Volume 48, Issue 2 - March/April 2009

Outdoor Oasis 

Outdoor Products Could Help Bring Revenue to Your Company
by Samantha Carpenter, editor of Shelter magazine.

Michael Morrow’s deck building business, Archadeck/Outdoor Living Inc., has been slow lately, but he says that orders are beginning to pick up. 

“I think the outdoor living product segment will continue to grow this year. Once the weather turns, people will begin to loosen some pent-up demand for these products.”

This will be good news, not only for Morrow, but for the dealers and distributors that supply deck builders with their products.

Jim Grewe, manager for Norandex in Youngstown, Ohio, agrees that the market is starting to increase. 

“I think that homeowners are starting to realize that there is value in outdoor products. We are starting to see some interest and we are already starting to sell some decks,” Grewe says.

The Bright Spot
Don Adams, managing partner at Fairway Building Products in Mt. Joy, Pa., says that outdoor products are “probably the single shining star in the building material business.”

“I think it’s going to be a good spring for decking, railing and accessories. I think a lot of people are going to be remodeling and that’s the place they want to do it.”

Other dealers, while still optimistic, are a little more hesitant.

“With the current economic climate, there is a lot of uncertainty in the market and most dealers … are optimistic about springtime and summertime bringing more activity than they have seen in the last 60 to 90 days,” says Chris Lynch of Reid and Wright Distributors in Denver. “However, they are taking a very cautious approach to inventories and winter buys.”

Commercial work is getting other dealers through the slower times.

“Our market has tapered down a little bit from the residential side, but we still have some commercial work for railing,” explains Ben Skaggs, principal at ADC Construction in Atlanta. Skaggs’ company is a dealer for the Vista railing system and his company handles mainly commercial construction.

“Currently, we have very little product on the boards, so that means the next eight months are going to be slower,” he says.

The Commercial Side
JC Rentschler, vice president of marketing and sales at JC Coastal Products Plus, says that while the Florida market is down, he is “seeing a very good surge in municipality, county, state and federal projects.”

He says that a lot of funds have been allocated for state projects, which will generate jobs in Florida.

“We are playing an extremely active role in working with these municipalities in order to get the product that they need,” Rentschler says.

While the market is slower in some areas, many distributors and dealers are doing what they can to gain market share in outdoor products.
Fairway Building Products does a lot of training with its customers.

“We put on deck and railing clinics and we do a lot of displays," says Dale Adams, general partner at Fairway.

Reid and Wright Distributors also has devoted yard space to displays. 

“We have more display space in our yard so people can actually come out and see the decking materials installed properly and so they can go out and touch and feel it,” says Lynch. “We are investing significant dollars in updating a showroom area to highlight the features of our outdoor living products.”

Winning the Battle
Mike Maharg, vice president of sales and marketing for OrePac in Portland, Ore., thinks “the action is going to take place at the retail outlet.”

“I don’t see inventories being as large are they were. I think a lot of it is how we focus the retail environment to sell composite decking in 2009. I think the battlefield is really going to be won right there at the retailer,” Maharg says. “How we train our retailers to sell the product, how we display the product and what their showrooms look like [will win the deals].”

Jonathan Ramsell, U.S. Lumber assistant brand manager in Greenville, S.C., concurs.

“More energy and money is being spent marketing to the end user at the dealer level. Dealers are generally stocking very little and offering a variety of options available through special order,” Ramsell says. “The selling has to be done to the end user … making point-of-sale marketing far more important.”

Mike Elmore, U.S. Lumber branch manager in Raleigh, N.C., says pull-through business also is important.“Marketing awareness and education is key to gaining your products’ acceptance in the field. That starts with targeted calls with a remodeler and builder and with their consumer,” Elmore explains.

Like the distributors and dealers that supply to him, Morrow knows as well as they do that consumers want to visualize what an outdoor product is going to look like. One thing is for sure, if you aren’t displaying your outdoor products, you might be giving away a proven opportunity.

“We try to display our products in user-oriented settings, including outdoor displays,” Morrow says. “This allows our customers to see them outdoors and become comfortable with their decision.”

Essentials to Gaining Customers
Here are some tips from Shelter readers on gaining market share in outdoor products.

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