|Brent Gwatney is Senior Vice President for sales and marketing at MoistureShield Composite Decking. He has specialized in the building industry for more than 30 years, working with manufacturers, dealers, design professionals, contractors, building officials, and others. Gwatney can be reached at email@example.com.|
Q: With housing and remodeling red-hot right now in most markets, what do you see as the biggest opportunity—and the biggest challenge—for LBM dealers?
A: The biggest challenges I see with dealers around the country are having enough of the right staff to take care of people coming in the front door, enough trucks to deliver on time and enough inventory to be able to supply customers in full.
With staff, it’s not just having a body, but trained product specialists who are able to understand what the customer’s needs are. Since we’ve lost so many good people from the industry, this will remain a challenge for years to come.
On the positive side, this challenge also presents an opportunity. Those dealers who are able to fix these problems will be best positioned to grow market share by fulfilling customers’ wants and desires.
Q: With millions of aging decks throughout the U.S., deck safety is a very real issue. What should LBM dealers do to educate builders and homeowners?
A: LBM dealers have the unique opportunity to take the lead in helping builders understand how to better sell deck upgrades or replacements to homeowners. Dealers don’t have to figure it out on their own, since they can get plenty of data and guidance from groups like NADRA—the North American Deck and Railing Association at www.nadra.org. In addition to growing their business, dealers also can derive satisfaction from helping keep the public safe with better decks.
Q: After the downturn, many dealers began relying more on their wholesale distributors for inventory. How do you see that trend playing out?
A: Dealers counting on their wholesalers to maintain inventory might have worked during the downturn, but now wholesale distributors won’t be able to stock enough product for dealers to take care of their customer’s needs, especially across decking sizes and colors. It all comes down to space limitations and not being able to tie up excess money in inventory. Further, product lead times from manufacturers are getting longer during decking season as they strive to make enough product to meet demand. To be the go-to decking provider, dealers will need to stock up early to have enough inventory to get the through Labor Day, especially for the most popular colors and sizes in their market. As the old adage says: “you can’t sell from an empty shelf,” so it tends to be the yards that stock product that get the sale.
Q: Many completed new homes are left with a ledger board in place, but no deck. What can LBM dealers do to get builders to include deck packages with new homes?
A: Deck packs are key to simplifying the buying process. Homeowners, and many builders, are not experienced with pricing decks, so this can be a source of uncertainty to them. The solution is prepackages of decking, railing and framing, in various sizes, which provides cost certainty. Some LBM dealers are doing this today, and doing a really good job of it.
One key to success is working with your distributor to develop the deck packs for ready delivery to the jobsite.
Q: Composite decking products today have come a long ways. What changes/improvements should dealers watch for in the next few years?
A: Composite products are being engineered in ways not seen since the category started, leading to innovations every day. Some improvements to watch for include better fade and stain resistance, with eventual lifetime warranties for this performance. Also, decking designed to absorb less heat, for a more comfortable surface. And, an ever wider range of capped and uncapped products able to withstand the rigors of ground and water contact.
One of the innovations I’m most excited about is the eventual ability for builders or designers to personalize the surface appearance of deck boards, going beyond the look of wood to custom colors and finishes that tie together indoor and outdoor living spaces.