Volume 35, Number 3, March 2000

 FenestrationFocus

Following the Industry:

Consolidation Connections

fenestration industry—on the merging bandwagon

by Susan Douglas

Consolidation is changing the face of the fenestration industry. While NFRC’s overall membership is growing, I have watched as one company after another was bought and swallowed whole by competitors. The associations that serve the industry are adjusting to this new reality as well. The AAMA and WDMA are expected to merge within a year or two to form one giant trade association.

The primary reason for the race to consolidate is the same for everyone: the need to serve customers better in an increasingly competitive world.

Serving customers better is NFRC’s number one priority for the new millennium. According to Jim Krahn, NFRC chairman, one way we can do that “is to make our database accessible to the greatest number of people possible.” To achieve that goal, we may need to jump on the consolidation bandwagon. Let me tell you why.

The NFRC Certified Products Directory database is the heart of our organization. From the database flows accurate information that our varied customers use to choose the right product for their project, home, or office building. The data fills the temporary labels affixed to every NFRC-certified product, making the next paper edition of the directory a three-volume set nearly six inches high.

Until this year, a paper version of our database was the only way people outside of our organization could access the database information, limiting its appeal. Most code officials lugged the version around from job site to job site. Some architects kept one on the shelf, while less technical customers were simply left out. A few were sent out each year to homeowners looking for information on windows, doors, or skylights, but it probably didn’t help much.

We’re now racing to catch up with technology. The eighth edition of the directory, the most recent, will soon be available on CD-ROM with a limited search capability. Want to look at energy performance ratings for every product from a single company or ratings for every casement window in the directory? Just point and click. We’re also working on a more advanced CD-ROM with improved search capabilities for the ninth edition. And by the end of next year, we plan to be on the World Wide Web.

Putting our company online will be a quantum leap forward in our ability to serve our customers. But what do most of our customers really want? Based on my conversations with them, particularly with architects and other more-technical groups, they want one-stop shopping. That’s where consolidation comes in.

Consider this, NFRC provides energy performance information in the form of U-Factor, SHGC, and visible transmittance ratings. We’ll be adding air leakage and condensation resistance soon, and in longer terms, we hope to offer energy-related ratings such as UV protection and comfort. This is important information, but it doesn’t come close to telling the whole story about product performance.

In addition, AAMA and WDMA offer certification of air, water, and structural performance parameters, while manufacturers offer windows in different frame colors and glazing tints. Also, looking in the NFRC database won’t tell you if a product has received an ENERGY STAR® rating.

The only way to provide one-stop shopping for our customers is to consolidate the databases that contain all of this information. This may come in the form of one, big, searchable database or through a single Web portal that offers access to all relevant databases. This is the direction the industry must head, and we see it as one of our most important long-term goals.

As always, the devil is in the details. Each database mentioned includes proprietary information that individual groups will not want to share. The technical challenges are well-known but daunting. Under the right circumstances, NFRC would be willing to consider sharing its Certified Products Directory database with others to provide our customers with the information they need in the format they want. In a rapidly consolidating world, it’s the only way to go.

Susan Douglas serves as an administrator of the NFRC located in Silver Spring, Md. Fenestration Focus appears monthly with rotating columnists.


USG

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