John Quillen, operations manager at Quillen Windows, in Bryan, Ohio, says that he began to see it in March and that company window sales are up in double digits this year. Jake Jacobson, vice president of sales for Premier Window & Building, in Maryland, calls the effect of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) and its tax credits for energy-efficient products “huge.”
Not all window replacement companies might agree that the impact of the ARRA’s economic stimulus has been of that magnitude. But none are about to disparage it. For a business that started out the year in the doldrums — with total window sales having plunged from 70.5 million units in 2005 to 48.4 million in 2008, according to an AAMA/Ducker study released earlier this year — the window industry suddenly found itself showered in the bread that rains from heaven. And contractors selling windows have often been the most aggressive about marketing and selling around the manna of tax credits legislated into existence by the ARRA.
“We’ve got a half-dozen companies advertising the stimulus plan in Fargo/Morehead,” says Lee Wegner, secretary/treasurer of ABC Seamless, a North Dakota company that installs windows as well as steel siding through both branches and franchises in the upper Midwest. So, Wegner says, even though the overall market for home improvement products is down, the sheer volume of information linking replacement windows to stimulus tax credits has made for a bigger market than what might otherwise have been the case.
Others share that view. “Our window business is about even with last year,” says George Faerber, co-owner of Bee Window, in Indianapolis. “Without the stimulus, it would be a lot worse. A lot of people would say the same thing.”
In fact, that’s just what they’re saying. Brian Brock, sales manager at Hullco Exteriors, a home improvement company in Chattanooga, Tenn., notes that company sales are 16% behind last year’s so far, but that window sales trail by just 5%. “The stimulus has helped us survive in a year that would’ve been difficult,” he says.
How Long Can a Good Thing Last?
Though few home improvement contractors disagree that the stimulus has benefited their companies as well as the window replacement industry, there’s wide dispute as to just how long the bright glow of the ARRA and window sales will last.
David Goodman, vice president of Windowizards, in Bristol, Pa., says that he was surprised both by how much interest in windows the stimulus has generated and by how quickly that interest diminished come the summer months. Harley Magden, vice president of marketing for Window Nation, in Hanover, Md., says that his company received “a big jump” in leads and sales in March, April, and May, when Window Nation was heavily promoting the concept in its advertising in Maryland, Virginia, and Ohio. “Since then it’s tailed off.”
Brock, of Hullco, tells a similar story. Interest was high from February through the end of May, in direct proportion, he points out, to the amount of media coverage. Now, he says, “We don’t get as many inquiries regarding the stimulus package.”
What’s happened, though, is that Hullco and other companies with products that qualify for ARRA tax credits have incorporated that message into their sales process. For such companies, the stimulus has evolved from a lead-generating tool to a closing tool as its novelty has worn off and as homeowners insist that any windows they buy qualify for tax credits as a condition of purchase.
Manufacturers have adjusted their product lines accordingly. “Most competitors are going to have a product that qualifies for tax credits,” Magden says. “You have to sell other features to get the business.” And, he notes, the stimulus has “leveled the playing field,” since companies selling windows that don’t qualify for tax credits have less credibility with homeowners who know about the credits and want to take advantage of them.
Beat the Clock
And then there are those who don’t want to play on that field at all. Doug Cook, president of Feldco, in Chicago, says that he has refrained from all reference to tax credits in his company’s promotions. His reasoning? Such references “blur the message.” Consumers, he says, are confused by what exactly a tax credit is or what it means. And anyway, Cook says, homeowners are “more focused on now,” not months from now, when their taxes may be reduced by $1,500. So Feldco reps assure prospects that the company’s products qualify, but that fact is “not primary, it’s ancillary” in the sales process.
That is a decidedly minority opinion in an industry mostly grateful that the ARRA gave it something with which to start the conversation about saving energy by installing replacement windows. And others in the industry feel that the stimulus has not only brought in new sales, but can continue to do so if the timing is strategically managed. The message -- if you [the homeowner] are considering getting new windows, why not buy them when you can knock $1,500 off your taxes? -- remains current through this year and next. The expectation is that it will lead to an uptick in sales come fall, when homeowners realize that they have to beat the clock to get their tax credit for 2009. And because the tax credits are available through 2010, the scenario is likely to be repeated next year.
In fact, Wayne Gorrell, president and CEO of manufacturer Gorrell Windows, in Indiana, Pa., says that he expects “panic” in the fall of 2010, when the idea that the credits will expire at the end of the year sinks in. Jacobson, of Premier Window & Building, is convinced that the Obama administration will extend the life of the stimulus tax credits for another two years, or until the end of the presidential term.
Goodman says that he is “worrying about today” and is already planning a new advertising campaign in which the stimulus will play a part, but only a secondary role. He expects to see more sales close toward the end of the year, as people look ahead to filing their 2009 taxes.
But regardless of how much more business the stimulus generates, or whether or not it brings in any work at all, Goodman sees it as a big plus for the window industry in the long term. “Manufacturers scrambled to look at what they had and come up with a more energy-efficient product,” he says. “It made a big difference there.”
See Jim Cory’s article from the June issue of REMODELING about tax credits for windows and doors. --Jim Cory is editor of REPLACEMENT CONTRACTOR, a sister publication of REMODELING.