Preparing for a New Generation of Customers

John G. Swanson
February 16, 2012
COLUMN : Opening Remarks | Markets & Trends

The International Builders’ Show held in February was different this year in a number of ways. Perhaps the most obvious difference was its smaller size, with a number of big, traditional exhibitors—including window and door manufacturers—opting out for the year. Attendance seemed to be up, however, as the aisles seemed busier than previous years.

What was also noteworthy was the variety of new products on display in the industry. As our report on the event on page XX highlights, this year’s IBS featured more than doors that met impact criteria or windows that offered more energy efficiency.

There was an ODL introduction that brings a whole new look to doorlites. There were contemporary interior doors and new decorative glass designs and, as evident at the past several years’ shows, large multi-panel doors designed to create interior/exterior living spaces.  Overall, manufacturers were emphasizing design and the look of their products more. They were using such words as “simpler,” “cleaner,” and “authentic.” “Urban” was another buzzword that came up regularly.

I can’t say any of this was brand new at this year’s show in Florida, but it seemed we may have reached a tipping point of some kind. Companies have now determined that Generations X and Y are finally mainstream home buyers and homeowners. The Baby Boomers haven’t disappeared by any means, but many manufacturers are clearly starting to target a younger demographic.

The evolution has already begun. Companies are changing their products and their corporate images, with green becoming mainstream. Of course, marketing has changed as well. Most window and door manufacturers now embrace social media as a way to connect with customers, and most will have apps sooner rather than later, I imagine.

This generational shift is also likely to play a large role in the emergence of the “connected home”—the subject of an article on page xx of this issue. Author Sam Jaddallah—both a window and door industry executive and a high-tech venture capitalist—looks at the Consumer Electronics Show launch earlier this year of several products that connect doors and windows to smart home systems.

Internet connectivity, he says, is likely to bring changes to products throughout the home. My guess is that it will be younger buyers who will drive demand for new functionality in doors, windows and hardware.

That being said, as a Baby Boomer, I can also say that I suspect I’ll be perfectly capable of unlocking my door with my iPhone. I’m also open to the idea of “cleaner,” “simpler” product designs. Preparing for the next generation with new products and new technologies doesn’t mean you’re turning your back on the previous one.

Thinking about Generations X and Y, however, is probably healthy for the window and door industry. As new construction and remodeling activity recovers, it suggests to me that there will be a receptive audience for new ideas and product development is likely to accelerate. Preparing for these new customers will translate into new opportunities for manufacturers, as well as the dealers that install and service these next generation products.