Plastic exterior trim has been around for decades, but like so many polymer-based building products, it only recently has joined the mainstream, as consumers turn to more low-maintenance products.
Nowhere was this truth more apparent than at the booth of Moosic, Pa.-based Azek Building Products Inc. at the International Builders' Show.
The place was a constant buzz, and for good reason.
Azek officials have used the past five years to make their Azek Trimboards the No. 1 name in the exterior trim and millwork market. According to competitors, Azek has about $120 million worth of the $200 million North American market for cellular PVC trim.
In 2007, Azek plans to take its game to the next level. Fresh off the acquisition of Foley, Ala.-based cellular PVC deck maker Procell Decking Systems - the deal closed Jan. 31 - Azek used the Feb. 7-10 International Builders' Show in Orlando to launch its new image as a provider of exterior building products, rather than just a trim extruder.
In addition to showing off its bread-and-butter trim profiles and prized new acquisition, Procell, Azek also introduced its new Azek Mouldings product line. The products use free foam technology to extrude moldings with a nonglossy matte surface, which company officials say will help achieve a more uniform look on home projects.
Azek also introduced a 1¼-inch extruded cellular PVC board - an industry first, said Azek President Ralph Bruno. The thicker board allows architects and wood workers more design flexibility.
Azek also is working with Pella, Iowa-based window and door maker Pella Corp., manufacturing for them one-piece surrounds - essentially a frame around the window on the exterior wall.
Part of the Azek strategy is to align with powerhouse brand names, Bruno said.
``I know it sounds obvious, but there's a market trend to low-maintenance building products,'' Bruno said. ``That macro trend is not going away.''
Bruno will not disclose specific sales figures or company growth percentages, but he did say that the company continues to grow at a healthy clip, adding capacity in 2006, which is something many other building products makers were unable to do during the housing slump.
The secret to Azek's success has been in brand building, product development, and staying focused on what Bruno called the real competition: wood.
``That's why we've been successful,'' he said.
The other major process for extruding foam profiles is called Celuka, which involves cooling the surface of a PVC profile to form a solid skin. Extruded trim and moldings made using Celuka technology are structurally stronger, have a tougher outer skin and have more accurate board thickness than products made with free foam, but they also have a tendency to have a glossy appearance, and can fracture when hit with a hammer.
Companies in the category acknowledge the benefits of both manufacturing methods. In fact, Huntsville, Ala.-based KÃ¶mmerling USA Inc., the manufacturer of Koma Trim Products, employs both types, after introducing free foam sheeting to its product portfolio this year.
Koma entered the trim market about five years ago, after building its business in the graphics and sign industry.
Like Azek, Koma is also undergoing rapid growth, announcing in October that it added 100,000 square feet to its extrusion plant in Huntsville and seems poised to enter the moldings market as well.
``Koma's customers have been encouraging us to get into Celuka-based moldings,'' said Patrick Shabal, Koma's national sales and marketing manager.
Milwaukee-based Gossen Corp. also makes cellular trim using both free foam and Celuka technology. Executive Vice President Bob Simon said the company is growing by 15 percent per year.
Gossen's extruded cellular PVC window profiles, in addition to trim, have helped propel company growth, Simon said.
Also in the exterior trim and millwork category, but using a different process and material, is Archbold, Ohio-based Fypon Ltd., which makes most of its 6,000 foam products from polyurethane.
``Sharper details can be achieved with urethane,'' said spokeswoman Kathy Ziprik. She added that Fypon recently has introduced PVC into the product mix as well.
Fypon used the Builders' Show to showcase its new Southwest Collection - a new product category featuring urethane millwork with a stainable wood-grain texture.
Ziprik credits the proliferation of home-improvement television programs like what's found on HGTV and the DIY Network, as a primary reason for the growth of low-maintenance building products.