Extreme makeover: Distribution edition

AZEK, shown here, joined forces with TimberTech in a 2012 deal that led to what one observer called “a massive, national wave of change.”

When Mansfield, Mass.-based Boston Cedar announced the kickoff for its new lineup of decking, railing and trim products, the moves were described collectively as a “Game Changer.”

The building products distributor brought in hockey legend Bobby Orr to help spread the word about its new suppliers: RDI, KOMA Building Products and Trex Co.

But the even bigger game changer came more than a year ago, when CPG Building Products, the parent company of AZEK, announced the acquisition of TimberTech. What happened since then was a major realignment of distribution for CPG’s new one-two punch, and — in the words of one industry executive — a “massive, national wave of change.”

“The ultimate goal is for our AZEK business and TimberTech to join forces,” said Eric Jungbluth, CEO of CPG, when the original game-changing announcement was made. In addition to TimberTech manufacturing wood-fiber decking and AZEK manufacturing PVC trim, both make a PVC deck board and railing system, and have competing lines of distribution. Jon Vrabely, CEO of Huttig Building Products, a longtime TimberTech distributor, said that across most trading areas, TimberTech had two distributors and AZEK had two distributors. With the merger and rationalized distribution, “it meant two distributors in every trading area who had TimberTech or AZEK are now out of the mix and are looking for new product lines.”

For Boston Cedar, which is credited for helping AZEK build its brand in the Northeast, the wave of change meant more AZEK/TimberTech players in its trading area. So, the distributor decided to go in its own direction.

“Boston Cedar didn’t want to play in that crowded market, and I don’t blame them,” said Steve Sallah, CEO of the buying group ENAP, whose members are customers of Boston Cedar and CPG, among many others.

Across the country, similar decisions are still reverberating.

For St. Louis-based Huttig, the decision came down to a choice between staying with TimberTech and adding AZEK to its product offering, or starting over with a different brand. Huttig chose the former.

In November, Snavely Forest Products signed a deal with Versatex PVC Architectural Trim out of Greensboro, N.C. In Dallas, Snavely added TimberTech to its AZEK offering. Also in November, Versatex Trimboard announced a deal with Dixie Plywood and Lumber of Savannah, Ga. And the list goes on.

At Boston Cedar, chairman Rob Ankner had high praise for his new partners’ “high integrity, financial strength, forward-thinking product innovations and unbending focus on all aspects of exceptional customer service.”

No matter how the deals are described, dealers might find themselves in the middle of competing loyalties.

“The question for a lot of our members now is do they stay with Boston Cedar, or do they stay with AZEK,” Sallah said. “Long-term answer is, I don’t know.”

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