Old man Winter is still in town in most regions of North America and Europe, but soon enough, spring will arrive-and no one is looking forward to it more than wood coatings manufacturers. Spring's milder temperatures will lure homeowners outside to see what damage has been done by months of cold snow, ice and rain and consumers will take stock of what repair work needs to be done on their homes.
In the U.S., Memorial Day weekend-May 27-29, 2000-kicks off the wood coating selling season. Consumers will head out to the local hardware store, home center or paint store to pick up stains, finishes and maintenance products to restore their wood siding, decks, fences and more to get their homes ready for summer.
"Memorial Day to Labor Day is the heartland of the season," said Pat Coughlin, manager, brand development, The Flood Company.
The Great Outdoors More American families are choosing to spend what limited free time they have outdoors, in their own backyards. And for many homeowners, having a well-kept, outdoor living space is an essential part of living the "good life."
"There's a renaissance back to deck building-the market is expanding," said Mr. Coughlin. According to Mr. Coughlin, almost every new home has a deck that is part of the original plan or is added soon after the homeowner moves in." According to Yankelovich Monitor, which is compiled by national polling firm Yankelovich & Partners, 18% of men and 15% of women in the U.S. planned to build a patio, deck or porch in the next two or three years.
While not staggering numbers, a resurgence in decking should come as a welcomed trend to wood coatings manufacturers vying to increase their share in a market which has been stagnant: the U.S. wood coatings market is valued at the 250,000 tons per year, yet is posting zero to one percent growth, according to Market Tracking International, London. Europe is faring a bit better-its market size is approximately 400,000 tons per year, with growth averaging two to three percent, according to MTI. The largest gains are reported in Asia-Pacific. MTI's statistics show a market of about 300,000 tones with growth reported to be some 10% per year.
Coatings companies are banking on the decking trend-a number of new products have have been, or will be launched that are formulated especially for decks. Duron has added new Maxwood deck stains, a line of solid-color and semi-transparent products for use on horizontal surfaces. These professional-grade exterior stain products are manufactured with a unique oil/latex technology that combines the penetration and durability of an oil with the fade and color resistance and easy clean-up of a latex, according to Duron.
PPG's Olympic Maximum deck stain, which launched last spring, has "exceeded first year estimates," according to Mike Provenzano, marketing director, PPG Architectural Finishes, Inc. The product is backed by a two-year guarantee against graying. There is a newcomer to the exterior wood coatings market: Griffin LLC, Valdosta, GA-based joint venture between Griffin Corp. and DuPont. The joint venture operation unveiled its first product, Noah deck and fence renewal system at the National Hardware Show in Chicago last summer. The system is a hose-end wood treatment product that restores and protects wood surfaces in three steps and makes restoring the natural beauty to wood decks and fences as "easy as watering a garden," according to the company. Noah deck and fence renewal system includes a dual-cartridge unit that holds the cleanser separate from the coating. The company's AutoJet sprayer, which comes with a selector dial, draws the formulas to clean or coat the surface and dilutes the product, eliminating a step for the applicator.
Once the deck has been cleaned, the applicator changes the dial and rinses the surface. After the rinse water is absorbed or the surface is wiped free of puddles, the coating process begins. Homeowners can coat their wood in clear, honey gold or cedar brown finishes-all in about one hour, according to the company, which has filed patent applications in the U.S. and abroad for the sprayer and dual-cartridge system.
Cutting down the time it takes to protect a wood deck is also the theme for the latest Flood Company product. The Flood Company, Hudson, OH, has relaunched Tropitech Spa-N-Deck exterior wood finish. The 100% acrylic coating was initially developed by Fran Koebert, a paint industry scientist who sold it to a limited market in the southeastern U.S. Tropitech Spa-N-Deck came into the Flood stable when Mr. Koebert's company, Tropitech Coatings & Research, Naples, FL, was acquired in 1998. This spring the coating will debut with a new user-friendly label.
"We've reintroduced it and are exploring its performance in other geographic areas of North America," said Mr. Coughlin. Developed for environments that are exposed to extreme sun and heat, Tropitech Spa-N-Deck bonds in and on the wood to provide a tough, durable finish, according to the company.
What makes the product unique is its application method. Tropitech Spa-N-Deck is applied to a completely wet surface. Flood contends the formulation works with the wet surface and the moisture in the wood to deeply penetrate pores and bond with wood fibers. Due to its unconventional application method, Flood is targeting the contractor market rather than DIY'ers. "We're communicating its unique application to small pockets of contractors to grow its base," Mr. Coughlin added. The target audience is the south Atlantic region.
Flood technicians are working to make the product easier to use and "more forgiving" in areas with extreme hot-cold cycles.
Companies selling to markets outside of the U.S. are also eyeing up the deck market. According to Steve Gibson, marketing manager with Ronseal, a Sherwin Williams company operating in the UK, wood decking is a potential gold mine. The company has added a new decking range "to meet what we believe to be the biggest single opportunity in the UK exterior coatings market for the past 10 years." According to Mr. Gibson, consumers "are waking up to the concept, fueled by TV programs and consumer magazines. Decking is seen as the desirable alternative to the conventional patio, and it's compatible with consumers rapidly growing interest in outdoor living."
Ronseal's new product line includes five products designed specifically for decks-each is formulated to resist damage such as abrasion from heavy foot traffic. Products include stain, colors, oil, cleaner and a sealer.
Horizontal surfaces like decks are not the only wood surfaces that need to be protected on a home. New to Duron's product stable is Maxwood siding and trim. Available in solid-color latex, solid-color oil and semi transparent alkyd/oil, the product is intended for use on vertical surfaces exclusively, according to the company.
"We're seeing a renewed interest in semi-transparent stain on decks and stair treads-something that allows the beauty of the grain to show underfoot," said Mark Woodman, Duron's color marketing and design manager. "Railings, vertical support posts and stair risers, however, are being enhanced with solid-hide stains colored to blend with the home's exterior."
The Flood Company's solid color stain for siding and decks, launched two years ago, is selling "extremely well," according to Mr. Coughlin. The line is available in dealer distributors, hardware stores as well as home centers like Lowe's and Menards. Mr. Coughlin noted that Flood has "very aggressive plans" to promote the products as well as its semi-transparent deck and siding stain, which was launched last year.
The Rising Tide: Water-based Technology Although many professionals insist oil is the only option when it comes to finishing wood, water-based products are seeping into the market as major manufacturers look to attract DIY consumers with easier-to-use water-based technologies.
"The concept of water-based stain is an interesting one for consumers," said Dominick Pisciotta, Minwax marketing manager. "Intrinsically, water and wood do not go together. There are issues with lap marks, grain raising and many experienced wood finishers still believe that oil is the only way to go. However, as we seek to grow the category, remain competitive and capture new users, and as water-based technology advances, the products make sense."
Minwax unveiled three new water-based products in August, 1999, marking its first major foray into water-based wood finishing. Prior to the launch, Minwax offered consumers a water-based clear protective finish, Polycrylic protective finish, which has been selling well since its debut. "In the approximate 10 years since its launch, Polycrylic has captured a major share of the water-based clear finish category and a significant overall share of the clears category," Mr. Pisciotta said.
With that kind of track record, Minwax's new water-based products should be well received, too. The new additions include PreStain wood conditioner which "assures rich even color penetration of water-based stains and helps control grain raising," according to Minwax. The company's new water-based wood stain for interior wood surfaces is available in six wood tone colors and a clear tint base that can be custom colored in 60 variations. Another new water-based product is a whitewash picking stain, which provides a subtle white wash look to wood-a popular trend in U.S. kitchens.
The benefits of water-based products include cleaning with soap and water rather than mineral spirits, low odor and faster drying times. But the effort to make these consumer-friendly products perform has not come easy. According to Mr. Pisciotta, Minwax spent approximately 18 months in the lab perfecting the new water-based products. "Much of the development time involved working with the tint base and tinting systems to produce a wide array of exciting colors beyond the typical wood tone line that Minwax is accustomed to offering."
Consumers will have to pay more for water-based technology. According to Mr. Pisciotta, "the benefits a consumer gets typically carry a 25-50% increase in cost over similar oil-based products."
TruServ will join the water-based market. The company will rollout Woodsman solid color 100% acrylic latex deck stain and a semi-transparent 100% acrylic deck stain in the fall and 2001, respectively.
But not every company is jumping into the water-based category with two feet. Akzo Nobel's newest product, which rolls out this month, is Sikkens Rubbol solid stain, a solid alkyd oil-based stain available in 53 colors. Rubbol solid stain is VOC-compliant, according to Gerry Koutavas, national sales manager.
"We're still ahead of the pack when it comes to oil," Mr. Koutavas said. "We're still able to provide a VOC-compliant alkyd oil-base product especially for the maintenance market and new construction." Rubbol solid stain has a matte finish, which appeals to the U.S. market, rather than a sheen finish, which is popular in Europe.
Another oil product is Flood's FloodPro series of exterior wood care products geared for the professional contractor market. The line includes a penetrating oil finish formulated with Penetrol, an oil additive used in the professional market since 1934. "These products hearken back to old oil-based deck finishes that contractors are accustomed to and still like to use," said Mr. Coughlin.
Creating the Right Environment The market for selling deck, fence and siding products is cyclical-spring and summer are the busiest seasons. TruServ is launching a new program that it hopes will give a boost to off-season sales. The new program includes both indoor and outdoor products in a newly designed retail set called the Wood Care Center, which the company contends creates an environment that will spike up sales.
The new display area will attract shoppers to the wood care aisle and aid them in their selection of interior and exterior wood products, according to the company. "The merchandise is all in one aisle-all products that are necessary to do an interior or exterior stain project," said Dave Patrizi, assistant vice president, sales and marketing.
Consumers will be well aware that they are in the wood care section of the store: Wood Care Centers feature wood grain point-of-purchase signs, vertical merchandisers, shelf tops and end caps , as well as wood floor (which is actually vinyl).
But there's more to the TruServ program than new POP displays. The company has also revamped Woodsman's formulations, redesigned the packaging and added a new sampler program. "The stain sampler program is important for decks," said Mr. Patrizi.
According to Mr. Patrizi, DIY'ers are often disappointed after they stain their decks. Many times a consumer likes the color on the chips in the store, but once the product is applied it can look different due to the wood's weathering, age and porosity. TruServ Wood Care Centers will provide consumers with a quart of stain to test at home, and "if they are happy they can come back in a purchase a gallon or try another," Mr. Patrizi said.
Mr. Patrizi admitted that other companies offer samples. However, rather than have customers call toll-free numbers and have products shipped, "we wanted to take it one step closer," Mr. Patrizi said.
The Wood Care Center concept was introduced in the fall of 1999 at the National Hardware Show. TruServ Wood Care Centers will start to pop up in stores this quarter, just in time for the prime selling season. The company is hoping for big returns from the new concept-it expects its stain business to grow 30-40% due to the introduction of Wood Care Centers.
Inside Opportunity Coatings manufacturers are responsible for their own sale efforts. However, trade associations such as Nordic Timber Council, based in Stockholm, Sweden, are working hard to keep wood surfaces popular with consumers and their efforts can benefit wood coatings manufacturers.
At an upcoming home show, NTC will showcase a concept bathroom that uses nordic pine. The goal of the project is to get consumers to consider wood in their bathrooms. NTC also displayed a full-size timber framed house at Deubau 2000, a building fair held in Essen, Germany in January.
"After many years of decline, natural wood is making a comeback in most of Europe," said Michael Daleau, NTC director for France.
In the U.S., Deft's latest introduction is a satin sheen version of its Deft clear wood finish. The new finish-which complements existing gloss and semi-gloss sheens-is crystal clear and non-yellowing, according to the Irvine, CA-based company. Suited for interior wood, cabinets, paneling and other wood items, the dried lacquer is "baby-safe" and is resistant to common household spills.
Sherwin-Williams also offers the new WoodClassics interior wood finishing system, a line that incudes a tint-based selection of 40 stain shades, as well as sealers and varnishes. The WoodClassics line also incudes eight "fun stains" such as galley gold and precious pink accent colors.
Knock on Wood? What's ahead for the wood coatings market? More decks in the U.S. and UK, a possible resurgence in natural wood surfaces inside the home, and improved formulations that perform and are easier to apply are all good signs for the wood coatings market. Mr. Coughlin of Flood agreed that the prospects look good for wood coatings manufacturers. "There are definitely healthy trends that bode well for us in the future."