How can an industry see its future when it can’t quite see itself? These are things I think about when I’m at home, watching TV (I know – my life is exciting). I frequently see commercials from companies like Champion Home Improvement and Window World. Pair these TV commercials with inserts in my Sunday paper from Champion and both lead me to wonder:
Does the window industry need a case of Windex?
This onslaught of consumer media has to be raising consumer awareness and preference for these brands over the brand leaders in windows.
I wonder what is the future for brands like Andersen, Pella, Marvin, Jeld-Wen and others? Are they going to be left with the low margin pieces of the business like selling to big boxes and builders? Will this also make it difficult for them to sell more profitable premium products? As big boxes and builders continue to question the value of branded products, will this also mean lower volume along with lower profit?
5 More Problems for Window Brands
1. There is a low cost of entry. Anyone can buy the components of a window, assemble them and call them “Your Name Goes Here” Window Company. The fact that there are around 700 window manufacturers shows this.
It’s like the pizza business. Anyone can open a pizza shop and there are a few leading brands. If a local shop is any good, they can outperform the national brand, especially in profit margins. Even with the national brands lower costs, they can beat them by not playing the discount game.
2. Make it simple. The majority of window sales are in the replacement market where the “let me make this simple for the homeowner” in home selling companies, like Champion have a big advantage over the branded window manufacturers. If a homeowner wanted to purchase a brand like Pella or Andersen, in many markets, it takes them a lot more time and effort.
3. Where did the profit go? Because Champion and Window World are selling the installation along with the windows, they make a higher profit per window. This gives them the money to plow back into consumer advertising which just keeps them outpacing branded windows.
The goal of the replacement window business is to get in the house. Champion has the added benefit that once they are in the house, there are many other projects they can sell where window brands only get one bite at the apple.
4. The consumer is confused. The window industry intentionally keeps the consumer confused. There may be a few architects and builders who actually understand the myriad of optional window features but consumers don’t. The overwhelmed consumer usually gives up and looks for someone they trust to help them. This person is usually an in-home selling specialist whose job is to help the homeowner by reducing all the choices to the ones offered by him.
5. Consumers buy a solution, not a product. Champion is selling a solution while window brands are selling products that are not easy to buy. In home selling companies also avoid the price comparison problem that plagues so many home improvement products. If a contractor is trying to sell a leading brand, the homeowner will frequently pull out a big box ad and assume he should get that price.
I’m not a window expert and I certainly have a lot of respect for the leading window brands as well run successful companies. When I look at the window market it’s just hard for me to see a positive picture them in the long term without some big changes.
Some areas where I think they should look at are doing a better job of educating consumers about windows in general and not why their product is better. I would want to make it harder for the Champion’s and Window World’s by having a more educated consumer. Car dealers report that consumers now walk into the showroom and know more about the car than the salesman. If it can be done with automobiles why not windows?
Another area is innovation. Leading brands should far outpace everyone else in innovation. The innovation they are now developing either has low value or they aren’t making homeowners aware of them.
My last suggestion is that window brands ask them selves what business they are in and what are their measures of success. Too many large building material manufacturers no longer grow profits by being providers of innovative branded solutions. They now try to grow profits by optimizing the output of their old factories and cutting costs. Perhaps some Windex on those old factory windows will help them see a more profitable future.