Value and Flexibility Top Dealer Priorities

Evaluating window lines at the retail level
Christina Lewellen
August 1, 2011
FEATURE ARTICLE | Channels, Markets & Trends

Window and door manufacturers are introducing an increasing array of decorative options and performance upgrades to meet consumers’ increasing demands and differentiate their product lines. In this competitive market, however, dealers are taking the time to look beyond the hype of a new product to evaluate its value on a number of fronts.

With new lines promising increased U-values, new color options and more hardware choices, dealers remain meticulous when it comes to evaluating whether or not to add a window or door to their line-up.  “There’s a ton of new stuff coming out, and we’ll be the first to tell our customers if the jury is still out on something,” says Bill Ruff, president of Laurence Smith Window & Door, a dealer based in Bay City, Mich. “What we try to look at [in new products] is whether it’s practical, been proven and does it add legitimate value."

  

 Kim Wayland of Windows Plus, a Northern Virginia-based dealer, says customers are looking for windows in which upgrades come standard. Nicer features for a baseline price makes it an easy decision to introduce a new product to the company's offerings, she notes.

Given current market conditions, it may not come as a surprise that dealers are stressing the importance of value. “Having been in business for 27 years, there were times when price didn’t mean as much as it does now,” says David Sakin, president of Premier Window & Building, a dealer serving Maryland and Virginia. “In 2011, [buyers] are interested in energy efficiency and price."

Instead of products that tout extensive available upgrades, many dealers seek lines in which some of the newly-introduced “extras” come as standard. According to Kim Wayland, director of marketing and operations for Windows Plus, a dealer serving the Northern Virginia area, today’s cost-conscious consumer connects with the idea of receiving a better-performing glass package and nicer looking hardware for the baseline price. “If people want upgrades, any window and door company can get upgrades for most anything,” she points out. “But if there are high enough grades for the standard offerings, then it won’t matter. Buyers like that you can get the best of what’s out there without paying extra.”
“A spot on the sales floor is earned by being what customers desire and need,” says Charles L. Smith, CEO of True Home Value Inc., a Louisville, Ky.-based manufacturer with a company-owned network of dealerships. “However, in many cases, they are not sure what they are looking for. Consumers may desire a self-cleaning window but if the price is tripled, they won’t buy it. The desire must be coupled with the need so the purchase is justifiable in a fiscally-responsible way.”
Offering a value-added standard product is among the best ways manufacturers can ensure their spot on crowded showroom floors and in time-sensitive homeowner presentations, Wayland asserts. She points to a new, more stylish handle that a manufacturer has added to a sliding glass door model that her firm offers. “ We don’t need an upgrade because the nicer option is already there. You see it in glass packs too.”
ENERGY EFFICIENCY
Glass packs are of particular interest these days, dealers suggest, given recent tax incentives which have taken consumer awareness and self-education to a previously unseen level. “A few years ago, you didn’t have people talking about .30 windows,” says Jim Lett, president of A.B.E. Doors & Windows, Allentown, Pa. “Consumers are not only aware of low-E glass but they’re aware of the performance of glass as well.”

Consumers’ interest in numbers means dealers are selecting products that can meet various numbers as well, Smith notes. “In comparing manufacturers’ products, it is easy to look up the NFRC numbers for a quantitative comparison and this method is useful in separating product lines," he says. “Since NFRC is an unrelated third party, all the results are unbiased.”

For the vast majoriy of homeowners, “the window’s performance is the main reason they’re looking to replace their old windows," Lett states. "It’s rare that they’ll actually change them for a new style. They’re wanting better energy efficiency in their homes.”
Still, performance isn't the only concern, and a record-breaking U-value may not be that impressive to many homeowners. Many buyers measure performance in how they feel in their homes and how their comfort level is improved once the new windows are installed, reports Windows Plus's Wayland. “By far and large, when I look at our customer surveys, you’ll see words like ‘beautiful’ and ‘love how they feel.’ It’s subjective. Customers say, ‘I made an investment that made me feel good and, yes, it’s great that I’m saving money along the way.’”
FLEXIBILITY
That means dealers must be prepared to roll out the style options and the flexibility of their suppliers’ offerings, she continues. “As much as I’d like to say we’re a totally energy-conscious society,” she notes, “so often the questions that come back from the consumer are ‘Can it have those grids?’ and ‘Can it tilt so I don’t have to worry about cleaning?’”

“Customers’ initial interest tends to gravitate toward performance and energy savings," THV's Smith adds, "but oftentimes the style added to the performance is what ultimately entices them to buy.” 

Most dealers share that it’s not typical to sell window jobs with a litany of style upgrades and feature customization. "Aesthetics are important, but I would say that, in most cases, it’s only about 20 percent of the conversation," says Sakin. "I guess it depends on the person—are you buying a new coat for how good it looks or because it’s going to keep you warm?”

But for those customers who desire options, retailers recognize that they must partner with suppliers that can meet the demands. “Most manufacturers today meet both performance requirements and the appearance. Really it’s the customer that leads the conversation,” Lett explains. “The ability to custom paint the exterior is not a big selling item, not a ‘must have’ for most people, but when you get a customer who wants it, it’s available. It’s the same with the miniblinds in the glass. When someone does ask about it, yes, we do have it.”

“We lead the sales process with a series of questions and try to gauge what the needs and wants are for that particular customer. Bsed on what answers we get, that will dictate what direction we go from there,” says Laurence Smith's Ruff. “If a homeowner is very concerned about style, you’ll be able to tell up front."

Dealers want to work with suppliers that have color customization capabilities or unique hardware options to meet the needs of such customers, but they have learned to be cautious too.  “Many manufacturers fall short here,” says Smith. “As they add more options and styles, being able to deliver consistent performance gets harder. Dealers need their product on time and right the first time.”

There’s a lot to consider when looking at new windows and doors, including the products performance attributes and the range of style options, as well as the marketing tools to ensure his company's success in offering it, Sakin concludes. “If they have something new, how do they give it to us?” he says. “Does it have a sample and proper literature? If they bring me something new, they have to be ready to roll it out. I’ll want to see if it’s a gimmick or something new that can really satisfy the customer and allow us to make money."

Fortunately, the way in which new features and performance packages are designed has changed, Lett notes. “Years ago, manufacturers made a product and said here’s what we have to offer you. Now it’s more of a two-way conversation.”

Contact Christina Lewellen, senior editor, at clewellen@glass.org.