Opening New Doors for Fiberglass

Manufacturers are working to compete in remodeling and commercial markets
By Franco An, Plastpro Inc.
June 1, 2008
FEATURE ARTICLE | Products, Materials & Components

When one door closes, another door is bound to open—literally. When circumstances change, the key is to adapt. Interestingly, that's exactly what some fiberglass door manufacturers are doing.

After establishing significant market share, as well as providing a level of innovation, quality and value that is unprecedented within the door manufacturing industry, fiberglass manufacturers are adapting to the dramatic slowdown in home construction.

While near-term sales may not be as significant as those driven by new home construction, incremental growth—the kind that will buoy profits until the new home market recovers—can be achieved by pursuing new directions that are focused on remodeling channels.

Despite the downturn, homeowners realize the value of maintaining and improving their properties. That said, they are also looking for ways that will have the most cost effective impact by focusing on replacing worn out materials with well-made, high quality products that increase curb appeal.

Fiberglass manufacturer continue to look for markets that have specific door requirements in terms of styles and settings. In the Southwest, homeowners are asking for rich flavored, rustic doors that are able to endure tremendous heat.

MORE REMODELER-FRIENDLY OPTIONS
Staying competitive as new home construction continues to be sluggish means shifting attention to more "remodeler-friendly" product lines. One trend in this direction that we are beginning to experience is a request for more entry doors-and accompanying products-that can be easily trimmed to fit narrow passages found in older homes. We are actually in the process of developing a door with stiles and rails that allow it to be trimmed up to 2 inches in width or length on the jobsite.

While playing it safe by providing "more of the same" is often the inclination in a down economy, developing and offering new products-like doors that can be easily customized-to meet such market needs may be the better option. Indeed, if a new product has a potential market it can make a significant impact in stimulating sales and keeping a company relevant.

Slow market or not, people want choices. Consequently, fiberglass manufacturers continue to look for markets that have specific door requirements in terms of styles and settings. For example, in the Southwest, homeowners are asking for rich flavored, rustic doors that are able to endure tremendous heat, while in the Northwest there's demand for styles with intricate mouldings and grooves that can handle large amounts of rain and moisture.

Additionally, we are also continuing to appeal to more consumers with expanded glass options, as well as niche door applications such as rounded and radius-top entry doors with customized frames.

The bottom line is that fiberglass door manufacturers can continue to generate growth by staying ahead of the curve with new and innovative designs that meet demand in terms of specific styles and/or settings.

COMMERCIAL CROSSOVER
To date, fiberglass doors are largely thought of in the context of residential use. Their future could instead be in non-residential applications. In fact, the untapped hotel and office markets may be a major area of potential growth for the industry as a whole in the near future.

In the Northwest, there's demand for styles with intricate mouldings and grooves.

Although steel is the current mainstay-thanks to its ability to meet proper fire ratings and safety standards-sophisticated fiberglass technology has allowed for the development of doors that can fulfill such needs and be aesthetically attractive. That said, in addition to meeting necessary ratings and standards for fire safety, manufacturers will need to also address the prevalence of electronic locks. Specifically, doors will need to have both the depth and width to allow locking devices to be properly installed and housed.

THE DEALER PERSPECTIVE
As manufacturers pursue new markets and products to reinvigorate their existing customer base, dealers and distributors th at can adjust will be well served. Keeping pace with the new developments and changes introduced by manufacturers, dealers and distributors keeps existing customers excited and interests new customers as well. Understanding the specific audiences that new products are targeted to, as well as the various nuances of the doors in terms of their usage and installation, is key.

While it's easy to put this responsibility solely on the dealers and distributors, manufacturers must step up to the plate in supporting how their products are marketed. Among other things, there needs to be more in-store training sessions, clear guides and manuals, and regular visits to the manufacturing plants. Additionally, manufacturer's Web sites should have specific sections devoted to dealers, and their sales reps should check with distributors more often to determine what marketing activities are working best in terms of supporting the product.

As the industry evolves and our market shifts, it's imperative that manufacturers and dealers/distributors communicate so they can continue to adapt to the changing landscape. If we do, we'll not only successfully weather this economic downturn, but also create new opportunities that ultimately will allow us to continue to establish additional market share.

Franco An is president of Plastpro Inc., the manufacturer of fiberglass doors and home products based in Livingston, N.J. More information is available at www.plastproinc.com.