Matt Sherstad is the founder and CEO of Garland, Texas-based Fortress Building Products, which is comprised of four subsidiaries: Fortress Railing Products, Fortress Fence Products, OZCO Building Products and its newest business, Fortress Deck.
Q: With new construction and residential remodeling still strong in many markets, what do you see as the biggest opportunity for LBM dealers?
A: In recent decades, alternative decking and alternative railings have changed the decking category. What hasn’t changed in North America is where the next big opportunity exists—deck framing. Elsewhere in the world, in- stalling a higher value alternative deck on a wood frame is considered irresponsible—or even negligent if advised by the LBM dealer or contractor. Instead, they use specially designed steel framing systems.
Why has North America been slow to adopt alternative framing? Our research showed that a primary reason was that no one had ever presented a complete steel framing system specifically designed for deck builders. We believe this major component of deck building is about to under- go a significant change solving many current issues in the deck market including the lack of full deck warranties, “wavy” deck boards, call backs, labor shortages, limited spans, underdeck living space, and the dreaded deck collapse. Knowledgeable LBM dealers who offer steel framing systems are going to have a substantial growth opportunity for years to come.
Q: The flipside of that question, the biggest challenge?
A: LBM dealers have a very tough job. For every deck package sold, they’re responsible for sourcing key components from a long list of supply options, then explaining all of the related features, benefits, pricing, etc. before allowing the customer to custom select each component. Whether it’s decking, railing, framing, fasteners, lighting, or post caps, the LBM dealer has to evaluate countless warranties, performance attributes, code testing, features, benefits, pricing, incentive programs, availability, suppliers, and more. Then the LBM dealer and deck con- tractor bring everything together. Should issues arise, they are often the ones sorting through the mess of vendors, policies, warranties, etc. We believe that selling a “total deck solution” (frame, deck, railing, fasteners, post caps, lighting, etc.) from a single manufacturer is not just a better way, but the future of the industry.
Q: Do you see continued growth for the decking and railing markets?
A: Absolutely—from both new construction and remodeling. The deck and outdoor living areas continue to be an entertainment and family area that people are investing in. Millennials and other new homeowners also see value in outdoor spaces. Another major industry change we foresee is inspections on existing decks. For the industry’s sake and, especially, the safety of the people enjoying their decks, deck inspection is an area that must advance. The number of existing deck structures that were constructed at a substandard level or have deteriorated to an unsafe condition is unfathomable. The scariest thing is that many of these decks are used daily by people who have no idea of the safety issue. Once this problem is addressed there will be a massive wave of work for our industry.
Q: In your view, which product category offers the most potential upside: deck boards, railing or deck framing?
A: Definitely framing. It is all growing, and the “total deck solution” will drive growth in all areas, but framing has a completely different trajectory as an individual component. We see this as a major market disruption in the decking category. In the not too distant future, LBM dealers in North America could and should expect to sell a steel framing package with virtually every composite, PVC, or hardwood deck. For LBM dealers, this creates an upfront opportunity for differentiation and massive growth— likely even greater than what they experienced from alternative decking.
Q: What separates LBM dealers who sell a tremendous amount of decking products from the rest?
A:Those who sell the most have numerous advantages. They buy right and stock the products their customers need while also introducing a few new things yearly. They‘re the most committed to properly displaying products and educating their staff. They provide the most complete package—a full portfolio of decking and railing solutions inclusive of fasteners, post caps, lighting, accessories, etc. What we suspect will soon separate those who are really invested in the decking category and those who simply offer decking is the presence of a steel framing solution. If a customer cannot purchase their decking, railing, and framing at the same location, they are likely to seek a more deck-focused LBM dealer who offers a total solution.