Building Materials

Don’t Forget Fencing: Stocking Strategies for Growing Profit Margins

Against the backdrop of today’s fickle economic landscape, one thing holds true: Americans are spending more time and money than ever before commissioning building professionals to create design-centric outdoor living spaces.

Against the backdrop of today’s fickle economic landscape, one thing holds true: Americans are spending more time and money than ever before commissioning building professionals to create design-centric outdoor living spaces. In an industry breakdown of the most sought-after products, the fence—a once overlooked element of an outdoor living space—has become the rising star of the backyard equation. A fence can not only extend a homeowner’s personal design aesthetic to the property line, but also offers a needed privacy solution amid the newfound desire to revive underappreciated backyard living spaces.

Underscoring this trend, the chief economist at Porch.com has tracked a 144% increase in fence installation services over the last year. In addition to a meteoric rise in fencing projects, a Houzz study reported a 178% year-over-year jump in searches for deck, patio and porch professionals, with a sharp uptick in decking and railing installations. In short, Americans’ fervor for outdoor home improvement has hit a historically high level and shows no signs of slowing down.

So, that poses the question, is the channel prepared to meet the continued demand for outdoor living products in 2021?

Prepare for increased demand in outdoor living product categories to win customers.

The country’s burgeoning interest in outdoor home improvement caught many dealers and distributors flat footed in the first half of 2020. Some were left emptyhanded or pressed to pay a premium to stock their yard, as existing inventory quickly cleared. Admittedly, it was unnerving to purchase product amid a volatile economic climate. However, it was our experience that those who had sufficient inventory in stock saw it move.

Ahead of prime building season, dealers and distributors can move forward with confidence by evaluating their 2021 stocking strategies. Preparation is key to not only handle the influx in demand, but to also win over customers in today’s competitive marketplace. This includes stocking product for the entire backyard package, and with it, fencing solutions. For example, if a customer walks onto a dealer yard to purchase decking and railing product but isn’t able to complete the backyard build with fencing, they will spend their money at the lot down the street. We can’t stress this enough—don’t let customers walk away.

Introduce products with familiar value propositions to stay ahead of the competition

Because fencing has gained heavy traction across the outdoor living category, we recommend stocking this product ahead of peak building season. To its advantage, this perimeter line solution offers dealers and distributors a relatively low barrier to entry when it comes bringing on and selling the product. Yards that are already equipped to house building products of similar shape and size, like railing, are typically able to also accommodate fencing. What’s more, dealer and distributor staff that are already well-versed in railing product categories will be able to confidently speak to fencing. Two kindred products, railing and fencing sing to comparable value propositions, including their shared ability to safely enclose an open-air space in style and provide desired privacy. Bearing shared purpose in mind, fencing can be an easy add on product to sell customers that are looking to purchase the total outdoor solution.

Consider industry trends and evolving buyer preferences before stocking fencing products.

Today’s offerings have come far from the golden days of white picket fence Americana. So, when considering which types of fencing solutions to bring on, don’t be afraid to introduce a new material. The country’s zeal for outdoor home improvement projects coupled with lumber supply shortages led many building professionals to turn to wood-alternative building materials. Options such as aluminum, steel and composite have gained big play, as availability often surpassed customer loyalty to lumber over the course of last year. Not to mention, these alternative materials have brought awareness to the fact that performance and aesthetics can be twofold in the building products industry—there is no need to sacrifice one value proposition for the other. It may be time to consider stocking such options that provide depth of inventory and hold the potential to drive more sales.

Look to cost-effective products that move, like aluminum fencing.

The once unassuming and hard-to-install aluminum systems have been replaced with easily adjustable, low maintenance options that bring effortless style to both traditional and modern homes. Today’s lightweight panels can be installed quickly and can typically accommodate grade changes across an uneven landscape. This premium design flexibility was not always available; however, recent technology advances enable rails to follow the ground while the pickets stay vertical. An economical solution to have in stock, some of today’s aluminum fencing manufacturers back their offerings with a limited lifetime warranty to maximize investments up and down the channel.

Stock steel fencing options for customers seeking a high-design look and enhanced durability in one product.

Difficult for unwanted visitors to scale, especially when topped with finials, ornamental steel fence systems compare favorably with sought-after wrought iron and masonry builds. Select steel fencing manufacturers are also bringing one of the most pronounced design trends—the use of mixed materials—to the outdoor living space with hybrid privacy fencing systems. These pair the strength of fully welded steel with composite or wood pickets for a contemporary look that stands guard and stands out. Today’s design-centric solutions not only help your customers curate personalized open-air spaces, but also drive more and higher sales in the process.

Keep an eye on horizontal fence options, an emerging trend among homeowners with a design-oriented mindset.

Providing a modern look with clean lines and near-total privacy, horizontal fences lend truth to the truism of “good fences make good neighbors.” When pickets are oriented horizontally, they offer an aesthetically pleasing visual for homeowners on both sides of the fence (literally). Select composite fence manufacturers offer horizontal options that deliver the old-school charm that wood provides without the propensity to decompose from the effects of weathering. Such options satisfy buyer’s design-oriented preferences and bolster channel reputability, making the case for wood alternative building products.

Capitalize on the continued boom in outdoor home renovation spending in 2021 and grow profit margins.

We’re confident that assessing stocking options ahead of prime building season holds the key to a profitable year for all. With attention paid to wood alternative fencing materials, dealers and distributors can offer customers the missing piece of the backyard equation: meeting demand for high-design perimeter solutions. In turn, the channel can maximize profit margins and capitalize on this unprecedented boom in outdoor home improvement spending.

Tom Leahy

Tom Leahy is the director, channel sales at Fortress Building Products. Leahy has extensive experience in sales, marketing and product management across the building materials industry. He currently leads the sales organization for Fortress, working directly with the one-step wholesale distribution to better serve customers and support product expansion both inside and outside of the fence category (www.fortressbp.com).

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