Growth Ahead for Entry Doors

Homebuyers and homeowners demanding increased energy efficiency, enhanced security and upgraded style
John G. Swanson
June 1, 2011
FEATURE ARTICLE | Products, Markets & Trends

Although entry door sales have suffered in recent years, the industry is well positioned for growth. Markets are improving, manufacturers and suppliers agree, and both homebuyers and homeowners are looking for increased energy efficiency, enhanced security and upgraded style in their entryways.

The outlook is positive, says Larry Jones, senior product manager at Therma Tru Doors. Not only is the number of entry doors sold going to increase, he predicts, but also the average price per entry—especially in the remodeling market.

“More and more consumers are willing to invest in products that may be more expensive, but will provide long term pay back, primarily in reduced maintenance and greater longevity,” adds Ken Kussen, business manager for MasterGrain Doors. “A beautiful entryway has one of the best investment returns of any renovation project.”

 
 Consumers are paying more attention to doors, balancing issues of privacy, natural light, energy efficiency and style, while also remaining cost conscious, according to doorlite manufacturer ODL.

“Homebuyers are playing a larger role in the entry door design selection process,” says Keith Early, director of marketing for ODL Inc. His firm sees consumers paying closer attention to decorative glass design to make sure their choices coordinate with the styles of their homes, as well as provide the curb appeal they desire. “Remodeling is also an important factor,” he notes as well. “An entry door replacement is one of the biggest remodeling returns in terms of home resale value, and in this economy a big return is important."

Top Priorities
One of the more notable trends of recent years has been an expanding array of panel design options—particularly from fiberglass and steel door producers. The newer lines have been developed in response to demand in segments of both the new construction and remodeling and replacement markets that are paying more attention to door design, says Steve Sparer, sales manager at Taylor Building Products. Still, despite this eye for design, the top priorities for most buyers, he asserts, are security and energy efficiency.

Security remains a big driver for steel doors. They continue to do especially well in metropolitan markets, he notes. Sparer also points to the increased popularity of obscure glass options as another sign of security’s continued importance. The continued growth in demand for low-E glass in doors reflects the importance of energy efficiency.

With consumers watching gas prices increase from $3 to more than $4 a gallon recently, “they are absolutely focused on energy efficiency,” Therma Tru’s Jones agrees.

ODL’s Early points not only to consumer demand, but also the impact of Energy Star criteria. These have made new spacer systems and Low-E glass standard in many doors. While tax credits for energy efficient windows were reduced significantly for 2011, the federal government has extended tax credits of up to $500 for Energy Star qualified doors through the end of this year, he adds. “As Energy Star guidelines grow and change, this will continue to be an area ripe for innovation in the industry.”

Manufacturers point to a variety of developments reflecting an increased concern for security. Kussen points to the growing role of multipoint locking systems. Joe Klink at ProVia Doors highlights the popularity of wrought iron components. His company also see an opportunity for impact-rated products developed for coastal markets in homes where security is a concern.

Concerns for security and privacy in urban and suburban areas also requires more obscure glass options, suppliers say. Where homes are built close together, these concerns are more of an issue, Jones says.

In the new construction market, many of the homes that are being built are smaller and closer together now, Sparer notes. It’s having an impact on entryways, and not only on the doorlites chosen. The 8-foot door market is shrinking somewhat, and entryways are becoming slightly narrower with fewer double doors.

The new construction market is downsizing from the larger homes of the past decade, Klink reports also. The good news is that “buyers are still very demanding.” Pointing to a recent condominium development near Provia’s Ohio facilities, he says the living spaces are smaller but they are being developed with all the luxuries buyers have grown to expect in new homes.

That being said, the new construction market has a way to go to come back for door makers. Over the past few years, builders have been looking to take every dollar out of a project they can, Jones notes. That’s translated not only to smaller homes and smaller doors, but an increase in lower-priced steel door market share in this segment. As housing starts slowly start coming back, he predicts fiberglass doors will regain their momentum in the market.

 
 Fiberglass door manufacturers like MasterGrain say their products are gaining market share on the high-end versus wood, thanks to new technologies that enable them to more closely match the look of wood.

Fiberglass Growth
On the low end, smooth fiberglass is becoming more competitive against steel because the price gap is getting smaller, says MasterGrain’s Kussen. It is a similar story in midrange products were grained fiberglass products are becoming more competitive. At the high end, he states, better graining technology that creates doors that rival the look of real wood is cutting into wood door sales.

“It seems that the consensus even among builders now is, ‘if you can afford it, fiberglass is the way to go,’” says Jones. At the lower end, he sees the ability of smooth fiberglass doors to resist dents and dings as a solid argument against steel doors. At the high end, he points to better looking products, as well as more design choices. “You hear more customers saying, ‘you’re getting there for me,’” he reports.

The improving look of fiberglass is definitely having an impact, Provia’s Klink agrees. “It used to be you couldn’t tell the difference between a wood and a fiberglass door from the curb,” he states. “The technology has come a long way. Now you can walk right up to the door and not be sure it’s if its wood or fiberglass.”

Sparer also sees growth in fiberglass, but he is more reserved in his projections. To date, he notes, fiberglass has gained much of its popularity on the coasts, while steel maintains its strength in middle of country. He doesn’t see that changing quickly.

Remodeling Growth
With the continued weakness in new construction, the remodeling segment will likely be the biggest area of growth for entry doors, suppliers say. “This will continue to be a segment that the industry will focus on for years to come as the economy rebuilds,” Early states. Given current market conditions, more families are staying put in their current homes and choosing to fix up rather than move up. Foreclosed homes also offer opportunities for remodeling dollars, he notes.

Another reason is overall weakness in sales, which is leading more companies—including replacement window manufacturers and dealers—to add new product lines. “Many companies anticipate that markets will not rebound to the levels they were,” Kussen notes. “These companies want to find other ways to fill their open capacity. Since fiberglass is one of the few products that continues to gain market share, it is a natural addition.”

Provia, which has long focused on the remodeling and replacement segment of the door business, also sees the influx of more companies into the market. In the current economy, replacement window dealers have fewer leads to work with, notes Klink, so they are looking to maximize all their opportunities. Entry doors provide them an add-on to a window sale or an opportunity to go back to previous customers for additional business.

Several years ago, Therma Tru began efforts to establish relationships with replacement window manufacturers to see if they might be interested in offering entry doors, Jones reports. A few would listen, but most said no. “Now they are coming to us,” he says. “That market has reached a tipping point.”

The market changed, making companies hungrier, he notes, but door makers have also adapted to the remodeling segment. Dealers and contractors have different needs than builders. Replacement contractors, he notes, for example, operate on tight schedules and rely on short turnarounds. There’s definitely been a learning curve for manufacturers and prehangers serving this segment, Jones notes.

Entry doors can also present some challenges to dealers with all the panel and glass options, finishes and hardware choices. A common dealer complaint is that selling doors is “too complicated,” says Klink. Some dealers are very good at it, and others are not, he says. Door makers offer the tools, he notes, pointing to visualization systems and other support materials, but the key is to master the process, and the companies that invest the time to do that can be very successful, he continues.

Jones also emphasizes that dealers need to take advantage of educational programs and use the available tools for them to sell doors. “The people who do it and do it well are seeing results.”

In remodeling/replacement market, he notes, homeowners are likely to take on one project a year. “If the project for the year is the entry door, they are going to take their time on their purchase,” he says. “They are going to be very careful in making selections. They want something that reflects their personality, but they also don’t want to get too crazy. They do think about resale.”

“Cost consciousness is always a main concern for consumers,” says Early. “We’re always re-evaluating product offerings to help us align price points with consumer expectations, but homeowners are continuing to look for value in products that give them curb appeal, easy maintenance, energy efficiency and other benefits. Additionally, homeowners have consistently shown that decorative expression is something that they value in the long run.”

There are numerous considerations that go into the door purchase decision, all of which reflect the important role the door plays in the home. “The value of the entry door is understood in this market at all levels,” says Jones. Therma Tru did a study in 2004 that showed stylish entry door upgrades could more than pay for themselves by adding to the perceived value of a home. “That study continues to resonate and we continue to build on that. The opportunity is there.”