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Volume 7   Issue 2               February 2006

East meets West
How the West Coast Window 
Market Differs from that in the East

by Sarah Batcheler

Any window company from the East Coast that has ever opened a plant on the West Coast, or vice versa, knows how different these window markets are. Window companies on each coast that have broken into the other region’s market have experienced the drastic differences each has to offer. From terminology to window designs and distribution channels to window construction, they are as different as night and day.

Making the Move

Milgard expanded its market from the West Coast into the East Coast during the past ten years and has undergone design changes in its windows to accommodate the different demand for product in the eastern region. 

The company opened its first facility for the East Coast in Fredericksburg, Va., in 2003.

“The products that were successful for us on the West Coast are not the ones we needed on the East Coast. They didn’t exist on the East Coast and we were scrambling to make them,” says Kim Flanary, director of engineering at Milgard Windows. “We had to redesign all new windows from the ground up.”

Milgard had to overcome some major obstacles to be successful in the East, and Flanary says the company is still learning things the market wants while redesigning products and making changes.

“We designed in some options for the East Coast, such as a raised sill height. The problem with that is the East Coast—they want it standard,” says Flanary.

“You can’t change the market, you have to produce products that meet or exceed the expectations of the marketplace,” adds Mark Gallant, senior marketing manager of corporate communications at Milgard Windows.

Simonton Windows, headquartered in Park-ersburg, W.V., learned that there are geographical differences everywhere. The company went through a similar change almost 10 years ago except it expanded from the East Coast to the West Coast.

“In California, we have a lot of regional competitors. There is a big difference in niches of products,” says Chris Monroe, vice president of marketing.

What both Simonton and Milgard have learned is how to appreciate the differences in the markets and compensate to make their businesses work.

A Style Thing

Houses in the East tend to be more traditional in style than the homes on the West Coast, which means there is a difference in the styles of windows.

“In the West we run with more variation in architectural styles, along with more prevalent use of horizontal sliders and projection windows; the East runs with more traditional homes, centered around the predominant use of double-hung windows,” Gallant says. “Both coasts like to use grids—that is universal.”

Flanary says that although this is true, the types of grids are different. 

“A flat grid on the East is wider then those in the West,” he says.

There is even a difference of a West Coast double-hung window when compared to an East Coast double-hung window. 

“I think that the East Coast designs tend to be very traditional because of the history of the area,” said Richard Wines, president of Southland Windows of Garden Grove, Calif. “In the West, designs do not necessarily follow traditional architecture because we do not have the history to follow. We have communities that are new and designed with a clean slate. This leaves open new thoughts and application of design.” 

In the East, there is more vinyl siding used than on the West Coast, says Gallant.

“We apply plain and decorative J-channel window trim mouldings to our products so contractors can easily trim out vinyl siding in the East—whereas in the West they are into more wood siding and stucco applications that don’t utilize J-channel trim,” says Gallant.

Weather conditions are a reason for difference in the designs of windows.

“Weather is also a factor that allows wood exterior products to be use more freely which in turn allow more freedom of design. It is hard to make an oversize product with a clad exterior. The casement window is by far the best seller in the West,” said Wines.

Silder vs. Double-Hung

The largest differences are in the windows that are prominent in both areas.

According to Monroe, about 80 percent of the windows in the replacement market on the East Coast are double-hung, whereas on the West Coast, about 80 percent are sliders. 

Monroe explains that this is because most windows being replaced on the West Coast are old sliders, and the same goes for double- or single-hung windows on the East Coast. 

There is a big difference in the double-hung East and West double-hung. 

“On the West Coast, the double-hung is used primarily as a retrofit to replace a window. It is in the mid- to high-range. On the East Coast, the double-hung can be entry-level products,” says Flanary.

On the East Coast, some manufacturers may have five different types of double-hung windows.

“We found that an [East Coast] company may have an entry double-hung window that is priced low, another window priced at mid-range and then the high-priced double-hung,” says Flanary. 

Flanary notices that the East Coast market is more price-sensitive. 

“I am still amazed at prices in the Midwest and East—that manufacturers can build them that low,” comments Flanary.

The slider dominates on the West Coast, while the double-hung is the leader in the East.

“The traditional horizontal slider window is the king on the West Coast because it is a fairly easy window to market and it is cost-effective to manufacture—and the population on the West Coast is accustomed to that style,” says Randy Deering, senior vice president at Genius Retractable Screen Systems.

People have grown up with double-hung windows in the Midwest because that area of the country has been the birthplace of lots of wood window companies. Double-hung style is seen in wood windows, explains Deering.

Deering says his company recognized the difference in the markets and accommodated them. 

“Even regionally, we’ve worked hard to engineer new designs to different areas. Last year, we introduced a petite casement: retractable screen to target manufacturers that do casement. Traditionally they have been difficult to screen—but we have come up with a screen to complement the style,” he says. 

The company says it has also designed a system to go well with the West Coast horizontal slider. 

Windows in the West

Window manufacturers on the West Coast operate differently and face different challenges than those who function in other markets.

“It is relatively a new industry for us—and it is difficult to find skilled people. There seems to be a larger pool to choose from on the East Coast,” says Jack Moseley, vice president of Vinyl Masters Doors and Windows of San Diego County.

Additionally, the energy prices on the West Coast seem to soar higher each year along with increased competition, which don’t go unnoticed by manufacturers.

“We see some competition from out-of-country manufactured door and window products. We find products coming from Mexico, Canada, Italy and China,” said Wines. “We try to provide a better level of service than someone shipping products in from other counties.”

About four or five new manufacturing companies come into the market each year, Moseley says. They come in with price points initially to compete, which puts downward pressure on prices. Once they raise their prices, there seems to be another four or five companies entering the market with price points, he says.

Moseley says his company does a little bit of everything to compensate for the challenges faced from operating on the West Coast, including controlling cost, negotiating prices, developing in-house abilities, improving products and implementing lean manufacturing techniques.

Drawing the Line

It has been established that there are many differences between the East and West, but where exactly is the line drawn between the two areas? In terms of window differences, the East Coast market actually stretches all the way to Denver, and the West Coast trends are mainly in California and its surrounding states; they don’t permeate through the entire west side of the country.

“It’s not so much the West versus the East, it is the West versus everyone else,” says Flanary.

“It’s the Rocky Mountains where the products are different. I have found that Denver is about the furthest West where it still follows the trends of the East,” he adds.

He also says that the Midwest and East Coast are very similar. 

“What is successful in Virginia will also be successful in Chicago.”

Performance Demands

The demand for higher structural, water and air performance is much higher on the East Coast, partly due to the impact of hurricanes on the coastal areas.

“The coastal products lend themselves to casement or single- or double-hung windows, which is why they are more prevalent in the East. It’s harder to get sliders to have high performance,” says Monroe.

East Coast customers are looking for impact-resistance in windows, while West Coast customers want security and silence.

“It is ironic that the West Coast customers want quieter and secure homes, but what they don’t know is that impact-resistant glass, which is such a push on the East Coast, actually provides that. Those in the East are getting what those on the West Coast want too,” he adds.

Distribution Channels

The way window manufacturers do business varies between the two areas as well.

In the West, window manufacturers sell primarily to dealers. However, in the East, window manufacturers sell to distributors who sell to dealers, according to Monroe. He also says there is an increase in the use of show rooms on the West Coast, which has been growing over the past five years.
In the East, a lot of business is done when a salesperson visits a prospective customer for a complicated sell. On the West Coast, many dealers have opened showrooms. 

As a result, more West Coast homeowners want to go to a retail location, and if a homeowner goes to a showroom, they tend to buy more options, says Monroe.

How does this change of distribution affect the manufacturers of these products?

“We have to provide a great deal of support for showrooms and displays on the West Coast because the product offering is closer to the homeowner,” says Monroe.

Monroe says Simonton didn’t experience a problem when expanding into that market because it purchased an existing company that was already selling to higher-end remodeling contractors. 

What may also cause the difference in distribution channels is that in the East there is siding and roofing, where as neither are prominent products on the West, except that siding is present in the Northwest. In the West, dealers usually only sell windows which is why there is a tremendous amount of distribution, explains Monroe.

“It’s easier in some ways, because you are connecting with the homeowner,” says Monroe.

Communication Calamity

Companies attempting to move into the other region might find that communication is hindered due to a difference in terminology.

“West may use the term ‘horizontal or half-vent window’ while the East may use the term ‘glider’,” says Gallant.

When selling to the dealer there can be different pricing formats to sell products.

“In the East you’ll encounter more use of the ‘united inch’ pricing factor while the West uses a ‘list price’ format,” explains Gallant.

Looking Ahead

What makes the West Coast window market so different? Well, the answer to that is everything. It is a different window market with its own set of challenges, styles, distribution and even language. It’s the wild, wild West. 

Sarah Batcheler is an assistant editor for DWM magazine.

© Copyright 2006 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.