by Craig Webb, president, Webb Analytics
What’s popular today at America’s decking and railing suppliers? What trends are coming on that have yet to be tracked by analysts? To find out, Superior Plastic Industries, a manufacturer of both vinyl and metal railing systems, commissioned Webb Analytics president Craig Webb to conduct a series of one-on-one interviews with building material dealers in many parts of the country. This spring and summer, Webb spoke with officials at more than 40 companies, from the South Atlantic states o the Pacific coast. Here’s what they said. Respondents were promised anonymity, so people and companies remain unidentified. Their comments are presented in an “as told to” format.
* Aluminum is rapidly taking market share from vinyl and composite. Why? Basically, thin is in.
* Vinyl increasingly is fitting into a price-point niche between treated wood and metal. It appears to be more popular in low-dollar rural areas as opposed to places with second homes and upscale residences.
* Cable rail is growing in popularity beyond its origins on the West Coast.
* Non-wood railing choices are showing notable gains vs. wood railing choices. Treated and untreated wood had 60% of the market volume in 2017. In 2018, that share had shrunk seven percentage points, to 53%.
* Powder-coated aluminum railing is recording the biggest percentage growth, but in volume terms it remains behind vinyl and PVC. Given the anecdotes I’m hearing, it’s possible that powder-coated aluminum’s market share (now 7%) could surpass that of PVC and other all-plastic products (now 9%) in 2019, as well as take a bite out of the market share for vinyl and plastic composites (now 11%).
* Dealers’ overwhelming request: Make railing simple!
* Metal railing systems dominate when composite decking is bought. Customers like the thin profile. They particularly like Fortress over offerings from companies like Azek because it’s simpler to put together.
* Unlike dealers in the South Atlantic and Gulf regions, nobody out West who I contacted sold white vinyl railings, even at dealers located near the Pacific Ocean. This is in part because they said distributors don’t stock it or promote it.
* Hog wire is popular in some of the rural areas, but often it’s regarded by dealers as a replacement for fencing rather than as a component for railing. A number of dealers refuse to stock it, citing safety concerns.In more urban parts of the country, cable railing is installed on metal posts. In more rural areas, cable is mainly being used on wood posts.
* PVC enjoys popularity in areas such as a part of Alabama where white front railings were used on older homes, in part because the window frames also were white. In back, PVC was abandoned for other choices.
The dealer executives who provided these “as-told-to” comments were promised anonymity, so they are identified here only by the general region of the country where they are located. Some designations—like Great Lakes vs. East and West North Central—seem to overlap, but that’s in part because some of the dealers operate over large territories. Dealers in the Northeast weren’t interviewed because SPI already had a good handle on trends in that region.
We’re beginning to sell more and more of the stainless steel cable rail. Even on the interior; they’re using it on staircases.We sell some vinyl, but we don’t sell a lot of metal at all. It’s just not something that’s big in our market.
Treated is still our No. 1 exterior decking product, without question. When the chemicals changed, a lot of dealers decided we aren’t going to stock crap any more. We only sell clear and prime No. 1—nothing else. We had to clean up our act, and so did the builders. Every piece we sell is treated for ground contact. We sell almost all the brands. Builders will try something and they like and their subs know how to use it. You have to work hard to get them to look at new products. Most people are using some type of composite if they aren’t using.
Because most of our homes are large and very expensive, we haven’t gotten into the cheaper composites. People don’t think about overall cost and value. Darker colors need replacing, and installation can be a problem.
A lot of the building around here is being done is by tract builders. We also get custom home builders—we have a recreational lake in which there’s a lot of development. We had a huge increase in business from ’17 to ’18. A lot of that was because of a hailstorm that put $2.5 million of roofing sales into our coffers. For ’19, we don’t have a hailstorm and with lumber being 35-40% less, our numbers are still ahead of last year.
We’ve sold a tremendous amount of treated lumber. Last year it was a truck a month. This year it’s two trucks a week. Timbertech has come out with a lower-priced cap composite. We put it in inventory and sold it a bit of that, and it gives us an opportunity to upsell.
A lot of people still do wood railing, but we sell a lot of the Fortress Iron Railing. Builders like how it’s easy to put together. And you’re seeing a lot of cable rail. We sell some of that, but I think it’s being used out more on the lakes because there are so many products out there that you can go online and buy. I think the pros are doing that and bypassing us. We have kits, which for a small deck works well. East Coast Millworks has a cable rail system.
Hogwire fencing—the big heavy 3x3 squares—i’ve seen that being used now, whether with wood or with metal.
PVC? For us, we don’t sell much of that. A lot of these houses are out on the lake and are more rustic. White’s more for colonial. People on the lake are going with darker colors. But when we do higher-end projects, people go with radiance rail. People want a dark color deck with a black handrail. That way, you can get it all from one source.
It appears that the aluminum panels and kits are very popular. It’s moving away from the old infill kits for railing that the manufacturers offered. They’re all going to an aluminum panel or aluminum kit similar to Fortress.
Vinyl isn’t growing as much. We probably sell more of the Fortress that anything else. We have a stocking program with Fortress that we’ve had for years. We also sell the Trex Signature line and Timbertech’s aluminum line.
Cable railing got really popular two years ago and has kind of maintained that level. It’s popular in the mountains and around lakes; there, the view is important. It really peaked probably in 2017 and 2018 and while it’s still a big component, the trajectory of growth isn’t as steep.
Wild Hog railing came in and is really popular. It’s taken a bit of cable rail’s share. It’s a good look and can be used with anything from yellow pine to Azek.
In the Southeast, Southern yellow pine is such a cheap component to build a deck. But we’re seeing replacements. Consumers are more interested in maintenance-free composites. You’re also going to see more single-family builders go to composite. There’s a lot more opportunity to build at not much more cost.
We told the manufacturers they had way too many options in railing. It was overwhelming.
We have cut down considerably on our stocking SKUs and railing components. It was an inventory nightmare to have all those infill kits. Over the last 3 years, we’ve dropped about 50% in SKUs counts—but we were growing that much in sales volume—and we rely on manufactures to have the components in stock within 48 hours.
During the winter buyers, there were additional discounts for more trucks. They tacked on some very good buys for the basic rail components. We stock three different colors of rail posts. They offered deep discounts and good terms for pallet quantities.
Looking ahead to 2020, I’d probably cut down on some companies like Deckorators.
We’re hoping to expand cypress and cedar business and set up the saws to do remand and resaw capabilities to provide different products.
We see the PVC capped composite to be rising as opposed to just the straight PVC. A lot of that is cost-driven. The market is moving to the 3-side capsulation, in part because Azek/Timbertech has a new board, Edge.) We think that’s going to move the market down. There’s still a need for the full PVC but it’s just the cost point that’s too high.
We have been very big into vinyl railings for years, but we’re seeing a fairly significant move toward aluminum—usually a cast-aluminum railing rather than a lighter gauge. And there’s growth in composite. If you look in the Southeast, we sell more vinyl, but in the rest of the country it’s moving toward aluminum railing. I think people see the product as being heavier, a high quality product. In the Southeast, aluminum also is growing, but just not as fast.
I hadn’t heard about Wild Hog, but I’m calling it up on my PC screen as we speak. I view any railing that has a horizontal member to be a stepladder. And when you have 2- or 3-year old kids, well, I would never sell that product. When a railing is 3-1/2 or 4 feet above the ground, that can be a death height.
We’re down by the water so we try not to push the wood, because salt water destroys, Stainless steel hasn’t proved its finish over a long period; iIt doesn’t matter if it’s machine grade, 3/16, or 304. So the vinyl, we’ve had good luck with it. Fairway is probably most common, then Trex, then Azek. I push Fairway. It’s easy to quote and easy to put together.
The PVC is really getting hot in our market, as it has for the last 10-15 years. It stays true and the water doesn’t hurt it. We stock a good amount of Kleer PVC.
As for what types of vinyl railing people want, we sell both round and square balusters, chippendales. Not much lighting gets sold on a new install, but there’s some aftermarket business.
Sales of stainless steel cable rail are minimal.
What we do is we still sell mainly wood. We sell some composite. For railing, we make our own. it’s a 2x4 that’s rounded on the top edge and has a groove in the bottom for the picket.
But from what I understand, the code has made that obsolete. We still sell it mainly for restoration.
As for cypress, we do a little. When I first came here, old-timers wouldn’t touch it. We also do custom millwork. For a while, we almost got to the point where there wasn’t that much to do. Now we’re about full up. We got 15 doors that need to be put in new frames.
We have houses that are worth several million. What they want depends on the designers and homeowners. We have people on million-dollar lots. If they have some small deck, they’ll do composite.
We sell Azek in the after market. It’s twice as expensive at pressure-treated but has twice the life expectancy. No splinters, no slippage.
We don’t have much metal; it’s a salty environment. I don’t care how good you coat it, (the rust) seems to get through, even with a powder coat. We do sell some stainless.
RDI is vinyl. We do some of that. Timbertech, too—we do some of that. The vinyl doesn’t seem to be as solid as I personally would prefer. But Timbertech is good and sturdy.
It seems like trends change every year. We started out with that Fiberon composite years ago and switched to Wolf PVC. We have lakes in the area. This is the first time we’ve put in a composite at a better price point so we could compete. It had been several years since we had a composite in stock. A contractor came in this morning and his customer is trying to pay for composite. It looks like he can probably get that job done in composite with that lower price point.
For the railing, we started out with just the white vinyl. Then we put in almond vinyl. Then aluminum; we keep a black aluminum rail. Last year, we took out the almond because it seems like everyone likes the aluminum.
We do quite a few special orders and that Wolf product has a lot of different spindle styles. We do a little bit of that cable rail. They seem to like that.
The aluminum has over 50% share of our sales now. Occasionally we’ll do a different color. It just depends on whether it’s new or they’re replacing.
My one complaint with Wolf is that if we do a special order on aluminum rail and the guys miss a part, and it’s already taken two weeks to get the order, then it takes another two weeks to get the missing part, because they don’t stock it at Wolf. You have to go back to Westbury, the manufacturer. The folks at Wolf don’t seem to understand the need to keep a bracket, or end post, or whatever. They say it’s a Westbury issue.
Coastal South Atlantic
A few people are starting to use more of the composite products. It’s a tougher sell here in the South because I have a treating plant just 45 miles away and we sell a lot of treated SYP. The shipping costs of composite are higher, and the product costs three to four times as much as treated wood. Trex has that newer product that’s maybe 2x higher. I don’t think we’ve sold much of it. Some of these subs are looking at it.
On railing, we’re starting to do some wire railings. You have to develop a skill set with it; if you haven’t sold one before, you almost need to have a factory guy come in. We’re working with some bubbas and some Hispanic people, so there’s a knowledge gap, unless you’re paying a higher price to get trained people.
Most of what we’ve sold has been wood—a lot of 2x2 pickets or maybe a 2x4 cap.
When they do the wire, they’re probably buying more of a system. A metal post. We may sell some Trex on the decking. Everybody who has an extruder comes to us and all it does is confuse people coming in. So we buy by the piece.
Our builders are building the bigger of the biggest homes in this market. The decking product we’re moving the majority of is Trex Transcend. That’s their best line. Our builders like the tropical colors that compete with Ipe and stuff.
A lot of our guys use the Fortress railing. They’ll buy Trex for the top and bottom rail, and then we sell a ton of the black aluminum balusters. (Any vinyl sales?) Not with our clientele. We don’t go after any of the tract guys.
Trex is coming out with a new product that’ll be their lower-entry level product. We still have a lot of builders who use pressure-treated. I can see a switch from treated to upgrade to this new trex product. But right now, the colors are very limited.
We have all the big distributors here—Dixie, U.S. Lumber, Boise, BlueLinx. We don’t have a big presence in stocking composite. We have a big line of treated that we keep. But because we can get stuff within 24 hours, we use their warehouse as our warehouse.
Trex has just come out with a product that competes with the treated. It’s being pushed hard in my market. We have Fortress. As for railings, I don’t see the Trex or Fairway railings still happening. People are pretty much going with basic vinyl rails and glossing it up in some areas. Some might do a PVC band wrap. I don’t see lighting like they used to. The wire railing is coming back strong.
Business in general is really strong. The rain slowed us down last winter. But we’re extremely busy on the framing side now. We’re up about 13% on the same day as last year. We have to come in on Saturdays and get loads pulled. When it dries out, framers want it.
In the railing, we do the Azek rail and Wolf has its. We stock that. We’ve had good success with the Intex rail. We brought one of its profiles in stock. Azek is more of a composite, while the Intex is a true PVC that’s white or that can be painted. It is popular for being maintenance free. In this area, we still have a specialty type of rail—wood 3-1/4 inch, with beads on the side. We sell a lot of that.
There are some people that do metal railing. We don’t sell it here. In general, my area hasn’t grasped on to metal, except in multifamily, which we aren’t into. Some people are powder-coating aluminum so it looks like wrought iron. We had an association with a metal place a few years ago, and we do special order the aluminum from Wolf from time to time.
We do stock some cable rail. We sell it every so often.
We are an Azek dealer. We stock two colors of Azek, brownstone and slate gray. They sell well for us. With our suppliers we can get the other colors in in one or two days.
Wolf came along a few years ago and created its own line. When it came out with PVC, we switched the white PVC from Azek to Wolf regarding what we stocked. But we didn’t switch decking.
While we are still selling mainly composites, pressure-treated has made a bit of a comeback. It’ll give you a good 15 years, 20 if you maintain it, and at less price. People are staining it. It has made a comeback, bug nothing huge, though.
Ipe used to be a trend, but not now.
Coastal South Atlantic
Sometimes they’ll put vinyl in front and then cable in back, where the view is more important. There are lots of wooden rails that still are done, but they are more on decks rather than on houses.
For the most part here, it’s mainly treated. If we sell some composite, sometimes they’ll get the railing to match, but that’s not very often. We’ve sold some of the horizontal cable railing on metal posts. And in the mountains, the log railing is popular. It’s made of white cedar.
We do sell some powder-coated aluminum. Some of our tract builders have started using it with treated rail and powder coated aluminum balusters. PVC? That’s handled on a special order basis. I’m not seeing as much of it as I used to.
We worked out a program with Absolute Distribution on powder-coated aluminum. We buy it as we need it. We might buy a show special, but by no means would we take a 12-month supply.
We get 2-3 orders a year for exotic lumber. The regular composite is going away and PVC wrapped is becoming more prominent.
Our deck expert feels that composite decking is up about 40% in the area. Timbertech and Azek have come out with more popularly priced products. Trex also is in there. We usually get the higher-end business and the big boxes get the lower end.
As for railing, a lot of it is composite, mainly in black or others colors in the back and white in the front. That’s because most of our windows are white; we don’t have much colored windows. The $500,000 homes and up are the ones that have color window frames.
Aluminum railing is mainly black or bronze, and vertical cable rail is much more popular than horizontal. Our railing sales are up 15% to 20%. Home Depot and Lowe’s don’t stock it, so the prices are higher. We’re seeing other dealers bring it in. We probably have 50% of the market.
Our railing sales mirror our decking sales pretty well in that if somebody is doing pressure-treated decking, what we’re seeing is a site-built railing system made out of 4x4s and 2-by material.
We have seen more interest in composite decks, and with that the companion railing systems. We stock some of the Trex basics—their low-end. But that’s not what I’ve seen moving. In bigger projects, we’ve sold some TimberTech and Azek projects—of three jobs in the last few weeks, two had nice Timbertech premier railings. But that may be just anecdotal and not be a trend.
We—the traditional lumber dealer—have lost some market to the aluminum screened-in systems, skipping the decking market entirely. A lot of new construction is slab on grade with a covered porch on the back and an aluminum screen and a concrete floor.
PVC? You see a little bit of that, but what we see more of is the aluminum, Fortress-type rail kits. Just the 6-foot post to post kits.
Hogwire, I would say, is kind of a Pinterest trend. I’ve seen pressure-treated top-to-bottom rails and then they go to Tractor Supply and sandwich the hogwire between a 2x2 stock.
Cable? We’ve seen some interest in it., but my knowledge, we’re not selling much of it.
In my neck of the woods, treated lumber is still No. 1. I’m doing that myself. I looked at Trex and other composites, and it was 2-1/2 times more expensive. But what I did do was upgrade to 2x6 radius edged bullnose. Railing is just some salt 2x6s and 2x4s.
Where I see the upgrade going on—and it started out more coastal and now it’s going inland—is cable railing. It’s not as popular as PVC, but people typically use it for hand and deck rails. If they have a good view of the lake, they go with this cable railing. It’s all about money. It’s extremely durable, it looks good. And is see it not just on decks and railings but also piers.
As for powder-coated aluminum, I’m aware of it residentially, like in my neighborhood near the coast. I don’t think it’s extremely big, but I do see it in condos where they can’t use cable because of safety concerns.
We sell very little railing. We are flat land, so most people will pour a slab for their home and patio. Some will have paved stones. Some of our locations, they’ll sell wood. We do sell sell some Trex. We’re selling a lot of Azek as well. We’ve sold a little bit of Fortress, like, for a second-story balcony of a duplex. But just not a lot of it. For siding, the Joanna Gaines look is very popular.
The trend has been away from vinyl to composite, now it’s going from composite to aluminum. I think we like things to be more streamlined, less bulky, and more contemporary. When it comes to decking, customers care about brand. With railing, much less. It’s not that brand doesn’t matter at all. But, at this point, people will buy the rail brand that they think is best.
We have been selling cable railing for quite a few years and sales have been steady. We were early adopters for the Midwest. We don’t have the views that you have on the beach, but we have big lots, and people want to see through. That’s the number one reason for metal.
Rural Great Lakes
The vast majority of our decking and railing are still treated lumber and then you make your own treated railing. That’s 75% of our sales. The people with more money are buying Trex and going with Trex vinyl railings. Once in a while we’ll sell cable railing—maybe two per year. Glass is pretty much nonexistent.
Urban Great Lakes
The trend definitely is toward low-profile aluminum systems. Less is more, not the bulk you get with 2x4s. There are more matte finishes these days vs. smooth satins. Plain aluminum balusters still are sold with wood decks, but if the decking is composite, then aluminum is used throughout. Vinyl railing is in gradual decline, even though it has a lower price point.
Rural Great Lakes
We haven’t seen much cable, but we are seeing more metal. Vinyl still is popular, though we are buying less .We stock both vinyl and metal products. Composite decking hasn’t taken off here.
East North Central
What’s starting to take off is the aluminum rail. I talked to a couple of my vendors. Last year, aluminum rail was 5% of their sales. Now it’s about 20% of their sales. It’s the slimmer lines. Cable rail gets a lot of lip sales, but not as much real sales.
Vinyl is still the mainstay. It’s been around long enough that these caps and some of the balusters and things like that are getting beat up and getting knocked off by kids and they’re getting a bad taste in their month. We’re doing more of these wrap posts that are more for homes. The tradesmen that we get coming in, everyone is looking for different ways to skin a cat. They’d rather do a wraparound than a slide mount because the post is getting beaten up while under construction and the next thing you know they’re trying to figure out how to replace it. So we’re doing more wrap posts where it’s the last piece going on.
We’re selling the Trex, the Timbertech, the typical composite decking. We’re waiting to see how the new composite sells. Myself, I have not sold any yet. It’s a little early yet; all we have is rain. Lumber is strong, but the decking is ready to take off.
Last year, our Trex decking was probably 60% of our business. We install a lot of big GC projects that’ll take a boatload of treated lumber. Some of these big apartment builders are still going up with the treated lumber decks on their little patios. We probably sell a hell of a lot more treated lumber than Trex or anything else. We don’t sell to homeowners here. We prefer they go to the big box.
West North Central
People are transferring from wood to PVC—low-maintenance, indestructible decking. That’s a major trend that’s been going on for the past 10 years. People are going away from wood railings so they don’t have to paint or stain. Most are going to aluminum. Some are doing composite. The balusters are smaller, so you can see through the railing easier than the old 2x2. Now it’s 3/4x3/4 or less. We’re seeing more cable railing and glass applications. People are building on the lakefront.
We sell very little vinyl. It’s cheaper and flimsier and will rattle. Aluminum is a lot cleaner look, and you can get varying colors.
We are selling more kitted aluminum systems than anything else. That trend started seven years ago. We sold Fortress a lot until this year when they raised their price 25% because of tariffs.
We sell next to no vinyl—fewer than than 5 jobs a year. We tend to sell against it. It had to have been bigger because people asked for parts, but we’re not selling anything new.
As far as composite goes, we sell the occasional composite jobs, usually TimberTech or AZEK, some Deckorators. But it’s less than 5%.
Cable is another small segment. It’s growing, doing more and more every year. We’re definitely seeing that trend up. We try to sell the lowest amount of maintenance as possible, but in an effort to not lose cable sales we’ve also sold cable on wooden posts.
We pride ourselves on giving a lot of options, so we never say you have to have like brands together. North of 90% of the packages we sell have a different brand of decking than railing. As TimberTech and Trex push to consumers, and the rebates that Deckorators are using, we’ll see that increase. Contractors have found what they like, and more often than not, what they buy are separate brands.
Hog fence? It’s not popular here. We’re looking to sell it in unit quantities. There is demand for it, but it hasn’t caught on.
We carry powdered aluminum coating, and that’s about the only one we carry. You see people wanting to get as much vision as possible—not having a railing that hinders that. Both the cable rail and glass panels are very much in vogue. But there’s still a lot of the other wood stuff. And trex has its own railing system that matches the decking. though most of our customers buy railing separately.
Not very much PVC is sold here. With our winters, people are skeptical as to how long it would last.
We’ve seen a drastic shift from three years ago, when we were selling a lot of the composite railings. They were bigger, bulkier, more substantial. Today, we’re selling way more aluminum railing. We’re getting lots of interest in Verticable from Westbury. People want to see the land. I see that gaining interest. Vinyl? It hits a certain customer—the price-driven person who wants to get into composites but will look to cut costs on the railing. But we probably sell 10 times as much composite or aluminum as we do vinyl
People want wider steps, 12 to 14 feet wide, so that cuts down on railing some.
Right now, we stock four colors of TimberTech but no railing. We’re a big TimberTech dealer; we sell a lot of it and Azek. We still do sell some treated deck boards and stock a bit of cedar. But last year, cedar was so high it took someone adamant about the real wood look to pay it. This year it’s come down, so it’ll be interesting to see how things go.
We still see a tremendous amount of sticker shock when it comes to decking. It’s hard to compare prices because there’s so much variety. They don’t anticipate it being double the price. But the more people who have become aware of that go with the higher-end alternatives.
We don’t get a lot of calls for railing. The ones we have tend to be for the three or four steps leading up to the house. I built a new house and struggled as a consumer. I have three decks. One is elevated; there we used vertical cable—I didn’t want horizontal because of grandkids. And on the front deck, we went with metal. I’m not a vinyl guy.
Plains and Mountains
When composite decking first came out, we were 100% vinyl. Then steel came in and was fashionable for about six months—until people found out it rusted. And cable came in and people found it was a ladder for kids. Our No. 1 seller now is powder-coated aluminum. It’s easy to use, and thin lines. The three colors that we stock cover 90% of the market.
Vinyl continues to dwindle and we no longer stock it. It’s not bad, it just got replaced by something better. We’ll still sell some composite post sleeves, but for the most part people want visibility through that railing and that has made that big, buiky look less popular.
While composite decking nationally is a small percentage of the market, it’s half of our market in the Plains. That has been made much simpler and easier now that Trex has the Enhanced product and TimberTech came out with a simpler product as well. We can now sell for just slightly more than wood.
The railing market is so fragmented in our metro area that we don’t stock at all. We do a fair amount of multi-family and single-family. There are so many choices that we don’t have a good, solid consensus on 42-inch steel or 36-inch aluminum or 36-inch composite. We just order it on demand rather than try to guess the next big thing.
In stores that do a lot of boat docks and decks, for the most part, the bulk of what’s sold is some type of composite railing, either that or just treated. We have a couple of those guys that’ll do the cable. That’s a very, very, very minor part of our business.
We sell cedar and treated wood railings, a little bit of wrought iron, but no powder coated. We don’t do any of the vinyl.
Our largest supplier carries the Fortress brand, which is metal. We have not done a lot around any of the others, like Azek or Deckorators, things of that nature. We’re limited on what we offer. We do a lot of composite decking. Trex has railing, but its price point doesn’t coincide with the lower-end of its offerings.
Are there regional differences? Not so much on the railing side. Most of the differences are in the deck itself. Volume wise, we probably sell more treated yellow pine than anything else.
We don’t have one store that’ll stock cable railing. That’s because there are so many variations.
Western Gulf Coast
We’re a resort area, and the population gets twice as big when you count all the people who come here and have second, third, or fourth homes. They want upscale products. We sell Trex and AZEK and a little bit of Ipe. For railing, we sell Trex and AZEK as well as Digger.
Sales are about the same between vinyl, metal, and cable. We used to buy vinyl from a company in Houston but it doesn’t have the look. We don’t sell any glass panels. Salt water is a factor here. Unlike in Hawaii, where the wind blows, here it just lingers.
Builders here seem to follow trends. If one person does something, it leads to another doing the same.
People around here aren’t crazy about wooden decks. They dry out and rot away. A lot of what people do is the Trex, and that’s not anything I stock. This part of the world, there are not going to be people interested in that sort of thing.
We sell a lot of fence material. We get a lot of DIYers, and there are people who do business with me who do fences for a living. The majority of people put up a wood fence. Usually they use cedar. It used to be everybody had 1x4 gothic, now they are using 1x6 dog-eared in cedar. It’s less expensive than metal. We have some wrought iron. That’s popular with Hispanics.
We’re 25% up over last year. That’s dollars in decking only: Composite decking is up something like 27.5%. We’ve got a designer on staff, so we design decks for people. And for the larger decks and builders, we have a dedicated outside salesperson just for decking. So we give customized service.
The biggest challenge we face by far is the rail systems and their complications. Everybody has one, but nobody has one that’s simple to use. The way parts and pieces and how it goes together and shipped and priced—there’re just no easy way to quote rail systems.
We have a local company that offers installs for deck rails, so that is one of our favorite way to do rails because they’ll do the measurements and install it. It’s one invoice for us. And we’ve also considered being the manufacturer of rail systems like Timbertech. There’s just too many options and none of them are very well thought out. It’s just too complex from a logistics and sales standpoint. If someone can figure this game out and make it simple to use and install, that would be the cat’s meow.
We have cable, aluminum, glass, composite. We have well over 1,000 SKUs now. We offer, in brands and styles, 54 colors of decking. It’s just out of control. Ultimately, the customer looks at the sample board and is overwhelmed.
Decking has been a very solid category for us and this year is no different. We stock Trex and the majority of our deck sales are composite. Railing is predominantly aluminum in glass panel, picket or stainless steel cable. We don’t track hard numbers between the three but the consensus is #1) glass, #2) cable and #3) picket.
As far as railing systems go, we don't do a ton. Around here, the most popular type of railing is a hog panel framed in cedar or treated wood. We get the odd request for a quote on aluminum/glass or composite like Trex. Most of our sales have come from the decking itself with a few people who decide to do a railing system. Also the vast majority of our customers ordering decking are DIY, with a deck that doesn't require a railing by code.
In the northern Oregon market, our hottest seller is any kind of black, powder-coated system like Fortress. We’re selling the heck out of that. It probably is 6:1 or 7:1 versus any other railing system. Even if people buy composite, we find people like that profile, and it’s user friendly.
Probably the next popular setup, and this is probably by virtue of the neighborhood, are the glass and cable systems. People want the view. We sell them in equal quantities. We’re also starting to see more requests for vertical cable rail. The one complaint against cable has been that it creates a ladder for kids. Vertical solves that. In a lot of code jurisdictions, it won’t pass code. We sell a lot of cable in northern Oregon.
Trex and Timbertech products are probably least in volume. This is the case even though they’ve created slimline metal products that are like Fortress and RDI. Our contractors don’t like them because there are a thousand pieces to them and Fortress is, like, just five SKUs.
It doesn’t seem like anyone is buying the bulkier composite systems.
People combining cable with wood probably more often than by combining it with composites. If people put in wood decks, be it cedar or a higher-end, we see a more sophisticated system- either black iron or cable rail. I haven’t seen many cedar rail systems any more. The 2x2 cedar picket used to bread and butter. Now they’re kind of a dog for us.
In Washington state, most of what they sell helps protect the views. They sell a lot of cable and glass systems. It’s a much more slim line systems.
We are starting to see a trend to hog fence. They come in 6 and 8 foot panels. Over the last two years, we’ve seen a huge move to hog fencing in residential developments where everyone is tired of 6 foot cedar fences. They’ll use them for decks and they want more of a “rustic modern”—clean lines, but kind of a farm-y vibe to it. We get a lot of inquiries from around the country for people looking for hog fence. We get requests from as far away as Missouri.
White vinyl? We don’t have very good suppliers for that. Do it Best has a component system for white vinyl.. For me, from a fencing standpoint, I prefer it. In the NW, people worry about mold and mildew, but with this you take your garden hose to it. From a fence standpoint, I’d use it over cedar, and I’m a good guy through and through.
I was in a development in Oregon, and out of all 200 houses there was one white vinyl fence. But further north, it might be more of an attraction.
The Pacific Northwest has always been a wood esthetic environment. They like exposed beams and timber framing.
A lot of what our decking and railing has gone to is the metal. People buy the 1-1/2 inch square rails that are black. We’re a bit different. Our area likes the flat top, where they can put the drinks on top. In the East, I’ve heard the top is is more rounded.
Trex is probably 90% of our business for composite decks. We have the cheaper version, but people like the blended colors, so they’re spending money on the tropics. Probably 70% of what we purchase is the higher-end stuff, and the lower priced stuff is 30%. Composite decking has pushed out redwood. We used to do 50 trucks a year. Now it’s four trucks. That’s because redwood prices got up to the cost of composite. With cap stock composites, people get the colors they want and it stays true.
Feeney cable rail? We see a little bit of that. Metal railing does the same and it’s easier to put together. As for glass, I have not seen anybody use glass around here because it gets dirty. We’re high desert country. In the Eastern part of the state, the wind blows all the time.
We sell a little bit of vinyl. As aluminum railing came out, that kind of pushed that out vinyl. We hardly sell any Trex railing.
I’ve picked colors for five years and got it wrong every year. We’ll stock some of that stuff, we’ll stock certain colors and just order it in as needed. It usually takes a day or so.
The connectivity between decking sales and deck railings in the Pacific Northwest is still fairly low. I would speculate at best the overall market would see something around 12% or less of cases in which the same brand is used for both decking and railing. I would also speculate that the most widely sold railing in the Northwest would be cedar, then composite, then powder coated steel, aluminum, cable rail and then glass panels. It appears to me that composite and powder coated aluminum seem to be the fastest growing rail systems. I see very few pressure treat railing systems sold.
Are there differences between our markets? I believe so. It seems like, at a micro level, railing loosely follows the architectural trends. One area is modern and mainly vertical so there is more metal and some cable. Another is mainly large custom single family homes on hillsides so you will most likely find more glass and some cable. I am sure every city in Oregon and Washington have pockets of higher end that may have heavier connections of metal, glass and rail.
Our cable rail seems to be more popular than anything, more on the composite side. We could do better at driving railing. Our decking accessories business is down about 25%. Decking for us has been a struggle to get going this year. We started late, with all those rains, and there was all that pent-up demand that didn’t come to fruition. People are now just starting to lay foundations, and it’s hot here. It seems like a very late season.
I’m seeing a ton of pressure treated go out. Redwood has been on a decline. We have struggled to get redwood moving. Cedar is down. Trex is doing well. And we brought in bamboo hardwood decking and that has done well for us. It’s up there with a hardwood price, but it only comes in 6 foot lengths and in a prepack. That’s different for the pro, but it finishes nicely.
People buy powder-coated aluminum, but we don’t stock it. It’s on a special order basis. The cable, I see finished with wood and with metal. I think the metal is a little more modern. We carry the Feeney cable rail, and sales of that are up for us.
We carry hog wire. It’s doing OK for us. We used to carry the black and silver lines, and I switched silver to stainless steel. It’s cleaner, smoother, shinier. It also costs more. We carry a lot of rolled fencing in general. Sometimes customers will just use that in lieu of hog wire.
I don’t see too much white when I shop competitors. Gray is a big big trend, I’ve heard, but I still don’t see a lot of it.
Our Trex composite railing is special order. This year I exited all the lighting kits and accessories and caps. They just didn’t move.
Our region is one of the largest and flattest valleys in the world. Very few people are interested in deck railing.