It may be a bold statement. But Tony Ferrante isn't taking it back.
``I've been walking around Trex saying [fencing] will be a bigger business than decking,'' said Ferrante, marketing director for nondecking products at Winchester, Va.-based Trex Co. Inc.
Considering the market leader in composite decking could sell more than $300 million in deck boards this year, that's saying something.
Ferrante is not alone in his enthusiasm and optimism for the future of composite fencing.
``Fencing can be larger by far,'' said Bill Thornton, president and chief executive officer of Montezuma, Ga.-based Integrated Composite Technologies Inc., an extruder of composite lumber. ``It has more volume opportunity than decking.''
Enter the newest trend in fencing: wood-plastic composites.
Riding the success of decking, many composite extruders are taking the next logical step and entering the fencing market as well.
Industry officials estimate that about 80 percent of the residential fence market is privacy fencing. And that's what the majority of composite fence makers are focusing on.
ICT appears to be out front in the composite fencing race, having been extruding fence boards for a year, though the weight of the Trex brand name is likely to carry that company's new Seclusions fencing brand to the front of the line.
There are a number of factors, composite fence makers say, that could help accelerate composite fencing's growth rate ahead of decking - the biggest being price.
The replacement of a wood fence with a composite product is less expensive than the conversion from a wood deck to a composite deck, Ferrante said. Considering composite decking's successful market penetration, Ferrante's confident that fencing will take off as well.
``The conversion will be more accelerated in fencing than in decking,'' he said.
But not every manufacturer is ready to make the leap.
Wilmington, Ohio-based TimberTech Ltd., a subsidiary of Columbus, Ohio-based Crane Plastics Co., has not committed to making a full line of composite fence.
The company displayed a prototype of a composite fence system at Fencetech, held Feb. 1-3 in Las Vegas, but officials made it clear they were only testing the waters.
``We could come to market, but frankly, we're still trying to understand it,'' said TimberTech President Stu Kemper. ``There's still some question about whether we'll get in.''
The early days of fencing were dominated by wood, then metal.
``Then vinyl came along,'' said John O'Reilly, fencing sales and product manager at New London, N.C.-based Fiber Composites LLC - maker of Fiberon composite decking and fencing. ``Composites are the next evolution.''
About 10 percent of Fiber Composites' extrusion capacity is dedicated to fencing right now, O'Reilly said.
``Now in five years, that may be 50 percent,'' he said.
There are few barriers to entry, particularly for those already extruding composite deck board. Factor in a pre-existing distribution system, and optimism is running high.
The success of composite products has not gone unnoticed by manufacturers of competing vinyl products.
``When you look at the sales numbers from the past five years, you have to congratulate the wood-plastic composites people,'' said Walter Stucky, president of Fombell, Pa.-based Veka USA. ``The numbers have really soared. It's spectacular.''
Manufacturers of vinyl and composite fence products need not fear each other, Stucky said.
``It's simple: The United States will have 50 million more people between now and 2025. That's almost twice the size of Canada, and bigger than France,'' he said. ``The future holds lots of growth potential. We can coexist. In fence, deck and railing, there is lots of substandard product out there that will need replaced.''
In addition to fencing, manufacturers are touting the benefits of composites in railing as well.
``It's a natural progression for composites,'' said Jim Pratt, head of research and development and product technology for Toronto-based Composatron Composite Technology. Composatron's product is composite railing with PVC cap stock designed to look like painted wood. Brick, N.J.-based Elk Composite Building Products Inc. and Cary, N.C.-based Kroy Building Products Inc. make similar products.
Fence and rail is the ``next frontier for composites,'' said John Pruett, a principal with Exton, Pa.-based Principia Partners.
``Composite decking is almost a $1 billion industry,'' he said. ``And the adoption rate will be much faster in fencing.''