blink Blinds + Glass product. These videos, which can be found on YouTube, tackle the most common questions while helping dealers become better sales representatives for ODL’s products.
For Masonite, it is presenting a series of webinars and on-demand online training to educate its dealers about Masonite products and solutions. “Most recently, we held a series of three sessions on the Masonite Performance Door System, its features and benefits, and how to market it to builders and consumers,” Renaud explains. “Future sessions will focus on Masonite M-Pwr Smart Doors and the evolution of smart home technology.”
ProVia is expanding its Installer Certification Program by increasing the number of training sessions and broadening the scope of training. “We continue to create more short instructional videos for training and on the jobsite,” says Wengerd. “We’ve also implemented using QR codes on our packaging boxes; installers can scan the code and link to a PDF with instructions.”
And while not a training program per se, MITER Brands recently added a training and event manager to its marketing team whose primary role is to develop and execute training programs. “Over the next several months and years, we plan to build out a comprehensive training curriculum that will be delivered in-person, online, and on-demand,” adds Matter.
While nothing is a given, when taken as a whole, insights from door and window manufacturers seem to suggest a positive—if somewhat cautious—optimism. Improvements in the supply chain, coupled with a potential uptick in new housing starts as the year progresses, all spell potential wins for LBM dealers who take the time to innovate and educate while seeking new ways to do business. “We know what normal used to look like; now we need to take what we’ve learned and create a new normal,” stresses ProVia’s Wengerd. “We can’t go back to the pre-pandemic way of doing business, expecting to just coast. When life is smooth, you don’t plan, you just live, and that can be a dangerous way to function in business.”