Get Your Survival Gear

I found it impossible to ignore two products I saw while walking through the miles of aisles and thousands of products at the International Builders Show in January. Folding walls and impact-resistant windows were everywhere. It seemed like every manufacturer of windows or doors was displaying its own versions of these two products.

Manufacturers are investing in these products, and all the others at the show, which means builders and architects should expect to see them in homes — hopefully your homes — across the street and down the block.

Folding walls consist of sliding doors that fold together, out of the way (similar to those that separate hotel ballrooms, only much better looking), to reveal an unobstructed opening, sometimes more than 30 feet wide, that blurs the line between indoors and outdoors. Pioneers of the folding wall were showcasing new features such as screens and hardware options at the show, while other manufacturers were eagerly throwing their hats in the ring. Interest was high, as the movement of these walls attracted crowds of onlookers at every booth.

Another familiar sight at this year’s builders’ show were sculptures and pictures of tornados and hurricanes, and a lot of broken glass. Manufacturers proudly displayed windows shattered by two-by-fours shot from cannons at hurricane speeds. One manufacturer invited visitors to throw baseballs at its impact-resistant window, to demonstrate the incredible protection the windows provide for a home in hurricane-like weather.

While the folding walls invite the outdoors to become one with the home, the impact-resistant windows are designed to keep the elements outside. Despite their differences of purpose, both products illustrate the innovation and investments in new products that you — as someone with direct influence over home buyers — must be aware of so your customers recognize you as the most progressive custom home professional in your market.

Homeowners want to keep pace with their neighbors, which means builders and architects must do the same. It’s your job to spec products like folding walls and impact-resistant windows, and thousands of other innovative products, in the homes you design and build. What better marketing tool is there than when your customers’ friends ask, “We love all these product in your home. Who designed it?”

Customers might be less plentiful as the housing market is expected to slow down in coming months. And in down markets, you must offer a product that is different or unique to differentiate and survive. Staying on top of the newest and most innovative products available — by attending a trade show, perhaps — is your responsibility, and one way to survive.