Reasons to Be Optimistic

John G. Swanson
September 1, 2009
COLUMN : Opening Remarks | Markets & Trends

The weak economy has created tremendous challenges in  the window and door market over the past three years. From an editor's perspective, I still have a hard time believing how much bad news we've had to report. It's more than I have ever seen in 25 years covering this industry. Of course not all the news has been bad, and we continue to look for the good. 

Amid all the stories of cutbacks, closings and layoffs, there have been positive stories to report. Most recently, we've had at least anecdotal reports that tax credits in the stimulus package have helped spur demand in the replacement market. Whether you agree or not with recent or future legislative actions, the nation's need to increase energy efficiency bodes well for the industry going forward.

The emergence of multipanel folding and sliding doors is another positive trend that's emerged in recent years. True, these wide-opening products are targeted primarily at the upper end of the market, but they are appearing in more homes–even those affordable to non-milionaires–creating a larger demand overall for our industry and opportunities for growth. We're also seeing more choices and options in impact products, a new generation of screen products that are less visible, rising demand for more options in hardware finishes, and new door products and services targeted at replacement doors that could boost overall demand from that market segment. 

Our industry has a long tradition of companies developing new products, services and programs that create new opportunities for themselves and the industry as a whole. Our Crystal Achievement Awards seek to honor that tradition in recognizing the innovations introduced by individual companies each year. This year, I see our award winners, featured in this issue, as a testament to the strength and vitality of our industry, even in these tough times.

Looking back at past winners, I can point to many products and ideas that are contributing to the positive trends I see in the industry now. This year's winners make clear there's still a steady flow of new products and technologies emerging in our business, despite the hardships faced by so many companies. And that says to me, that along with a return to better times to come in the new construction, remodeling and replacement markets, there are reasons to be optimistic for our business.

Our Most Innovative Window winners this year are good examples. Marvin's Ultimate Pushout Casement combines traditional style with new function. Hurd's H3 window combines aluminum, vinyl and wood to deliver "premium" features to the mid-range market. Both target a more discerning customer and reflect a shift in the market toward more discriminating consumers who want more and are willing to pay for it.

Our Most Innovative Door and Window Components also reflect positive developments. ODL's Solar Entry Light may not represent groundbreaking new photovoltaic technology, but it is a clever adaptation of existing technologies to our industry's products that adds functionality and can even increase the attractiveness of an entryway, all in what appears to be a convenient package. There are lots of new possibilities for our products going forward as solar technology continues to develop. With the emergence of the green building movement, we hear much more today about healthy indoor environments. This growing concern can create new opportunities for our industry, and the Pollentec screen, which addresses the needs of people with allergies, is a great example of a product that taps into this potential. 

We take pride in presenting the Crystal Achievement Awards annually. I'll admit that not every winner is necessarily a trailblazer for the future. I'll also admit that not every product that's been honored has gone on to huge market success. Finally, I know that some innovators go unrecognized, but nearly all the products, companies and programs chosen selected by our panel of judges deserve the accolades for raising the bar in our industry. 

That has always been the goal. The winners provide ideas and lessons for us all. As I noted earlier, at this point in time, they are also a reason for optimism. It's a positive sign to me that while there's excess capacity and used window and door manufacturing machinery readily availalbe on the market, equipment suppliers like Stürtz Machinery and Besten, our Most Innovative Machine winners this year, are still working and introducing new and improved machines for making better windows and doors at lower cost.

The challenges we face today aren't over, but in presenting our Crystal Achievement Awards this year, it's easier to be confident about our industry's future. Congratulations to all our winners.