Education is Key for Contractors and Consumers
The key to being able to capitalize on these trends lay with education driven through dealer programs, point-ofsale displays and consumer awareness. “For high-performance composites, we believe it’s important to show how our products are made,” says MoistureShield’s Gwatney, “so we frequently host builders and dealers on private tours of our manufacturing and recycling plants.” He goes on to explain, “Because we encourage our dealers to sell composites as a high-end specialty product, rather than a commodity. So, emphasizing performance is crucial. Composites vary greatly in how they’re made, and we educate our dealers on how our unique manufacturing process makes us the only composite that can be used on the ground, in the ground or underwater, while still being protected by a warranty.”
The DuxxBak water-shedding deck system from Green Bay Decking provides a non-vinyl system that drains water from the deck top and channels it away to keep space beneath the deck dry and ready for use. The boards are composed of rice hulls, high-density polyethylene resins and other ingredients that help provide high fade resistance. It comes in six colors.
Stressing the benefits of the product can be key to driving home the cost/ benefit ratio to the consumer. “We educate our distributors and dealers on many aspects of our product and installation,” says Westech’s Durant. “We focus on the fact that our product uses a bio-based material. Our product is durable, won’t crack, splinter or rot…. It also does not absorb moisture, and is resistant to saltwater and chlorine. It is water- and UV-resistant, making it perfect for any exterior application, even in locations subject to driving rain, snow, frost and constant sun exposure.”
According to Chris Camfferman, category marketing director for Deckorators, “We encourage dealers to emphasize on-trend looks, the benefits of capped composite decking (stain- and fade-resistance), strengthto- weight ratio, thermal expansion/ contraction, compatible fastening systems, scratch- resistance, overall value and warranty.”
In its Infinity lineup, Fortress Deck is offering a reversible, dual sided deck board with an Exotic Hardwood Surface and a Distressed Hardwood Surface on the same board. With a 360 degree cap, and two completely flat and usable surfaces, contractors have the ability to offer two completely different options on a single board. The consumer can replicate the popular look of tropical hardwood decking without the environmental impact, or they can duplicate the distressed look that’s become popular for interior hardwood floors.
To aid in the education process, manufacturers are promoting traditional methods such as printed selling tools and displays as well as those that embrace the digital age. As AZEK’s Fitzgerald explains, “We try to aid our dealers by providing impactful displays where they have merchandising space, and selling tools for their counter staff, their outside sales team and tools for them to share with the contractors they serve. Samples and literature are staples for helping the selling process, but we are also providing digital tools like our deck designer on AZEK.com and TimberTech.com, AZEK and TimberTech apps, and digital versions of our catalogs.”
Education is not limited to composite decking. Lonza offers brochures and point-of-purchase materials that assist contractors and consumers with the selection and use of treated wood to ensure they have material that is intended for their specific use, especially in instances where a portion of the deck or structure might be physically above the ground but still requires “Ground Contact” preserved wood.
Like Lonza, Humboldt Redwood focuses on consumer education, and they are gearing up for increased social media engagement to educate their dealer partners about its brand and products.
Deckorators® new Heritage deck boards bring interior design to outdoor living. Available in two new colors—Heritage Riverhouse and Heritage Smokehouse (shown) —these deck boards are said to offer embossing that offers the rustic look and feel of distressed wood flooring. The embossing process creates a pattern that does not repeat for at least 12′.
As Hewitt explains, “Social media is a primary focus area for Humboldt Redwood, particularly ‘high-utility content’ that shows someone how to do something or offers something useful, like design inspiration…. We are more closely following what our dealer partners are sharing on social media and looking for opportunities to engage with that content and share it with our followers as well.”
Warranties Grow in Importance
Consumers are becoming more and more educated when it comes to warranties, and it’s important for dealer partners and contractors to be able to effectively sell that warranty benefit. Fiberon’s Recko explains, “Customers are definitely educating themselves, comparing warranty options from different manufacturers. A deck is an investment, and homeowners want to know that their investment will be protected by a solid warranty.” Westech Building Products’ Durant says, “We have seen interest and questions pertaining to warranties, which lead us to believe they are relevant in the purchasing decision. Consumers want to know that the product is backed and guaranteed, and that it substantiates the quality and price being paid.”
According to AZEK’s Fitzgerald, “Our consumer research shows that warranties are very important to homeowners. They are very focused on durability and a manufacturer’s warranty is their proxy for guaranteed durability. With engineered products, consumers value the fade and stain warranty as well as the material defects warranty.” MoistureShield’s Gwatney concurs. “As people upgrade from starter decks, warranties on composites are a key selling point. In MoistureShield’s case, we offer a limited lifetime warranty against rot, fungal decay and insect damage, which is an important differentiator from wood and other composites.”
Joel Cone, director of sales and marketing for NewTechWood, echoes both Fitzgerald and Gwatney. “Warranties are important to both homeowners and contractors,” he says. “Contractors must feel comfortable with the material they’re installing. The last thing they want is a call back. Those cost a tremendous amount of time and money. That’s why we offer labor coverage included in our warranty. It gives contractors peace of mind to know that we stand behind our product to that extent.”
Warranties that offer protection not only for the product but also for the labor of replacement provide an added blanket of security for the homeowner according to Matt Sherstad, CEO of Fortress Deck. “In composite decks, the customer is typically two parties,” he explains. “You have the deck builder and the homeowner. The homeowner is covered by most standard warranties or at least feels they are. Unfortunately, our composite deck industry has had its fair share of challenges as it has matured. When the unfortunate issues occurred, what many homeowners found is that replacement material does little good if you have no one to install it. The homeowner looks to the deck builder and the deck builder has no one to look to.” Offering decking products that come with such labor coverage or extended warranty lengths gives both contractor and homeowner peace of mind during the purchase decision process.
Predicting the Future
The overall outlook for decking in 2017 and beyond appears to be quite positive, especially in regards to remodeling. According to data from the U.S. Census bureau, only 22% of new, single family homes are built with a deck, thus leaving close to 80% of new construction homes ripe for the remodeling contractor. Rumbaugh predicts an overall growth of 10% for 2017, with 90% of that growth coming from remodeling or additions as opposed to new construction, and other manufacturers echo her prediction. MoistureShield’s Gwatney says, “The 2017 decking season is shaping up to be a strong one throughout most of the U.S. Outdoor living continues to be hot with homeowners, so many people are looking to upgrade or expand their outdoor spaces. For example, 10% of Northeast homeowners are planning a deck, patio, sunroom or porch according to the Home Improvement Research Institute.”
Some of that growth can possibly be linked to millennials driving decking demands, as there appears to be a correlation between new home construction growth and millennials being able to buy their first homes. As well, townhome construction may help drive decking demand; NAHB economists who spoke at this year’s International Building Show noted that townhome construction was showing very strong growth.
And let’s not forget the previously mentioned trend of outdoor living, a trend that is especially positioned to provide growth opportunity for decking. As Fitzgerald points out, “The trend of creating more living space outdoors should continue for the next several years. While broader economic indicators show continued growth in all of these categories, we see especially strong decking growth within the R&R segment and in custom homes.”
This is not to say that there aren’t concerns. As Hewitt points out, “There are however ongoing concerns about land availability and labor shortages, not to mention mortgage rates likely moving up in 2017.” Still, considering that the U.S. demand for decking is forecast to increase 1.8% per year through 2020 to 3.6 billion lineal feet, valued at $7.1 billion, those concerns are mitigated by what appears to be a continued healthy market.
To learn more about these companies, visit their websites.
Companies with hotlinks participated in this article.
Cox Wood Preserving:
Great Southern Wood Preserving:
Green Bay Decking:
Humboldt Redwood Co.:
Koma Building Products:
New Tech Wood:
Palram (Mirrite Decking):
Royal Building Products:
Tapco (Kleer and Clubhouse Decking):
Wolf Home Products:
California Redwood Association:
North American Deck & Railing Association:
Southern Forest Products Association:
Western Red Cedar Lumber Association: