In today's competitive marketplace, building product manufacturers have to work hard at establishing relationships with remodelers in order to gain their business. That hard work doesn't go unnoticed. Remodelers appreciate the extra mile a product manufacturer is willing to go to ensure customer loyalty. Interestingly, however, what product manufacturers think sets them apart from the competition isn't necessarily what remodelers actually value.
Virtually every product manufacturer that earned a Best in Class rating from remodeler respondents to our recent survey attributed their wins, in part, to the equity in their sterling reputations and to consumer preference for their brand names. Yet only 7 percent of remodelers reported that reputation and customer preference were important in choosing a manufacturer of exterior or interior products.
The general perception is that homeowners are most familiar with highly visible consumer products that are touted in the decorating magazines: faucets, plumbing fixtures, doors and kitchen cabinetry. Yet, 12 percent of remodelers surveyed reported that manufacturer name brand and reputation were the most important factors when it came to behind-the-wall products.
"Georgia-Pacific is a highly respected name in the building products industry, as well as an innovator in the manufacture of plywood and OSB [oriented strand board]," says Jeff Key, senior communications manager for Georgia-Pacific, which was voted Best in Class by remodelers for both its OSB and plywood products. "When people mention those products, GP is usually the first company that comes to mind."
"It is the ultimate compliment to be voted Best in Class by remodeling professionals," says Peter Dackowski, president and CEO of CertainTeed Corporation, which was named the overall best manufacturer in exterior products, as well as the winner in the vinyl siding category. "We couldn't be more pleased. CertainTeed has worked hard for more than a century to build a trusted name in the business."
Ralph Howard, vice president of sales for Kohler, which remodelers voted Best in Class for its toilets and plumbing fixtures, agrees that a trusted name is key. "First and foremost, Kohler is an aspirational brand," says Howard. "Consumers want Kohler. This has resulted from a strong commitment to bringing innovative, fresh designs to the market."
Are product manufacturers mistaken about the weight their name brand carries? Why would only a handful of remodelers rank reputation and consumer preference as important in the decision-making process? This finding was just one of many intriguing aspects of the Best in Class survey. Let's get into the specifics.
Product quality, dependability, and performance consistently ranked as the most important attributes. Seventy percent of remodelers report that quality is important in choosing an exterior product; 74 percent for an interior product; and 67 percent for a behind-the-wall item.
Owens Corning, which remodelers voted Best in Class for insulation, focuses on providing customers innovative products with high reliability, comfort and safety. "We're constantly reinventing our products and services to make sure we continue to be the number-one brand of insulation with remodelers," says Bob Doyle, vice president and general manager of residential insulation for Owens Corning. "We couldn't be more proud of this recognition, and we are committed to continuing to earn the reputation as the supplier of choice in the market."
Another more subtle aspect of quality is product differentiation. "Remodelers prefer our brand for a variety of reasons, but two that come to mind are product differentiation and emotional branding," explains Wes Co, corporate marketing manager for James Hardie Siding Products, which took Best in Class for its fiber-cement siding.
"Product differentiation is critical," he continues, "because business-savvy replacement contractors realize that in a commodity economy, one of the most effective ways to differentiate your company from a commodity remodeler is by using superior building products that are timeless and enduring. Emotional branding is critical because replacement contractors understand that the Hardie brand aligns perfectly with consumer desires and core values — to restore a sense of safety, security and character maintenance."
Customer service isn't what it used to be. That could be why it is so highly valued among remodelers. This attribute came in second, with 47 percent of remodelers saying that service is most important in an exterior product and 41 percent in an interior product. In the behind-the-wall category, service was markedly less important, mentioned by only 28 percent of remodelers polled.
Service also encompasses product support, knowledgeable sales reps, a good warranty and timely delivery. All are key to product choice, say respondents. This is a category where the winning product manufacturers feel they really excel.
Merillat, named Best in Class for cabinetry, has adopted a proactive approach to understanding what consumers want. For example, the company recently conducted a research study, "Model Behavior: How people act, think and shop in a model home." The study examined shoppers' behaviors, as well as their likes and dislikes — especially related to the kitchen. It is something Merillat plans to continue doing to give remodelers a competitive edge. "Merillat discovered many interesting and helpful insights, such as the percentage of shoppers ready to buy, overall time shoppers spend in the model home and the most-shopped cabinets within the home," explains Merillat president Clay Kiefaber.
Remodeler respondents cited product support as an important part of service. As defined by product manufacturers, service comes in a wide variety of forms. But the most common form, however, is getting answers and technical help when it is needed.
CertainTeed's sales support group's 800 number is the front-line contact for all product inquiries. Nine employees staff phone lines from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. eastern time, five days a week. Providing technical support to both trades people and homeowners, they handle 130,000 calls a year, dealing with questions on R-values, melting points for vinyl siding, colors that are available and where the products can be purchased.
"We've gotten nothing but positive feedback on that group," says Patti Rowland, director of building solutions and the sales support group. "Remodelers can be on a job site, yet get a question answered immediately."
Another component of product support is training. Product manufacturers offer a diverse range of educational tools, including hands-on classes, online seminars and sales-training CDs.
Andersen Windows & Doors — voted Best in Class in all three window categories: composite, vinyl and wood — provides support through its dealer network. "The dealer is always key," says Lisa Bien-Sinz, trade marketing manager for home improvement. "Dealers create a sense of community among remodelers. Builders are more competitive, while remodelers are more interested in information sharing: They want to understand best practices. Because they greatly value education and service, we empower the dealer to provide turnkey educational opportunities."
Good warranties are yet another component of the service equation, and many manufacturers tout them as their strong suit: "It is all in our tagline," CertainTeed's Rowland says. "Quality made certain. Satisfaction guaranteed."
When it comes to specifying behind-the-wall products, service is only slightly more important than product availability, which came in at 21 percent, versus 11 percent for both exterior and interior products.
Manufacturers are very generous in the area of marketing. For example, Georgia-Pacific has an extensive trade and consumer marketing campaign for its Plytanium Plywood that includes television, radio, direct mail and print and online advertising.
Online accessibility is another hot button with product manufacturers. "Our Web site provides additional tools for remodeling contractors to help simplify their jobs," says Kohler's Howard. "There, they can find just about any piece of information they need on our product — from a picture to specification information. There are also tools, such as My Folder and Virtual Bath Planner, that remodelers can leverage with their customers to provide an enhanced remodeling experience."
Manufacturers go a long way to provide incentives. Some of these programs cross-sell products or help pull through other items by providing a cash or travel incentive for volume purchases or for mixing and matching product lines. Most manufacturers prefer offering marketing help via Web links or marketing materials in lieu of financial rewards.
"We view it as a balanced approach," explains Cameron Snyder, manager of brand public relations for Andersen Windows & Doors. "Certainly, there's an incentive on pricing, but with Andersen you buy an entire package — service, product support, training — a multitude of things. You buy a product that is dependable, so you won't have to worry about it."
Remodelers and manufacturers agree that quality and service are important. Beyond that, their opinions diverge. Are product manufacturers really giving remodelers what they want — or only what the manufacturers think remodelers need? Do remodelers simply take the many programs manufacturers offer for granted?
The answer is probably somewhere in between. At the end of the day, if product quality and service aren't there, the remodeler won't buy — even from the most recognized names in the business.
|Behind-the-Wall Products||Owens Corning|
|Product category||Best in Class|
|Manufactured Stone||Owens Corning Cultured Stone|
|Siding: Fiber Cement||James Hardie|
|Product category||Best in Class|
|Appliances, Kitchen||General Electric|
|Appliances, Laundry||General Electric|
|Locksets and Hardware||Schlage|
|Paints, Stains, Finishes||Sherwin-Williams|
|Plumbing Fixtures: Bathtubs and Sinks||Kohler|
|Plumbing Fixtures: Toilets||Kohler|
|Product category||Best in Class|
|Caulks and Sealants||DAP|
|Insulation, Fiberglass||Owens Corning|
|Insulation, Foam||Owens Corning|
|Insulation, Rigid||Owens Corning|
|Oriented Strand Board (OSB)||Georgia-Pacific|
|Piping and Tubing||Vanguard|
|Radiant Floor Heating||Uponor Wirsbo|
|Wallboard, Gypsum||U.S. Gypsum|
|Wallboard, Wet Area||U.S. Gypsum|
|Water Heaters||A.O. Smith|
|Product category||Best in Class|
|Financing||Bank of America|
|Attribute||Exterior products||Interior products||Behind-the-wall products|
|Product Performs Well||5%||3%||9%|
|Knowledgeable Sales Reps||5%||4%||0|
|Good Warranty Service||5%||7%||0|
|Broad Product Line||18%||16%||14%|
|No Complaints or Problems||5%||4%||2%|
|One We Use a Lot||5%||3%||12%|
|Easy to Work With||0||5%||3%|
Product makers strive to give remodelers what they want, but are they succeeding?