Usually, companies try to out-top each other. But in the fiercely competitive alternative-decking market, companies that make wood-plastic composites, cellular PVC and decking from other materials are now trying to out-cap each other.
Nearly all decking companies at the International Builders' Show, held Jan. 19-22 in Las Vegas, were touting new scratch, fade and mar-resistant capstock products that they said will revolutionize the market.
Fiberon LLC did just that 16 months ago when it introduced its Horizon decking line made from recycled high density polyethylene and wood flour with an outer capstock to better protect the decking board from marring.
What's more, all those firms said they expect to gain market share.
The increased competition comes as the industry tries to pull itself out of a three-year slump that has seen the composite and wood residential decking/railing market plummet from $4.6 billion in 2006 to $2.8 billion last year.
Wood composite sales have dropped from $1.5 billion to $630 million in that same time frame, allowing pressure-treated wood to regain some share for the first time in 10 years in 2009, according to Principia Partners in Exton, Pa.
Cellular PVC sales, making inroads at the premium end, are now at $95 million, up from a miniscule $5 million in 2004. Composites and cellular PVC account for 26 percent of the decking market.
But the racheted-up competition is reflected even in some product names, including Trex Co. Inc.'s Transcend, aptly named since the Winchester, Va., firm believes the new decking and railing line will elevate the firm's slumping sales.
In the first nine months of 2009, Trex lost $18.2 million on sales of $221.1, compared with profit of $19.1 million on sales of $299.9 million in the year-ago period.
Trex Transcend is a game-changing product that simply exceeds all other materials currently in the marketplace, said Trex President and CEO Ron Kaplan. The firm is the largest U.S. maker of wood-alternative decking, railing, fencing and trim products.
In development for 18-24 months, Transcend is made from 95 recycled content wood scrap and recycled PE (mostly shrink wrap and grocery bags) and has an integrated outer capstock shell that Trex said is two to three times thicker than that of other manufacturers' products, giving it greater protection against stains, scratches and mars.
We feel that it is the next generation of composite decking, said Scott Stout, Trex national accounts director. We have wrapped our core materials in a proprietary blend of elements that gives us a performance that meets and exceeds the performance of cellular PVC, as well as the ability to create deeper, richer colors.
Stout said Trex initially believed that Transcend could account for 20-30 percent of its decking sales in its first year, but now believes sales could easily be 40-45 percent of Trex's total decking sales in 2010.
It has been received as well as any new product we have ever had, Stout said. It is priced more than our standard composite and less than cellular PVC, so we think it will encompass a lot of our target audience.
Transcend began shipping to distributors this month, will hit retail shelves in February and comes with a 25-year fade-and-stain warranty, the highest in the industry. We wanted to show the market how confident we are in this product, said Stout.
We are very optimistic for 2010 for Trex and Transcend, he said. We feel overall the market will stabilize and grow to some degree. We will grow in market share because we have a product no one else does.
Another company optimistic about decking for 2010 is cellular PVC trim, molding, decking and window extruder Gossen Corp. in Milwaukee, which launched its new American Classics, another extension to its line of cellular PVC decking products, which includes the company's Passport line.
Profiles and decking is what carried us in 2008 and 2009 and we're expecting to double our business in that segment this year, said Bob Simon, executive vice president.
The line, which has woodlike colors, will officially begin selling to fabricators in March.
Right now, we make a good and a best, said Simon. We are coming out with a 'better' that is another step up to improve the weatherability and fade resistance of cellular PVC decking products that use capstock technology.
Fiberon officials also are optimistic about 2010, even though the company believes there will continue to be a tough market, with no big turnaround, said Chris Beyer, marketing vice president for the New London, N.C., firm that makes both wood composites and cellular PVC decking.
Our sales have met or exceeded expectations. PVC and capped decking products are going to be the future of the industry, said Beyer, whose firm also makes the cellular PVC line CertainTeed Corp. introduced last summer. The people who innovate are going to be the ones who survive.
He also said the company's new Inspirations cellular PVC coated railing line, scheduled to debut in March or April, will revolutionize the marketplace because it has fewer parts and screws, making installation faster and more efficient.
The company decided to use the name Inspirations, rather than Horizon, so people wouldn't think it could only be used with Horizon decking.
We are ratcheting up our game in railings, Beyer said. We haven't played in that arena as well as we should. That will be a key focus for this year, along with moving up the level of sales of our PVC flooring.
Other decking companies also are optimistic.
Growth will be on a little bit slower incline in the years ahead, but there are opportunities, said Paul Bizzari, innovation vice president for TimberTech in Wilmington, Ohio. We should start to see some low growth, just a little uptick. The potential levels of activity should be up slightly because everyone's inventories are down.
Brent Gwaltney, vice president of marketing and sales for the MoistureShield brand of Advanced Environmental Recycling Technologies Inc. in Springdale, Ark., said MoistureShield unit sales were up nearly 4 percent in 2009. He said he believes we can do a 20 percent growth this year.
It wasn't just the traditional wood composite firms in the forefront of innovation at the show.
LifeTime Composites LLC introduced its fly-ash composite decking product and Tech-Wood North America unveiled its Tech-Plank decking made from a mix of oriented long-strand pine-wood fibers encapsulated with liquefied propylene. President Peter Kotiadis claims the material can eventually become the next vinyl of the siding market.
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