The Merging, Blurring and Graying of Housing

Trade shows and conventions are great places to observe trends and gain insight into industry dynamics. I did both of these at the International Builders’ Show last month in Las Vegas, where the atmosphere was the most positive I’ve observed in many years. Seriously, not one attendee or exhibitor told me they were having a bad show.

One of the more subtle but important trends I observed at this show, and many other recent events, is the absorption of small manufacturers by larger companies, which aren’t always competitors. More often than not, the manufacturer doing the buying features products that are complementary to those offered by the company being absorbed. Or, if a larger manufacturer isn’t buying a smaller complementary entity, it is launching product lines they’ve never offered in the past. All of this is part of a quest to become one-stop shops for home builders and remodelers.

For example, a decking manufacturer purchased an exterior trim company; a brick maker purchased a manufactured stone siding company; and a window company now offers exterior trim and siding, both of which are new product lines for this company. Even the products can do more than ever: An appliance company now has a refrigerator that dispenses hot and cold water from the door. It no longer seems acceptable for a manufacturer to offer only one type of product. Of course, I generalize to make a point, but I see no slowdown of this trend in building product manufacturing.

The same blurring of lines, or graying of the market, can be observed with remodeling contractors. Full-service remodelers are dabbling in the exterior market, while exterior contractors are getting into full-service work, and kitchen/bath specialists are expanding into whole-home and addition projects. This isn’t the case with every remodeler, of course, but it’s happening. I see these one-stop remodelers as a subset of the design/build breed, even if they don’t refer to themselves as design/builders. I expect the design/build trend to grow.

Other trends from IBS include manufacturers’ gravitation toward building performance and production efficiency, which remain the most effective ways for manufacturers to innovate, it seems. Windows are more efficient; insulated siding now has higher R values; and software can eliminate material and labor waste like never before. Labor savings is still popular, too. Manufacturers are making products that can be installed simply and quickly, with the goal of saving installation time, and therefore costs, too. In addition, many products include apps. Mostly, though, these products with apps are access control devices such as door locks and garage doors, or indoor environmental controls such as thermostats.

Perhaps the most significant observation I made at this year’s IBS is the positive buzz from builders and manufacturers. Builders were cruising the show floor looking for products to install in homes under construction back home, while manufacturers were busy making sure they had enough staff in their booths to answer all the questions from builders. Positive buzz is an intangible takeaway from this year’s show, but it’s based on something real that hasn’t been seen in many years, and it was great to see.