Evolving aesthetics and product lines signal a shift to simplicity and durability in moulding and trim.
Moulding and trim are nothing new. The ancient Greeks used wood mouldings to accent their buildings, as did the Romans who followed. During our own Colonial period, moulding and trim became so ornate that an entire industry arose, with craftsmen relying on such books as Andre-Jacob Roubo’s 1769 publication, The Art of Joinery, a lavishly illustrated tome that featured rendered mouldings along with mathematical formulae for their construction.
Trimwork has come a long way since then, although its use is equally—if not more—prolific, with demand in excess of $9 billion. And according to most industry experts, it’s a demand that’s not going to change in the near future. According to its recent “Moulding and Trim in the U.S.” report, the Freedonia Group predicts that gains will come from new housing completions, particularly in the South and West. When combined with a growing demand to replace aging or damaged products on existing homes, the future does indeed look bright.
“Homeowners are craving authenticity, and they also want their home to be unique,” says Ben Drury, brand manager for Boral Building Products. Angie Kieta, repair and remodel market development manager for LP Building Solutions, agrees. “The most significant factor driving change in the trim market is the ability to create a ‘wow factor’ with minimal additional cost,” she says. “With the availability of advanced materials in today’s market, professionals are also looking for trim that is extremely durable.”
It’s that search for authenticity and product durability that is driving market growth. And while wood products have long been—and will remain—the leading moulding and trim material through 2022 (as the Freedonia Group reports), engineered wood, fiber cement and PVC moulding and trim are expected to record above average sales gains through 2022. As a result, dealers and distributors need to be ready to meet that growing demand.
A changing aesthetic
As architectural styles and design aesthetics evolve, what was popular a mere 15 years ago is now looked on with disdain. While more ornamental profiles held sway during the early 2000s, those have given way to an aesthetic that embraces simplicity and clean lines. “The fastest growing trend in millwork is Craftsman, also known as Modern Farmhouse design,” says Steve Booz, vice president of marketing for Royal Building Products. “Today’s interior designers favor the clean and simple Modern Farmhouse style, which includes the use of wide trim boards, shiplap or wall paneling on the interior, and moulding build-ups around doors and windows.”
Craig Vigliotta, general manager of specialty brands for BlueLinx, agrees with Booz’s comments. “We are also seeing the continued preference for Craftsman or Farmhouse style versus the more traditional Victorian, thus driving the industry away from the more ornate styles.”
There is also a growing demand for wider trim widths. As LP’s Kieta explains, “I’ve seen trim trending towards wider widths (6″ or more). Builders are also adding more distinction to trim through integrating a top ledge and adding more definition to the opening by using different lengths (beyond the standard 4″ on all four sides) to make the edges ‘pop’.”
And let’s not forget color. Dark colors began a rise in popularity a few years back, and they are still on the cutting edge of exterior design. Whether it is a dark trim against a white siding or vice versa, the contrast of darks and whites remains in significant demand. “We continue to see demand for dark colors for both siding and trim—dark blues and grays, especially,” says Boral’s Drury.
But it’s more than looks that’s driving product trends; it’s also how the product itself performs. According to the aforementioned report from the Freedonia Group, while wood will most likely remain the leading moulding and trim material through 2022, the demand for synthetic and engineered materials will continue to rise, especially because of its low/no maintenance needs and its ability to mimic the look of wood.
“Residential builders and remodeling contractors have accepted, and many prefer, the use and look of PVC trim board,” explains David Johnston, director of product marketing for Ply Gem, a division of Cornerstone Building Brands. “As darker siding colors continue to gain in popularity, white PVC trim not only saves labor, but also adds striking lines to darker sided homes. Now widely used on many home remodeling jobs, contractors appreciate the ease of use and clean look along with the wide variety of pre-milled profiles and styles to match the needs of the contractor and property owner.”
Durability means everything in moulding and trim
While some of these aesthetic and material shifts can be attributed to the ever-changing nature of style and taste, other factors are at play that have had significant impact on product development. Poor quality of wood, increasing material costs, lack of skilled labor, extreme weather events, and the growth of consumer knowledge (thanks in part to the availability of home improvement television shows and digital content) are all having an impact on the direction of product development. But perhaps the greatest driving factor is product durability.
“PVC trim lasts much longer than traditional trim materials and it requires less maintenance over time,” explains Ply Gem’s Johnston. “Cellular PVC products don’t absorb water so when they are painted, the paint lasts much longer. Also, since cellular PVC products don’t absorb moisture, they won’t rot, crack or warp. Unlike engineered wood, they don’t attract insects and don’t contain chemicals.”
Nam Og, vice president of product management for AZEK Building Products, cites the growing length of time homeowners are staying in their homes as a major factor in the growing demand of low maintenance products.
“While the trim market has grown over the past several years, we’ve also seen growth of lower maintenance materials for exterior renovations. Homeowners do not want to spend time on upkeep; they want to spend time living their lives.”
Labor shortages, however, are also playing a big role in driving trends. The estimated number of job openings in the construction sector increased to 404,000 in April of 2019, a post-Great Recession high, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. At that same time, the U.S. Labor Bureau estimates there are 434,000 vacant construction jobs. As a result, builders need every advantage they can get in terms of installation ease and speed.
“The lack of labor availability has driven the need for workable, easy-to-install products” says Og. “Installers need trim that they can install quickly, without sacrificing quality.”
As Royal Building Products’ Steve Booz explains, “As builders continue to face rising costs for materials as well as labor shortages, the demand for PVC products continues to increase. PVC trim and moulding products are easy to install and maintain, making them an advantageous product for builders who want to meet consumer demand for a high-end look, within a reasonable timeframe and budget.”
Change is scary
Considering the direction of product development and the increasing demand for low/no maintenance, builders are looking at a very specific checklist to meet these demands. Trim needs to look good, perform well, install quickly, and require less technical skill. And distributors need to be ready with products that meet that checklist.
Yet oftentimes, builders are slow to embrace new product solutions even when they hold the promises of easier and faster installation, less maintenance, and increased curb appeal. Getting builders to switch to a new product takes more than just a glitzy product brochure from the manufacturer—after all, every product they use reflects on their credibility and reputation. Changing product can be scary, especially if a product doesn’t perform as advertised, and distributors need to be prepared to ease their customers’ worries and help them through the transition process.
“Builders know that their reputation is on the line with each house they build,” says Boral’s Drury, “and therefore there will always be a natural hesitation for trying new things—will the product look good? Will it perform? And from an installation standpoint, they’re always worried about how to install an unfamiliar product and how much time it will take to install. They often overestimate to be safe, which can affect bids and scheduling.”
AZEK’s Nam Og agrees. “Generally, builders/remodelers will want to stick to tried and true building practices and products. Their reputation is incredibly important and the primary driver of the business. Introducing anything new can seem risky; we need to ensure that whatever we’re asking them to sell will fit seamlessly into their businesses, their value propositions and their existing product offering.”
As well, builders need to know that making a product switch won’t involve large investments of time—both in training and installation. “With a new product you need to learn new processes which all take time, resulting in less jobs completed per day,” says Booz.
“As a building products manufacturer, we take this concern seriously when we introduce a new product on the market and create resources for builders to make the transition to using a new process as easy and efficient as possible.”
Sami Rahman, vice president of product management for James Hardie, shares Booz’s view. “Builders want to make sure the products they choose are easily available, affordable and help their projects come to life. Most importantly, builders want proven, reputable products from a reliable manufacturer that will deliver longterm durability and peace of mind. They need to feel confident that their designs can be achieved on budget and on schedule, and that the products they build into their homes will perform to help protect their homes and reputation for years to come.”
Putting fears to rest
So with reputations on the lines, how does the LBM dealer not only become a trusted resource for its customers on trim and moulding products, but also increase sales? Industry experts say that a combination of savvy inventory practices, strategic display initiatives, and thorough product knowledge are the keys to distributor success. It’s not a matter of stocking every trim option; instead, it’s all about being the expert in the lines you do carry.
“We would recommend that LBM dealers commit to stocking only a few, if not only one, brand of man-made products in a certain category and become experts in it,” says Versatex’s Kapres. “This would enable them to better convey to the builders why the brand they chose to stock is the best option, and it would allow them to stock a deeper inventory of that chosen line and promote it heavily in conjunction with the manufacturer.”
Whatever lines a distributor decides to carry, a strong inventory will do no good if the customer can’t see and understand the product. That’s where display and education come into play. “Dealers should consider the power of good displays,” says Boral’s Drury. “With trends favoring multi-textured facades, vignettes showing how products and materials go together can help inspire customers to think outside the box and ensure each home is unique. Such displays also may encourage product upgrades.”
BlueLinx’s Vigliotta agrees. “Having a display center where the customer can see the product in a practical application is helpful,” he says. “BlueLinx provides samples and display boards of our PrimeLinx products, so our customers can use them on builder calls or in their showrooms.”
Above all, however, is product knowledge that goes beyond being able to regurgitate a spec sheet. The successful LBM dealer will see themselves as problem solvers in partnership with the customer, seeking out the best solutions for unique situations. “We can’t emphasize product knowledge enough,” explains Boral’s Drury. “Know more about your products than your customers do—and even about the products that you don’t sell. This includes product features and benefits, as well as installation techniques and costs. This will allow you to be a true resource and problem solver, to be able to listen to each customer’s needs and challenges and devise the best product solutions to ensure their success.”
Og echoes Drury’s comments. “If the dealer focuses on understanding and solving their customers’ problems, it can show great results. Working with the manufacturers’ reps to best understand the product inside and out and how to succinctly present the product’s key value propositions to customers is a best practice that drives relationships, conversions and long-term customer satisfaction.”
Obviously, dealers will never have all the answers to all the problems their customers bring to them. But if customers see their supplier as someone who is dedicated to finding the answer for them, then they are likely to be repeat customers. “It’s important to keep up with market trends, which includes keeping a pulse on new building products that are available,” explains LP’s Kieta. “If a builder asks you (the dealer) about a product and you are unsure what it is, take time to reach out to the manufacturer and/or do some research, and then follow-up with the builder with the information you gathered. A dealer sales representative who is viewed by the builder or remodeler as a resource is in an invaluable position.”
Become a moulding and trim knowledge resource
While becoming a problem solver for your customers may sound like a daunting task that requires hours upon hours of study, manufacturers make it easier by offering numerous educational resources. From product literature to classroom training to demonstrations at the dealer’s location, these resources—when taken advantage of— help the distributor become a knowledge center and the contractor an installation expert.
For example, Versatex offers a two-day training course it calls “VERSATEXpert,” a combination of hands-on, in-plant, and classroom training for all its dealers, as well as best practices and hands-on demonstrations at the dealer’s location. Similarly, Boral offers inperson training for staff and customers, and it can arrange a visit with one of its traveling training trailers for a true hands-on experience.
LP has partnered with the Kruse Brothers who bring the LP SmartSide Installation Training Class from coast to coast. This three-hour class teaches best installation practices, how the product is made, and the different styles available. And in addition to an array of traditional printed product training materials, AZEK is building out a library of tutorial videos for quick reference on best practices. As well, its AZEK U training program brings in contractors and distribution partners to the company’s new contractor training center in Chicago for two days of hands on demos and interactive sessions.
In the case of BlueLinx, it provides an in-house marketing department that can customize literature and point-of-purchase materials based on the needs of the individual customer. And new in 2020, Royal Building Products is launching its first-ever builder roadshow that will be traveling to major cities on the East Coast to conduct personalized, invite-only training sessions in the first half of the year.
Like the changes in moulding and trim work during the Greek and Roman eras, evolution of the product is inevitable. But while our ancient predecessors had no ability to predict these changes, dealers and contractors alike can now analyze market trends and be ready to react with the right product and knowledge base. In this world of information, there is no excuse for being caught off guard. The only question is whether you will be ready to respond when change comes.