The National Fenestration Rating Council Reaches Out in a Whole New Way
As the operator of the country’s only independent rating and labeling system for the energy performance of windows, doors and skylights, the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) serves a very large customer base. Homeowners, builders, contractors and architects use the information we provide to make smart choices about the products they buy. Code officials and building inspectors use it to make sure products meet code. And manufacturers use it to market their products—and to keep tabs on their competitors.
So the way we communicate and interact with these various customer groups is very important. And we’re making some changes that jobbers/building products dealers and just about everyone else in the construction industry should know about.
Useful Information for the “Buyers”
This customer group includes everyone who needs to select the right window for a particular job or project – homeowners, contractors, builders, etc. NFRC ratings can help this group compare different products on an apples-to-apples basis and verify that products will perform as advertised by the manufacturer. The biggest change in the way NFRC reaches out to this important group is our Retailer Pilot Program.
NFRC has conducted extensive research into how homeowners shop for windows. We’ve learned that:
• They do quite a bit of “window shopping” at local home stores and lumber yards before they buy. They like to kick the tires, as it were, and pick up point-of-purchase materials that can aid in their decisions.
• Increasingly, homeowners surf the Internet looking for information. Younger shoppers tend to use the web more often, but even baby boomers recognize the ability of the web to provide valuable information.
• Homeowners need the information NFRC provides. Over and over again, we have heard that independent energy performance ratings would be very useful.
Based on this data, we designed a point-of-purchase tear sheet for distribution through Lowe’s and Home Depot outlets in two target markets: Washington, D.C., and Dallas.
The tear sheets explain a little about NFRC and the rating and labeling system and direct people to the NFRC website. There, they can download specific ratings for products that they’re considering, link to other energy-oriented window websites and send us their questions.
The project is scheduled to begin this summer. We’ll monitor its success by counting the number of hits on the website and the number of tear sheets taken, and by interviewing store personnel to see if they’re getting more questions or interest. Assuming the tear sheets are effective in getting the information window buyers need in a convenient place, we intend to expand the pilot program in 2003 and beyond to bring smaller retailers in and offer them the same tear sheets.
A Simpler Label for the Regulators
Last year, NFRC reduced the number of product sizes that manufacturers had to submit for testing from two to one. This allowed us to move to a much simpler label (see Figure 1), which appears on every NFRC-certified product in the marketplace.
In theory, the label can be used by window buyers to compare different products. But we recognize that in practice, buyers often don’t even see the label, because it’s removed before they see the windows or because it’s obscured by packaging. So the key audience for the label is really the customer group we call the “regulators” – building inspectors and code officials who use the ratings provided on the label to verify code compliance. So to better serve this group, the new label:
• Provides a single rating for a single size, so regulators don’t have to guess which one to look at.
• Increases the size of the font used for the ratings, which should make it easier for regulators to see them from a distance.
• Facilitates the addition of new ratings on which NFRC is currently working, such as condensation resistance and fade resistance.
Jobbers and building products dealers will begin to see the new label on NFRC-certified products early next year. To provide manufacturers with the flexibility they need for a smooth transition to the new testing system, they will be able to use the current version of the label (see Figure 2) through March 2004.
NFRC will phase out use of the old, two-size temporary label (left) over the next two years. The new, one-size label (right) will begin appearing on products in early 2003, and will be required for all products certified to 2001 procedures.
Less Fuss for the Manufacturers
The change to single-size testing will save manufacturers who participate in the rating and labeling system time and money. NFRC is also working on a number of other initiatives aimed at our manufacturer customer group:
• Eventually, the system will be paperless. The manufacturers, laboratories and independent agencies (which oversee the system) will submit all data and reports via the web. This will speed the process and reduce the cost of rating and labeling products.
• Reorganiza-tion of the NFRC database to allow all customer groups to use and search it more efficiently, particularly manufacturers.
• A proactive campaign to recruit and retain new members for NFRC as an organization and new participants for the rating and labeling system.
We strongly believe that members and participants enjoy substantial benefits from their involvement with NFRC, but we recognize that we haven’t communicated those benefits very well. We established a task group to look at this issue and to make recommendations at our fall meeting in October 2002.
As you can see, we’re working to make a great organization even better and we can use your help. Jobber and building products dealers interact with all of our customer groups in unique ways, and we welcome your thoughts, comments and input on the activities I’ve described here. You can also learn more about NFRC by visiting our website at www.nfrc.org.
Jim Benney is NFRC’s director of education. He can be reached by phone at 785/862-1890 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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