Call it the ProSales desk-pile index: every Thanksgiving through early January, this magazine's product editor gets inundated with manufacturers' new-product announcements in advance of the International Builders' Show (IBS). But something happened to that pile in recent years.
Before last year's show, at the tail end of 2008, we got information on about 150 new products. Leading up to this year's show, we received less than half that amount. A lot of large manufacturers are "not even showing up at the big trade shows," notes Chris Reiten, vice president of marketing and purchasing for Boise, Idaho-based BMC Select.
Clearly, the recession led manufacturers to release fewer new products, skip trade shows, and spend fewer dollars marketing new and in-stock goods. But by the time IBS took place in Las Vegas late in January, we got the sense another shift was under way. Many companies used the same phrase–"cautious optimism"–to describe their outlook for 2010.
While some firms remain unable to release new products, they are repackaging old selections to meet new market demands. Some companies also are targeting releases to fit more specific builder needs. In short, they're focusing on products this year that are low-cost, green, or fill a specific niche in the marketplace.
For the past couple years, dealers have seen a drop in the amount of information they receive on new products, both in actual releases and in marketing efforts.
"In 2009, fewer new products were launched, resulting in a decrease of new product listings than previous years," states Jim Drexinger, senior vice president of sourcing for Raleigh, N.C.-based Stock Building Supply.
"From our point of view, the marketing and promotions have been retrenched," adds Ken Rhoades, corporate advertising and merchandising manager for BMC Select. "I think the companies committed to continual marketing and promotion are going to benefit quicker."
However, both dealers add that good new products have still been released this year, in spite of the slimmer numbers.
"Manufacturers are offering more entry-price point products, along with products that lower the builder's cost, yet meet the expected functionality," Drexinger says. "Manufacturers are also offering more green-oriented products."
In addition, repackaging older products benefit builders.
"I think today's users have a high level of intelligence, and they want good information quick and pinpointed to their needs," Rhoades explains. "They don't want to pay more, but they want assurance that the products they do buy fit with green criteria."
Reiten also sees firms offering more products to the remodeling industry.
"More people are staying at home," he says. "For us in the retail set, in our operation, we want to be able to sell products into remodeling."
Above all, price seems to be the driving factor for many of today's buying decisions. In response, an array of manufacturers have introduced more basic products at lower price points.
Simpson Doors has seen a push for products with "simplicity in design," "less embellishments," and a "back-to-basic" feel, says Brad Loveless, marketing manager for Simpson.
At IBS, TimberTech highlighted a composite product, ReliaBoard. A new formulation reduces the cost of this decking product to one on par with a lower-priced composite.
"We're back to that focus on the first-time homebuyer and lower-end products," Reiten says. "I think you're seeing manufacturers focusing on great-quality products on the lower end."
The Green Mile
Green products can add value to projects in two ways. Monetarily, they allow homeowners to save on energy costs. And green products can make one builder stand out from the next.
"We see customers using 'green' as a point of differentiation," commented Drexinger in an e-mail. "But that value must be present."
At IBS, Georgia-Pacific focused on adding green certifications to existing products. For example, its DryPly plywood subfloor is now certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. It also launched its "Just the Facts" marketing campaign, which "provides builders and dealers with information about Georgia-Pacific Wood Products' innovative, sustainable building products and practices," the company states in a press release.
iLevel by Weyerhaueser introduced new software, which it will release in 2011, that shows builders how to use its products in advanced framing techniques. The software can help builders meet requirements for version three of the Energy Star for Homes program, the company states. Additionally, "iLevel's Javelin software enables users to design wall framing to meet Energy Star requirements with appropriate framing member sizing and placement," the company says.
Shannon Hughes, marketing director for iLevel, says the company has been repackaging products to showcase how they can be used in green building.
Companies are also focusing products to meet the needs of remodelers and niche markets. For example, Simonton's new Decorum line of window products feature wood veneer interiors. These can better match existing home decors, the company states. At IBS, YKK introduced its Precedence line of vinyl replacement windows that are meant to mimic the look of wood windows.
Drexinger says some of his favorite product releases this year have been windows targeted to the remodeling market.
One of the major highlights at the Merillat booth at IBS was its CoreGuard sink base. The base is made from an engineered polymer to help avoid damage from water leaks; the base also slants so leaks will be detected easier; and a ribbed construction helps elevate stored products above water. The product stood out from the company's usual new door styles and finishes because it addressed a problem in the marketplace, says Mark Ayers, Merillat's vice president of marketing and communications.
"We're having to take a look at how we can provide new and exciting things in order to really demonstrate functional solutions," he says. "They're not the typical types of products that we've looked at in the past."