Building for the Future

Few people in the window and door industry are sorry to say goodbye to 2008. We reported more than enough stories this year on plant closings, lay-offs, restructurings, and even complete shutdowns of companies. I just wish I could say I was starting the new year brimming with optimism.

Current forecasts for the economy in general, and the new construction and home improvement markets, don’t make that easy. Like most window and door companies, we are starting the year looking to do more with less and maximize our resources, while keeping an eye on the longer term.
Given predictions for further weakness in 2009, for example, we’ve made the difficult decision to reduce the number of printed issues of Window & Door this coming year from 11 to 9. This will provide some cost savings, but more importantly it will enable us to devote even more resources to WDweekly and WindowandDoor.com.

Our electronic products already enable us to deliver the latest news and information on a much more timely basis than the print magazine ever will. And while we know the print magazine is still a valued, user-friendly way to stay better informed, we know more window and door executives rely increasingly on our electronic products to stay up-to-date. That’s a trend we expect to continue and we want to continue building for the future.

Enough about us. What trends should the industry expect to continue? What can a window and door company now to build for the future?

Perhaps the most obvious trend that’s likely to continue is the ratcheting up of energy performance requirements for windows and doors. Whether it’s demand for green building, an increased desire to save on fuel bills or new Energy Star criteria, it seems clear to me manufacturers are going to have to deliver better performance numbers. Companies need to get and stay out in front of this trend. The ones who can establish themselves as the perceived leaders in this arena will be in the best position when our markets come back.

Capitalizing on this continued trend, I would suggest, will mean more than just improved U-factors or SHGCs. Walking the aisles of Greenbuild for the first time last year, it was clear to me that’s there’s significant growth and investment taking place in solar products. There were also numerous suppliers of louvers and shading devices. Granted, much of this development is taking place on the commercial side of the business, but it seems likely to me that it will move into the residential market as well.

On the commercial side, companies like Kawneer and Schüco were showing how their window and façade products can be integrated with these other products. On the residential side, I see opportunities for manufacturers that bring these technologies together. And even if that isn’t the case, I think many dealers could find a successful formula with integrated packages of windows, doors, skylights, awnings, louvers and perhaps even solar panels.

A less obvious—or perhaps it’s just less discussed within the industry—is the change taking place in home design. The McMansion, the oversized home typically incorporating traditional design elements, hasn’t disappeared, but they are on the wane. Homes are trending to the contemporary and in urban areas to the industrial. This design shift is influenced by the green building movement, which is also producing a trend toward smaller homes.

Smaller homes would seem to mean fewer windows and doors sold, so this may not necessarily be a positive trend overall for the industry. Some smart companies, however, will stay on top of these trends and take advantage of them. How these design trends and changes in homeowner preferences will impact window and door products is not clear to me, but I think there are a few hints out there.

In this issue, we include a brief report on Win-Dor Inc., a vinyl replacement window manufacturer in Southern California that has found great success in the introduction of a wide-opening, bi-fold door line. We’ve reported on the popularity of these products before—and while they may once have been the realm of the multi-million dollar beachfront home—the idea of an opening glass wall versus a set of French doors appears to be gaining more appeal even in more modest houses.
Interior door makers are also seeing changes in the types of doors homeowners want. Traditional six-panel models are being giving way to a much wider range of designs, ranging from simple Shaker styles to more contemporary designs.

Radical changes in window and door products are rare, and I’m not expecting a revolution. A large existing stock of older homes means there will always be demand for traditional product styles, but there are plenty of signs of an evolution.

Looking short term, we all have to careful. I don’t think flipping the page on the calendar will suddenly end the stream of bad news for companies in our industry. Despite this sense of reality, I do like to be optimistic. And I hope I’m not too optimistic in thinking that even if we don’t make all the way through the tunnel this year, we’ll see the light at the end of it. We will get there eventually, and once we do, those who have made the smart decisions and prepared themselves for the future will be rewarded.