“It’s a slug-it-out kind of market. Even the ones that are doing it well are slugging it out.” These are the words of DWM columnist and blogger Michael Collins, vice president of the building products group at Jordan, Knauff and Co.

I was so interested by what he had to say when he addressed attendees of the Northeast Window and Door Association’s meeting earlier this week that I just had to pass this on and ask you, “What are you doing to slug your way to success?”

I will admit that I am somewhat of a pessimist by nature. And, as the editor of DWM magazine, people commonly ask me, “So what are you hearing? Will the industry improve this year?” In the past few months my answers have always been somewhere along the lines of, “2011 will still be a tough year and we won’t see major improvements until 2012.” That statement is based on forecasts I’ve heard from the leading experts, etc.

But after attending the NWDA meeting I am changing my answer to a more positive one. The change is due to the fact that after talking to people at NWDA and the International Builders’ Show earlier this month I keep hearing stories of companies who are seeing improvements in their businesses. Representatives of Crystal Windows, Northeast Building Products and Gorell Windows and Doors all are reporting increases in sales. Chelsea Building Products tells me that many of their customers, even a new construction company, are reporting increases as well.

My pessimism has to do with the big cloud many believe is hanging over the industry in the first quarter: what will happen now that the $1,500 tax credit has expired?

“We don’t expect a slowdown due to the tax credit ending,” says Jeff Witkin, executive vice president at Northeast Building Products.

But still, there are companies who will report sales decreases due to the loss of the credit. If you want ideas as to how to increase business see the article cited earlier regarding Collins’ presentation. He gives some great ideas about how to capitalize on all the new homeowners who will use their first-time homebuyer tax credit to remodel the windows in their homes.

Manufacturers at the NWDA meeting also talked to me about how the extreme winter in the Northeast this year may work as a good news/bad news type of scenario.

“It will be a tough winter with the end of the tax credits,” says Robert Nyman with Livingston Marketing, which works with Crystal Windows. “With the severe winter people will realize how bad their windows are, then replace them in the spring.”

He also said something interesting that coincides with why some like me are still cautionary regarding 2011.

“A lot of companies took 2010 as an opportunity to eliminate waste,” said Nyman. “Companies really hunkered down … That’s why we will see slow growth in 2011 because people cut back so much in 2010.”

Again, this is a good news/bad news type of scenario. Many people had to make the tough decisions, but hopefully the end result is an industry that is leaner and less wasteful.

Companies are reporting success in this market. But it’s not the success of two million housing starts when business was booming so much that you didn’t have to work as hard for the sale. I’ll steal another great comment from Collins, “It’s the new normal.”

While at IBS many people said to me, “What do you think of the show? It’s a lot smaller, isn’t it?” Compared to 2005/2006? Yes it’s smaller, but it’s not the same industry, so why should IBS be the same show? There were still plenty of new products to see and companies with a great deal to offer.

It’s all about adapting to the new marketplace. Here’s to slugging it out in 2011 and embracing the new normal.

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