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September  2004

 

 

All Decked Out

How Decking Manufacturers Get their Products to Market and More
by Alan B. Goldberg

As the styles and designs of decks are becoming more varied, so too are the materials used to build them . Today, there are more choices and the selection of a decking material goes beyond a matter of preference. Appearance, value, environmental issues, maintenance, warranties and cost are all considerations. What becomes most appealing lies in what a material offers and the track record and/or warranty that’s behind it. 

 

The Choices and 
Their Composition 

… Composites 

The appearance of composites, the wood content, workability for more flexibility in design and the benefit of no staining or sealing are among the selling features. But composites have their critics. Some say it is costly and those who favor wood comment that it does not have the natural look of wood. It can be heavier than wood, which is more of an installation issue.

One example of composites, Trex® decking, manufactured by Trex Co. of Winchester, Va., has been on the market for twelve years. It is a 50-50 combination of recycled and reclaimed plastic (polyethylene) and hardwood saw dust. Long-lasting beauty with good curvability for unlimited design, resistance to moisture and insects and no need for stains or sealants are among its attractive features. Based on a proprietary process, the company says there are favorable environmental issues. 

“Waste wood ends up in a landfill and so do recycled grocery bags,” said Trex spokesperson Maureen Murray. Trex takes a lot of recycled grocery bags and other plastic components, such as dry cleaning bags, department store bags and some agricultural film out of the waste stream.” 

She said that last year, Trex used more than 250 million pounds of reclaimed plastic and an equal amount of hardwood saw dust which would normally end up in landfills.

Another composite product, EverGrain® Decking by Epoch Composite Products, Inc. of Lamar, Mo., is made of recycled plastic, wood, flour and color. 

“We use more than 50-percent wood flour in the material,” said Dilpreet Bajwa, director of research and development. “EverGrain is very similar to what you will see with natural wood products such as Southern yellow pine. It is closer to wood than competitive products,” he added.

Bajwa said the grain on the surface won’t weather or wear off because it is permanent and will last for the life of the product. 

“EverGrain composite decking is made in multiple grain patterns so it looks like real wood, but resists nature’s worst weathering effects,” said Mick Whelan, vice president, sales/marketing/product development. He pointed out that EverGrain absorbs minimal moisture and doesn’t require painting, staining or sealing. 

… Vinyl 
Vinyl , like composites , is promoted as maintenance-free, with a non-skid surface. Protection from the sun’s rays eliminates fading. In some cases, patterns of grain create a wood-like surface. But the strongest criticism is that it does not look like wood, it does not have the strength of wood and consumers, for the most part, prefer a wood surface.

The tongue-and-groove deck board design, developed by Genova of Davison, Mich., adds strength to the structure and eliminates exposed fasteners for a clean, attractive appearance. With vinyl as the decking material, it provides a maintenance-free, non-skid surface in a diamond-patterned texture, eliminating painting, scraping and staining.

The Brook Deck and Deck Lok Systems from Royal Crown Ltd. of Millford, Ind., also provide the advantages of vinyl: it’s slip-resistant, has an embossed surface; has UV protection to resist fading; has no exposed fasteners; does not chip, flake or rust; and has tri-color extrusions for realistic and natural wood coloring. 

… Treated Wood 
Treated wood has the natural beauty and strength of wood but without requiring the maintenance that is characteristic of natural wood. Compared to composites and vinyl, it is more economical. In spite of its ability to resist termites and decay, some say it requires more maintenance than composites and vinyl and some are concerned that there are health issues related to the chemicals used to treat it.

Arch Wood Protection offers a brand of pressure-treated wood—Wolmanized® Natural Select—using a preservative (copper azole) that it licenses. The company describes its product as providing the natural beauty of wood, but with the strength to withstand wood’s natural enemies of termites and decay. 

… Natural Wood
Red cedar and other natural woods are known for their appearance—their natural beauty and strength. They use no chemicals. Compared to other materials, they are high-priced and rely on their track record for longevity in place of a warranty. They do require periodic maintenance to be long-lasting. 

The Western Red Cedar Lumber Association (WRCLA), which represents 30 manufacturers of Western red cedar products, actively promotes the benefits of cedar. 

“It has a beautiful appearance, it’s a very stable wood (the wood stays flat, straight and does not move), it is a renewable resource and it is naturally decay and insect-resistant (but not termite-proof),” said Paul Mackie, Western regional manager. 

The Dealer/Distributor Network 
Trex sells its products through approximately 90 wholesale distribution locations, which sell to 3,300 independent contractor-oriented retail lumberyards throughout the United States and Canada. Starting this year, according to Murray, the company’s products will be available in select Home Depot stores. 

Epoch sells EverGrain products to two-step distributors who sell it to dealers. Packaged in bundles, like lumber, it is protected with plastic sheeting. Whelan points out that while there is nothing unusual about its packaging, the product is heavier than wood and somewhat flexible. The cautionary note to users, said Whelan, is ”don’t carry more decking material than you can handle.” 

Genova has a two-tier system for distributing its products. The company sells to regional wholesalers and to distributors, who in turn sell to lumberyards and mom-and-pop businesses. They also sell directly to contractors.
Royal’s products are sold through a Pro-Dealer network that offers a turn-key installation of the company’s products.

“This Pro-Dealer network is not a franchise, but is typically a deck/fencing/railing installer that has chosen to build a business around our product line,” said Deron Manwaring, national marketing and sales manager.

According to Cees de Jager, a marketing consultant to WRCLA, manufacturing members sell to wholesale distributors who sell to retailers and the big-box stores. Some of the big-box stores may deal directly with the manufacturer. There are more than 160 member distributor locations in the United States. 

“Through our website, we are tied to a retail network. Retail locations that offer real cedar can easily be found by typing in a zip code,”said de Jager. 

While Arch focuses on those who license the manufacture of its preservatives, (such as independent wood treatment companies), its Natural Select products can be found at dealers. 

“Since we produce chemicals that enhance the properties of wood and we license production of brands of treated wood, our primary involvement is with the licensee,” said Huck DeVenzio, manager of marketing 
communications. 

“Thirty years ago, we introduced our brand as a do-it-yourself material. At that time, dealers took it on very reluctantly. They weren’t sure they would be able to sell it, and some of those dealers took it on consignment only. Now, just about every dealer in the country carries some brand of treated wood,” he added. 

Support For Distributors And Dealers 
Dealers and distributors are supported strongly by decking material manufacturers in many ways, from on-line and on-site training to co-op advertising. 

Trex Co., for example, has a number of distributor/dealer support programs: in-store merchandising programs and selling tools; product literature; contractor videos; co-op advertising; and a lead-generating website. The company website has a dealer and contractor locator program so homeowners can find a lumberyard or a “Trex-experienced” contractor, nearby, by providing a zip code. Murray explains that contractors can enroll through the company website for the TrexPro program. Training is also conducted at authorized Trex dealers.
“We have about 2500 registered contractors, and we inspect their decks and make sure they are using (the product) properly…We actually support our dealers in their contractor training,” said Murray. 

Epoch offers similar support to its network of dealers and distributors. In-store displays, technical support, promotional materials, trade and consumer advertising campaigns including a co-op program, regional and national PR campaigns and a website with a dealer locator are among the programs.

Royal’s start-up program is backed by an in-house sales support team. It includes: co-op advertising support, point-of-purchase samples, product literature and software programs for designing decks and railings.
Actual samples of decking are part of the store displays Genova provides. Instructional software for building decks is another promotional tool with a breakdown of materials needed. 

Throughout the manufacturer\dealer-distributor\retail network for Western red cedar products, WRCLA supports its members with training and promotional materials.

“We drive demand down to the distributor’s customer,” commented de Jager. “Even our advertising campaigns are made available for distributors who can incorporate their logos.”

On-line training modules developed by WRCLA for retailers (and distributors) simplify and expedite training of new employees. Although not a grading organization, the organization has also established easy-to-understand grading categories for consumer products such as siding and decking.
Warranties 
While all the decking alternatives boast of a natural look, their warranties are not the same. Murray said that Trex has a ten-year warranty, and it’s much different than a warranty for wood product.

EverGrain also offers a ten-year warranty from the date of the original purchase, but it’s a limited warranty. According to Bajwa, the warranty covers the product against rot, decay, splitting, chipping and termites.
Natural Select’s warranty is applicable as long as the original purchaser owns the property. It is not transferable. 
Genova and Royal offer limited lifetime warranties.

Manufacturers of Western red cedar decking, on the other hand, offer no warranties, said Mackie. He pointed out, using the following example, that Western red cedar is a proven performer. 

“I know of a home in Portland, Oregon … that has its original cedar siding and it was built in 1946. Properly maintained, we would expect significant longevity out of a deck.” 

Looking to the Future
According to Whelan, composites for decking and railing are about 12 to 14 percent of the overall decking market. 

“We estimate that composite decking could grow to approximately 25 percent market share over the next five years. Customers are leaning more and more toward composite decking because of its low maintenance,” he added.

“As more dealers and their customers reap the benefits from (our) decking and railing, such as no splinters, weather and insect-resistance, greater design options like curves and color combinations, you will see this category accelerate as industry experts predict. I think we are seeing the tip of the iceberg,” said Murray.
According to a Fredonia study, demand for plastic/vinyl decking has grown from 44 to 75 million board feet from 1995 to 2000 and is expected to reach 117 million board feet by 2005. 


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