Best in Class Winners Offer Competitive Advantage

In today's highly competitive marketplace, building product manufacturers have to work hard at establishing relationships with their savvy builder-customers. Fortunately, hard work doesn't go unnoticed. Builders appreciate the extra mile a product manufacturer is willing to go to ensure customer loyalty.

By Cheryl Cullen, Contributing Editor | October 31, 2005


Professional Builder Best-in-Class Survey Methodology
What Makes a Manufacturer "Best in Class"?

In today's highly competitive marketplace, building product manufacturers have to work hard at establishing relationships with their savvy builder-customers.

Fortunately, hard work doesn't go unnoticed. Builders appreciate the extra mile a product manufacturer is willing to go to ensure customer loyalty. But what product manufacturers think sets them apart from the competition isn't necessarily what builders actually value.

What's in a Name?



Virtually every product manufacturer that earned a Best in Class rating from builder-respondents to our recent survey attributed their wins, in part, to the equity in their sterling reputations and to consumer preference for their brand names. Nonetheless, only 3 percent of builders reported that either reputation or customer preference was important in choosing a manufacturer of exterior products. That number rose only slightly — to 4 percent — when it came to specifying interior products.

The perception is that homeowners are most familiar with highly visible consumer products that are touted in the decorating magazines — products like faucets, plumbing fixtures, doors and kitchen cabinetry. Yet, 12 percent of builders surveyed reported that manufacturer brand and reputation are most important when it comes to behind-the-wall products — or three and four times higher, respectively, than for interior and exterior products.

The fact that name recognition among homeowners ranks low on the list among builders may be an anomaly, since most would agree with manufacturers that brand preference is important to most homeowners. "Georgia-Pacific is a highly respected name in the industry and an innovator in the manufacture of plywood and OSB [oriented strand board]," says Jeff Key, senior communications manager for Georgia-Pacific, which was voted Best in Class by builders for both its OSB and plywood products.

"It is the ultimate compliment to be voted Best in Class by building and remodeling professionals," says Peter Dackowski, president and chief executive officer of CertainTeed Corporation, named the overall best manufacturer in exterior products as well as the winner in the vinyl siding category.

Ralph Howard, vice president of sales for Kohler, which builders voted Best in Class for its toilets and plumbing fixtures, agrees that a trusted name is key. "First and foremost, Kohler is an aspirational brand: Consumers want Kohler. This has resulted from a strong commitment to bringing innovative, fresh designs to the market, and supporting that commitment with years of significant consumer advertising to create pull-through demand. Kohler has, far and away, the highest brand recognition of anyone in our industry. Builders don't have to sell their customers on why Kohler is in a home. Instead, Kohler helps sell the home or the project."

But are product manufacturers overestimating the weight their name brands carry? Why would only 3 or 4 percent of builders rank reputation and consumer preference as important in the decision-making process? This finding was just one of many intriguing aspects in the Best in Class survey. Let's get into the specifics.

Quality is #1

Product quality and its subsets, dependability and performance, consistently ranked as the most important attributes, with 71 percent of builders reporting that quality is important in choosing an interior product; 68 percent, an exterior product; and 64 percent, a behind-the-wall item.


Conventional wisdom says that customer service isn't what it used to be. That could be why it is so highly valued among builders. It came in second, behind quality, with 43 percent of builders rating it as important in an exterior product; and 39 percent, in an interior product. In the behind-the-wall category, service was mentioned as important by 23 percent of builders polled.

Service also includes product support, knowledgeable sales reps, a good warranty and timely delivery. All are key to product choice, say builder-respondents. This is a category where the winning product manufacturers feel they really excel.

Merillat, which took top honors for cabinetry, has adopted a proactive approach to understanding what consumers want. To that end, the company recently conducted a research study, Model Behavior: How people act, think and shop in a model home. "This study is the first-ever to gain insights into the motivations and preferences of new home shoppers," explains Clay Kiefaber, Merillat president.

The study examined shoppers' behaviors in model homes, as well as their likes and dislikes — especially as they relate to the kitchen. "Merillat discovered many interesting and helpful insights for builders, such as the percentage of shoppers ready to buy, overall time shoppers spend in the model, and the most-shopped cabinets within the home," says Kiefaber, who adds that Merillat plans to conduct ongoing research that will continue to give their builders a competitive advantage.

Builders cited product support as an important part of service. Service, as defined by product manufacturers, comes in all forms. The most common, however, is getting answers and technical help when needed.

"We've gotten nothing but positive feedback on that group," says Patti Rowland, director of building solutions and the sales support group. "Builders can be on a job site, yet get a question answered immediately."

Another component of product support would be training, although builders did not specifically use that word in their responses. Nevertheless, product manufacturers offer a diverse range of educational tools: hands-on classes, online seminars and sales-training CDs. Not surprisingly, they cite the quality of their training as one of their advantages.

Good warranties are yet another component of the service equation, and many manufacturers tout them as their strong suit.

Cited by builders as the most important considerations after service were breadth of product line, product availability, pricing, durability, minimal complaints, frequency of use, and brand reputation/customer preference.

Business Partnering

Interestingly, builders did not mention partnering as a reason for doing business with a manufacturer. Yet time and again, product makers cited this as a primary strength. "We continually strive to bring products, programs and initiatives that help builders grow their businesses," says Nancy Matchey, new construction manager for Andersen Windows and Doors.

Andersen, for example, has a new initiative, called HomeTalk, which allows builders to market their homes through a virtual tour on Andersen's Web site. "It is a huge thing for builders," Matchey comments. "Their models are not only part of a Web site, but the site also connects to the main Andersen Web site that gets a lot of traffic. Helping them market their products is big.

"All our programs are about a balance approach and adding value to the builder-customer's business," Matchey adds. "We want to help them get to places they can't reach on their own."

Therma-Tru's President and CEO Carl Hedlund takes the same approach: "We are very proud of our strong and enduring relationship with the professional builder. The products and programs we offer to builders are intended to help them grow their businesses by helping their customers add value to their homes. We are committed to continue to lead in the innovation, quality and beauty of the door systems we provide the builder."

Similar sentiments were voiced by John Pagano, vice president of builder strategy at Owens Corning, named Best in Class for insulation: "Our role and focus as a company is to meet the needs of our builder customers and make them more successful, because we know that we will grow and prosper only when our customers grow and prosper. But the bar is constantly rising, with our nationwide builder team, we're committed to continuing to dive deeply into their businesses to uncover our builder-customer's needs and deliver the systems and solutions of value they're looking for from us with one, simple goal: We want to be the indispensable partner of every builder in America."

Marketing Support

Another no-show among builders' preferences was marketing support. Still, manufacturers can be very generous, as well as creative, in this area. For example, Georgia-Pacific has an extensive trade and consumer marketing campaign for its Plytanium Plywood that includes television, radio and direct mail, as well as print and online advertising.

Online advertising is a hot button with manufacturers, and many tout it among their key advantages. Like Andersen Windows, Kohler feels that linking to its Web site gives builders a competitive edge. "Being identified on is a tremendous marketing advantage," says Howard. "It's truly a high-traffic, destination site for consumers looking for product and availability information."

According to Howard, 8 million unique visitors registered on Kohler's Web site in 2004, and these visitors spend more time and view 25 percent more content than those who visit the site of its closest competitor. "Being linked to that kind of marketing muscle is a wonderful advantage for home builders," he says.


Manufacturers go a long way to provide incentives, another consideration that did not appear among builders' top 10 reasons for choosing a product. Many of these programs cross-sell products or help pull through other items by providing builders a cash or travel incentive for volume purchases or mixing and matching product lines.

Only a few product manufacturers, however, mentioned such incentives. Most prefer offering marketing incentives via Web links or marketing materials, in lieu of financial rewards.

Wants vs. Needs

Builders and manufacturers agree that quality and service are important. Beyond that, their opinions diverge. Are product manufacturers really giving builders what they want — or what the manufacturers think builders need? Do builders simply take the many programs manufacturers offer for granted?

The answer may lie somewhere in between. While training, incentive and marketing support programs are nice to have, they may be just the icing on the cake. At the end of the day, if product quality and service aren't there, the builder won't buy — even from the most recognized names in the business.

Best in Class: Exterior Products
Top finisher in each product category

Decking Trex
Exterior Doors Therma-Tru
Exterior Trim Prim-Lok
Garage Doors Clopay
Housewrap Tyvek
Manufactured Stone Owens Corning, Cultured Stone
Patio Doors Pella
Roofing GAF
Siding: Fiber Cement Handy Planck
Siding: Vinyl CertainTeed
Skylights Velux
Windows: Composite Andersen
Windows: Vinyl Andersen
Windows: Wood Andersen

Best in Class: Interior Products
Top finisher in each product category

Appliances, Kitchen General Electric
Appliances, Laundry General Electric
Cabinets Merillat
Faucets, Bathroom Moen
Faucets, Kitchen Moen
Fireplaces Heatilator
Glass Block PPG
Interior Doors Masonite
Interior Molding Brasco
Lighting Thomas Lighting
Locksets and Hardware Schlage
Paints, Stains, Finishes Sherwin-Williams
Plumbing Fixtures: Bath Tubs and Sinks Kohler
Plumbing Fixtures: Toilets Kohler

Best in Class: Behind-the-Wall Products
Top finisher in each product category

Caulks and Sealants DAP
HVAC Systems Carrier
Insulation, Fiberglass Owens Corning
Insulation, Foam Owens Corning
Insulation, Rigid Owens Corning
Nails Paslode
Oriented Strand Board (OSB) Georgia-Pacific
Piping and Tubing Cross-linked Polyethylene (PEX)
Plywood Georgia-Pacific
Radiant Floor Heating Uponor Wirsbo
Wallboard, Gypsum U.S. Gypsum
Wallboard, Wet Area U.S. Gypsum
Water Heaters A.O. Smith

Best in Class: Miscellaneous Products & Services
Top finisher in each product category

Financing Wells Fargo
Hand Tools Stanley
Power Tools DeWalt
Trucks Ford
Vans Ford


Professional Builder Best-in-Class Survey Methodology

The survey for the Professional Builder Best-in-Class Study was conducted among 300 recipients of Professional Builder magazine.

The sample was drawn at random from the circulation of Professional Builder and is thus representative of the entire circulation.

All interviews were conducted by telephone during the late winter and early spring of 2005.

The research was conducted, tabulated and reported by the Qume Group, Ltd., an independent market research company.

What Makes a Manufacturer "Best in Class"?

Percentage of builder-respondents who rated various manufacturer-performance factors as important to their choice of Best In Class

Attribute Exterior Products Interior Products Behind-the-wall Products
Product Quality 68% 71% 64%
- Quality Products 63% 65% 57%
- Dependable 4% 7% 6%
- Product Performs Well 2% 2% 7%
Service 43% 39% 23%
- Service 29% 28% 19%
- Product Support 5% 9% 2%
- Knowledgeable Sales Reps 5% 2% 0
- Good Warranty Service 4% 4% 0
- Timely Delivery 1% 4% 0
Broad Product Line 24% 24% 14%
Product Availability 18% 10% 22%
Good Pricing 15% 10% 19%
Durable Products 10% 8% 10%
No Complaints or Problems 10% 8% 7%
One We Use a Lot 4% 2% 7%
Reputation/Customer Preference 3% 4% 12%
Appearance/Design 0 4% 0
Easy to Work With 0 1% 7%


PB-Management,PB-Building Materials,PB-Manufacturers + Suppliers,PB-Builders