Ketchup is ketchup. A window is a window.
But then, ketchup turned green.
The condiment might appear to be a ludicrous role model for the window market, Bud Bootier contends, but he used it to make a point: H.J. Heinz Co. made ketchup green to differentiate its product in a mature market. Under Heinz, EZ Squirt became the most successful product launch ever. The product is more expensive, but it became 14 percent of sales in its first year.
In a mature market, Heinz increased its share.
``Ketchup is about as a mature a market as you can get,'' said Bootier, principal analyst at Pure Strategy of Wexford, Pa., and a consultant for the building products industry. He spoke during a Nov. 5 presentation at the InterGlassMetal/Fenestration World Show in Columbus. ``How do you differentiate ketchup? The genius of it is that parents never use it. They've expanded their market with a very boring product.''
Now the window market is at that inevitable stage of a product's life cycle, where double-digit growth has declined to single-digit. Other characteristics are apparent, too: Dealer margins are squeezed and profits are shrinking; market segmentation is increasing; institutional brand loyalty is strengthening and the great shakeout is taking place. For windows in particular, a new challenge has emerged as well, in the form of foreign competition.
``Differentiation is one of the biggest defenses,'' Bootier said. ``Mass markets are far more attractive and vulnerable to offshore substitution than differentiated and specialized markets are.''
There is a danger as the industry becomes more automated. That A-word can force more of a commodity status on the product, and producers can make themselves even more vulnerable to imports. Producers still need automation, but they can't lose focus on differentiation.
``The danger of a mature market is that we start selling on price,'' Bootier said, emphasizing that this is not consumer-induced. ``Lower prices and lower margins are a choice we make as an industry; they are not irrevocable elements of market maturity that are thrust upon us. They are conscious decisions we make when we fail to differentiate and sell our products.''
Consumers will pay a premium for a product if they know it's available, such as self-cleaning glass.
``In the window industry, we've got incredible options,'' he said, highlighting opportunities such as frame materials and combinations; geometric shapes and specialty windows; storm and intrusion resistance; and color, wood grain and embossing options.
At this stage of the game, firms must develop brand names; target different segments; defend existing segments; and emphasize features and benefits.
Simonton Windows, based in Parkersburg, W.Va., made its own 2004 window trend predictions at the Remodelers' Show, held Oct. 23-25 in Baltimore. Officials from the extruder and fabricator said the key issues are energy efficiency, low maintenance products and building codes.
``The growing concerns with code issues, including the requirements related to impact-resistant products in a large number of coastal areas, will stretch the limits of many manufacturers' production capabilities in the coming years,'' said Chris Monroe, Simonton's vice president of marketing. Monroe sees impact codes as the most significant issue affecting window makers.
``I think it will be for the next several years, because not all of the coastal states have adopted the impact codes,'' Monroe said in a Nov. 11 telephone interview. The firm is expanding both vinyl and aluminum impact product lines. In 2002, the firm introduced its Stormbreaker Plus product line with impact-resistant glass windows and doors. Through 2004, the firm will expand the product line with aluminum and vinyl offerings.
Simonton also introduced an injection molded basement hopper window earlier this year. The firm will be introducing more injection molded window options, including an octagon shape, officials said. Injection molding lends itself to geometric product, and Simonton is working with other new technologies as well.
Chelsea Building Products Inc., based in Oakmont, Pa., has introduced four new product lines during the past year, according to Les Lundeen, Chelsea's marketing and communications manager.
The firm operates out of one facility in Oakmont, emphasizing high-speed tooling and high-volume extruders rather than physical plant expansions, Lundeen said in a Nov. 5 interview at the show. Its newest window systems include TrustGard, DuraTrust, and Designer Classic. One other model, American Homestead, is Chelsea's latest offering for the new construction market.
Veka Inc. of Fombell, Pa., has introduced its first brand-managed window line, called TimberView, said Steve Dillon, Veka's marketing manager. The window system combines wood on the interior with an all-welded vinyl rigid exterior. A patented mounting system allows the wood to ``float'' on extruded profiles, eliminating the need for adhesives or mechanical fasteners, according to company literature.
``We've built strong, strong loyalties over the years,'' Dillon said in a Nov. 5 interview at the InterGlassMetal Show. ``We plan on maintaining those services. Our focus now is a lot of alternative products and materials.''