Vinyl fence has been gaining steady market share, even while sometimes carrying the label of looking like cheap, shiny plastic.
People love low-maintenance products. But they continue to cry for ones that look more like wood.
Using various technologies to imitate a natural wood grain, some vinyl fence makers like Valley Forge, Pa.-based CertainTeed Corp. and Milford, Ind.-based Royal Crown Ltd., used Fencetech, a trade show held Jan. 31-Feb. 2 in Orlando, to showcase new wood look-alike products.
Royal's Harmony Select fence is not a traditional vinyl product, but primarily is made of PVC. It's a fiber-reinforced composite, but Royal officials won't disclose its proprietary makeup. Royal uses embossing equipment to give the fence boards their wood-grain appearance.
``The homeowner doesn't care if it's a composite,'' said Denny Yoder, president of Royal Crown, a subsidiary of Woodbridge, Ontario-based Royal Group Technologies Ltd. ``They want the look and performance.''
CertainTeed launched a new version of its Bufftech Chesterfield privacy fence with CertaGrain, giving it a wood-grain texture. The company uses a proprietary texturing process to finish it and company officials are not saying how.
``We've been working on it for a while,'' said Chris Bourke, CertainTeed's marketing director for fence products.
Bourke said the new texturing method does not expose the substrate, which embossing sometimes can do. CertainTeed is planning to expand the product line to more styles and colors, he said.
``Consumers want things that look like wood,'' he said.
Royal officials are confident the market will continue to grow for such products, especially with the move toward darker, earth-tone colors, such as dark brown and dark gray.
``We believe there's definitely a niche for this product,'' Yoder said. ``We're not here to make something I like. We're here to make something consumers like.''
The ongoing housing slump appears to be a mere speed bump in vinyl's projected growth. The remodeling market remains pretty upbeat, and vinyl will play a role in housing upgrades.
Jordan Thompson, sales, technical and marketing director for Westech Building Products Inc. in Evansville, Ind., gave a presentation at Fencetech on the economic outlook for vinyl fencing.
Citing a steady overall economy and a growing population, Thompson believes there is still enormous growth potential for vinyl fencing.
Even with a low-valued U.S. dollar attracting more and more export products and foreign competition, the net result has been leaner and meaner U.S. manufacturers, he said.