A Pittsburgh homeowner who recently bought an exterior door from Legacy Remodeling called back soon after the product was installed requesting two more with storm doors. “She said she didn’t realize what a difference they made,” CEO Ken Moeslein says.

Many homeowners think about entry doors only when they have to. When someone calls Home Visions, in Beltsville, Md., inquiring about door replacement, “it’s usually an operational issue,” project manager Josh Spence says. “The door doesn’t close, it doesn’t lock, or they’ve had a break-in.” Entry doors, he says, are “a fashion item, but that’s not why [consumers] are buying them.”

Big Opportunities, Little Effort Made

Why consumers are buying the doors depends on if and how a company is pitching them. Sales and marketing consultant and REMODELING columnist  Mike Damora calls door products “the red-headed stepchild of home improvement,” and says that company reps often fail to mention them on their window calls because the idea of adding $6,000 to $10,000 to a deal is “too scary.”

That neglect is gold for some companies. John Wilding, owner of FAS Windows & Doors, in Orlando, Fla., says that his 2014 marketing plan involves building door displays for home shows, not only because the traffic is there but because so few window companies bother to.

But whether prompted by a failing door or by curb appeal, homeowners are on the lookout for reputable window and door companies—those that are assertive can move a lot of product. The key is knowing how to help customers select something they will like. “It’s not a slam, bam, thank you ma’am sale,” says Bob Mikaelian, co-owner of Toms River Door & Window, an operation where sales divide evenly between windows and doors. Even if homeowners have done their research, an exterior door sale is typically a two-hour meeting where color, materials, configuration, glass package, and hardware are sorted and selected, says Scott Burns, co-owner of Next Door & Window, in Naperville, Ill. It’s not only about wowing customers, he says, it’s about establishing the value of a product that homeowners typically believe costs less than $2,000, or whatever big-box retailers are advertising. For home improvement companies dominant in doors, big-box retailers are the major competition.

What’s on Their Minds?

People decide to buy doors for one or several of these reasons:
Security. Especially if the homeowner had a break-in. And probably the biggest reason why, according to the latest (2012/2013) report from market researcher Ducker Worldwide, steel continues to be the most widely used exterior door material (51% of units shipped last year), with fiberglass (36%) gaining and wood (13%) fading. The 2013 Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report shows steel entry doors as the project returning the most value—85.6%—of the 35 listed. (By contrast, real estate agents see fiberglass entry doors returning about 65% of cost in a real estate transaction.)

Energy. The Department of Energy states that efficient doors and windows can reduce a home’s energy consumption by as much as 15%. That’s probably not the reason why homeowners call your office inquiring about a door, but it makes for an excellent segue on a window replacement appointment. “We say to people who have just replaced their windows: ‘Hey, you’ve just replaced 10 windows and now they’re terribly efficient, but we have a weak link: the door,’” Moeslein says.

Aesthetics. Once installed, exterior doors add instant curb appeal. “Doors change everything, inside and out,” Mikaelian says. And it’s not hard to show homeowners how that happens. Damora takes prospects to manufacturer websites and shows—via a photo visualization feature—what can be done with different doors in different colors. Toms River Door & Window recently began putting pictures of door projects on Houzz.com. If anyone in Ocean County, N.J., is looking for a new door, “we’re going to be considered,” he says.

Tips to Sell

Power of suggestion: Window and door companies could sell a lot more entry doors if salespeople simply made the suggestion a standard on window replacement appointments, according to Mikaelian. “They allow the customer to lead them,” he says, rather than vice versa. It helps to develop the habit of noting what condition the front door is in when entering the house on a sales call.

Measure up: Damora says he long ago made measuring the door a standard part of every window appointment. While off measuring, he leaves manufacturer catalogs and other support materials for homeowners to look at. “I’ve gone on a lot of window calls where the homeowners didn’t buy the windows but they did buy a door,” he says.

Touchy feely: Customers want to touch and feel a door, especially the glass. Companies with showroom door displays have a big advantage if they steer homeowners in for a look-see. Next Door & Window’s two showrooms, for instance, display 50 to 60 doors by three manufacturers. “I don’t take the investment people are looking to make for granted,” Burns says.

More design options, in more styles, makes it easier to convince homeowners that installing a new entry door can be like waving a magic wand when it comes to changing the look and feel of their home. They just need to know that “There are a lot of ugly old doors out there,” Makaelian says.

Door Trends

The latest research from market study organization Ducker projects residential entry door unit shipments expanding to 11.4 million units in 2015, from a market low of 8.1 million in 2011. This is almost more than half of the units sold in 2006—at the height of the housing market boom—when 14.7 million units were shipped.

There are two key trends in materials:
1. Steel, long the market leader, yearly cedes a few market points to fiberglass. (Back in 2006, steel entry doors outsold fiberglass units almost three to one.)
2. Wood, once standard, is the choice of fewer and fewer homeowners.
By 2015, the Ducker study projects that steel entry doors will still lead the market with 50% share, but fiberglass units will be 39% of the market, and wood 11%, down from 13% in 2012. —Jim Cory is a contributing editor to REMODELING who is based in Philadelphia.