Millwork Distributors Show Reflects Drive for Differentiation

By Christina Lewellen
November 1, 2006
Meetings & Events

Grapevine, TX—After an unexpected year off in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Association of Millwork Distributors’ exhibit hall reopened in October in Grapevine, TX, with nearly 150 vendors ready to show off their latest and greatest offerings. From wood species to door finishes, hardware to high performance components, the common theme among exhibitors seemed to be that more options sell more doors. Even improvements in equipment gave the impression that differentiation is the key to continued success in the future of the millwork industry.

The event kicked off with industry-relevant educational sessions and an opening keynote address made by retired Marine and Fox News Channel host Oliver North; then attendees roamed the aisles of the Gaylord Texan Resort Convention Center, meeting with current suppliers and looking for new solutions.

Some of the bigger door and door system suppliers on the trade show floor, including CraftMaster Manufacturing Inc. and Therma-Tru Doors, took the opportunity to showcase expanded color and finish options.

All of CMI’s doors ship to pre-hangers already primed, a service of which most customers are aware, said Leah Heneghan, marketing coordinator. But the company displayed colorful painted doors in various sizes at its booth to emphasize that the final color doesn’t necessarily have to be white. “The industry as a whole always paints interior doors white,” she noted. “But you can paint them various colors to match a décor. Some rooms today have darker colors on the walls and might call for a lighter door to match.”

CMI also showed its newly introduced Corvado door, a true plank door that will roll out in the second quarter of 2007. The plank look dominated the show floor, as many of the major players introduced or highlighted their own take on the emerging trend. “All of the major players have some version of the plank door,” Heneghan pointed out. “It’s a new design to talk about.”

Therma-Tru—one of the players in the plank trend—prominently displayed its new full-plank door, which is a member of the company’s Classic-Craft premium line. The flexibility of the full-plank door allows the company to offer it to customers in an array of sizes, according to Mary Nesper, senior marketing specialist. “Bigger doors make the entrance to a home a statement,” she said.

Therma-Tru also exhibited upgrades to its Fiber-Classic and Smooth-Star fiberglass entry door lines, including new glass patterns, caming options and factory finishes. “You have different types of consumers and they want different things,” Nesper noted. “We’re trying to give them options to have the home they want.”

The company recently began offering factory finishes, or pre-staining, on its systems so builders and remodelers can expect a consistent look and quality from door to door. “From the production builder’s perspective, and even custom and mid-size builders, this gives them the consistency, quality and durability they want,” she said.

The push to continually refine and add to its product offerings will not ebb in 2007, according to David Haddix, Therma-Tru’s senior vice president of the residential business unit. The company will continue its wave of product launches and refinements to keep its customers, new and existing, on the cutting edge of new offerings. “We want to provide system solutions to the end customer,” he said. “We combine appearance with performance because we want to be that [distributor’s] provider.”

Always looking to retain current customers and attract new prospects, most exhibitors on the AMD floor were quick to point out with their displays and literature that they are taking steps to meet the expanding needs of millwork distributors.

A strikingly simple display by Marvin Windows & Doors showed only two products—its European-inspired window with authentic hardware and an in-swing screen, and its new operating pivot window, a circular or oval window that opens 90 degrees from a closed position and was designed for attic, bathroom or other unique spaces. With only two display stands, the national manufacturer presented a powerful message—it can meet custom needs and it has innovative products in its line-up.

Interior door provider Lynden Door of Lynden, WA, had a similarly simple and striking message with its display. The company sparingly highlighted its specialty product—flat panel interior doors. Instead, the company used its floor space to highlight products it doesn’t even manufacture but does supply to its customers, including steel entry doors and doors in specialty designs and species. “We want to give our customers a basket of options so they can get all they need on one truck,” explained Andy Anderson, marketing manager.

First-time exhibitor Palermo Collection Entry Doors, a custom wood manufacturer based in Mexico, set up a handful of high-end doors and handed out literature in an attempt to attract new distributors in the United States. Company representatives were quick to point out that the limited display was not reflective of the company’s expansive custom capabilities.

For pre-hangers who piece together their own door systems, component suppliers exhibited options aimed at differentiation.

Tecton Products of Fargo, ND, touted its new all-fiberglass entry door frame. After having developed a similar system for the window industry, the company turned its attention to the entry door market in an attempt to offer an alternative to aluminum- and vinyl-clad framing systems. “We truly believe we’re a better monster,” said Steve Syrdal, sales manager. “The material that worked so well in windows—with insulation against heat and cold, extreme durability, a patented finish that’s four times thicker than regular paint—is a great option for millwork wholesalers and pre-hangers.”

The pultruded fiberglass frame is generating some buzz in the industry, Syrdal reported, especially in the Northern tier of the country. “Hopefully we’ll capture the attention of the market being first,” he added.

Differentiation was perhaps most apparent in the decorative glass arena. Around every corner on the show floor was unique and colorful center- and sidelites. Previously a player primarily in the window market, Kenyon’s Stained Glass introduced decorative door lite options to offer pre-hangers a way to set their products apart. ODL Inc.’s booth was busy on the opening day as attendees circled its displays to check out new design and caming choices.

In the equipment arena, show exhibitors stepped up to meet industry needs with improvements to automation. Ontario, Canada-based Vega Automation Systems teamed up its DHS-40 Automatic Door Handling System with its CNCLR-220 High Speed Door Lite Router to demonstrate on the show floor how to eliminate manual handling in the production of exterior doors. The equipment, worth a quarter of a million dollars or so, was designed for larger pre-hangers who might purchase multiples of the set-up to keep up with production, according to Alex Vaynshtok, vice president. With most of the bigger prehanging companies in Canada already using the Vega system, the company is now turning to operations in the United States and overseas for continued sales, he said.

Similarly, Wise Corp. trumpeted the ease-of-use of its fully automated door machine center by allowing show attendees—trained or untrained—to “build” their own doors. With some simple guidance from the company representatives, users manipulated a touch screen to instruct the machine what it should execute on the door slab.

The company has upgraded the machine to be able to accommodate raised molded doors, as well as added a bevel adjustment feature which allows hinges to be installed flush with the door, rather than sticking out. “The consumer wants fancy, 8-foot molded doors,” said Rick Gallant, vice president of sales and marketing. “That, of course, goes back to our customers because they have to machine that way.”

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