It appears to be a classic case of the old adage: If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
If imitation is the highest form of flattery, consider Procell Decking Systems flattered.
While makers of composite decking extruded from polyethylene and wood flour continue to improve the weathering properties of their products, the industry has adopted cellular PVC as the material they will use to serve the highest end of the market. Cellular PVC deck board is said to resist staining, scratching and color fading better than its wood composite counterparts.
It is a market currently dominated by Azek Building Products Inc., which acquired Procell for $54 million in early 2007.
The top-three market leaders in wood composite decking all have announced plans to launch a cellular PVC decking product in the coming weeks.
Wilmington, Ohio-based TimberTech Ltd. will launch XLM - boards made from a proprietary blend of foamed PVC and minerals. It will be extruded in-house.
Winchester, Va.-based Trex Co. Inc. will introduce Escapes - made from PVC and inorganic filler. The deck profiles will be extruded by Fombell, Pa.-based Veka Innovations, a subsidiary of Veka Inc. Veka already has a cellular PVC product on the market called Veka Deck. Trex officials said the boards are quite different from one another.
New London, N.C.-based Fiber Composites LLC said Oct. 16 it will launch its newest brand, Sanctuary, featuring dark and multichromatic color boards. The boards have an acrylonitrile styrene acrylate capstock for enhancing surface performance.
A brand-new outfit, Sensibuilt Building Solutions LLC in Bloomfield, Conn., was formed by a group of investors and industry veterans, one of which helped to formulate Procell, and is preparing to come to market with a new cellular PVC deck as well.
Structure, a subsidiary of Cranston, R.I.-based W&E International LLC introduced a fiber-reinforced cellular PVC board at DeckExpo in March.
Another new entrant to the market, Milwaukee-based Gossen Corp., has been extruding cellular PVC trim and moldings for about 60 years. Like Azek, Gossen's new Weather Ready decking is monoextruded, which helps achieve uniform color throughout the profile. Unlike Azek, Gossen is using only inorganic-fiber filler. Azek uses flax reinforcement.
All of these products join Azek at the high end of the market.
Azek President Ralph Bruno is excited about the growing interest. Azek has tripled-deck extrusion capacity this year. Bruno said there is even more product differentiation in cellular PVC than wood composite decking.
``In our small category, people are already trying to commoditize it, saying it's all cellular PVC,'' he said Oct. 12 by phone. ``We don't look at all these products the same. If a marketplace needed $100 million in product delivered, Azek is the only one who can do that. The more entrants that come in and promote the category, the better it is for the leader.''
While cellular PVC deck board fills an important performance niche in alternative decking, composite deck makers cannot use the same environmental marketing strategies in promoting it as they did with wood composites.
Recycling and green building have been central themes in composite decking since its inception. But, said Doug Mancosh, president and chief executive officer of Fiber Composites, ``It's not out of any realm of potential to see PVC emerge as a recycling stream.''
One anomaly in this newly created ultralow-maintenance category is Correct Building Products LLC of Biddeford, Maine.
Technically a wood-plastic composite deck maker, Correct's latest development, Correct CX, falls under the ultralow-maintenance umbrella.
Its products feature a blend of 60 percent wood fiber and 40 percent polypropylene. President Marty Grohman said all of its boards are marked as such to aid in post-consumer recycling.
A proponent of green building, he said his firm will continue to be a part of those efforts. ``We were country when country wasn't cool,'' he said. ``Sustainability is in style. When it goes out of style, we'll still be doing it.''