Lowell Fears had been installing cedar fences for the better part of 15 years when he decided there must be a better product out there.
``It was just an idea,'' he said. ``I thought, if a person could make a plastic picket that would simulate cedar without being cost-prohibitive, it would have to be a success.''
Now, the founder of Houston-based Poly Picket Inc. is about to find out if he's right.
About 15 years ago, Keith Giacchino was in the same boat as Fears. But now, the president of Centennial, Colo.-based Plastics Design & Manufacturing Inc. is enjoying the view from his fast-rising company. A division of Plastics Design, PDM Products, manufactures Peak Fence Systems, a wood-replacement product that, like Poly Picket, is made of plastic.
Fears and Giacchino showcased their products at Fencetech in Las Vegas.
``I wanted to stand 10 feet away and not know it wasn't cedar,'' Fears said of Poly Picket.
It took a year and a half of trial and error to come up with the right formula, he said. Each picket is made from polypropylene and has an irregular grain pattern designed to make every board unique. Fears said he holds patents on the process.
The pickets are available in three colors: gray, natural cedar and a darker, stained cedar look.
An unidentified company is extruding the pickets for Fears' company now, but he expects to bring the manufacturing process in-house soon.
``I think that we will do it when we're producing somewhere in the area of 10 truckloads a month, which shouldn't be that difficult,'' he said. ``That's about 50,000 pickets per month.''
Fears said he would open a plant in the Houston area first, then in strategic areas throughout the country.
Peak Fence is made of high density polyethylene. PDM's fencing sales have increased more than 100 percent each of the past three years, prompting Giacchino to add two new extrusion lines at PDM's Colorado plant. By the end of 2006, PDM will have seven lines.
There are few limits to Poly Picket's potential, Fears said.
``We will eventually go public with the company, and we think it will happen within five years,'' he said. ``This is the most exciting thing I've been around.''
The market for cedar pickets is $400 million a year, he said.
The increasing popularity of vinyl fencing bolsters Fears' belief that his brainchild is poised for big things.
At $4.49 per 6-inch-wide picket, a Poly Picket fence is about $10 less expensive per foot than vinyl, though Fears is quick to say that while most vinyl fencing manufacturers are selling entire systems, Poly Picket is selling individual pickets, just like natural cedar.
As a cedar replacement, Poly Picket is about 25 percent more expensive, he said.
Peak Fence products are closely priced at about $4.40 per picket and also are meant to be cosmetic, not structural. However, Peak offers an extruded sleeve that covers the fence frame components to give the entire system a uniform look. Otherwise, the system installs just like wood, Giacchino said.
``We're not trying to reinvent the wheel of installation,'' he said. ``We just want it to fit right out there in the marketplace.''