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Through the looking glass: Windows trend toward more selection, style and finishes

BY Kate Fazzini

Replacement windows, unlike many other remodeling materials—faucets, paint colors, decorative hardware and appliances—tend not to be as unabashedly trendy.

But as vinyl has continued to eclipse other materials for windows, and regional differences between window preferences have become more pronounced, even this sometimes-staid long-term homeowner investment has shown signs of trendiness.

“What we are seeing more trend-wise is vinyl,” said Christopher Burk, product manager for Simonton Windows. “As it becomes more mature in the market, a nice-looking vinyl window that has some exterior facades is a trend, especially in the New England area.”

Windows offering a facade that is very natural in its appearance are most popular, he said, including “angled brick molds” and colonial styles with more trim along the sides. Adding sills that have the appearance of real wood also have been popular, he noted.

For remodelers, vinyl windows have become the third most often purchased building material item, following entry doors and molding, according to a study by the Home Improvement Research Institute (HIRI).

Of general remodelers, 77 percent said they purchased vinyl windows in 2006, up from 69 percent in 1998, the only kind of window that saw an uptick in remodeler purchases, according to the study. Those who said they purchased vinyl or aluminum clad wood windows fell to 63 percent, from 71 percent in 1998. Those who purchased wood windows fell from 47 percent to 41 percent, and aluminum windows fell 28 percent to 21 percent.

At W.I.T (Whatever it Takes) Windows and Doors in Redlands, Calif., vinyl windows with faux flourishes have not only been popular with remodelers, but with the retailer as well.

“Our store is in a church that was built in 1925, and we’re in a town that is really big on historic renovation,” said Claudia Mitchell, a manager at W.I.T. The one-location dealer renovated the church with vinyl windows that included some retro architectural touches, she said.

Specialty stores and LBM dealers still hold a significant portion of the window sales marketplace. According to another HIRI study on consumer spending practices for windows, doors and millwork, LBM dealers and specialty supply houses account for 40.1 percent of total consumer sales for those products. Home Depot accounted for 30.2 percent of sales, Lowe’s for 23.2 percent and Menards for 5.9 percent.

One trend that has taken over nationwide, but particularly in the West, has been a propensity for consumers to want more windows overall.

“We do notice that people want more windows and more natural light in their homes,” said Kim Flanary, an engineer at Tacoma, Wash.-based Milgard Windows. “I know there was a time in the ’70s and ’80 s when 10 to 15 windows per home was the norm. Now, it’s not unusual to see 30 or 40 windows per home.”

Mitchell, in fact, said her store recently sold 60 windows for a large home project. Some of those larger homes, in spite of their size, imitate a “bungalow” style that has led to further changes in the windows consumers are seeking.

“On the newer houses, we’re getting people who are putting in more window sills. Craftsman style has become very popular out here,” she said.

As with many other home improvement products, such as appliances, doors and plumbing fixtures, windows have seen an increase in the amount of decorative hardware used for latches and handles. Camlocks, crank handles and casements on windows have been embellished with brushed nickel and oil-rubbed bronze decorative hardware.

“It’s a nice way to quickly, and pretty inexpensively, update a look,” Burk said. Simonton offers options for contractors to swap out decorative hardware on various window styles, he added.

“I do get asked a lot more questions on finishes,” Flanary said. “For wood or wood-clad windows, decorative finishes are relatively common, but a lot of pressure to start putting those on vinyl has started as well.”

Having a distinction of styles is important—just as in the case of plumbing fixtures, windows don’t come in just one color or flat style anymore. Remodelers said “having a variety of styles, sizes and colors” available was one of the most important factors in their buying decision, according to HIRI.

In Redlands, Calif., on the outskirts of Los Angeles, many upscale communities are still seeing a good amount of renovation in spite of the slowdown in the housing market, Mitchell said. She agreed that offering a large number of colors and styles has contributed to healthy sales at W.I.T.

“We have a lot of building of what we call ‘McMansions’ around here. And, there hasn’t been much of a slowdown in people remodeling,” Mitchell said. “I think having a good selection and priding ourselves on good service is the most important thing.”

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The return of a market

BY HBSDEALER Staff

San Diego Two relatively optimistic housing market forecasts factored heavily in an active day of seminars and award presentations at the ProDealer Conference held here last week.

In the conference’s kickoff presentation, Joshua Rosenbaum, director of the UBS Global Industrial Group, explained that only a matter of time stood between the current housing problems and a return to normalcy. “It really is a question of when, not if,” he said.

Of the six key macroeconomic factors — described as “pillars” — of the housing industry, five remain solid: GDP growth, interest rates, unemployment, inflation and non-residential construction spending. Housing starts, the sixth pillar, lags dramatically from 2006.

The question of “when” the return would come was addressed in detail at a later presentation on commodity pricing given by Paul Jannke, senior vp-wood and timber information for RISI. He pointed to research that predicts housing starts will remain weak until late 2008. Pointing to underlying demand created by population growth and household formation, Jannke described the overbuilding of 2003, 2004 and 2005 as a key cause of the dramatic decline in housing starts in 2007. The good news, said Jannke, is that 2009 should see starts jump back to the 1.7 million to 1.8 million level, following a 2008 housing start figure in excess of 1.5 million.

“With the weaknesses forecast in 2007 and 2008, we will have completely made up for the overbuilding” of the previous four years, he said.

If housing starts fall further to the 1 million level, as some expect, the silver lining would be a faster correction and a faster return to housing starts more in line with the underlying demand, he added.

The 11th ProDealer Conference held here at the Loews Coronado Bay Resort wasn’t all about forecasting and finance. A “Custom Builder Panel” on Thursday morning focused on the needs of custom builders and their expectations from pro dealers.

The best way to build a relationship with the custom builder is to do the research and bring solutions to the table, said David Payne, vp-Payne & Payne Builders. Sometimes, the solutions for builders address problems that they didn’t know they had, he said. “The smartest thing for a dealer is to find the time to talk to us to identify our faults, then provide solutions.”

And the panel agreed that when the relationship between the dealer and the builder loses the qualities of a partnership, the relationship is in jeopardy.

In addition, Basketball star Bill Walton, who rose to fame playing for the Boston Celtics and the Portland Trail Blazers, gave some advice on what to do “when the ball bounces the wrong way” during his Sept. 19 talk. He also reminisced about his days at Dixieline Lumber in San Diego, where the 15-year-old freckled redhead unloaded lumber as a part-time job.

Also at the conference, the annual ProDealer of the Year Awards Dinner recognized two companies that represent innovation and success in the LBM market — Kent, Ohio-based Carter Lumber and Fairfax, Calif-based Fairfax  Lumber & Hardware, the respective recipients of the ProDealer of the Year and Independent ProDealer of the Year awards.

The 11th Annual ProDealer Conference, sponsored by Home Channel News, kicked off with a City of Hope golf tournament. The first place team, winning with a score of 142, was Bruce Brushwood of Moulding & Millwork, Mark Donovan of Forest City Trading Group, Laura Dwyer of Dupont and Mike Fletcher of Moulding & Millwork.

The ProDealer Conference ran through Sept. 21.

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Toro names new member to board of directors

BY HBSDEALER Staff

Outdoor products company Toro has named Inge Thulin, vp-international operations for 3M, to its board of directors.

Thulin joined 3M in 1979 and served in various sales and marketing roles at its location in Stockholm, Sweden. He subsequently served as area vp for Europe, Asia and the Middle East and was named executive vp-international operations in 2003.

“As Toro’s revenue from non-U.S. markets continues to rise and we expand our manufacturing, design and distribution capabilities around the world, his perspectives will be invaluable in positioning the company for long-term growth and profitability,” said Michael Hoffman, chairman and CEO of Toro.

Thulin’s appointment brings the Toro board to 11 members.

Toro had sales of $1.8 billion in 2006 and is a leading provider of outdoor beautification products.

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