Building a Future for Distributors and Dealers of Building Products
Volume 44, Issue 5 June 2005
ATTENTION ON DECK
Composite-Decking Has Brought Growth
To Georgie Distributor
by Samantha Carpenter
Composite decking is one of the most popular decking materials in the marketplace today. Homeowners are always looking for ways to spruce up their backyards or the outside to their homes.
Atlanta is the number-one housing market in the country, so it was only natural for the U.S. Lumber Group branch in Suwanee, Ga.—which services most of Georgia—to carry one of the country’s most well known composite-decking brands.
U.S. Lumber is the result of the merger seven years ago of two companies that were similar in scope—Bestwood Forest Products, which had locations in Greenville, S.C., and Raleigh, N.C.—and the Atlantic Trading Co., which had locations in Birmingham, Ala., Atlanta and Columbia, S.C. Besides the locations named previously, the company also has locations in Baltimore, Md., Charleston S.C., Jacksonville, Fla., and Knoxville, Tenn.
A History with Trex
The company has been carrying Trex decking since March 2000.
“We are going into our sixth season with the product line,” Kevin Weisgerber, regional product development manager, said.
By 2000, the company was already very involved in exploring low-maintenance products—such as decking, siding and trim products—and it was about that time that the company had an opportunity to become a Trex distributor.
While the company does distribute a competing brand in a few areas, in the majority of the company’s market areas it distributes Trex, which according to Weisgerber, “remains the number-one brand name in the country.”
Weisgerber explained that Trex is the number-one company as far as providing the product to the marketplace, it has a wide variety of product and the company can deliver a large amount of product. Trex has two different plants, and it is building a third plant in Olive Branch, Miss., a suburb of Memphis, Tenn.
U.S. Lumber does not sell Trex in some markets because the company recently expanded and there are two Trex distributors in those areas, already.
“The positive side to this is that Trex is protecting those distributors in a way that we would expect if the situation was the opposite,” Weisgerber said. “Our intention now will be to earn the distribution in those areas by displaying continued strong growth in the areas we currently have.”
What’s in Stock
When it comes to stocking the decking, Weisgerber says it’s done differently at each location, depending on space.
“Here we stock it outside and keep it covered as best we can,” he said.
Weisgerber explains that one of the issues with composite decking is that it’s not as rigid as wood. Distributors need to be careful to store it flat and place the sticks evenly apart and directly on top of each other.
“Depending on the pace of business, that might not be easy to do every time, but we try to do as best we can,” he said.
Weisgerber says another issue would be keeping it outside.
“We want to keep it covered as much as possible. This is because the pieces that are exposed become weathered a little bit and start to become their final weathered color. —leading the homeowner to thinking that there is a problem, when there really isn’t,” he said.
The Issue of Fading
Weisgerber says that Trex has always been sold as a product that has different colors.
“There were two colors early on that they ran with in the beginning, Natural and Winchester Gray. Both were sold as products that weathered to a final color after three or four months … It was sold that way, advertised that way and the contractor handbook stated it that way. If there has ever been an issue with fading, it has been in getting the message out from a sales perspective on our level and that of the dealer level,” he said.
Weisgerber feels that with a composite-decking material that changes color, the message doesn’t always get communicated to the homeowner.
“The product itself gets the black eye—where it really shouldn’t because it wasn’t sold correctly,” he added.
Now Trex offers three colors—Saddle, Woodland Brown and Madeira—that are color-stable.
“They come in one color and lighten a bit, but they don’t actually change color like Natural and Winchester Gray,” Weisgerber said.
A Trendy Product
Decking trends nationally are definitely going more and more toward alternative products, according to Weisgerber.
“The South has been a little bit slower to respond to that … compared to the Northeast and different areas of the country where composite decking might compete against higher-grade lumber like cedar and redwood where the pricing is much closer together,” he said. “In the south, there is a larger price gap between composite decking and number-two Southern yellow pine. That’s the main reason it’s been slower to grow down here, but sales have been growing every year we’ve been selling Trex.”
The Trex Co. doesn’t just leave its distributors to fend for themselves when it comes to marketing its product.
Weisgerber feels Trex has helped U.S. Lumber sell the decking product to its customers by maintaining the dominant brand name in its segment of the industry. “They have spent a lot of money to grow and maintain their top brand name. They are the Kleenex of the composite-decking industry,” Weisgerber said.
Welcome Race Fans
When U.S. Lumber started carrying Trex, the company created a product development arm, of which Weisgerber is a part.
“Our product development group does many of the same things that manufacturer field reps do. We work with many of our cutting-edge, low-maintenance products like Trex, focusing on pull-through efforts in order to grow our customer’s business,” he said.
“We also—through our dealer base—do a lot of cooperative events or advertising. There’s a lot of money spent on that every year. We do contractor events and cookouts, to name a few.”
One of the most interesting Trex product promotions for the company has involved NASCAR.
This year, Trex Co. partnered with DEWALT Tools, the primary sponsor, for a series of 38 racing events, including two non-point special events during the year. The companies sponsor the No. 17 car driven by Matt Kenseth.
Throughout all the year’s races, Trex will have its logo on a part of the car, except for the March 20th Atlanta race, where it was the “Trex Car.” U.S. Lumber had the car visit some of its Trex dealers for promotional activities.
Up to the Challenge
There are some challenges to selling the low-maintenance composite-decking product. One of these, Weisgerber said, is educating its dealer base and maintaining the training of the company’s salespeople on how to sell Trex.
“We don’t just want them to leave it with the price and hope that their customer goes for it. Our customer needs to understand the value-added aspects in selling the product,” Weisgerber said.
Another issue that has come up with composite decking involves mold growth.
“The whole issue of mold growth on composite decking is that early on when the product came on the scene … it was being sold by dealers and distributors as a no-maintenance product,” he said. “Anything that is outside is going to get dirty and subject to mold and mildew. I like to say in my training meetings that if we stand outside in the Southeast long enough, we’ll get mold and mildew on us.”
Weisgerber said it’s important to sell the product as a low-maintenance product that needs periodic cleaning.
“Periodic cleaning for a Trex deck is to use an inexpensive deck wash once or twice a year. Even if the deck doesn’t have mold or mildew, it’s a good preventive measure,” he said.
Besides Trex, U.S. Lumber distributes a wide variety of building products out of its 130,000-square-foot Suwanee facility. While Weisgerber couldn’t comment on the company’s revenue for last year, he said that two-step distribution has been very strong in the Southeast and the company has been experiencing very good growth.
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