Some Positive News from Builders' Show

John G. Swanson
February 14, 2009
COLUMN : Opening Remarks | Design & Performance

Talk of the weak market, not surprisingly, dominated much of the conversation at last month's International Builders' Show. We'll feature a full report on the event in our next issue--and you can find extensive coverage on WindowandDoor.com now, but I thought I'd take advantage of this opportunity to highlight some of the positive developments that emerged at the show.

The event always features a variety of opportunities to hear experts and others talk about trends, and not surprisingly one trend that continued to generate much discussion was green. I was lucky enough to attend a builder focus group on that subject hosted by Market Resource Associates, and the views expressed by the builders gathered should be heartening to our industry. To start it was noteworthy that all the builders said green building was a real trend with real value, and seven of eight reported that customers were asking about their home's green attributes.

Perhaps the best news coming from that group was they all agreed that energy efficiency was the highest green priority. (That view, by the way, was shared by green architects gathered for a focus group organized by Window & Door last fall, the focus of an article on page xx of this issue.) Homebuyers interested in being green may shy away from some green products when they realize the cost is higher, the builders noted, but products, including windows and doors, offering higher energy efficiency and fuel savings down the road, are "an easy sell."

Gopul Ahluwalia, a researcher with the National Association of Home Builders, backed that view up in a separate session. He reported that homebuyers are willing to pay $6,000 more for a home that is able to deliver $1,000 a year in energy savings. I found it very reassuring to know the investment window and door manufacturers and industry suppliers are making in delivering more energy efficient products can pay off.

Emerging consumer trends align with these views, at least a number of those outlined by Robin Avni of Iconoculture, a market research firm. In a presentation sponsored by Pella, she noted that consumers are looking to take greater control of all aspects of their lives and looking to their homes as shelters from economic storms. "Conspicuous consumption is out, practical pursuits are in," she said. McMansions are a thing of the past, and homeowners will look to downsize both their homes and carbon footprints. Dollars that once went to high-end showy appliances and granite countertops are more likely to go to energy efficient products and products that enhance comfort, she noted.
The sanctuary home, Avni also noted, is expanding beyond the four walls, with consumers eying ways they can make better use of their backyards. She didn't point to such products specifically, but her observation on increased emphasis on outdoor living spaces would help explain one of the strongest industry trends evident at last month's IBS--a burgeoning market for wide-opening door systems.

Multi-panel lift-and-slide and bi-fold door systems were everywhere in Las Vegas. There have been a handful of companies specializing in these products for some time, particularly on the West Coast, but the number on the show floor seemed to triple this year. In addition, many of the big name window and door manufacturers—expanded their product lines into this arena and introduced new models at the show.

These types of doors are definitely geared to the high-end, but I think it's an exciting prospect for our industry to offer a product that can make a homeowner say "Wow!" And while it may contradict Avni's prediction that conspicuous consumption is out, these types of doors will even be shown off. My personal expectation is that they will also trickle down to the broader market, and opportunities will expand for scaled down, but still high-value products that consumers are willing to pay for.

We still have some tough times to endure. The market will come back, however. We may not see the 70 million window volumes that came with what we now know was a housing bubble, but the number of units sold will grow again and the dollar figure associated with every window and door can grow too.