When the state of California earlier this year considered new fire-related rules that would have limited and, in some cases, banned certain materials used in composite decking, there was widespread fear that the industry might lose one of North America's largest markets.
``It would be a sizable fraction of the composite-decking industry that would have been negated by the regulations as originally drafted,'' said Lee Crumbaugh, executive director of the Composite Fence, Deck and Railing Manufacturers Association - a division of the Glen Ellyn, Ill.-based American Fence Association. ``The unrealistic precedents, if applied in other parts of the country with similar fire concerns, would have compounded the impact.''
Few things draw people together like a crisis.
When word spread of the proposed wildlife-urban interface building standards to the California Building Standards Commission, composite-decking officials banded together to fight for their product and testify before the California board that composite decking was not any more prone to burning, or more dangerous, than traditional pressure-treated lumber decks.
In the end, composite decking won the day and is poised to continue its breakneck growth rate in California and throughout the United States.
The issue also pointed to a need for a group to represent composite-decking manufacturers. Enter the CFDRMA, the Washington-based Composite Lumber Manufacturers Association and the North American Deck and Railing Association in Meridian, Idaho.
All three groups are vying to be the trade association voice of the composite-decking industry - a concept that is almost universally accepted in the industry as a must.
``The need for a trade association is certain. It's not debatable. It's just a question of which one,'' said John Pruett, marketing manager for composite decking and railing for Valley Forge, Pa.-based CertainTeed Corp.
Composite decking is a young industry. But it is growing faster than Jack's beanstalk, and industry officials said it is critical that everyone comes together so that a strong, unified voice can stand up for itself in the face of adversity, as it did with the California Building Standards Commission.
``From my experience, I don't know of any industry out there that doesn't have representation from an association,'' said Michael Beaudry, NADRA's chief executive officer.
``To come into this industry and learn that there was no association we could join as a builder of decks, I was absolutely flabbergasted,'' he said.
So, nearly everyone agrees: An association is critical. But what's not agreed upon is which of the three associations is ultimately going to be the voice for the industry.
NADRA would seem to have an inherent disadvantage in that it also represents pressure-treated lumber companies, though Beaudry said it can be advantageous for the entire decking industry - both wood and plastic, alike - to band together against the real competitors: the patio and cement industry.
As for the other two, both CLMA and CFDRMA are poised for an inner-industry tussle to emerge as the undisputed industry voice.
Both groups have endorsements and commitments from heavy hitters in plastics.
CLMA boasts the likes of Timber Tech Ltd., Epoch Composite Products Inc. and Louisiana-Pacific Corp.
CFDRMA got a ringing endorsement from Trex Co. Inc. at the 2005 Wood-Plastic and Natural Fiber Composites conference last month in Baltimore.
Some companies, like CertainTeed and Elk Composite Building Products Inc., are members of all three groups.
``We're taking a wait-and-see approach by joining all of them and seeing which one shakes out,'' Pruett said.
Industry insiders said it will be interesting to watch the association battle play out.
``There's mutual respect between the groups,'' said Bill Thornton, president and CEO of Montezuma, Ga.-based Integrated Composite Technologies Inc. and chairman of CFDRMA's steering committee. ``But in the end, there can only be one. Manufacturers can't afford to belong to three.
Paul Godwin, director of sales for McPherson, Kan.-based machinery supplier American Maplan Corp., said an association can only work if it brings everyone together.
``Unity is a good attribute to have,'' he said. ``There's the potential to cause confusion for a lobbying body if it's hearing two voices. The end goal is to be the same.''
Russell Snyder, CLMA's executive director, called associations ``a vehicle to deliver a common message.''
``Associations combine the intelligence and the resources of a lot of different companies to make the best of an industry,'' Snyder said.
The knock against CLMA from those who favor one of the other groups, is its more selective approach to association formation. In CLMA, only manufacturing members have voting rights.
``Manufacturers are focused on manufacturing issues and will drive the agenda of the manufacturing community,'' Snyder said.
Regardless of which group it is, all agree that the faster everyone comes together, the better. Composite decking has a market adoption rate that is faster than the changeover from CDs to MP3 digital music files. By 2010, composite decks are expected to grow to about 35 percent market penetration, up from 10 percent in 2004.
``Working together to meet the pressing needs of a fast-growing segment is a good thing,'' Crumbaugh said.
``I think the argument for that one, strong organization is very compelling.''