Unlike some premium products window makers sell, the industry itself is anything but impact-resistant.
Trying to sell windows during a housing slump is kind of like trying to sell tires when auto sales are down - there are going to be sales in the replacement market, but the overall performance of one will always affect the other.
About 90 percent of window sales take place in the residential market, said Nick Limb, managing partner with Ducker Research Co. Inc. in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., by phone. Those sales typically are spilt evenly between new-home installations and replacement windows.
Housing forecasts for 2007 are mixed, but even the most rosy outlooks project relatively flat growth for the year. However, the turnaround from slumping to an upward trend is expected to happen, perhaps as early as the second quarter. Some leading economists do not expect new home starts to swing up again until at least the fourth quarter.
The same can be said of the window market itself.
``It's always dependent on housing,'' Limb said. ``We don't see [window sales] picking up any time in the next two years. There has been a bigger drop in 2006 than expected. For 2007, we originally forecast a small decline. But given the big decline last year, maybe it will flatten out.''
A record amount of home equity built during the recent housing boom is helping to buoy the industry via the replacement window market.
Even with the challenges facing the industry, vinyl should continue to take market share, said Chris Monroe, vice president of marketing for Parkersburg, W.Va.-based Simonton Windows, in a 2007 forecast released by the company.
``Vinyl is still taking share away from wood, and composites are not growing rapidly,'' he said. ``With its superior performance and increasing use in retrofit projects, vinyl is perfectly positioned for continued market share gains.''
Gary Robinette, president and chief executive officer of Kearney, Mo.-based Ply Gem Industries Inc., concurred, but said he does not believe the market share percentages will change much.
``Vinyl will continue to take more share, but even that's only going to be a couple percent,'' Robinette said in a telephone interview. ``Vinyl, wood, aluminum - all these products have kind of landed in the zone they're going to be in, in the future.''
As of 2005, vinyl had about 57 percent of the window market, wood had 27 percent and aluminum, about 12 percent, Robinette said.
Those numbers are not expected to move much, and the materials that make up the remaining 4 percent or so remain a question mark in the industry. While wood-plastic composites like Bayport, Minn.-based Andersen Corp.'s Renewal line and various cellular PVC window parts hold a lot of promise, it's uncertain whether they ever will be anything more than niche materials in the window market.
``Whether they grow from niche to mainstream - the jury's still out on that,'' Limb said.
Of all the emerging materials, it is fiberglass that seems to be making the biggest strides, Limb said.
``Fiberglass is a very strong material,'' he said. ``That's probably the biggest differentiator. But it's an expensive material, a premium product. They're going to have to change the cost structure as the material develops.''
Limb said he sees major players in the window market making significant investments in fiberglass, even more so than in composite or cellular PVC, which he sees as a clue to which materials ultimately will have the most success.