That doesn’t mean dealers selling shutters can relax, however. Competition is heating up, especially with imported products entering the market, so more than ever before, developing a relationship with a trusted manufacturer, keeping an eye on costs and staying current on product knowledge will be essential to survival. Here’s what our experts have to say.
MOVE AWAY FROM PRICE
Gulf Coast Window Covering
The demand for vinyl, composite and wood shutters has grown significantly from last year. We estimate the U.S. shutter market sales to be over $646 million this year with hollow vinyl making up 13 percent of the total, composite 12 percent and the remaining 75 percent in wood. We believe the overall market is increasing by 15 percent per year.
To be successful in this market specialty retailers and designers should look for a shutter that allows them to differentiate their product offering from all of the other commodity-type shutters on the market, and one that allows them to actually talk about things like variety of choices, services, training, name brand recognition, warranty, etc. By doing so, retailers and designers move the consumer away from price discussion and allow them to upgrade their sale and profit dollars.
Recent innovations are making shutters a more versatile and marketable product, such as the new Heritance® hardwood shutters from Hunter Douglas. They are quality, name brand custom shutters that can be installed in less than four weeks. The unique dovetail joint construction that offers a fine furniture construction along with the innovative finishing process for an upscale look and uniformity from panel to panel makes these new hardwood shutters a very marketable product.
AN EYE ON COSTS, IMPORTS
I have spent the past few months traveling around the Southeast looking for expansion property for our company. I have seen firsthand what we are hearing in the news media. Our manufacturing base is being exported. I have seen building after building emptied by manufacturing flight. I have stated before and I still stand by the belief, shutter fabricators that have labor-intensive shutter programs will feel the pinch from imports. Fabricators who are efficient and have little labor cost per square foot will survive and thrive next year.
Quality shutters are a lifetime investment. They have been the strongest high-end window treatment for the past few years and the long-term future is still very bright. Our PolyDesign shutter program is ideally suited to compete with imports due to our low labor cost per square foot. It is important for us to maintain and improve our fabricators’ margins without lowering our product’s quality standards with lesser quality materials as with many imported shutters.
This next year we are introducing programs to help our fabricators purchase new machinery and improve their production. We also are looking at other alternatives to help improve margins for our fabricators because we believe our success depends on their success.
KNOWLEDGE AND TRUST
Brand Manager for Heritance® hardwood shutters
Hunter Douglas Window Fashion
Has the demand for shutters grown from just last year? Absolutely. Based on continued growth and interest in a quality wood shutter, Hunter Douglas has recently launched Heritance® hardwood shutters.
Specialty retailers and designers should look for a supplier that offers product quality, brand credibility and a service program that helps build their business. Dealers should be aware that there are some suppliers that are in direct competition with them, selling shutters both wholesale and retail.
When assessing product quality, dealers and designers should evaluate the shutter’s construction, finish, consistency and component sizes, as well as how the wood is treated and tested to prevent future warping and twisting.
Brand recognition and credibility are other criteria dealers and designers should look for in a supplier. Shutters are one of the most expensive window covering options for consumers. To provide consumers with that needed “comfort factor,” dealers and designers will have more credibility selling a nationally branded product that consumers know and trust.
Outstanding service is also essential. Dealers want a dependable suppler that understands their needs and is interested in partnering with them to ensure mutual growth through incentives, such as marketing support, co-op advertising, training, installation resources and quick turnaround. The consumer needs to know that the product comes with a warranty worthy of their investment. Dealers and designers also want to be sure they are not going to be left “holding the bag” with warranty issues five, 10, even 20 years down the road.
To meet these important criteria, Heritance hardwood shutters are built using the finest dovetail construction. As the only nationally branded and marketed wood shutter available, they provide consumers with confidence in a name they know and trust. Unlike any other supplier, Heritance is offered with a lifetime limited warranty.
Utilizing unique finishing technology equipment that ensures consistency, strength and beauty, Heritance hardwood shutters delivers a finish that is far superior to the industry standard. Add to this the dovetail construction and you have a premium shutter product that commands a premium price and translates into greater profit margins.
VERSATILITY DRIVES THE MARKET
The growth rate of the shutter market is ever increasing among today’s homeowners as they rediscover the natural beauty and flexibility offered by shutters to enhance any décor.
Consumer awareness of adding value and sophistication to their homes has helped shutters become a first-rate choice. As windows become larger because of their energy efficiency homeowners can choose shutters to control lighting with larger blade louvers and expose more view.
Versatility in styles, colors and wood species drives the marketplace. It is important to meet unique specifications for all architectural needs. Customer satisfaction needs to be taken to a new level of dedication with quality, value and exceptional customer service. Wood is still the natural selection because of the feeling of warmth it can create, and it is a renewable energy source. Vinyl products are becoming popular as another option.
Mastercraft Industries takes pride in its 55 years of shutter experience and even with a sluggish economy we plan to go forward with a full line of products to meet the needs of the future. We see only an upward climb of the ever-timeless shutter industry. Our factory is striving to handle larger capacities more efficiently
QUALITY PRODUCTS, TRAINING
Elmar Window Fashions
Elmar Window Fashions specializes in shutters! With a separate manufacturing facility exclusively for producing Heritance hardwood and Palm Beach Custom shutters, Elmar is committed to delivering quality products within a two to three week time period. Plus, Elmar has a dedicated shutter customer service department staffed with experts who are committed to your specific needs. These individuals are available to answer your questions, generate quotes and provide assistance to help make selling shutters virtually effortless.
Elmar continually holds thorough shutter training seminars that focus on product knowledge, installation, sales tips and marketing. These hands-on seminars range from one to three days and focus on building your understanding of all aspects of selling and installing wood and vinyl shutters. Training sessions are held throughout the country and at Elmar’s corporate headquarters in Willow Grove, PA.
Plus, Elmar Window Fashions is pleased to announce the development of a Certified Installer Base throughout the country. Just give Elmar a call to find an installer in your area for both Heritance hardwood and Palm Beach Custom shutters. All of these certified shutter installers have completed a comprehensive training program and have been hand selected by Elmar, allowing you to sell with confidence.
The key to success for retailers today is to have a quality product and a unique service that differentiates them in the marketplace from all their competitors. We’ve seen a great increase in the calling for our ShutterSMART product line. One reason is the overall increase in shutter demand, but the more significant reason is that more retailers are learning about how ShutterSMART can help them make more money.
Once a consumer is convinced of the benefits that a retailer’s unique product and service can deliver, automatically sales start growing and selling prices stay higher, which means retailers make more money. ShutterSMART gives retailers just that with its high-quality vinyl clad wood shutter that is unique in the marketplace. Plus we give our retailers awesome service with our two-week lead time. The result: The demand for ShutterSMART is up, our network of exclusive fabricators is growing and our retailers truly believe in the product and continue to sell more. The year ahead should be unprecedented for ShutterSMART and all our business partners.
ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
V.P. Marketing & Business Development
Finecraft Custom Shutters Ltd.
The demand for shutters has grown tremendously and with great anticipation for value. The growth in business has been generated by educated designers asking the right questions (quality of construction, finish, features and service). Finecraft has geared our manufacturing technology to meet the growth and anticipation for continued growth.
Specialty retailers and designers should look for companies that offer them the full value package. They should ask discriminating questions such as:
• How are your shutters constructed?
• Are your shutters a slide-in construction, or are they built with true craftsmanship to withstand the harsh environment of weather that sits on the window where the shutters are installed?
• How are they finished?
• Are the shutters rough all over, are the problem areas treated (push rod, mouse hole, inside stile, etc) or are they smooth as silk with a grand piano finish?
• What type of selling tools do you offer?
• Do you only sell off a printed spread sheet by a square foot cost?
• Do you charge me for multiple panels?
• Do you have an informative color sales catalogue that helps me with all aspects of shutters?
• Will you give me grids like with blinds so I can easily discount and not have to guess what my profit is going to be?
• What type of marketing tools do you have?
• Do you have sample books of some sort?
• Do you only have little hand samples, or do you have a portable merchandiser available to really impress the consumer?
• Do you have local distribution on a national level that can service me locally with a real person?
• Where can I find a Finecraft distributor who can give me all the value above today?
Recent innovations have made shutters a more versatile and marketable product. They include: custom stains as well as paints, manuel or motorized tilt, center or hiden push rod, child safety features.
Comfortex Window Fashions
Possibly the oldest window treatment known to man besides curtains and draperies, shutters have made an amazing resurgence in recent years. Perhaps it’s the functionality, the fashion or maybe just the tradition. Whatever the case, shutters of all kinds have been increasing in popularity at an unbelievable rate and this past year has been no exception. Comfortex has seen tremendous growth in this category and we have forecast double digit growth to continue in 2004 and 2005.
One of the biggest reasons for recent growth has been product innovation. New products, or in this case, a new twist on an old product, always generates excitement. New louver styles, new applications and, most importantly, new materials have played enormous roles in recent shutter evolution.
Many more choices are now available to consumers, each with its distinct characteristics and unique attributes. The oldest, and still with the lion’s share of the market, is wood. Wood is versatile, beautiful and available for many applications and in many different finishes. High-quality wood shutters with a high-quality finish are a beautiful option, but are almost always the most expensive choice for consumers.
Several variations of PVC plastic shutters have been introduced in recent years. Generally, most PVC shutters offer a good quality product with a good surface finish at a much lower price than wood. Because it is far less expensive for manufacturers and fabricators, they can pass the savings on to the dealers and consumers; however, PVC plastic shutters seem to lack the character and warmth of genuine wood products.
A relative newcomer to the shutter market, wood composite materials combine some of the most favorable attributes of both wood and PVC to create a great new option for consumers. Like PVC, wood composites are generally less expensive, but still offer the expensive look and feel of 100 percent wood products and in many cases outperform both wood and PVC. In addition, Comfortex’s Woodwinds® wood composite shutters offer one of the finest quality finishes in the industry today, making it one of the best value products currently available to consumers in this category.
So what will the future have to offer?
You can bet on a continued increase in consumer interest in shutter products, increased competition and many new interesting innovations over the next few years. All will continue to excite both dealers and consumers. I know at Comfortex, we already have several new tricks up our sleeves and can’t wait to share them with the industry in the near future.
IT’S ALL IN THE DETAILS
Brand Manager for Palm Beach™ Custom Shutters
The purchase of shutters is considered an investment because of their high dollar value and the fact that they should last a long time. It is not unusual to see homes with shutters that are 10 to 15 years old. Also, as the market matures and there is more competition and price pressure, retailers and designers should be closely scrutinizing their shutter suppliers to find the ones that are capable of supplying the best quality backed by strong brand support, which consumers and dealers will be able to count on many years down the road.
Dealers also should pay close attention to the details of the features and benefits of the shutter when evaluating the quality issue. A premium grade of raw materials used in the manufacturing in addition to reliable and high-end production methods result in a superior shutter.
All of the above are incorporated into Palm Beach Shutters Custom Shutters, where an extra premium Poly-Satin™ compound is used throughout the product. They also are all manufactured in state-of-the-art facilities by experienced staff for an outstanding shutter product backed by the Hunter Douglas brand name.
Palm Beach Custom Shutters were introduced into the market with many unique features that have made it a leader. It was the first product with the patented gear-driven louvers for one-touch control, the equal spaced computer positioned louver, the Dura-Link attachment that connects the tilt bar to the louver without any staples, and an advanced design that allows the louvers to close completely in both directions.
As the market matures there will be more features added to these shutters to make them even more versatile and responsive to market demands.