FIVE QUESTIONS WITH: Julia Fitzgerald, Chief Marketing Officer, CPG International

Julia FitzgeraldJulia Fitzgerald joined CPG in 2015 as Chief Marketing Officer. Fitzgerald joined CPG from Sylvan Learning Centers where she served as Chief Marketing Officer. Fitzgerald holds a bachelor’s degree from The Ohio State University, an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and has been named one of Brand Innovators’ Top 50 Women in Brand Marketing.

1. There’s no shortage of challenges facing LBM dealers. What do you view as their single biggest challenge…and, on the flip side, their single biggest opportunity?

One of the biggest challenges appears to be keeping the dealer staff trained and comfortable with the new products, installation nuances, and general product knowledge. We have found that when dealers can invest the time to attend programs like our CPG University, their staff is more comfortable selling premium performance materials. Having hands-on training is a real game changer.

The biggest opportunity is adopting new digital tools to help the guys at the counter explain and visually demonstrate products. For example, the new AZEK and TimberTech Android apps make it really easy to visualize a project with multiple materials. They blow my mind! And, it is really important that the dealers embrace these new digital technologies because these are the tools that contractors and homeowners are using at home to become better educated about today’s building products. Many times, before anyone steps foot in the dealer yard, a contractor has worked with the homeowner to review, determine, and select their products. The trip to the lumberyard is to answer any last questions and to place the order. Dealer reps who are technologically savvy will have a definite advantage in the future.

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2. What advice would you have for dealers looking to grow their decking business…in 2016 and beyond?

Don’t be afraid to upsell! Homeowners are investing in their entertaining spaces. Be sure to offer them all of the finishing touches that take a deck from functional to WOW! Lighting, unique borders and trim, pergolas, the works. We know that the least price sensitive in the chain is the homeowner. They do not mind making an investment for products that will perform and will make their lives easier. Contractors and dealers who are hesitant to offer a premium product, because they “assume” that a customer will think it is too expensive, are likely missing out on many potential sales. With decking in particular, more homeowners are asking for performance decking. These people understand the long-term benefits of capped composite and capped polymer decking, and they want to invest in a low maintenance entertainment area. My advice is to take advantage of the healthy market—offer many options to the consumer and stock a full range of performance decking. If you cover the price ranges and cover the color options, you may be happy to see that your sales go up because premium options were offered.

3. Given the explosive growth in e-commerce, what advice would you have for LBM dealers to drive traffic and grow sales from their brick-and-mortar stores?

Clicks to bricks is a real trend. If dealers have a good representation on their websites, they can still drive contractors and homeowners to their stores to experience the product first hand—or even same day pick up. The key is to get attention online, but most buyers still want to see and feel products before they make a big investment.

Showrooms and display areas are great ways to draw in contractors and consumers so they can interact with products before they purchase. You may choose to promote your showroom in online advertising and that will help drive even more customers into your store. Just remember that, whether you have space indoors or out for your showroom, the best way to grab attention is to create a total experience for the customer that lets them envision their own outdoor space.

4. Considering the velocity of change in the highly competitive decking industry, do you anticipate a “next big thing”— or continuing improvements to existing products?

For nearly two decades, everyone has expected steady conversion from wood decking to high performance decking materials. In the future, I anticipate an accelerated conversion trend from wood to capped wood composites and capped polymer decking like AZEK.

The reason? Awareness of non-wood alternatives is at an all-time high and, as the housing market continues to rebound, the importance of outdoor living and demand for low maintenance materials will push alternative decking sales into high gear. Now, consider new decking features like realistic colors and textures, as well as a broad range of price points, and performance decking becomes affordable for more homeowners. Lastly, as building codes become more stringent, decking that offers a Class A Flame Spread ratings will fill the need that wood can’t meet in many urban areas as well as WUI areas.

5. July marks your one-year anniversary in the LBM industry. What are your takeaways as the year comes to a close?

It’s exciting to be in a business of builders, craftsmen, and creators. It’s a privilege to work with people who are so passionate about what they do and creating quality dwellings where families create years and years of memories.