Several industry players are taking high-end, wood-plastic composite decking up a notch, introducing deck boards that mimic the look of tropical hardwoods.
The emerging category has been a growth engine for several deck makers.
``Consumers like the look of exotic hardwoods. And with the ease of composites, why not blend them together?'' said Anna Andvik, a sales representative for Rhino Deck, the composite deck brand of Albany, Minn.-based Avon Plastics Inc. subsidiary Master Mark Plastics Inc.
The company introduced the deck board this year, Andvik said at DeckExpo, held Feb. 27 to March 1 in Las Vegas.
St. Joseph, Mich.-based Green Tree Composites, according to several composite deck makers, was the first to market with a tropical hardwood look-alike composite, promoted under the Monarch brand name.
During the past 12-18 months, most of the major composite deck makers have introduced their own versions, including the top three players in the category: New London, N.C.-based Fiber Composites LLC; Wilmington, Ohio-based TimberTech Ltd.; and Winchester, Va.-based Trex Co. Inc.
Officials with Fiber Composites, which offers its Fiberon Tropics line, said people who resisted composite decking are reconsidering.
``Homeowners are sick of people telling them fake stuff looks like wood,'' said Craig Sherrett, Fiber Composites' marketing director. ``The natural progression is to make stuff look better. We think this wins over people that have had a hard time with composites. This product is opening doors for us.''
The Fiberon gang did its homework, discovering during research and development that consumers often build tropical hardwood decks with 4-inch-wide boards rather than the more typical 6-inch-wide profile. The company extrudes Fiberon Tropics boards in both widths.
TimberTech introduced its Earthwood line about a year ago with just one color, and the board quickly became its fastest-selling product. The company introduced two new tropical hardwood colors for 2007.
``Sales exceeded our expectations with the first color,'' said Paul Bizzari, TimberTech's vice president of innovation.
Steve Van Kouteren, a principal with Exton, Pa.-based building products consulting firm Principia Partners, said basic economics is a factor.
With the price of imported hardwoods on the rise, it is no surprise, he said, that the composite versions of those high-end deck boards are selling well.
``Wealthy people are the ones typically buying imported hardwoods,'' Van Kouteren said. ``They are not affected by the economy as much.''