Lapointe Lumber doesn't stock much millwork anymore. That's because 90% of its window sales and 80% of its door sales are special orders. The Augusta, Maine-based pro dealer has also seen upticks in special orders for siding, specialty lumber, and wood patterns. "A lot of siding is getting prefinished, or there are orders for custom colors," says co-owner Dick Tarr.

MANAGEABLE: Sunbelt Material Handling helps dealers keep a grip on special orders by selling portable millwork racking systems, which can be placed directly onto delivery trucks. As Maine goes, so goes the rest of the industry. Lapointe is like many pro dealers whose special orders are growing. And some items–like fiber-cement siding, composite decking, and builders' hardware–are generating enough interest among customers to possibly merit stocking positions in the future.

"It's not special orders anymore; it's normal business," says Greg Pannell, vice president of merchandising and vendor relations for San Marcos, Texas-based McCoy's Building Supply Centers, whose 85 stores from Mississippi to New Mexico have seen special orders rise to 8.2% of total sales last year, up from 6.8% in 2005.

Jim Cannon, sales manager for Omaha, Neb.-based Builders Supply, says that maintenance-free products in particular are breaking out beyond special orders to become stocked inventory at his yard.

But there isn't a dealer in this country that doesn't have special orders loitering, returned and remaindered, in its yard or warehouse. That's especially true now that the housing slump is forcing contractors to delay or halt projects, so what they've ordered might not be delivered for months (if at all) and sits idly in their yards, accumulating carrying costs. That could explain why dealers with substantial special-order sales don't automatically gain storage or selling space.

And don't get dealers started about homeowners who will cancel and stop payments when what they've ordered or when it's delivered doesn't match their expectations. Dealers also say special orders sometimes require using suppliers with which they have no previous relationship, and that has the potential for problems.

The good news is that more vendors are geared for special orders, with smaller minimum-order requirements and shorter lead times. Van Isley, president of Professional Builders Supply (PBS) of Morrisville, N.C., singles out MW Windows, which a decade ago made everything for stocking inventory.

"Now, they are completely setup for job-lot quantities and have a fairly strict two-week lead time," Isley says.

This spring, Marvin Windows and Doors plans to introduce a Web-based ordering system that will let dealers and their customers place special orders by a variety of options, including frame size, outside dimensions, even metric. "Every order we get now is a special order," says Tom Sinning, Marvin's director of dealer sales.