Driving Demand for Alternative Materials

Overcoming the barrier of consumer awareness to sell
By Mark Nowotarski, Therma-Tru Doors
February 15, 2007
FEATURE ARTICLE | Materials & Components

Fiberglass entry doors have been on the market since the early ’80s. Particularly in recent years, the category has grown by leaps and bounds thanks to dealers, builders and remodelers who promote the performance benefits of fiberglass to their customers. But while the presence of fiberglass continues to grow faster than traditional materials, consumer awareness of fiberglass remains relatively low. In fact, overcoming this barrier to build consumer awareness and drive demand is a key driver in the future growth of the fiberglass category.

When homeowners begin their search for a new door, they naturally look to install a door made of the material most familiar to them—wood or steel. Not surprisingly, fiberglass is probably not on their radar. However, today, fiberglass makes up approximately 20 percent of the total entry door market, making it probable that homeowners will stumble upon fiberglass at some point during their search. By understanding the consumer and developing strategic communication vehicles that are both consumer-friendly and easy to understand, manufacturers can succeed in reaching the consumer, selling the value of fiberglass and creating demand for their dealers.

MATERIAL MISCONCEPTIONS
In order to understand the misconceptions homeowners may have about fiberglass, we as manufacturers and dealers have to put ourselves in their shoes. From homeowners’ point of view, fiberglass is what their bathtub, shower stall or boat or car body panels are made of—not the front door. In their minds, wood or steel still represent the most logical, tried and true choices that have been around for decades. It probably doesn’t occur to them that today’s fiberglass door options can outlast a steel door without rusting, and replicate the look of real wood without rotting. It is only when they have had the opportunity to learn about the durability, low-maintenance qualities and the energy savings that fiberglass offers that they might be driven to consider or even purchase a fiberglass entry or patio door.

GETTING THE MESSAGE OUT
A crucial step to building awareness and closing more sales is delivering the right information to the consumer when they need it, and making it readily available to them. The investments alternative product manufacturers like Therma-Tru make in improving our communication vehicles such as literature and catalogs, merchandising programs, Web sites and targeted advertising are designed to help inform homeowners at all stages of the purchasing process. We also want to equip our trade customers with the tools to promote the fiberglass story and value of our door systems as clearly as possible.

It’s no secret that today’s consumer spends a lot of time researching before making a major purchase—this is particularly true when buyers are shopping for their homes. Today’s consumer wants the information and the facts, not the hype. As a result, manufacturers should look at revamping literature and resources to better assist the consumer in understanding the benefits of fiberglass entry and patio door systems, and helping them navigate the purchasing process. Our goal as producers of alternative materials end-products is to focus the consumer on the value of our entry and patio door systems and articulate that message. 

  • See for yourself. When it comes to new or unfamiliar purchase options, sometimes seeing is believing. Just like test-driving a new vehicle, consumers will judge alternative materials like fiberglass for themselves when they can see the finished product on display. To support our dealer partners, Therma-Tru offers the “Door Gallery” display program. The “Door Gallery” promotes our full line of fiberglass entry and patio door systems and uses consumer-friendly, easy-to-understand graphics to tell our brand story and sell the advantages of fiberglass.
     
  • Internet education. Because homeowners conduct a substantial portion of their research online, updating our Web site has been essential in building consumer awareness of fiberglass and our product offering. Our Web site has been designed to accommodate the needs of our trade audience as well as enable homeowners to navigate our site more effectively as they conduct their research. To reinforce our communication messages we use graphics that coordinate with those found in our print literature and merchandising displays. The Web site also features our “Door Designer” and “Patio Configurator” virtual design tools so homeowners can become educated on their choices before setting foot into a dealership. We included a “Dealer Locator” tool, which allows users to search for a dealer in their area. The Web site re-design has dramatically increased both our trade and consumer traffic.
     
  • Just the facts. One way we communicate the value of a fiberglass entry or patio door is by demonstrating the impact a new entry or patio door can make on enhancing the curb appeal of a potential customer’s home and its perceived value. Research sponsored by Therma-Tru found that replacing an old entry door with a new premium fiberglass entry system increases the perceived value of a home by as much as $24,000—up to 6 percent of the home’s value. Homeowners are astonished by this statistic. The home’s perceived value is a message they recognize if they’ve considered other major home remodeling projects such as the kitchen or bathroom. 
     
  • Cash Incentives. We as an industry segment also want to communicate the energy efficiency of fiberglass door systems. Not only do they offer five times the insulation of wood, they virtually eliminate air infiltration problems since fiberglass doors don’t swell or shrink. This helps create an energy-efficient envelope for the home, stabilizing the interior temperatures and decreasing energy costs. Some fiberglass doors are Energy Star compliant and NFRC certified, helping homeowners protect the environment through superior energy efficiency. Through the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the IRS is giving up to $500 cash back in 2007 to households and businesses that choose Energy Star-rated products. Money in homeowners’ pockets is certainly a message worth promoting.
     
  • Marketing programs. To sell the value of fiberglass, we want to provide marketing tools to our channel partners so they can help with the selection and purchase process of the homeowner. As mentioned, we support our customers’ efforts by placing our product into independent dealers’ showrooms and display areas. But, we also lend a hand with training, advertising and public relations efforts. Our distributor channel partners often conduct training with trade associates using our training modules, which are designed to equip sales staff with tips for selling and help them understand consumer needs. We provide our customers with ad planning materials and we support them on a broader scale by getting our message out to the masses through strong public relations campaigns such as our “Ugliest Door in America” contest and select advertising targeted to the consumer. 
     
  • National presence. Certainly, the fiberglass message is promoted among the masses through national home improvement retailers. Regardless of where a homeowner eventually purchases, he or she will probably visit a home center to learn more about options available in the marketplace. While not every fiberglass and alternative material manufacturer will sell through national distribution channels, the presence of these materials on the shelves will likely drive some consumers to look beyond traditional materials.
    Our presence at Lowe’s continues to help keep our name in front of the consumer and to educate them on the benefits of fiberglass. We offer an in-stock program as well as a special order program, which is supported by our wholesale distributors.
  • Shifting focus. As the new construction market continues to slow, door and window companies that haven’t focused on selling both to the new construction and remodeling markets will be in for some challenging times. The home improvement market is more than half the total entry and patio door market, so alternative material manufacturers and wholesalers need to look at serving both audiences.
    We think it’s important to focus on both new construction and remodeling with distinct marketing plans and products. In 2007, we are announcing an aggressive new product launch that includes new styles, decorative glass and high-performance systems designed for both the new construction and remodeling market. Our goal with this launch is to give our customers a competitive edge with our products in order to outperform the market. It’s no longer the case that the “alternative” part of the alternative material is enough of a selling point. Buyers want options that go far beyond what material they choose.


 

Mark Nowotarski is the director of marketing/brand management for Therma-Tru Doors. More information about the company and its products is available at www.thermatru.com.