At IBS, Exhibitors Pivot to Custom and High-End Products

February 2nd, 2023 by Drew Vass, Executive Editor

While the market for new single-family homes remains tepid, that didn’t affect the mood at this year’s International Builders Show (IBS). With steady crowds persisting throughout the event, it was all smiles in the booths of door and window manufacturers. With shoulder-to-shoulder traffic, “We had to walk outside of the booth in order to make our way from one side to the other,” said April Lucas, director of marketing for Sierra Pacific Windows.

Pivot doors were once again a major focus at this year’s show, drawing plenty of attention from builders.

But if the products on display at this year’s show are any indication, some smiles could be fueled by knowing that—someway, somehow—the market for custom homes has gone against the tide, defying the impacts of higher interest rates. In recent months, custom housing starts marked as much as a 9% gain over a four-quarter period. Door and window manufacturers seem to have taken note of those changes, aiming their product designs and marketing at the high-end and custom homes sector.

“A lot of our customers don’t rely on loans, so they aren’t driven or held back by interest rates,” said Andrea White, director of architectural and commercial sales for Sierra Pacific.

While in the past, IBS has had its fair share of vinyl windows on display, this year’s show was dominated by products made of wood and aluminum.

“We knew the vinyl segment would slow, but we knew that the high-end sector is still building,” said Katie Noziska, senior marketing analyst for Weather Shield Windows & Doors. Weather Shield abandoned vinyl products all together in 2022, shifting instead to only wood and aluminum.

The show always includes a number of prototypes, including a door from Therma-Tru designed to gauge interest.

While Sierra Pacific already offered aluminum-clad wood products for the high-end market, Lucas said the company revamped some of its features to be more appealing to custom home builders and architects—including its tactics for sales and marketing. After introducing a virtual reality application amid COVID-19, the company found a niche for its tool among architects and designers who use it to help clients visualize custom projects. Sierra Pacific also updated the frame size in the latest iteration of its Timber Curtain Walls from 3 inches to 2 inches, to appeal to a broader range of builders. In the past, some would shy away from the product’s 3-inch format based on the amount of labor and technical know-how required for installation, White said. Now, “A good custom builder should be able to install this,” she added. Both Weather Shield and Sierra Pacific have also introduced components that snap together for easier installation.

To reach more effectively the custom and retrofit markets, ODL had to introduce a 7/8-inch version of its Blink brand insulating glass units (IGUs) with blinds between glass (BBG), said Ken Jordan, national sales manager. Previously the company only offered a 1-inch version, but by adding a 7/8-inch alternative, Jordan said the product is better suited to custom projects. After making the change, “We gained 45 customers in the first year,” Jordan said.

Bi-fold and sliding glass doors have also seen several updates designed to appeal to custom builders. For instance, numerous manufacturers have redesigned their bi-fold door systems to allow end panels to operate as swing doors. This allows builders to utilize those products in projects and places where homeowners want the option for expansive openings, while using the same doors on a day-to-day bases for entry and exit.

With products focused on the customs market, “I wouldn’t say it insulates us from a slowdown, but it does help,” White says.

Greg Wozniak, founder and CEO of Glenview Doors, shares a cross cut with attendees, discussing the anatomy of his company’s doors.

That’s not to say there aren’t companies focusing on broader targets. With its new M-Pwr doors, Masonite is offering entry ways with smart home technologies built in, which it’s aiming at everyday consumers by selling through big box retailers. While others have adapted their multi-point locks to be more appealing to architects and high-end builders, Endura released a Panolock Plus system that integrates with off-the-shelf deadbolts and levers. The company hopes its multi-point system will appeal to just about anyone, said John Harney, product marketing manager. “We would love to have this type of lock in every door,” he said, custom project or not.

Companies offering products designed for mass appeal know they’re going to sell fewer doors and windows this year, but the level of concern failed to damper moods at IBS.

“We agree that the first half of the year will be a bit slow,” said Doug Gartner, vice president of branch operations for Steves & Sons.

At this point, there’s no reason to do anything but stay the course, as, “We expect things to turn around in the second half,” Gartner and others suggest.

If things go as planned, perhaps 2024 will mark a comeback year for vinyl.

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