James S. Metcalf is chairman of the board and CEO of Cornerstone Building Brands—the newly merged NCI Building Systems and Ply Gem. He also serves on the Board of Directors of Tenneco Inc., the National Association of Manufacturers and the Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies.
Q: With new construction and residential remodeling still strong in many markets, what do you see as the biggest opportunity for LBM dealers?
A: Companies across the building and construction supply chain, including LBM dealers, are navigating a significant labor shortage. It is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive to attract and retain talent, both for current staffing needs and for the next generation of the workforce. To help our customers face this challenge, we are focused on making products that are easier to install, which ultimately helps dealers make the most of their limited resources. We’ve invested in inventory tracking software, just-in-time delivery options and other technologies to help dealers streamline the ordering process. Our training and certification programs enhance our distribution partners’ capacity to support their customers by providing information about our product portfolio and best practices for installation. And we partner with the National Association of Manufacturers to participate in programs that aim to expose veterans, students and other talent pools to career opportunities within our facilities and the industry.
Q: Looking ahead, what’s the biggest opportunity?
A: Technological advancements including automation and digital quoting platforms enable dealers to increase productivity, maximize efficiency, and deploy their limited labor resources against other strategic areas of their businesses. As a leading building products manufacturer, we know products are the primary driver of sales. That said, investments we make in manufacturing process automation benefit our dealer partners by ensuring accuracy and consistency across our product portfolio while reducing manufacturing costs.
Q: What advice do you have for dealers as they navigate disruptions like uncertainty with trade and tariffs, and the possibility of an economic slowdown?
A: In times of economic uncertainty, dealers need to understand local market dynamics to ensure supply meets demand in the geographies they serve. Dealers can work closely with their product manufacturers to ensure supply chains remain undisrupted, focusing on supplier redundancy and near-shoring production where applicable. To remain nimble and focused on service, dealers can evaluate the cost structure of both the products and services they offer. This awareness can help them identify differentiators that provide the most value to customers.
Q: From your perspective, what are the biggest changes happening in the world of exterior building products?
A: Builders continue to focus on offering affordable housing options to meet market demands. And the exterior building products supply chain continues to aim to reduce the costs of their products and associated services while adding value. Products used across the exterior envelope can contribute to the overall affordability of a house when they are durable, high performance and low maintenance. Long-lasting, affordable options including vinyl windows, PVC trim, and vinyl siding continue to gain popularity because they require little to no maintenance while offering variety across colors and design details. We conduct research to understand the functionality homeowners desire, which include features that maximize energy efficiency, minimize noise and contribute to smart, automated homes.
Q: When Ply Gem and NCI Building Systems merged to become Cornerstone Building Brands last November, it created the largest manufacturer of exterior building products in North America. What does that mean for our readers?
A: We formed Cornerstone Building Brands with a greater purpose to positively contribute to communities we serve through our expanded footprint. Understanding that our building products are the cornerstone of these communities, we now have a broader product portfolio that is essential to both residential and commercial markets. We are relentlessly committed to our customers and to creating quality building solutions that enable communities to grow and thrive. As an integrated company, we’re serving our customers and communities across North America as the trusted leader in windows, vinyl siding, insulated metal panels, metal roofing and wall systems and metal accessories. Our ability to serve as a one-stop shop for customers and to provide our expanded product portfolio across the commercial and residential categories adds real value to dealers.