To turn around a product in decline, add a good jolt of innovation, said building industry consultant Bud Bootier.
He points to vinyl siding as a case in point. When it first was developed 40 years ago, vinyl siding was priced at a premium, higher than aluminum and wood.
``It's a great industry. We participated in an era of growth that most people who have worked their whole career have never experienced,'' Bootier said Jan. 28 in a presentation at the Plastics News Executive Forum in Phoenix.
But by the late 1990s, he noted, capacity finally caught up with demand. Price was becoming the deciding factor.
``Four decades of bliss was interrupted in the year 2000. We had our first down, here in the industry,'' he said. Vinyl window officials were beginning to mention the dreaded ``C'' word - commodity.
``It served as a wake-up call,'' Bootier said. Siding makers are responding with new cellular foam vinyl, and new materials such as polypropylene, polyethylene and composites. Last year, plastic siding rebounded and grew by 5 or 6 percent, he said.
Bootier is president of Pure Strategy, a firm in Wexford, Pa., that produces the Strata Report on plastic and composite decking, fencing and railings, and he collaborates with Sabre Associates on the Sabre Report on vinyl siding and windows.
Bootier explained how plastic products fit into those market categories. Vinyl siding is the farthest along the life-cycle curve, near the saturation level, he said. For well-established products, reversing the curve takes guts.
``Differentiate your product, set yourself apart and you can grow much faster than the category that you're competing in,'' he said. That risk is what holds innovation back - and hastens the decline.
Plastic decking and fencing are at the early part of the cycle, just past the pioneering stage and nearing broader market acceptance. Plastic decking accounts for just 6-7 percent of the total U.S. deck market.
``These products are destined for a lot of growth,'' he said.
Plastic - both straight vinyl and newer products that combine plastic and wood - competes against pressure-treated lumber, which has come under attack for environmental problems.
``That market is all wide open. It's all fair game for plastic decking,'' he said.
Vinyl fence and railing are other fast-growing markets. Fence makers are looking for new additives and manufacturing technology to boost quality and reduce costs.
Vinyl windows continue to capture market share from wood and aluminum. Growth spiked in the early 1990s when vinyl began to move into new construction. Now vinyl is moving into light commercial construction.
Like siding makers, window makers are moving to new materials, such as cellular vinyl, foamed PP and ABS windows.
``You can be in a declining market, but still have very much a growth product. It just takes a little bit of innovation and a pioneering spirit,'' Bootier said.