Bold colors and clean aesthetics dominate in a growing fenestration market.
When the settlement of Çatal Höyük in Turkey was established in 7,000 B.C., the concept of what we would call a window or door had yet to be imagined. This city of 10,000 people consisted of mud brick homes where the living space was accessed by ladder through a hole in the ceiling. Likewise, these residences for the most part did not have any windows. Instead, that single roof opening also served as the only source of natural light or ventilation—not too comfortable considering that they most likely burned animal dung as a fuel source in the family hearth.
Thank goodness building methods and materials (and cooking fuel) have changed. Rather than being hidden or simply non-existent, doors and windows now are a personal design statement that imparts light, warmth, ventilation, and style to our homes. Doors and windows continue to evolve, while design trends adapt to a world still finding its way through an ever-changing pandemic flux.
Bold colors, larger sizes prevail
The past year was one of dramatic change. As the COVID-19 pandemic forced more and more people to spend significantly increased time at home, homeowners began to reevaluate their living space. As a result, home remodeling began to soar as people looked for ways to better accommodate this new stay-at-home lifestyle. For many, that meant personalizing their homes with bold or unique use of colors. For example, according to popular paint and coating brand PPG, using a single color—particularly black—for exterior walls and windows is a growing trend, creating a moody, modern aesthetic.
“We’re seeing homeowners become more interested in non-traditional colors and finishes on our doors,” says Joe Klink, director of corporate relations for ProVia. “There has been a lot of interest in vibrant shades of blue and deep tones of maroon, and our glazed finishes give doors a rustic, weathered look. We’re also seeing a lot of engagement with our design tool, which allows homeowners to select various styles and colors of our doors, windows, and other products, and see how they look on their home. This lets them feel more involved in the process and can certainly prevent buyer’s remorse!”
Steve Hoffins, vice president of marketing, U.S. Windows, for Ply Gem Residential Solutions (a division of Cornerstone Building Brands) agrees. “We’re also seeing a strong and growing interest in black frame windows used as a design feature in homes. For many, a window isn’t just a view to the outside or a way to let natural light in, but instead they have become a design feature in and of themselves.”
Being a design feature doesn’t necessarily mean going dark, however. It’s about making a personal statement with design choices—avoiding the bland or builder-grade and opting for the unique—and consumers are often just as drawn to a lighter aesthetic to make that statement. “We’re seeing more design elements with clean lines and lighter natural wood tones, and that extends to the entry,” says Donna Contat, director of product management for Therma-Tru. “To help bring that to life, Therma-Tru has launched new walnut-grained doors in our Classic Craft Visionary Collection which look great in our new Prisma-Guard Acorn stain.”
It’s not solely about color, though, when it comes to creating a personalized space. Window and door sizes are increasing as well, with homeowners expressing desires for floor-to-ceiling walls of glass or large sliding or bi-fold doors to bring in more sense of the natural world—a trend that was already on the upswing before the pandemic hit but one that has gained even more recent momentum.
Mike Schweiss, founder and president of Schweiss Doors (a manufacturer of bi-fold and hydraulic doors), says that the company’s designer door sales have experienced exponential growth recently. “Architects and building companies really appreciate our well-engineered doors because architecturally they can be clad with matching siding, glass or decorative exteriors and interiors. As well, another building trend that has really ramped up is the need for very big bifold and hydraulic one-piece doors, some of which exceed 100′ in width and heights up to 60′. We are one of very few door manufacturers able to fill these needs with reliable and safe doors.”
This consumer desire to bring more of the natural world into interior spaces is part of a larger trend called biophilic design. Simply put, biophilic design is a building concept that strives to connect people with the natural environment through the use of space, place conditions, incorporation of natural elements, and the use of building materials that connect people with nature. “As consumers are spending more time in their homes and re-evaluating what is likely their largest investment, there is a desire to bring in more light to connect with the outdoors and add new design elements to their homes,” says Jamison Eige, vice president of retail and OEM sales for ODL, Inc. “We continue to see increasing demand for larger window and door products, which we are addressing by launching larger sizes of Blink Blinds + Glass for patio doors in the coming year.”
Reading customers’ needs
While trends may shift and fenestration technologies evolve, the needs of the customer—builder, contractor and homeowner alike—haven’t changed much over recent years. They all look for products that are reliable, deliver proven performance, are backed by strong warranties, and are on-trend with the market. “Dependable, quality products remain at the forefront of their purchasing decisions,” says Ply Gem’s Hoffins. “As state energy codes and efficiency regulations change, builders are looking to windows and door products as a solution to help them meet these new energy code requirements.”
ODL’s Eige agrees. “In response to changing consumer demands, builders are looking for products that follow design trends and help them to stand out amongst their competitors,” he says. “Energy-efficient products are still very important, however incorporating more glass, ease-of-use, and technological upgrades have become even more important to the consumer.”
But while needs remain the same, it’s how the LBM dealer meets those needs that sets them apart from the competition. And how, exactly, does the successful LBM dealer meet these needs? According to manufacturers, it’s a three-part process of having a great window and door lineup that is easily accessible to the customer, understanding how those products can meet customers’ needs, and then being transparent and communicative through the entire purchase and delivery process.
It starts with showing off your products, says ODL’s Eige, and finding ways to enhance showrooms with products that incorporate the trends and designs consumers are looking for. “Adding windows with colors, or blinds between the glass is one way to help make a showroom stand-out,” he points out. “Additionally, it is very important that dealer sales reps have plenty of samples that highlight features that consumers want. Many builders will need samples and displays that can be used to show consumers. It’s not enough to just have one hand sample and expect for builders to be able to get consumers to upgrade.”
When it comes to product knowledge, it’s vital for LBM dealers to deeply understand customer needs and how their product lineup can meet those needs. As manufacturers point out, dealers should research the brands they carry, those brands’ product specifications, and any unique selling points so that they stand ready to deliver beyond customers’ expectations.
“Dealers should first of all know exactly what their customer’s needs are and explain to them that, depending on the size of door they want, their building will have to be able to handle the door weights and loadings,” explains Mike Schweiss. “Like manufacturers, dealers should never cut back on quality to save money; this is something that could cost more in the end. Dealers should take the time to research a door company, i.e., does the factory deliver its doors on time and in good condition; do they charge exorbitant upfront deposits, and will they stand behind their doors.”
Finally, clear and concise communications can set an LBM dealer apart from the competition. Builders need to know where their orders are in the manufacturing pipeline and when they will be delivered. For the customer, knowing the exact status of a door or window order means less downtime and the ability to complete more jobs in a given timeframe.
“To create a solid customer experience, every touchpoint you have with a customer, at any level, must be transparent and as frictionless as possible. Information and options are now expected, otherwise customers have options to buy elsewhere,” says Ply Gem’s Hoffins. “Transparency, communication and service. We are more able to confidently and accurately tell a customer when their ordered windows will be built and delivered. We created the ‘Track My Truck’ tool that notifies customers when the delivery truck is leaving the manufacturing site, allows them to see precisely where the truck is on its route, and lets the customer know how many scheduled stops the truck has before showing up at their branch.”
Resources shift to virtual experiences
To enable LBM dealers to best provide solutions to their customers, window and door manufacturers have long offered a wide array of training programs. But just as the pandemic has driven changes in product trends, so too has it brought about changes in product training, with more and more resources moving from in-person to online. And while the long-term nature of the pandemic remains to be seen, there’s little doubt from manufacturers that virtual resources will continue to be a vital tool for product knowledge.
For example, in the case of ProVia, it continues to see a strong demand for its Installer Certification Programs. “Installers want to learn new techniques and improve their skills,” explains ProVia’s Klink. “Being trained by the manufacturer adds value, since our trainers know the product so well. Installers find that this honing of their skills can eliminate callbacks and increase customer satisfaction.”
For 2021, Therma-Tru launched its Virtual Experience, an online resource that gives customers the opportunity to explore at their convenience the manufacturer’s product collection and current home design trends. “It’s an interactive and immersive environment with content that participants can access 24/7 from their desktop, laptop or tablet,” says Therma-Tru’s Contat, “and it’s available at thermatru.com/2021virtualexperience.”
Therma-Tru also launched its annual Unlock the Opportunities national sweepstakes for building trade professionals online. The program helps participants stay up-to-date on the latest trends and new products and features daily and weekly prizes. Participants must log into the Therma-Tru Virtual Experience to access the sweepstakes.
As well, Therma-Tru is continuing to offer its Certified Door System Installer program, a program that walks a participant through the proper techniques to correctly install and seal a Therma-Tru door system. “When it comes to door systems, we believe that proper installation is just as important as having the best components,” says Contat. “As a Therma-Tru Certified Door System Installer, you can provide more peace of mind to your customers with our Tru-Defense warranty rider. A Tru-Defense door system installed by a Certified Installer doubles the reimbursement eligibility for the homeowner should an issue arise.”
Likewise, Ply Gem has transitioned its existing in-person training programs to virtual training opportunities. “At Cornerstone Building Brands, we have always believed that training is a critical element of our brand deliverables,” explains Ply Gem’s Hoffins. “In many ways, this training is a primary differentiator and what sets us apart in a fairly non-differentiated market. We continue to evolve our training programs, and even in the recent virtual world, have been very successful.”
Reading the crystal ball
So what, exactly, does the future hold for LBM dealers when it comes to doors and windows? While it may seem odd to admit, the pandemic has brought about tremendous growth for the fenestration industry. Although there have been challenges over the past year, there have also been opportunities, and window and door manufacturers are hopeful that continued growth will be the sustained norm as shifting consumer financial priorities, coupled with an increased interest in home improvement, will likely fuel growth in 2021 and beyond.
“At this time in 2020, there was uncertainty about how the pandemic would affect business,” explains ProVia’s Klink. “As difficult and unpredictable as the past year has been, here at ProVia we have seen a tremendous increase in our business. With more people working from home, not spending money on their commute, not being able to travel or vacation due to restrictions, they’re using that money to make improvements to their home. We expect to see additional growth in 2021, as more homeowners decide to invest in their homes and initiate remodeling projects.”
Ply Gem’s Steve Hoffins echoes Klink’s comments. “Like all industries, our industry has had to deal with the operational challenges, procurement challenges and numerous unknowns that presented themselves in the past year,” he says. “While last year was a pressure test for many, it gave us an opportunity to rise to the occasion and improve our processes, technology and leadership. Macro trends like remote working, investing in home, even how families interact could have a long-standing impact on the construction and fenestration industry overall.”
The long-term effects of COVID-19 is likely to change consumer behavior long into the future, says ODL’s Eige. “Consumers are more willing to consider making major purchases to renovate their homes such as with windows and doors. We have seen consumers willing to pay more for upgrades to these products such as high-performance glass options and light and privacy controls.”
Studies seem to back up manufacturers’ optimism. A recent report from Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies predicts a continued increase in renovation spending throughout 2021, and the National Association of Realtors forsees a 10% increase in existing home sales this year, factors that bode well for LBM sales both for the pro and the homeowner.
While no forecast can be 100% accurate, it seems likely that windows and doors will be a strong, growing component of LBM sales throughout the year, and as Eige theorizes, it bodes well for the building industry as a whole. “Industry growth is very unpredictable right now with factors impacting building products such as Covid uncertainty, unprecedented demand for existing homes, and higher prices on building products. I expect to see building products continue to lead the way for our nations recovery.”
Michael Berger is the former managing editor for HANDY Magazine and has been writing about home improvement and construction for the past 20 years.