Inventory and the Two-Step
Wood and plastic trim vendors agree on one thing at least: keeping dealers well stocked with a variety of lengths, profiles and design styles is critical to boosting contractor sales. Most— although not all—category suppliers rely on a two-step distribution model to help break bulk and get product regionally close to retailers in an effort to provide just-in-time availability.
Tom Zimmerman is the vice president of sales and marketing for light building products at Boral, a manufacturer of fly-ash and polymer composite trim products. Zimmerman says significant effort needs to be put into developing a supply channel that can deliver value to the market. “We try to partner with leading distributors, people who bring training and innovation to the contractor,” he says. “We use a two-step distributor to break bulk and be a logistics arm, but also the relationship and the reputation they hold at the dealer level is critical to us, as it lends credibility to a new product and helps influence dealers to take a look.”
With dealers spread thin across a wide variety of building material SKUs and seasonal demand also impacting turns, vendors are rethinking how inventory can be better managed across the supply chain to optimize profitability at the dealer level.
“Distributors have been guilty of pushing winter buy programs onto the channel and forcing them to take inventory during the slow months because it eases the production-load capacity to meet demand in the summer months,” explains Shane Short, GM trim at Ply Gem, which is experimenting with a direct, one-step model in Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, and the Carolinas. “We want dealers to hold just enough inventory so they don’t miss a sale. It’s our responsibility to get it to you in a short time frame, and if you’re not getting more turns in the category, then we’re not doing our job.”
|Manufactured from a propriety blend of fly ash and polymers, Boral TruExterior trim offers the authentic appearance of wood with high-performance attributes that address common moisture- and movement-related issues. Available in bead board in addition to a wide variety of profiles and styles, the products are low maintenance, dimensionally stable and resistant to rot and termites.|
Other vendors are going the opposite route to achieve the same effect. Nu-Wood ramped up quickly by following key builders like Drees Homes and Miranda Homes into markets, supplying them with a one-step pro-dealer model. Nu-Wood director of sales Randy Miller says the company is exploring adopting a two-step model to decrease its already short five to seven- day lead times.
“Our lead times are shortened because we are centralized geographically,” says Miller. “As we’ve grown, we’re working towards developing a great two-step program to both break-bulk and have regional stocking that is that much closer to the dealer.”
|Out west, wood rules. In Colorado Springs, Hi-Point Builders outfitted an entire neighborhood using Collins wood trim. The wood composite trim is FSC-certified and available with an EcoGuard borate treatment to deter fungal decay and termite damage while remaining completely safe for pets and children.|
|Dealers can power trim sales by working both interior and exterior applications and selling into popular design trends while emphasizing product performance. Kleer PVC trim and moulding can be fastened with a Cortex screw and plug-system and provides a low maintenance exterior solution where longevity and durability are of primary concern.|
Regardless of model, manufacturers and distributors alike are beginning to bulk up on inventory even as they look to ensure product availability or abbreviated lead times at dealer locations. “Our supply chain is definitely seeing compression. A lot of that happened in the downturn, and of course everything we buy now as consumers we expect to be delivered yesterday,” says Broadfoot. “We carry more inventory today at our plant sites than we ever have in the past, as the inventory has been pushed back up the supply chain, whether it’s trim or softwood lumber or particleboard.”
Ready to Install
Vendors are also assuming a larger role in ensuring product makes it through the supply chain in optimal condition for easy installation. While that involves a lot of traditional education in cooperation with pro dealer partners, some trim makers are experimenting with packaging and laminates to protect product from dirt, scuffing and damage as it makes it way from the plant to the job site.
Ply Gem, for one, has focused on tightening edge seals to prevent trimboard from collecting dust and dirt, and is also applying a peel-away laminate on some profiles that can be removed post installation. “It keeps the product clean throughout the entire process from the manufacturing facility to the wall, and we’ve gotten a really good response on that,” Short says.
Likewise, Kleer offers sub bundles of full-units into smaller two- and four-piece packs that are then bundled into 24- and 36-piece packs and wrapped to prevent them from getting dirty. “It allows dealers to order in smaller pack increments plus it protects the product the entire time in transit and even ending up on a muddy job site, your higher cost trim never gets dirty,” says Kleer product manager Matt Michalski. “The two- and fourpacks are lightweight for easy handling on the job site and the wrapping allows the product to stay in pristine condition right up to installation.”
|Fypon and other makers are constantly broadening the trim and moulding category as market shares grow. Fypon’s new line of polyurethane beams is available in 2′ increments between 8′ and 24′ and can be ordered in four different grains and either a hand-hewn or rough-sawn design profile.|
|Selex brand trim-board is a primed pine board with excellent screw and nail retention properties, the maker says. Radiata Pine and Eucalyptus plantations and all production and millwork facilities are located in Chile.|
Due to its innate workability, wood trim provides contractors with maximum installation flexibility, to the point where even PVC and urethane manufacturers are quick to claim their products handle, cut, and fasten “just like wood.” That said, forest product manufacturers are still experimenting with different profile lengths in an effort to reduce jobsite waste, and say installation education is still important to help improve the performance and longevity of wood products against the elements.
“Wood doesn’t break and on a jobsite it doesn’t have to be masked up,” says Pidlisecky. “It’s easy from an installation standpoint, so even someone new to the industry can cut wood, can adhere wood, can caulk it and seal it easily and it will perform extremely well.” The Collins team agrees, and adds that everyone in the channel could help improve wood product longevity by encouraging homeowners to perform an annual inspection of flashing and caulking to keep trim and moulding in optimum condition.
On the PVC and polyurethane side, manufacturers are also keen to provide ongoing installation training to not only insure superior product performance, but also offer a vendor/ dealer value-add upsell to the contractor community. While PVC trim, for instance, is moisture impervious and can be installed straight to the foundation, thermal changes can stretch the product, and need to be accounted for during installation.
|Proper, easy installation is key to ensure superior product performance of any trim type. Royal Building Products just introduced its New Construction Window Surround that can be pre-assembled without any special tools or pocket screws, and is designed to enable a better fit around the window for faster installation.|
“We’ll always believe in contactor installation education, even after they’ve heard it for the 80th time,” says Sinks. “And as we get further into the Western markets where PVC is still a relatively new product, were still finding the need for a lot more training on proper installation.”
Segmenting Markets, Prevailing Styles
In addition to competing against wood on cost and availability in the Western states, one of the reasons PVC and urethane trim have yet to assume western market share is simple mathematics: the population density just isn’t there beyond major metros like Denver, Boise, Phoenix and the like. Not only does the people factor inhibit large-scale production building, it also limits the volume of the repair-remodel segment where composite trim has gained considerable traction. “Both remodel and new construction are strong with us, but as the population gets sparse, there is simply less trim,” says Michalski.
In addition to targeting new home and remodeling segments with regionally appropriate products, pro dealers looking to boost trim sales can focus on design trends to upsell in and around the entire millwork category by recommending varying widths, machining, fluting, column wraps and extra details.
|Product versatility is helping polyurethane trim manufacturers gain favor with builders and remodelers alike. Nu-Wood trim is available in over 40 SKUs, including the window headers, louver, dentils, and brackets seen here, which can be shipped to dealers within a week.|