When you’ve been working with a product for 15 years, you see a lot of ups and downs. Thankfully for Stu Kemper, CEO of alternative decking manufacturer TimberTech, things have been mostly “up” since he and his business partners started looking at the product category in 1995. “We came out with our first product, Floorizon, in 1997, and the company became big enough to stand alone in 1999,” Kemper told Remodeling in a recent visit to the TimberTech’s offices and manufacturing facility in southwestern Ohio. “Since then, there have been a lot of inflection points in the decking industry that have allowed us to expand our product offering and bring more attention to alternative decking materials.”
Opportunities for Growth
Kemper says concern over CCA-treated lumber in the last 10 years has been one such issue, giving brands like TimberTech the opportunity to ramp-up industry conversation about composites. As product awareness increased in the early 2000s, so did consumer demand for a wider range of color options, and contractor demand for tailored installation solutions. “An industry starts to get legs when additional features build up around it,” Kemper says, referring to the wide range of fasteners, installation tools, design software, and other items created specifically for use with composite and PVC decking materials.
Now that the alternative materials account for approximately 15% to 18% of the decking industry, Kemper says awareness among consumers is changing the game again. “The biggest thing that has happened to the industry is that it has turned from a lumber business to a fashion business,” he says. “Consumers have seen the product in use, they trust it, and now instead of asking ‘why should I choose composites?’ they ask, ‘which composite should I choose? How will it look on my house?’”
Value Across Pricepoints
For TimberTech, tackling consumers’ demands for aesthetics has broadened the product line to include high-end decking inspired by exotic woods, a variety of railing options, composite fencing, the convenient and attractive DeckLites line, and even a new offering of deck gates, just introduced this year. But even with the availability of high-end products and a range of accessories, the brand has seen the most growth at its lower pricepoints, even in a struggling economy. “Reliaboard has been our most successful first-year launch,” Kemper said of TimberTech’s newest value-oriented decking, introduced at the International Builders Show in January. “Our middle and higher pricepoint brands are growing, but we’ve seen more conversion of consumers from other decking segments at our lower pricepoints.”
Part of the reason for Reliaboard’s success may lay in homeowners’ refined definitions of “value.” The product’s recycled material component carries weight, as do its long life and 25-year warranty, which translates to less expense over time. “When you have a deck that lasts longer, it means less rebuilding, and little maintenance, compared to the annual treatments you would have with wood,” Kemper says. “TimberTech has also committed to sustainability in our manufacturing process, so we’ve been able to incorporate post-industrial and post-consumer plastics in our materials in increasing amounts.”
Making it Right
On the production side, TimberTech has also incorporated green elements into its manufacturing facility, including daylighting in the factory, a closed-loop water system that runs recycled water to temepering machines on the line, and efforts to ship via rail, rather than truck. Kemper says he’s amazed at how far the company has come in terms of sustainability in both product and process. Even more amazing is the attention to detail given to each product as its made. Trained technicians make regular quality-control checks of wood flour color and other characteristics of the deck boards’ ingredients to ensure that the boards themselves come out consistently from one hour to the next. On-site research and development labs further test existing and developing products for everything from particle distribution and consistency, to melting and breakage properties, to weathering.
Product manager Toby Bostwick says the TimberTech warehouse can hold about 800 truckloads of material, and sees about 12 to 14 turnovers of product per year. “Our plant operates 24/7 and we have 30 to 40 trucks come through every day to move material,” Bostwick says. “We have monthly quality checks on our materials in the warehouse, and outside the warehouse, we hold Contractor Council meetings to find out what our customers are experiencing on their end when they receive and use the product.”
From start to finish, quality is the most important element to TimberTech’s success. “These deck boards are more than just something to walk on,” Bostwick says. “We gotta make sure we do it right.”