ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Could it be the end of the hometown, family-owned window extruder, fabricator and dealer?
With retail and industry giants buying out mom-and-pop factories, some consultants believe the end looms as close as 2002.
Following numerous acquisitions in recent years by window extruders such as Royal Group Technologies Ltd. of Woodbridge, Ontario; CertainTeed Corp. of Valley Forge, Pa.; and Kent, Washington-based Mikron Industries Inc., the number of players in the vinyl window industry continues to dwindle.
Several large, pending acquisitions expected in the coming year will prove the theory that corporate America continues to grow while the little guy disappears into its shadow, said Norman McKibbin and Norman Silberdick of Aspen International Group Inc.
Aspen International, which assists window companies in acquisitions and mergers, was at RemodelAmerica, held March 4-6 in Atlantic City. The show was organized by the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.
Entrepreneurs are feeling the pinch from several directions.
``As families get older, kids don't want to [go into the family business] anymore,'' McKibbin said, adding that owners are forced to sell their businesses so they can retire.
Large corporations are waiting for such opportunities to arise and often seek out small companies to convince them to sell, he said.
Families also are feeling the crunch as large window fabricators are buying their own extruders or acquiring extrusion companies. In-house manufacturing enables big companies to slash prices, Silberdick said.
Those cheaper windows are becoming more popular in the do-it-yourself market, as corporations invade the retail market by acquiring parts of the ``Big Box'' chain stores such as DIY and Home Depot. Consolidation also squeezes out the middle man, he said.
And it's not just the small-business world being affected.
Many consumers don't realize most windows sold at do-it-yourself stores are of lesser quality, McKibbin said. Professional marketers offer more-expensive products, plus features such as custom-made windows, thicker profiles and glass, and a choice of colors and styles, he said.
``At places such as Home Depot, what you see is what you get. A plain, white vinyl window,'' McKibbin said.
However, the homeowner sees only the huge difference in price. As a result, the small dealer folds or is sold, he said.
Within three to five years, the family-owned window extruder, fabricator and dealer will be phased out, McKibbin predicts.
John Lombardo, president of JSM Vinyl Products Inc. of Inwood, N.Y., said when family-owned businesses can't compete, they sell.
``I call this the land of the giants,'' he said. ``Everybody is buying everybody so there's nobody left.''
Some big competitors land accounts by giving customers new equipment as an incentive, Lombardo said in a March 9 telephone interview. That kind of deal is hard to compete with for JSM, an extruder in the window and door industry whose 1997 sales topped off at $2.2 million.
Lombardo said his secret to staying in the extrusion game is to provide excellent products and customer service.
``You have to be 100-plus percent effective: no waste, streamlined. Maximize everything. You keep your head above water that way,'' he said.
Some small extruders, such as Omega Plastics Corp. of Clinton, Tenn., disagree with McKibbin's prediction.
``We don't see that it's any worse today than it was 20 years ago. Of course, the players are different,'' President Stephen Redwine said.
Omega reported sales of $7 million in 1997. Though the company loses some customers to large corporations every year, it also gains clients, canceling out the losses, Redwine said.