During sales calls, a typical probe might be, “What changes are you planning to make with your product line in order to gain market share in the years ahead?” After all, in a down economy, gaining market share is critical if one wants to continue to grow sales. A typical response that I receive to this question is, “We are going to wait to see how the upcoming codes pan out.” Indeed, many manufacturers remain in a holding pattern, waiting to see what will happen to the Energy Star codes, and then they will react accordingly. Proposed changes to the Energy Star 2013 requirements for windows, doors and skylights were recently released by the EPA. Energy Star is currently seeking industry input on the proposed requirements before they are finalized, presumably sometime next year.

So many manufacturers are waiting for Energy Star to decide for them what type of windows they will be building and then they will proceed to move forward in that direction. Will this gain them market share? Well, if everybody is doing it simply to remain competitive in light of a new code development, then how does one gain a competitive advantage in that scenario? It sounds to me, that in terms of a market share advantage, this move would likely result in a status quo.

So, what ever happened to asking what the consumer wants? What about the Consumer code? Maybe more window manufacturers should invest in market research to find out what the consumer is looking for and build products that meet the “Consumer Code.”

As an example, I was recently working with a group of window manufacturers on designing a Dealer Finance program. Many of the manufacturers were waiting to see what program would be proposed by the banks. However, one of the manufacturers conducted a survey with his top 20 dealers and came back to me with a list of financing options that his top 20 dealers will need to sell more windows. These are the guys on the front line selling windows on a daily basis. They know what Mr. and Mrs. Homeowner need in order for them to sign on the dotted line. He said to me, “If the banks decide without dealer input and nobody uses it cause it doesn’t work, then they won’t sell any financing, now will they?” He was right!

Indeed, Market Research works, but it is oftentimes overlooked or taken for granted. We might simply just search the Web to see what data we can find on consumer preferences, but why not simply just pick up the phone, or hop on plane, or in a car and go do it! Does this sound too time consuming and expensive? Wouldn’t a survey be the most cost-efficient method? It absolutely is, but we should still do the travel thing as well so that one can get in front of dealers and consumers as well. That is where one experiences the personal touch and learns about things that one would not learn about in the survey. Like the one dealer that rips the survey in two, hands it back to you, and says, “What I really need is a window that sells itself!” You will initially say, “What???” Then he will explain and then you will get some new ideas!

The point is to get out there and research the market to find out what you need to build and/or do “service-wise” in order to please more customers and sell more windows. Do not wait for an organization like the EPA or Energy Star to decide your future. EPA’s goal is to make Energy Star windows represent the top 25 percent of what is available to consumers. They want the label to stand for something. This is why they are making the requirements tougher to meet – because right now, the majority of windows qualify. So, when it is all said and done, perhaps only the top 25 percent of windows, doors and skylights quality for Energy Star.

So, let us not forget to keep working on the other 75 percent! What does the consumer want these products to look like and do for them? This is the Consumer Code. Chances are the Consumer Code will also look like a matrix – not everyone wants the same thing. They are called market segments. You may decide to offer products in each market segment or only in one, a market niche. Focus your efforts on what you do best!

Whatever the case, by gaining a real understanding of what consumers want and responding to these needs with product offerings that match the needs in the most cost effective manner, window manufacturers can continue to build market share and grow sales. However, not everyone can do it. There will be winners and losers. Game on!

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