Is Design the New Differentiator?

John G. Swanson
January 18, 2011
THE TALK... | Aesthetics & Style

Window and door manufacturers touted R-5 efficiency, HVHZ impact resistance and a host of other performance attributes at last week's International Builders' Show. Walking the floor and talking to exhibitors, however, I sensed an increasing emphasis on design issues. In talking to exhibitors, styles and colors seemed to trump Energy Star. I think I heard more people say things like "streamlined" and "sleek" more than I did "low maintenance."

I don't want to imply that all those performance features are decreasing in importance.  What I suspect might be happening, however, is fewer companies see performance numbers as a good way to differentiate themselves and/or their products.  Even claims about green and sustainability in various booths seemed less prevalant than at previous shows. Perhaps, again, it is because more companies see meeting such demands as part of the ante to compete, rather than a selling point in themselves.

Our poll question this week is designed to test my theory.  Is your company talking more about style and design? Do you see better potential for differentiating your company?  I'd like you to vote, but more importantly, let me hear from you. Email me or post a comment below and let me know if the balance has changed in your product development and/or marketing efforts.

Survey Results as of 01/25/2011:

How does your company differentiate its product lines?

We have always emphasized performance and we still do.




We talk about performance, but style and design options play an increasingly important role.




We offer high performance, but emphasis has always been on style and design over performance numbers




It's difficult to draw conclusions from this week's poll result.  The largest percentage of respondents said they remain focused on performance, but the fact that more than a third of you indicate that style and design options play an increasingly important role, I think, is significant. 

The comment shared by Gilkey Window's Jerry Hartman echoes comments I've heard from a number of companies involved in the replacement window business. I also received emails from a few other people that my "takeaway" from IBS seemed "on the mark." 

For some, such a change may be a challenge.  If you've been selling energy efficiency, it isn't easy to turn around and start selling style.  But it can be rewarding.  Personally I think people will pay more for things they want than things they need.  That should provide new opportunities for many.

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I agree with both John and Jerry.  At MGM we have always “swam up stream” with a strong influence on style.  Our 8010 DH and our new 8017DH (which are all-vinyl product) are both designed to match style of wood windows. Both have 14 degree sloped sills and have the aesthetics of a wood window.  The 8017DH looks exactly like a clad wood window.  And now we offer the exterior in Bronze which is a real hot button for our company’s dealers.  We, too, offer a window that can be installed with a complete window removal, by going back to the studs.  By doing this the home owner gets larger daylight opening and removes the cancer of rot that is still prevalent in a sash pack removal approach.  Don’t get me wrong, we still offer the traditional “vanilla” styling in order to meet price points, but we can hit’em where they ain’t with style.  No more note on style and I’ll quit, our sash system has narrow stiles and wide rails, and has finger ploughs in them to give the style of wood.  Like I said, we always “swam up stream” and emphasized style. 

At Gilkey, we preach energy efficiency but the trend is style. A large percentage of our vinyl products are painted special colors and wood-grain interiors are popular. A common trend is new wood interiors. We are replacing many 20 year old or less full jamb wood windows that are rotting away. Most companies set the replacement windows into the sash opening like we have historically have but unlike rope and pulley windows into the ‘new woodie’ it detracts from curb appeal and day light. We have successfully won many jobs by showing that to totally remove the frame and go back to studs is the superior choice for insulation and appearance. Adding wood windows last year resulted in over (probably shouldn’t say but it was a lot) is sales. The reason people buy clad wood is style. Our installers lament the passing of the white vinyl window with 6 over 6 grids.

Jerry Hartman
Gilkey Window Company

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