To be successful in today's market, domestic wood coatings manufacturers must overcome a major slowdown in the housing market and pro-actively develop products that meet or exceed government regulated VOC levels while offering consumers the same high level of quality wood finishes that they have come to expect. Additionally, the industry must continue to find new ways to attract new DIYers to the category by offering products that meet their needs and are easy to use.
Discussing the interior DIY market, Matt Moon, senior brand manager of interior wood care at Rust-Oleum, said during 2006-2007 the wood coatings market remained relatively flat. �
"Possible explanations for this could be related to several factors, including a declining housing market, the choice of consumers to re-buy items rather than restore them or also the fact that consumers could be intimidated by the process of staining in general," he said. "Rust-Oleum's goal for 2008 and beyond is to grow the interior wood care market by releasing more user-friendly and innovative products that will entice more potential users while also tending to the needs of our current customer base. In addition to the trend toward using products that are more environmentally friendly, a general trend in the wood coating category is a call for increased convenience when it comes to taking on a project."
Also offering his opinion on the wood coatings market in general was Tom Dougherty, director of brand marketing, Pittsburgh and Porter Paints. "In spite of a larger array of competing substrates in the market, wood continues to hold its own," he said. "In fact, we continue to see a growing demand for our exterior coating products that are typically applied to wood. The popularity of premium topcoats and exterior stains suggests growth in the use of wood. At the same time for a smaller segment of the market, interior use of wood will continue to be popular in upscale designs."
Market Slump Hits U.S. Homebuilders
It is no surprise that the U.S. housing market is going through a severe slowdown, with a sharp rise in mortgage defaults.
The U.S. Commerce Department said housing starts fell 14% to an annual rate of 1.006 million in December, the weakest showing since May 1991.
Building permits, seen as a measure of future construction plans, fell 8.1% in December to an annual rate of 1.068 million, their lowest level since March 1993.
For the entire year, building permits dropped by 25.2% in 2007, the sharpest falloff in the gauge of future activity since 1980.
As new home sales and new construction slows, it factors into the wood care market. "If there are less homes being built, there are reduced surfaces to protect such as floors, railings and doors that would require the need and use for wood finishing products," said Moon.
"Obviously, everyone is well aware of the slowdown in the housing market, both in new home construction and resales," added Dougherty. "Any supplier that is involved in new home construction and repaint is being affected by this downturn. Hopefully we'll see an upswing at some point in 2008."
However, the dip in home sales is in some instances spurring existing homeowners not only to stay put, but to hammer out ways to save money on their current home. Instead of selling and moving in today's housing downturn, many are doing major remodeling work.
Deck Care Market Continues to Grow
"Additionally, sales of deck cleaning products are rising as more consumers understand the importance of good prep before applying a waterproofing coating and as manufacturers offer more choices in deck cleaning products," he continued. "There's good opportunity to make more profitable sales by addressing both parts of the project � cleaning and protecting."
When it comes to deck care, independent research continues to show that the number one benefit that consumers want in a deck coating is effective waterproofing protection for their decks. "People clean and protect their decks first and foremost to help them last," Kozlowski said. "Additionally, the category is reflecting a broader consumer demand for choice and customization. More consumers today are using deck coatings that include some color, but there is still a significant percentage-approximately 40%-who want a clear waterproofer. The increased use of different types of coatings is one reason there is a need for different types of deck cleaners."
For exterior coatings technology formulation the focus is placed on the issues influencing durability and service life due to the hazards facing wood in buildings from moisture, sunlight and biological attack. For interior coatings development, including flooring and furniture, the need to meet VOC and other legislation has created the need to change from traditional to compliant coatings.
For the deck care market, Thompson's has introduced a new color-Red Cedar-for its Thompson's Water Seal No Drip Gel Stain. It is designed to deliver the control and ease-of-application associated with interior gel stains in a formula designed to stand up to outdoor elements. "The coating delivers beautiful fade-resistant color, superior waterproofing protection equal to the waterproofing power of Thompson's Water Seal Deck & House stains, and it resists mildew," said Kozlowski. "Because it is a latex (water-based) formula, it also offers soap and water clean-up, low odor and air-quality, and is VOC compliant nationwide." Available in one-quart cans, Thompson's Water Seal No Drip Gel Stain is touted as a new option for people with smaller, more intricate surfaces, or surfaces where the "no drip" feature is a real plus. It's ideal for outdoor furniture, deck railings and spindles, staining areas that are over your head.
PPG has been aggressively pursuing new technology to increase the overall durability and performance of its exterior coatings. This pursuit has led to the launch in recent years of several new exterior topcoats including Pittsburgh Paints Manor Hall Timeless and Porter Paints Permanizer. "These self priming, high build products bridge cracks and hide surface imperfections on aged wood surfaces," said Dougherty. "Additionally, their superior adhesion and mildew and algae resistant properties enable them to last and look great, longer than any product that we have ever put on the market. These products have been well received in the marketplace and continue to grow in sales." �
Another exterior product that has worked very well for PPG in recent years is its Sun-Proof Acrylic Oil product line. "This line of low VOC stains, toners and clears utilizes what we call core-shell technology to provide the performance of penetrating alkyd with easy water clean-up," Dougherty explained. "This has been particularly helpful to meet increasingly stringent VOC requirements in many parts of the country without sacrificing performance."
On the interior side, PPG is excited about 2008 because the company is going to be expanding its Olympic line of stains, gels and varnishes in its company-owned stores and dealer networks. The line will include products suited for professional applications as well as traditional residential interior applications.
For Rust-Oleum, launching this spring will be Varathane's Foam Stain. "This product will allow the user to apply stain to an interior wood surface via a foam that has the consistency of hair mousse," said Moon. "This product's revolutionary new application method offers the ultimate in ease and control by reducing messes and drips. Simply apply, then rub in the penetrating stain."
Rust-Oleum's Varathane Fly Specking Kit is also now available and lets users create their own one-of-a-kind antique look to wood. The kit includes three 1-ounce bottles of various shades of stain that the user dips a brush into and then splatters tiny droplets of stain onto the surface of their project. "This gives the wood the appearance as if an insect had stain on its legs and then walked across the surface," explained Moon. "Interior wood workers can also achieve an antique and distressed look with the new Varathane Distressing & Wormhole Kit, which includes a tool to add dents and wear and tear to the wood and also a tool that is used to simulate insect paths through the wood."
The Rust-Oleum interior flooring line will also have two new products added to it this spring, including Nano Shield Advanced Floor Finish and Nano Shield Advanced Floor Finish Sealer. Floor Finish is a clear water-based floor finish available in gloss, semi-gloss and satin that is used to protect wood floors with its unique formula of aluminum�oxide nano particles that offer exceptional wear resistance. Floor Finish Sealer also contains aluminum�oxide nano particles and is used to fill and seal wood's pores prior to using Floor Finish to ensure an even topcoat.
Arch Wood Protection Offers FrameGuard Mold-Resistant Coating
Arch Wood Protection, a major producer of wood preservatives applied by pressure treatment, has introduced a mold-resistant coating aimed at the residential framing market. This coating is applied by the spraying or dipping of wood products, which are then called FrameGuard mold-resistant wood. It enables lumber, plywood, trusses and engineered wood products to resist mold, termites and decay in interior installations. Coating is performed at wood handling centers where quality can be controlled; it is not done at the job site.
"Looking through rosy-colored glasses, the current housing situation is providing us with time to present our story while many builders have time to listen," he continued. "We suspect that there will be a market for coated framing that delivers benefits to homeowners. Interest remains high, even if sales have not matched our expectations."