|Susan Selle is Chief Marketing Officer for Ply Gem, headquartered in Cary, N.C. As CMO, she manages the Ply Gem brand, including strategy, marketing and advertising programs, creative, digital, and corporate sponsorships. With more than 25 years’ experience, Selle has held senior marketing leadership roles in some of the world’s leading consumer packaged goods and durables companies.|
With housing on a solid growth curve in many markets, what would you define as the clearest opportunity— as well as the biggest challenge—facing LBM dealers?
The skilled labor shortage is among the biggest challenges facing our industry right now, but it’s also an area of opportunity for LBM dealers. By offering special support services to customers or creating unique competencies, LBM dealers can position themselves as a local market leader and attract and retain skilled supervisors who want to be part of the industry—and part of their team. Training is essential to success. When sales and service are knowledgeable about new products and installation techniques, it creates value for customers and can deliver an advantage. That said, partnering with a manufacturer like Ply Gem, who offers numerous training and certification programs can help dealers position their business more strategically.
Online commerce is growing, with more categories of building materials being sold online. How do you see this trend affecting dealers who sell your products?
There is a paradigm shift in the way we do business today. Both online, and now mobile commerce, are having a tremendous impact on the business decisions that LBM dealers are making and how they’re selling and delivering to builders and contractors, who themselves, are becoming more effective and efficient because of online resources. However, selling materials offline remains important. Most customers prefer to experience, touch and feel products prior to purchase—especially with siding and windows—as these products require expertise for order accuracy and significant logistical resources. Having both an online and physical brick and mortar/retail presence provides the potential for enhanced business opportunities.
Selling services—specifically installing the products that they sell—is another business opportunity that more dealers are exploring. Do you have any tips for dealers who are thinking of launching an installed sales effort?
The keys to success are establishing a reliable system and securing a team of highly-skilled, trained and licensed individuals. I recommend providing training and engaging a manufacturer’s capability in each area to ensure proper installation. For instance, while Ply Gem is committed to developing products that are easier to install and reduce the need for additional labor, we also offer training and education certification programs to help resolve labor and install challenges. By employing well-trained, quality labor, LBM dealers will see a reduction in callbacks and mitigate customer dissatisfaction while differentiating their business.
What do you see as emerging product trends that will drive the housing market in the coming year(s)?
There are several trends Ply Gem is paying attention to. The first is smart home and home automation technology—with a focus on energy efficiency. For instance, we recently introduced an automated thermally insulated 4880 patio door and STC windows, which can be found on all Ply Gem 1500 Vinyl Collection, 1100 Builder Series and West Pro Series 200/700s.
Color customization is another major trend and one Ply Gem is leading. We see the use of bolder colors on the outside of the home—shifting from ‘safe beige’ to rich, deeper hues, like deep bronzes, dark reds, blues, greens and pewter shades, which can be found throughout Ply Gem’s entire product portfolio.
Finally, we are seeing interest in low maintenance designs for both active young families and aging empty nesters and larger windows and patio doors for optimized natural light. There is a continued focus on enhanced performance, such as windows that help to reduce water infiltration and simplify installation.
There’s a growing need for affordable housing in the U.S. Do you see this as an opportunity for dealers and product manufacturers?
As an industry, we have a responsibility to help revive the struggling housing sector—specifically for first-time homebuyers. Even in relatively affordable markets, first-time homebuyers are finding homeownership tougher to achieve than the previous generation. Per the Census Bureau, Americans ages 18-34 earn less per year today than the same group did in 1980, after adjusting for inflation. Add to that, student debt and stricter mortgage requirements, homeownership may seem like a remote dream.
Manufacturers need to develop cost-effective solutions at every stage of the manufacturing process to offer lower cost product for dealers and builders to make homes more affordable. Companies can also align themselves with organizations that are already addressing this issue.
Ply Gem is passionate about taking an active role and believe it’s going to take collaboration and innovation to address this need. In 2016, we created the Home for Good project, in support of Habitat for Humanity, to help families in need of affordable housing and to help raise awareness of this issue. Already, we’ve supplied enough product to help build more than 300 homes in 63 communities across the U.S. This year, Ply Gem is calling on our industry colleagues and customers to get involved as we dedicate May as Affordable Housing Month. Visit homeforgoodproject.com to learn more and track our progress.