In Depth: Windows and doors
This isn’t to say that everything is trending toward post-modernism, as there will always be a demand for window and door styles that are timeless. “We have noticed a huge increase in what I call the transitional segment,” explains Glenview’s Szyszko. “The grandeur and elegance of classically styled doors with a modern twist will always be popular, designs that still fit in the ‘traditional’ mold but with less raised moldings along with a general trend toward a darker color pallet.”
Craftsmanship trumps price
Homeowners and builders alike continue to look for energy efficiency, high performance ratings, and overall craftsmanship. “Our research tells us that homeowners select [a product] based on appearance and price,” says ODL’s Scot Harder, “however, the key benefit to both the contractor and the homeowner comes with how the product performs once it’s installed. If the glass leaks or fogs up, it doesn’t matter if style or price point was selected as a key buying feature—the homeowner will be unhappy and the contractor will be responsible for fixing the problems until the glass is functioning properly.”
Sound transmission characteristics are another growing consideration in residential construction, and builders are seeking out products that carry a higher Sound Transmission Class (STC) rating. “Improved sound control is especially important in urban and suburban homes and buildings near infrastructure such as airports or highways,” explains Ply Gem’s Mark Montgomery. “Our STC glass packages can be configured with STC ratings of up to 35, which reduces outside noise by approximately 40% when compared to single-hung window units with no protection.”
While it’s common sense that purchasers (both builder and homeowner) look for efficiency and performance, it’s often the less obvious, the ephemeral, that steers a builder toward one product and away from another, and dealers need to stand ready to deliver such products. As Marvin’s Kris Hanson explains, “Outside of the common benefits contractors and homeowners should look for in a window or door, they should look for a manufacturer that they can rely on to help navigate options to save them time. In the case of Marvin, we act as a trusted partner and a source of expert resources, whether that’s offering tips to properly install our windows, explaining how to navigate the latest home design trends or offering tips to builders about providing solid counsel to homeowners to help them see their vision come to life.”
Flexibility and understanding on the part of the distributor that there isn’t any single product choice solution is key. At times, purchases will be driven by rapid availability and on-the-spot delivery. Other times, stock won’t cut it, and distributors need to be able to provide custom options that reflect individuality. “What drives the purchasing decision will vary from client to client,” says Glenview’s Szyszko. “Sometimes you need something yesterday, while other times you want something built specifically for you and your family that’s named after your first born. Being able to provide both at affordable pricing gives everyone a choice.”
Of course, warranties will also continue to be a large part of the purchasing decision. Homeowners demand products that will have guaranteed performance, and builders insist on products that give them piece of mind. To meet these desires, distributors need to be well versed in warranty coverage and offer products that are backed by strong coverage.
According to David Perkins, Vice President of North American Residential Marketing for Masonite, “Warranties continue to play the role of providing peace-of-mind to customers. Providing a strong warranty and standing behind it if something does go wrong can be an important factor for customers. It shows a level of quality in the products and services manufacturers produce.”
“The best type of warranty is one that a company will stand behind,” says Marvin’s Hanson. “Any manufacturer can put something on a piece of paper, but it’s important for customers and contractors to know they have a trusted partner they can rely on to follow through.”
Glenview’s Szyszko echoes Hanson’s comments. “There are too many players in our industry that write 10-pluspage warranties that through legal mumbo jumbo create a ‘warranted’ product that can quickly become unwarranted at the discretion of the manufacturer. Creating a ‘get out of jail free card’ puts the builder or distributor in an unpleasant situation. You either take care of your client at your cost or pass the buck to a manufacturer who can point to line 12 on page six and say, ‘You should have done this—no warranty.’ We are big fans of simply written warranties that don’t have multiple outs for the company who provided you the product.”
When it comes to sales, one size does not fit all
Manufacturers agree that there’s a place for the big box store where product choice is mostly driven by price, but it can be a slippery slope if price becomes the driving factor to a dealer. Instead, by stressing true value— product longevity and performance— over base price, along with customization options, contractors and dealers can steer the purchasing discussion away from “lowest price” determination of worth, which in the end can be nothing more than a race to the bottom.
“Dealers are increasingly interested in how to differentiate themselves from the big box stores,” says Doug Cook, Sales and Marketing Manager for Thermo-Tech. “They are trending toward a less price-oriented model for this reason. They are providing more services that are ideally supported on a local level such as print take-offs, timed delivery on needed products at various stages of the construction process, and showrooms better suited for selection of products which can be utilized by the contractor’s clients.”
As Glenview Doors’ Szyszko explains, “Since most of our distribution partners offer more than just windows and doors what happens in your clients’ minds? Let’s say you are 10% more on the volume option; the client automatically asks themselves if you’re then going to be 10% higher on the truss, lumber, or other material that he or she is purchasing? I call this testing your relationship—if it’s good, they let you know, and you eat the difference. What if they don’t? You have now created a situation where they are actively looking at other options. At best you make a little less on the door or window; at worst you have given your client a reason to look elsewhere.”
Instead, manufacturers stress a focus on value, customization, service and reputation. “Now more than ever, homeowners are exposed to design inspiration at every turn,” says Marvin’s Hanson, “and they look for home solutions that will give their space a unique look to match their personal style. Builders and contractors should guide their clients as they begin looking at an existing space in a new way by helping them select products and make design choices that reflect their personalities and lifestyles.”
GlassCraft’s Plummer agrees that customization can be key to sales success. “Our dealer’s customers, be they a home-builder or a home-owner, can customize the door to make it unique and a perfect match for their home,” he says. “Finish color, wrought iron grilles, decorative iron straps, door nails or clavos, glass textures, prehang options, hardware, door width and height are the primary customization options that are in demand.”
It’s not enough, though, to simply push features and benefits. Explaining those product benefits is critical to sales success. As Neuma Doors’ Castro explains, “Our doors are unique because they are designed and tested as a complete system, not a component product; therefore, every feature in our design offers very important benefits. Features such as our dual astragal systems, sill designs, composite jambs and door panels with fiberglass skin and full composite edging all work together to provide superior weather protection.”
A critical tool in that explanation process comes in the form of helping the purchaser see for themselves what the door or window will look like. For example, Masonite offers an online style quiz that makes door selection an easier process for the homeowner. “Today it’s simply not enough to walk in the door with printed catalogs to show,” cautions ProVia’s Wengerd. “To really stand out you need samples, and some kind of online or iPad configuration tool.”
Marvin’s Hanson echoes Wengerd’s comments. “Being able to see and experience the product in person is more important than ever,” he says, “which is why physical showrooms are a great tool for builders and contractors. With all of the information available online, sometimes the best answer is to bring the customer to a showroom or design center where they can touch and feel the windows they’re considering, bringing them off the computer screen and into a physical environment.”
Real and virtual education drive dealer success
If there’s a single sentiment that manufacturers share, it’s that an educated dealer is a successful dealer, someone who stays up-to-date on the latest codes, trends, performance requirements, and even misconceptions. By taking advantage of the various and numerous education resources offered by manufacturers, dealers ensure they stay at the forefront of the industry. “Our dealers are on the front line of sales and marketing to end-use customers,” says Ply Gem’s Montgomery. “They serve as a crucial partner to both us and the trade professionals who choose Ply Gem. To communicate the value our product delivers to both the contractor and the end-use consumer, dealers need to not only cite code and trends, but be able to apply that knowledge.”
To empower their dealers to better communicate value and performance, Ply Gem offers numerous education and training certifications, and it encourages dealers and distributors to utilize these programs to help trade professionals mitigate callbacks and end-user customer complaints down the line.