COLUMBUS, OHIO — Gebruder Kommerling Kunststoffwerke GmbH again is trying to translate its leading position in the European PVC window lineals market to sales success in North America.
Kommerling displayed its hefty, European-style profiles at the biennial Interglassmetal/Fenestration World show, held Sept. 17-19 in Columbus.
The Interglassmetal show, Kommerling's first as an exhibitor in the United States, was ``exceptional, great,'' said Edward Klenk, group director for Canada.
Klenk said his company is testing the market for high-end vinyl windows in North America.
With steel-reinforced profile walls that are up to twice the thickness of typical American models, Kommerling's windows will be more costly than their U.S. counterparts.
But that doesn't bother Klenk, who said his company is going after the commercial construction market.
``We had a lot of interest from U.S. and Canadian manufacturers,'' he said, adding that most leads were in the commercial construction field.
``We're looking for customers working in the middle-high-end and high-end construction markets,'' Klenk said. ``We're not looking for those companies working on low- and low-low-end markets.''
One of the challenges for Kommerling is to find qualified fabricators.
``To set up these customers isn't easy,'' Klenk said. ``You just can't sell profiles out of a box. To complete this box you have to have a real good service package including training and marketing support.''
Kommerling already has a stable of more than 500 fabricators in Germany alone, according to company literature.
``We're acquainted with working with both small and large companies working and producing windows with our systems,'' Klenk said.
Once Kommerling finds a market, it will start producing profiles in the United States, he said.
``We are going to bring production to North America, but it will take a few years,'' he said.
In the meantime, Kommerling is setting up a warehouse in conjunction with a pilot fabrication plant being operated by Repla Ltd. in Oakville, Ontario. Repla exclusively is selling commercial windows made from Kommerling profiles, Klenk said.
Other European companies that have tried to make inroads in the North American vinyl window market have had to adapt to local product preferences — which historically have included a preference for low price over perceived quality.
``Our parent company had a difficult time in this market in the beginning,'' said C. Lawrence Irwin, president of Veka Holdings Inc. of Fombell, Pa.
Veka is a subsidiary of Veka AG of Sendenhorst, Germany.
Veka had better success when the parent let its U.S. children design their own, lighter profiles for the U.S. market, Irwin said.
Rehau Inc. of Leesburg, Va., is another window extruder with European lineage that had to adapt to survive in the New World, according to Michael F. Maher, product manager of custom window extrusion for Rehau.
But Rehau, whose corporate parent is based in Muri, Switzerland, still sells some European-style profiles, Maher said.
``They do find their way into niche markets,'' he said, noting such products have been used in high-end custom homes and commercial projects such as institutions, schools and hospitals.
``Fabricators have been successful in getting upper-end vinyl product specified on those products,'' he said. ``That type of profile does allow for a good margin for fabricators, but they have to have people to develop that market.''
A new window venture would not be the first time Kommerling attempted a foray into North America. Kommerling imported its line of Komcraft window profiles through a New Jersey-based subsidiary in the 1980s. Komcraft profiles were manufactured in Germany specifically for the North American market.
The company went so far as to procure land in Virginia for a manufacturing facility, but failed to gain enough market share to justify building a North American plant.
Kommerling sold its North American window sales operations and profile tooling to L.B. Plastics Inc. of Mooresville, N.C., in 1990.
But Klenk predicts a different result this time around.
``This time Kommerling is working on a completely different strategy,'' Klenk said. ``We will not be setting up different types of window series especially for the North American market. We will be investigating which existing European systems can be used.''
Kommerling already operates one U.S. plant — a PVC sheet extrusion facility in Huntsville, Ala. That operation primarily serves the advertising market, although it also produces foamed PVC boards that can be used in construction applications.
In Europe, Kommerling runs 140 extrusion lines and employs 1,700 at its headquarters in Pirmasens, Germany. The family-owned Kommerling Group includes 18 companies and plants in Germany, France, Spain, Italy and China. The group reported 1995 PVC product sales of 680.6 million deutsche marks ($475.3 million).