Despite pandemic challenges, the market looks healthy for the decorative trim segment.
If you want to understand the staying power of the moulding and trim industry, you’ll need to look far back in time. The ancient Greeks extensively used mouldings to adorn their temples such as the Parthenon, and in fact, two types of Greek S-shaped moulding—the outward-curving “cyma recta” and the inward-curving “cyma reversa”—are still in use today.
Fast forward a few thousand years, and you’ll find an industry that is as vibrant and popular now as it was then. And with access to materials and manufacturing processes that those ancient craftsmen could never imagine, it’s now possible for trim makers to quickly adapt to both market changes and aesthetic shifts in a fraction of the time compared to even just a few decades ago—a good thing, considering the challenges that the industry has faced over the past twelve months.
Growth in the midst of challenges
If the last year will be remembered for anything, it will be for the impact of COVID-19. Beyond the obvious health crisis the virus brought on, it should come as no surprise that the virus also had a profound impact on the building and remodeling industries. “COVID-19 has affected how nearly everyone works,” says Ben Drury, brand manager for Boral Building Products. “But it’s been remarkable to see the industry adjust and take necessary steps to keep customers supplied safely.”
Those adjustments, however, have not happened overnight, and challenges remain. Says Nam Ong, vice president and general manager of AZEK Exteriors, “The sudden slow down, and shut down in some states, of construction from March until May without a doubt caused disruption with the supply/demand balance across the industry. With a strong market pre-COVID, everyone in the supply chain, from manufacturer to contractor, had to re-evaluate their situation and adjust their plans going forward.”
Ian Daniels, director of technical support for Tamlyn, echoes Ong’s thoughts on supply challenges. “The impact has been up and down the supply chain, and while everything has continued to move forward, the pace of things has slowed,” he says. “Suppliers have had some delays as different plants/operations might have been hit with an outbreak, or depending on local response to COVID-19. Some of our fabrication partners have been hit with staffing issues, but some are also seeing an increase in demand.”
Mark Echols, general manager of moulding and millwork for BlueLinx, also sees supply issues continuing for 2021. “COVID-19 has negatively impacted the supply chain for all products,” he says. “Import and domestic mills have struggled to operate efficiently with new social distancing regulations and downtimes related to COVID-19 cases within their plants. Short supply, allocation, and increases in cost are still an everyday challenge.” Despite these upheavals, the trim category is anticipated to have significant growth over the next twelve months—and beyond. “When the pandemic started and the initial shutdowns began, there was definitely disruption to supply chains and a brief dip in the market,” says Peter Cobucci, construction business unit manager for Palram Americas. “After the first few months, however, business had bounced back surprisingly strong, and looks to have a positive growth forecast moving forward.”
Industry statistics seem to agree with Cobucci. According to Research Reports World’s recent report entitled “2020-2025 Global Molding And Trim Market Report – Production And Consumption Professional Analysis (Impact Of Covid-19)”, the global Molding and Trim market is anticipated to rise at a considerable rate during the forecast period, between 2021 and 2025. And according to a recent Bank of America poll about homeowners’ attitudes and shopping habits during coronavirus, more than 70% of those polled indicated they had decided to tackle home improvement projects, with more planned for 2021.
“After a very concerning first half of the year due to COVID, as an industry, we’ve been very fortunate to end up having record levels of demand during the second half of 2020,” says Andres Alarcon, millwork sales director for Arauco North America. “Both the repair and remodel and the new construction segments are driving this demand. We expect these trends to remain in place for at least the first half of next year, allowing the category to possibly grow even above the record levels of 2020.”
Boral’s Drury shares that optimism. “As stay-at-home recommendations stretch through the winter, we expect the surge in demand to remain as homeowners continue to seek to make their homes their sanctuary and buyers scoop up new and existing homes that meet their changing lifestyle needs.
But lead times should continue to improve as manufacturers catch up, and supply challenges should ease.”
Bold colors, clean designs
When it comes to trends for moulding and trim, many of last year’s product drivers remain in play for 2021. Darker trim colors that complement soothing color schemes remain popular, with trim colors in the gray, dark blue and green palettes increasing in popularity along with the ever-classic white and black. “There’s still a strong desire for multi-textured facades as well as contrasting siding and trim colors,” says Drury, “and Boral’s TruExterior Trim and Kleer Lumber trimboards are a perfect fit for those color combinations. TruExterior Trim’s poly-ash technology allows it to be painted any color, including black, so it’s perfect for the white-siding-with-dark trim trend.”
Steve Booz, vice president of marketing and product innovation for Royal Building Products, also sees bold colors remaining a strong player for 2021, but also sees a softening of those hues as compared to last year. “For exteriors, dark colors on home exteriors have been trending for a few years,” he says, “but we are seeing a slight shift in hues. Trends are moving away from charcoals to dark blues. Add bold trim, and you’ve got a home ready for 2021.”
Bold colors aren’t limited to exterior use, however. “We are also seeing homeowners getting creative with their interior trim and moulding and using dark, bold colors like navy blue and dark, rich greens on their interior walls,” Booz points out. “Bold monochrome interior trim, which we saw become popular in 2020, will continue to be popular moving into 2021.”
As well, the popularity of craftsman styles and the “modern farmhouse” look remain in high demand, with profiles that favor a more simplistic aesthetic that embraces simplicity and clean lines. “The biggest trend in millwork (interior or exterior) continues to be Craftsman, which can be seen in both exterior and interior design trends,” says Booz. “Our trim options with clean, bold lines make this a stunning interior feature for any room and a welcome transition from Colonial style trim.”
And like the trends for color and design styles, trim materials seem to be following a similar path as last year. According to “Moulding and Trim in the U.S. by Material, Product, Market and Region, 7th Edition” from Research And Markets, wood will remain the leading moulding and trim material through 2022. Other alternatives, however, are making significant gains, especially due to their ease of installation and low-maintenance qualities.
Engineered wood and PVC are expected to record above average sales gains through 2022. “With many builders and remodelers facing rising costs for wood materials as well as labor shortages, the demand for PVC products continues to increase,” says Royal’s Booz. “PVC trim and moulding products are easy to install and maintain, making them an advantageous product for builders who want to meet consumer demand for a high-end look, within a reasonable timeframe and budget.”
But let’s not forget aluminum. While more common in multifamily/ commercial projects, manufacturers are seeing an increased interest in the use of extruded aluminum trim for single-family and smaller-scale multifamily builds. “This trend had started a little as people have taken the detailing from commercial projects and looked for ways to adapt that to residential, with extruded aluminum as an easy entry for both exterior and interior,” explains Tamlyn’s Ian Daniels. “Still, some of the drive and growth might also be a shift in project trend due to COVID-19, making people reexamine/ shift how and where they want to live. The work-from-home trend that has resulted from COVID-19 we think might also play a factor as we keep going in the next 12 months in the commercial market as to what projects are permitted and brought out of the ground, including some slowdown certain sectors.”
The changing face of the customer
Whether for quarantining, homeschooling children, or working from home, the past year has seen families in record numbers forced to spend increasingly large amounts of time in their houses. A series of consumer surveys by The Farnsworth Group and the Home Improvement Research Institute reveal that, by June of 2020, almost 80% of homeowners reported that they recently started a DIY home maintenance, replacement, repair, or remodeling project.
With the increasing availability of design resources from traditional media as well as online content outlets such as YouTube and Pinterest, homeowners feel more confident than ever when it comes to tackling home improvement projects, and manufacturers agree that the DIY customer needs to be part of any LBM distributor’s business plan. “Home projects surged as socially distancing homeowners spruced up their houses and tackled long-idle to-do lists—particularly for DIY-friendly cosmetic upgrades such as exterior trim,” points out Boral’s Drury.
Royal’s Steve Booz agrees. “We are also seeing growth in this market from homeowners who are venturing into DIY projects at home,” he says. “The sales of our interior trim and moulding products at big-box stores have skyrocketed this year and we expect to see the same sales pattern going into 2021.”
To meet the DIY need, it’s important for LBM dealers to stock product lines that emphasize ease of installation. As AZEK’s Nam Ong points out, “As more consumers look for do-it-yourself options, easy-to-install or reduced installation-time products are helping consumers get their renovations done in a timely manner without having to wait for contractors.”
To succeed, stick to the basics
So with last year’s upheavals in the rear view mirror but with a cautious eye on the road ahead, what can an LBM dealer do to stay on the bleeding edge of the moulding and trim market? According to manufacturers, it’s through sticking to the basics.
For example, lean on and leverage your suppliers and their teams. Take advantage of their training and educational resources and look to them for ideas for increasing product visibility and store foot traffic through on-site training programs or other innovative tools or customer incentives. “It’s really simple,” says Mark Echols, general manager of moulding and millwork for BlueLinx. “Make it easy for your customers to do business with you. Demand should remain strong going into 2021 and those that can ensure an ease of doing business and deliver on time will benefit.”
As well, manufacturers recommend growing your product lines with the additions of items such as nickel gap or shiplap trim boards or trim manufactured from alternative materials so that you can better serve the growing popularity of interior trim projects and the afore-mentioned design trends.
But above all, maintain your knowledge base. “The best thing dealers can do for their customers is to be truly knowledgeable about the products they sell—and even those they don’t sell,” says Boral’s Ben Drury. “This will help ensure they can recommend to contractors the right solution to each project, making them even more valuable to those customers.”
AZEK Exteriors’ Nam Ong agrees. “Being trained and knowledgeable about the differences between materials, form factors, solutions, ease-of-installation and brands can really be helpful to the contractor to win more business and bigger jobs, and for the homeowner to have the best experience with their exterior products.”
Especially if you’re planning on incorporating new products to your inventory, it’s vital to take advantage of training and education programs. As Tamlyn’s Ian Daniels explains as an example, “extruded aluminum as a moulding and trim option is not in every LBM dealer’s wheelhouse, but again it is growing as a solution across several sectors. So the best thing to improve is just knowledge of the material and who can be your to-go product knowledge source.”
“Take manufacturers’ product knowledge classes,” says Palram’s Peter Cobucci. “This is a simple, fast, and socially-distant way for dealers to best acquaint themselves with a wide range of products from manufacturers.”
Virtual training, real education
So how does an LBM dealer stay at the forefront of education in this time of lockdowns and isolation? While every manufacturer interviewed for this story has long offered a wide array of traditional training and educational programs that dealers and their customers could take advantage of, social distancing and remote-working environments have forced manufacturers to become inventive with their training.
“A remote working environment has forced us to think of new ways to keep our teams engaged and up to date on new product opportunities,” says BlueLinx’s Mark Echols. “Throughout the pandemic we have held numerous product knowledge training sessions with our sales leaders and vendors.”
For example, AZEK has launched its virtual AZEK University with live and on-demand training, product installation demonstrations, and best-practices education along with updated AIA and other continuing education courses.
Boral has also implemented live and recorded virtual training sessions on topics that include product knowledge and installation methods. “Customers can reach out to us to tailor our training to meet their specific needs, just as we would in person,” says Boral’s Drury. “While the industry may not be able to meet face-to-face as it usually does, we want to ensure that dealers and contractors feel comfortable selling and installing our products.”
In the case of Royal Building Products, it has launched a dedicated virtual selling microsite, RoyalPros.com, that offers continued education and support to Royal’s pro community of contractors and distributors. The site offers live webinars with product updates and installation techniques, articles on virtual sales techniques and driveway selling, and product videos to support the entire virtual sales process.
As well, Royal Building Products has partnered with One Click Contractor to transform the way home improvement projects are sold. Contractors can run their entire sales process—from measuring to payment—without setting foot in a customer’s home. As Royal’s Booz explains, “By making the transition from paper to digital, contractors can easily deliver an accurate, professional and customized sales process with all of the estimates, contracts and presentations that would typically happen at the customer’s kitchen table. In addition to being fast and efficient, One Click Contractor enables contractors to keep all the important information related to each job in one place, allowing them to focus on doing the job right.”
For LP, it has developed several partnerships and programs designed to use technology to streamline sales efforts. Available to all LP BuildSmart Preferred Contractors, the One Click Contractor tool streamlines a contractor’s entire sales workflow, from integrated measurements and product estimating to closing the job and getting paid all in one system. As well, LP’s SkillBuilder Education and Resource Hub provides builders and other professionals with access to installation tips and ways to improve jobsite efficiency.
And there’s more coming as 2021 unfolds. Tamlyn has continued to expand its estimation/take-off service to aid new LBM dealers with its product line to help them get started, and it will be launching a digital learning course for LBM dealers to educate them about Tamlyn, its products, and how they work to support their dealers.
When taken together, all of these changes and challenges point to an optimistic upcoming year for the moulding and trim industry. Yes, LBM dealers will need to remain agile so that they can quickly adapt how they do business in response to any continued (or even new) restrictions from the continuing health crisis. But by staying atop training and education and by being prepared to meet the anticipated increasing demand for trim products by both pro and DIY customers, dealers will position themselves to reap the greatest gains.
Michael Berger is the former managing editor for HANDY Magazine and has been writing about home improvement and construction for the past 20 years.