IN DEPTH: TRIM AND MOULDING
One could argue there’s no better way to make an architectural statement than with moulding and trimwork. Take for example the famous Amber Room. Given as a gift in 1716 by the King of Prussia, Frederick William I, to Russia’s Tsar, Peter the Great, and eventually installed in the Catherine Palace, the 180 square-foot room was constructed from six tons of amber and other semi-precious stones. The amber wall panels were backed with gold leaf, and historians estimate that, at the time, the room was worth $142 million. Sadly (and rather mysteriously), the room was dismantled and stolen by Nazi forces in WWII and has never been seen again.
While such opulent materials are far out of reach for most, trim and moulding nevertheless remain mainstays of architectural individuality, so much so that the U.S. trim and moulding market is predicted by some sources to grow by more than $3 billion by 2026. And while that statistic appears to hold the promise of growth, trim and moulding manufacturers say LBM dealers need to put plans into place today to ensure that the promise of future profits bears fruit.
Cautious optimism holds sway
When compared to the last two years, the construction market forecast bodes significant differences. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, housing starts in the U.S. declined 4.2% month-over-month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 1.425 million in October of 2022, after falling by a downwardly revised 1.3% in September, and compared to market forecasts of 1.41 million. Single-family housing starts dropped 6.1% to a rate of 855,000 while the rate for units in buildings with five units or more decreased 0.5% to 556,000. Compared to October 2021, housing starts fell 8.8%.
Still, the numbers don’t tell the entire story. While housing starts may be down, manufacturers see the potential for significant wins in other sectors. “I expect the repair and remodel sector to grow in the coming year, even in the case of a potential dip at the beginning of the year,” says Cameron Bailey, Sr., corporate brand manager of siding for LP Building Solutions. “Trim and moulding are important products in those segments, so when they’re strong the need for trim and moulding tends to be as well. All in all, I predict that the segment has room to grow in the next year.”
Other industry experts agree that the repair and remodel segment holds potential. “In 2022, the housing market experienced record-low inventory mixed with higher prices and mortgage rates,” explains Steve Booz, vice president of marketing for Westlake Royal Building Products. “The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage broke 7% for the first time since April 2002, causing many consumers to put a pause on their home buying process. Instead, some homeowners began shifting their focus to improving their current homes versus buying a new one. So while there may be less demand for home buying or home building, we expect remodeling activity to continue into the next year, albeit at a slower rate.”
Alternatives gain ground
While manufacturers seem to share a cautious optimism when it comes to growth, some suggest that alternative materials may lead in sales. PVC, polymer, aluminum, and other non-wood options are growing in demand, and they offer the LBM dealer additional options for their product portfolio.
“Due to shortages of skilled laborers and supply chain instability, builders and contractors are increasingly willing to substitute materials that are easy to install, more accessible and cost-effective,” says Booz. “We’ll likely see the popularity of alternative materials like PVC trim products to continue into 2023. As beautiful, sustainable alternatives to wood, interior and exterior PVC trim and mouldings products are ideal for building pros and DIYers who appreciate clean installs, little maintenance and high-end design.”
“One of the most appealing benefits about PVC trim is that maintenance costs and efforts are low,” Booz goes on to explain. “Unlike traditional wood millwork, which needs to be painted or repaired every couple of years due to cracking, splitting, or warping, PVC millwork needs almost no attention after the initial installation and painting. With products like Celect PVC trim, Spec Series trim, TruExterior poly-ash trim and Kleer PVC that offer the authentic look and similar workability as wood, homeowners can focus on design without worrying about the issues and hassles that come with wood.”
Booz isn’t the only one predicting growth in PVC products. Rick Kapres, vice president of sales and marketing for Versatex Building Products, also sees rising demand for the low-maintenance material, predicting PVC will continue to take share away from traditional materials such as wood. “Even if the overall demand weakens some, we are confident that the category shift to low-maintenance exterior building products like ours will continue,” he says. “Furthermore, we expect the repair and remodel segment, which is a large part of our business to be strong even if new construction slows.”
Dan Gibbons, director of marketing for Azek, agrees with the growth potential for alternative trim products, especially due to their low-maintenance properties and overall resiliency. “Since standard materials absorb water that leads to cracking, splitting and hidden damage due to constant exposure to rain, wind, and water pooling at the ground, repairs are inevitable,” he says. “Unlike typical materials, Azek products are made from state-of-the-art proprietary engineered polymer that does not absorb water like porous materials and is completely rot-resistant inside and out.”
Like PVC, the use of aluminum trim is also on the rise, delivering decreased exterior maintenance. As Dana Madden, vice president of marketing for Tamlyn explains, “Aluminum trims are being utilized on single-family homes outside of metro areas. This means national home builders are seeing the value that Tamlyn brings. From a non-compressible WRB that can achieve a 25 year warranty to aluminum trims that decrease maintenance on the exterior Tamlyn is making big waves in all facets of the building industry.”
And it’s far from a static product world, with more options than ever available to LBM dealers. “The building materials space is ripe for innovation, and products like Acre are systematically changing the industry,” says Kim Guimond, chief marketing officer for Modern Mill, a manufacturer of trim boards made from upcycled rice hulls. “In the beginning, wood offered beauty and easy workability. Then, PVC and composites introduced durability and low maintenance. Now, Acre offers the performance of alternatives while bringing back the same warmth and workability as real wood.”
Styles stay the course
When compared to the last few years, aesthetic trends in trim and moulding seem to be holding a steady course, with modern farmhouse styles along with darker color palettes continuing to hold sway. “Due in part to the on-going popularity of modern farmhouse styles, board-and-batten siding brings both charm and a modern edge, allowing some traditional designs to lean a bit more contemporary and fresh,” says Westlake Royal’s Booz. “For styles calling for wider or customized spacing than a panel product can provide, it’s easy to create the board-and-batten look with trim, such as TruExterior poly-ash trim, which provides the look of wood alongside high performance and dimensional stability to stand up to extreme weather, ground contact, and insects.”
“We’re also continuing to see interest in dark exteriors, including trim and mouldings,” he continues. “Colors such as navy blue, olive green, dark brown and charcoal, as well as black and white color palettes continue to trend. These deep, saturated hues have the ability to make a house stand out and look more surprising and modern. For accenting, trim within the same color family continues to be a popular trend. For example, dark gray siding with gray trim.
LP’s Cameron Bailey agrees. “Board and batten style continues to be a strong trend for homeowners seeking a sleek, trendy farmhouse style. Homeowners are also looking for more choices when it comes to color. There’s momentum behind shades of blues and grays because they tend to be timeless, safe choices. But then you also have homeowners who want a different look and might choose bolder colors.”
Dark, bold colors aren’t the only on-trend hues, manufacturers point out. Consumers are showing growing interest in nature-inspired, earthy tones. “We’ll continue to see an interest in warm neutrals, such as shades of dark brown, caramel/tan and off-white, that brings comfort and warmth,” says Booz. “Various shades of red and blush will be increasingly popular, providing a greater sense of self-expression in 2023. These warmer earth tones are versatile, working seamlessly with just about any design or architectural style of home. Pair warm neutral exteriors with white trim for a classic look or opt for colored trim for a bolder statement.”
Relationships build profits
When faced with labor shortages that continue to impact both product availability and jobsite delivery, production capacity, the before-mentioned slowdown in housing starts, and the threat of an oncoming recession, it’s small wonder LBM dealers may be feeling a bit shaky when it comes to being able to fulfill their customers’ orders. “Builders are dealing with a number of external challenges, from labor constraints to delays in the supply chain,” points out Westlake Royal’s Booz. “Product availability issues, which took root in 2021 and continued into 2022, may still be an obstacle in 2023. Builders will have to make decisions about how to complete projects that are halted due to delayed materials and thus costing them money.”
What all this means is that LBM dealers need to put into place today strategies to not only provide product in a timely fashion, but be able to offer alternatives when a given trim product may not be available. “With builders now, more than ever, willing to switch companies/brands or try new substitutions for desired materials, there are opportunities for building product manufacturers who are capable of filling those gaps,” says Booz.
For example, being able to effectively explain a premium product’s benefits such as ease and speed of installation can make the difference between providing product versus losing the sale altogether. “From a labor perspective, time is money,” says LP’s Bailey. “That means efficiency on a jobsite is paramount. This makes it important for LBM dealers to carry products that save time and labor onsite. For example, one study by RS Means found that LP SmartSide Trim and Lap siding installs 30% faster than fiber cement trim and lap siding. COVID-19 highlighted labor constraints in the building industry, underscoring the need to find solutions and products that help alleviate some of that pressure.”
Being able to follow through on these strategies hinges on effective communication, say manufacturers, both between the LBM dealer and its customers, and more importantly, with the manufacturer. “Make sure you know the manufacturer you are working with regarding lead times and supply issues,” recommends Versatex’s Kapres. “We love when dealers come to the plant and see how we do things the Versatex way, as they depart with great confidence in our ability to service them.”
Relationship development that enables effective communication is critical, says Brett Collins, business manager for UFP-Edge. “Establish and grow relationships with customers and suppliers, and continue to educate the customer with alternative solutions that bring equal or better performance and value to the project.”
“Partner with your regional distributors who tend to have a good sense of how to support dealers and their unique market conditions in each region,” recommends Modern Mill’s Guimond. “These distributors also have close relationships with manufacturers to ensure their customers stay supplied and competitive.”
It’s through these relationships that the successful LBM dealer will be able to best communicate with its customers, Booz points out. “Because they’re on the front lines with customers, dealers must be able to deliver clear, transparent information about product availability, cost and potential delays. Make sure the latest supply information is up-to-date on websites and portals as well. This level of communication has become especially critical in light of the current supply chain conditions.”
Knowledge resources on the rise
One of the most effective ways to build these aforementioned relationships, say manufacturers, is through education. By taking advantage of the many product knowledge resources that trim and moulding makers offer, LBM dealers can serve as go-to resources themselves for their customers.
For example, in the case of LP Building Solutions, its online LP Skillbuilder platform serves as a resource for product trends along with installation tips and tricks, plus building professionals who enroll in LP Remodelers Edge can access exclusive content, marketing tools, homeowner client leads and other rewards.
Westlake Royal Building Products’ Home-Play, Virtual Remodeler, and Trim Visualizer tools can help builders and homeowners see what products will look like on home designs by allowing users to preview a variety of trim and moulding options, along with other exterior elements, to virtually customize a home.
In the case of Versatex, it offers an in-depth two-day plant training program called Versstexpert. “This is an in-depth, hands-on classroom and plant tour program that all our top dealers take advantage of,” says Kapres. “With so many products, there is no way a dealer salesperson can be an expert on all of them, so we ask they send one or two people to our program and make them their Versatexperts. They are becoming an all-knowing lead source for them on all things Versatex.”
Azek has a variety of online education options including trim installation videos, live training videos with step-by-step installation instructions, painting resources to aid in following Azek painting guidelines and recommended color lists, and its new Azek Exteriors digital learning center (at azeklearning.com). “This is a singular, comprehensive digital location that houses our installation resources,” explains Azek’s Gibbons. “New installers, distributor reps, dealers’ showroom staff and more can find installation and product information via videos, install guides, interactive learning modules, and other educational courses. When adopting a new building material, not understanding the subtle differences can lead to callback or errors. This will serve as another resource to help educate our installers and customers toward the right technique and standards to avoid future call backs.”
UFP-Edge offers an AIA course entitled “Real Wood Building Materials as Primed/PreFinished Options,” while Modern Mill has launched a new AIA course with two green build credits available to help our community consider ways to scale biophilic design, along with online training videos and a woodworker in residence who is available for consultations, product knowledge, and events.
While it can be easy for LBM dealers to feel concerned by today’s market, especially in light of the Federal Reserve raising its benchmark interest rate and continued worries of a recession, there’s many signs that 2023 has the potential to be a strong one when it comes to trim and moulding sales. As product availability eases and manufacturers ramp up production, LBM dealers can expect to see increased profits and better days when it comes to getting product to their customers. Even more importantly, LBM dealers should remember they’re not alone. Trim and moulding manufacturers are eager to help their dealer partners. And while they can’t aid in locating the long-lost Amber Room, the treasures they can unearth come in the form of tangible profits and enhanced product support for dealer and installer alike.