Tough Times, but Different Responses at Remodeling Show

Baltimore event saw introduction of new fiberglass products
Ryan Self
September 17, 2008
Meetings & Events | Products, Segments
It's an old axiom, repeated by optimistic dealers and manufacturers at the first sign of a slow housing market to come, that when housing starts take a hit the remodeling market shines as homeowners substitute fixing up their existing home for moving into a new one.

It's also a load of bunk, said many exhibitors at the 2008 Remodeling Show in Baltimore from Sept. 10-12. Starting a day after the National Association of Realtors announced another drop in pending home sales, the show saw thinner attendance than previous editions and most window and door manufacturers were focused on squeezing all they could out of the fewer leads they could find on the floor.

"There are some key companies missing here," said Marcel Chehade, national sales manager with Plastpro Inc. "Less exhibitions, lots of empty spaces in the back, less ornate booths."

Attendees overwhelmingly acknowledged that this year's show was slower than expected, although many had planned ahead to squeeze value out of their booth. Some talked about taking the thinned crowd as an opportunity to spend more time with leads and develop more solid relationships, while others still displayed new products in an effort to remind visitors that they would not curl up in their shells in the face of a little market contraction.

Vytex, one of a smaller number of replacement window manufacturers exhibiting at the show, was highlighting its color capabilities.

“We know that the market is down a bit, but it’s not going to stay that way,” said Rob Enos, business manager for Owens Corning. The company launched its new line of Solace Windows, a fiberglass-reinforced vinyl window, at the show. “We’re positioning ourselves for the future,” he emphasized.

One of the most noteworthy window products shown in Baltimore was a prototype fiberglass casement in the booth of Armaclad Windows & Doors. The window is the first in a new line the Chicago-based manufacturer plans to launch in 2009. The new window line is based on a system developed by SureView Window Systems, a spin-off company started by a long-time pultruder based in Cleveland. It plans to market the system to numerous fabricators around the country. “We’re seeing tremendous interest,” noted the firm’s Tom Prince. “Manufacturers are definitely looking for an alternative to vinyl.” Also with SureView, Geoff Card emphasized that its fiberglass systems are “up-to-date,” and will incorporate the latest hardware in the market.

Serious Materials also displayed a new fiberglass window, as well as a composite product. The company, which recently acquired Alpen Inc., a Colorado-based producer of high performance windows and Heat Mirror IG, bills itself as a specialist in “green building materials.” The company’s Greg Gunderson reports that the California-based company, now offering windows with energy performance numbers in the R-10 range, is now seeking dealers throughout the country.

A noteworthy Remodeling Show first-timer was Weber Manufacturing Technologies, a long-time supplier of tooling and equipment for the production of fiberglass doors. The company showcased its own MasterGrain door line at the show, which it is now working with pre-hangers to get into the market. Unique in the line, according to Tim Krokos, is a new cherry grain door that, he suggested, no other fiberglass door makers offer.

Windowizards, a distributor serving much of the Northeast, used the show to introduce a new window dealership program. “It’s not just about the windows, but all the support we can provide, including real leads,” noted Randy Overcash, director of dealership operations for the company. In addition to the window program, the company offers a number of specialty product programs, which customers can “pick and choose from.”

The weakness in the market was evident in the fact that a number or vinyl replacement window manufacturers that traditionally exhibited at the Remodeling Show passed on the Baltimore show. One of the few featuring a large display was Vytex Windows, which focused on all its color choices and decorative glass capabilities. The manufacturer’s Chuck Scalzott noted that a full line of options is proving very helpful to his company in this market.

A Remodeling Show newcomer, Pittsburgh-area-based Energy Swing Windows, reported that while business is “horrible,” those that succeeded would be the ones that proactively went after new markets and customers. “Everybody is telling me, ‘This is the worst I’ve seen it,’” reported Donald Darragh, Energy Swing vice president. “But people aren’t going to come to you. Everybody needs to find new ways to feed the wolves, and that’s lead generation.” The company did a pre-show mailing, inviting attendees to stop by the booth and see a live demonstration of Energy Swing windows.

“The mindset of the people here is just amazing; we see the little guys, $1 million to $2 million companies, saying ‘It’s hard,’ and ‘Oh, we’re just dying,’” Darragh added. “But they’re not going after their piece of the pie. Do something about it.”

“The show definitely still has value for us,” added Mark Knorr, service representative with Lincoln Windows. Some attendees noted that remodeling hasn't really taken the hit that other aspects of the construction market have seen, and even those who indicated a belief in the new construction vs. remodeling market countercycles did so with a caveat. "The remodeling market is as strong as ever, thanks to the slow construction market," Knorr said. "Of course, there's no one answer—everyone has a different opinion on that." The decrease in traffic even had a silver lining, he added. "We're not seeing as many tire-kickers," he said. "Sometimes with less people, quality leads still come through."

"We're certainly getting more time with each visitor, and an opportunity to go more in-depth with each lead," noted Michael Nalitz, a sales representative with Marvin Windows. "Sure, it's a light crowd. But those who are here are serious, looking to take advantage of these weak economic times."

Many exhibitors expressed continued confidence that the remodeling market still offers plenty of opportunities. "Remodeling isn't down, it's steady; but it was steady even when new construction was good," Plastpro’s Chehade noted. "Houses that are 30, 40, even 100 years old need renovation. New construction has no effect on that."

“With new construction down, we’re really focused on growing this business,” said Sara Theis Alcroft of Therma Tru Doors. “We’re hoping to see remodeling recover sooner than later. If people aren’t doing it now, they’re thinking about it.”

Ultimately, the story of the show was perceptions–some exhibitors looked for a bright side to slow traffic, while others acknowledged that the reality was tough to spin. Even the most optimistic noted that the smaller crowd may be a harbinger for a tough year ahead. "It's a slow year," said Lincoln Windows’ Knorr. "We're hanging in there, but we don't see a light at the end of the tunnel yet."

Many hope that light will be more evident by the time the Remodeling Show rolls around next year, when it moves to Indianapolis. More information on the show, scheduled for October 28-30, is available at www.theremodelingshow.com.

Reach Ryan Self, managing editor, at rself@glass.org.