The Replacements

Paul R. Gary
February 1, 2010
COLUMN : Legal | Management

“The Replacements” is the name of a not-so-famous, but pretty funny film released in 2000 starring Keanu Reeves and Gene Hackman. I thought of it when I started this column, my first actually focusing on the replacement window industry.

By that, I mean those manufacturers and dealers who have traditionally sold replacement windows as their core business.  Selling to homeowners, they are likely to have a full team of sales people who sit down in customer living rooms with a pitch book in hand. What has been a sturdy, albeit fragmented industry, fraught at times with a few bad players, has been working a real opportunity.

The Replacements have grown in business savvy, technological capability and revenues. Obama’s .30/.30 tax credits and the much discussed “cash for caulkers” programs only highlight an asset that has been there all along. The Replacements are the experts at working the broadest available market, i.e. the nearly countless homes/buildings with windows and doors that are ripe for replacement in order to take advantage of the most up-to-date glass and frame materials. Recently, the replacement market has found itself in line to benefit from the country’s drive toward energy efficiency and and an escape from recession all at once.

But, back to the movie. There, “The Replacements” were down-on-their-luck football players given an unexpected chance to play in the big leagues because of a players’ strike. The owners’ reaction to the strike was, of course, to hire replacements. These replacement players are initially despised by players and fans alike, but they persevere.

After much struggle, the featured Washington Sentinels begin to improve, get “professional” (Hackman is a good coach after all) and win over their fans with victories. The colorful replacements grasp their opportunity with heart and humor. In response, the real players around the league begin to cross the picket lines to regain their jobs and their positions. Indeed, in the final game of the movie, the real Dallas players all play against the featured Washington Sentinel replacements. And since it's Hollywood, Dallas suffers a bitter loss, with a thrilling last minute Sentinel victory on national television.

How deep are the parallels other than the name? I don’t know. I have seen that the replacement window business takes an entrepreneur’s spirit, and the ability to develop understanding and strategy for a really diverse and sometimes boisterous market. If you can do that and bring success to both the challenge of managing a free-wheeling sales force and the need for iron-clad customer service, you’ve got yourself the recipe for some serious wins. The Replacements have done pretty well and continue to gain experience in a market less dependent on the ripple effects from Wall Street. There have been some significant winners in this market and it will be interesting to see if the bigger window and door industry players that are now paying significantly more attention to this market impact that past success.

From a legal professional's view, many of these replacement window manufacturers and dealers have a unique opportunity for straightforward communication of company assurances and disclaimers direct to the consumer that the law will respect when handled properly. There are certainly plenty of serious legal issues requiring identification and management, however. The traditional certification and product performance issues’ affect on warranty liability are ever-present and risk is multiplied when installation is within a company’s contractual obligation.

In-home sales impose Federal Trade Commission oversight and regulations, which are often matched at the state level. Compliance requires knowledge, training and documentation. Recent EPA lead-based paint certification and prescriptive isolation practices, pertaining to any home built prior to 1978, are about to take effect also. The penalties for violation are draconian.

It’s a fact of life.  As replacement window companies enjoy more attention and more victories, the press of legal issues becomes more immediate. As sales of replacement windows and doors grow, the need for identification and management of legal issues grows more critical. But, let’s back up for a second: Here’s to an evolving American market which has proven remarkably resilient. The Replacements becoming mainstream, well look at that.


 

Paul R. Gary is the prinicipal of The Gary Law Group, a law firm based in Portland, Ore., emphasizing legal issues facing manufacturers of windows and doors. He welcomes feedback about articles published in Window & Door and can be reached at 503/227-8424 or paul@prgarylaw.com.