Looking Beyond the Numbers

John G. Swanson
April 14, 2011
COLUMN : Opening Remarks

We focus on style in this issue, and personally, I think it’s something many people in our industry need to do more often. Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of great looking products out there, but sometimes I think many of us let ourselves get too caught up in the numbers.

The numbers are important. Whether it’s a certain U-factor or DP rating, if it’s required, it’s got to be there. Builder and architects need to meet code and demand the numbers on our products. The homeowner may want numbers, too. They may want to be able to earn tax credits or just see a label that provides some assurance that the window or door they’re buying is a quality product.

Another reason some of us focus on the numbers is that we often invest hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to get them. I’m not an engineer, but I do know it takes a lot of work and attention to detail to get a product to meet certain test criteria—and also be attractive and cost effective manufacture, etc., etc. We’re justly proud when we develop a new product and it achieves what it was designed to do. Then a lot of time, money and paperwork are invested to make sure our products hit the numbers—and the requirements of the job—on a consistent basis.

But we need to remind ourselves that the numbers don't always sell the product. Homeowners might like the sound of 25 percent off their energy bills, but even that number may not be as motivating as the thought of compliments from friends and neighbors about their new windows. Or maybe it’s the idea of a window over the kitchen sink that matches the new cabinets.

Many of us know this and sell the optional colors and finishes or sleek new nickel hardware that take our windows beyond vanilla. Makers and sellers of wood window makers have been doing it for some time. First, they launched an array of exterior cladding color choices and more recently they’ve been adding more new wood species options on the interior. Now, they even offer a pre-finished white.

Colors and finishes have been around for vinyl products for some time too, but that industry segment—at least in the U.S.—has been slower to embrace such options. There were some technological challenges, but I think a big reason is that many in the vinyl business got their start selling the fact that “the color goes all the way through.” I think that mindset is finally changing—and a recent survey highlighted on page xx of this issue provides evidence of that. The vast majority of vinyl window makers surveyed not only offer multiple color and finish options, they expect to sell considerably more in the next few years.

Of course, many other trends are driving this change. Thanks to Martha Stewart, Target and others, for example, we're all paying a lot more attention to design across the board. Closer to home, I would credit door manufacturers with raising the design profile of fenestration products–whether its more panel and glass options for front entry doors or new multi-panel doors that open the great room out to the back deck.  Increasingly, our salespeople are becoming design consultants. They need to talk colors and finishes for windows, and can probably get even more ambitious in talking about doors. As design consultants, they will need to know the numbers, but there is so much more to talk about. And, as Martha Stewart says, “it’s a good thing.”