Last April, the Tropical Cyclone Warning Center issued its first bulletin ofthe season. The bulletin concerned a storm forming in the northern Coral Sea, off Queensland, Australia. The next day, “Monica” was upgradedto “severe tropical cyclone,” and on April 19 began to batterthe island continent's east coast with winds of up to 210 mph.
Monica became the most severe tropical cyclone of the season, dumping 21 inchesof rain on the city of Cairns.
That same week, the phones at Revco Inc., a home improvement company in Tampa, Fla., beganringing nonstop — with inquiries about hurricane windows. “Whenthat cyclone hit, business spiked about 22% for a month,” saysRon Ayers, who co-owns the business with his brother, Woody.
That a storm on the opposite side of the world could make a Florida window contractor'sregister ring demonstrates how nature and technology together drivethe window replacement market.
Story To Tell No wonder most home improvement contractors and window manufacturers are upbeatabout the market for replacement windows. Today that market — withsales exceeding $8 billion for replacement windows and doors — offersabundant profit opportunities to home improvement contractors. Theproducts are better than they were even five years ago, the demographicsare highly favorable, and the recent rise of home heating costs gives windowreplacement contractors an even better story to tell around the kitchen table.
On the downside, the current generation of technical innovations in windowshas likely reached its limits, and many, many companies exist to sell and installthe products. In addition, busy, better-informed consumers with rapidlydiminishing attention spans make it more difficult for window replacementcompanies to stand out in the crowd. Selling replacement widows is a differentgame as well, in an age of diminishing leisure time and single-parenthouseholds. In many markets, yesterday's marketing and sales techniques areas dated as single-pane windows.
Solid Market For the most part, aging homes supply the market for replacement window sales. Sofor window replacement contractors, the good news today is that Americanhomes are, on average, a little older, with the median age of a home being 30 years. Ofthe 121.5 million housing units in the U.S. in 2004, 35% wereat least 45 years old, and two-thirds were at least 25 years old, accordingto “Windows & Doors to 2009,” a market study issued byinternational business research firm The Freedonia Group. If windows needto be replaced every 20 to 25 years, there's plenty of room for replacement.
In addition, there are a lot more of them: The 120.8 million housing units of 2003 willbe 139.3 million by 2013, according to U.S. Census Bureau predictions. Justas encouraging, household formation — which translates toan expanding pool of new customers — will be stronger than ever duringthe next decade, rising from 1.37 million net new households currentlyto 1.46 in the next decade, according to projections by the Joint Center forHousing Studies at Harvard University.
Bear in mind, though, that it's a different type of consumer moving into thehousehold formation stage today. So-called “Gen Xers” — thosenow between 35 and 45 years old — are replacing the baby boomerswhose free-spending home improvement habits helped drive the growth of bothnew construction and remodeling/ replacement in the last five to seven years. Sowill Gen X commit its cash as freely? Demographers and economistsare frank to say they're not sure.
“Are the younger generations going to pick up any of the slack [fromthe free-spending baby boomers]?” asks Jeff Lowinski, vicepresident of technology for the Window & Door Manufacturers Association (WDMA), inDes Plaines, Ill. “There was a concern. But indicationsare that they are, to some extent.”