Volume 46, Issue 4 - May 2007

Moulding the Future
From the WMMPA
by Kellie A. Schroeder, executive vice president of the WMMPA.

Poly Mouldings: Why Now? Is it Change We Fear or the Competition?

Ever since the Wood Moulding & Millwork Producers Association (WMMPA) voted to open up its membership to poly moulding and millwork manufacturers last year, I have been bombarded with questions. 

The most common question is: “Why now?” I have to keep biting my tongue repeatedly in order to keep from saying out loud: “Why not now?” 

For several years, the WMMPA kept the miniscule poly market on its radar. (Okay, poly manufacturers, please don’t overload my e-mail box with nasty comments for saying miniscule. You have to admit a few years back your market share was miniscule compared to the solid wood, finger-joint and medium-density fiberboard (MDF) markets. Just trying to prove a point here is all.) 

Why would an organization of wood manufacturers care about such a small portion of such a significantly large industry? It was readily apparent to our membership the poly manufacturers might end up evolving into a sizeable group, like the MDF manufacturers.

The Ugly Duckling Transforms 
How far back do you have to go to recall the ugly start of the MDF board and subsequent MDF mouldings? With the quality MDF products on the market nowadays, that’s a distant memory. But, just in case you had forgotten, MDF experienced a second coming. Its first foray into the marketplace in the 70s and 80s was met with jeers all around. It was too heavy and wasn’t a nice finished product.

Each time someone mentioned MDF in conversation, people would spew snide comments. In fact, the word “volcano-ing” or “volcanoing” or was it “volcanoeing” (which happens when you nail or screw the board into the wall, and the product bubbles up around it) was born out of MDF installation mishaps. (That is the problem with made up words; you just cannot pull out the Webster’s to verify its spelling.) The point: MDF was an ugly word back then, and no one wanted to associate with it. 

“MDF mouldings were a price substitute product when first introduced to the marketplace,” says John Morrison, president of Sunset Moulding Co. in Live Oak, Calif. “It was a very heavy product with a sub-par finish that was produced for the buyers that were only interested in a low price.”

MDF products were fulfilling a need, but their audience was extremely small due to their performance problems. All the while, the WMMPA watched and waited. Well, this Ugly Duckling product did not turn tail and run when it met resistance in the marketplace. No, the MDF board manufacturers went back to the drawing board and changed its characteristics to make a lighter, easier to install and more attractive product for distributors, builders and DIY-ers alike.

Gone were the snarky comments to be replaced with words of praise. It took a few years, but the MDF board refined itself into a quality product by the mid-1990s and roared back into the marketplace. People started thinking of MDFs as an economical, high-quality product and, with its widespread acceptance in the millwork industry, it spurred traditional wood moulding and millwork manufacturers to install MDF lines in their plants. Sunset Moulding Co. did this in 1999.

“We recognized MDF mouldings now had the chance to be a high-quality alternate product,” John Morrison recalled. With tremendous faith in the revolutionized MDF board, advances in equipment, and his company’s high standard of service, Morrison felt comfortable enough to brand the Sunset reputation onto his new product line. 

Suntrim® burst onto the market in 1999, and Morrison hasn’t looked back since. With the addition of the Suntrim® MDF mouldings, Sunset Moulding Co. was now offering the wide variety of products demanded by its customer base. 

And to Morrison’s credit, the service behind the Suntrim® MDF products did not lag behind his solid lineal or finger-joint wood moulding products. The revitalized MDF board, coupled with Sunset’s quality assurance standard, paved a golden path to success for Suntrim®. It was truly a fairy-tale ending for the at-first ostracized MDF concept.

The Little Engine That Could
If the Ugly Duckling relates the MDF story, then the Little Engine could very well represent the poly manufacturers’ quest to break the glass ceiling in the millwork arena. 

This glass ceiling is held in place by wood, MDF mouldings and millwork. The WMMPA believes the Little Engine (the poly manufacturers) will begin making its ascent up the mountain over the course of the next few years. No one predicts it exploding through the glass, but the gentle tapping since 2000 has definitely introduced cracks that are beginning to feather. 

While those cracks streak through the glass, the WMMPA will be assisting the poly manufacturers. The goal is to give the Poly Blends group a new tool within the next three months that should prove useful. Currently, the WMMPA produces a WM® Price Index depicting historical pricing for solid, finger-joint and MDF mouldings. 

During the WMMPA’s last business meeting, the Poly Blends group voted to conduct its own price index. The Poly Price Index should emerge shortly, and those poly manufacturers that would like to participate need to contact the WMMPA office. 

In addition to the Poly Price Index, the WMMPA is consulting with eight of its poly manufacturing members to determine their needs and the best methods the association should devise to meet them. Specific topics geared toward the poly producers shall be introduced during the next WMMPA Summer Business Meeting to enhance their “I think I can” determination.

In A Kingdom Far, Far Away
Now, back to those pointed questions regarding the WMMPA embracing poly products. I think the questions set me on edge since many infer the WMMPA suffers from a case of wood elitism, which we clearly do not. 

The paths our membership has followed over the years define us as inclusionists—from our wood and MDF manufacturers to our international membership. I’ve retold the MDF saga to you, and how we equate the poly manufacturers to the MDF manufacturers. Hopefully, I’ve conveyed the point that we are dedicated to the success of our new Poly Blends group, and pray their story will evolve much like our MDF manufacturers we took in more than ten years ago. 

I will tell you this: it is not the fear of change in the marketplace, but the fear of how the change will affect current member manufacturers as the poly products take hold. It is not fear of competition, but how the market will absorb another product line in an ever-tightening market. That being said, the WMMPA membership realizes that poly products are moulding and millwork, and they belong with our group, not outside of it. 

The WMMPA will be sending out its registration packets in early June for our next business meeting taking place September 12-15, 2007, at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada. There will be a pre-meeting getaway held in Banff for those that can get away, but the main business sessions will be held on the shores of the infamous Lake Louise. 

If you are a manufacturer of mouldings and millwork and would like to join us in Canada this September, contact the WMMPA office at 530/661-9591 or info@wmmpa.com to request further information. Get yourself to a WM® meeting, we want to talk to you. 


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