The Warroad company wants to parlay its expertise in fiberglass windows and doors into siding, mostly for the home market.
The Marvin Companies on Monday took advantage of a non-game day at Target Field to use a VIP club at the ballpark for its official launch of a new building product that marks the manufacturer's first expansion beyond windows and doors.
The product, called Apex, uses Ultrex, a patented super-tough fiberglass material that Warroad, Minn.-based Marvin already uses for its Integrity and Infinity brand windows. The 98-year-old company still makes wood and clad wood windows and doors but expanded into fiberglass about 20 years ago.
Unlike fiberglass siding panels produced by other companies, mostly for farm buildings, Marvin said Apex is the first fiberglass siding that can be installed on a house in overlapping boards that look like traditional siding.
About 200 area building professionals gathered in the Champions Club, a plush venue tucked just behind the new ballpark's home plate. They chowed on prime rib and prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, saw the new product and visited with Marvin officials, celebrity home improvement expert Lou Manfredini, and Brad Hanson, whose Hanson Building Materials of Ramsey is currently the only Apex distributor.
Marvin plans to roll the product out gradually nationwide. It now has about 4,500 retail dealers for its windows and doors. President Susan Marvin said it won't use the same dealer network for Apex but instead will partner with distributors like Hanson that specialize in siding.
Susan Marvin said the new siding is part of a larger strategy to leverage the company's brand name into a range of building products. She declined to say what they might be but said they would be geared to the upper tier of the building supply market.
Marvin also isn't daunted by bringing out the new product even as the home building market remains far off its peak from a few years ago.
"We actually think the timing is perfect," she said. "Contractors are looking for ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors. People who are buying or remodeling homes are looking for value, and by that I don't mean something at the lowest price."
Recent figures on housing starts and sales of construction supplies indicate the home building market finally may be turning up. Chicago-based McGraw-Hill Construction has reported a 35 percent increase in the dollar value of residential construction contracts nationwide for the 12-months ended March 31 compared to the same period a year earlier. McGraw-Hill has estimated that single-family housing starts will rise 32 percent this year, the first increases since 2004.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Commerce Department recently reported that sales of building supplies were a major reason overall retail sales rose nearly 7 percent in March.
One reason is thought to be a surge of home buying sparked by the recently expired tax credit program that gave new and repeat home buyers up to $8,000.
Like many companies, Marvin has felt the impact of the downturn in home and commercial construction. But instead of laying people off, it chose to reduce workers' hours at some facilities to cut costs. Susan Marvin said sales of all it window and door brands are up so far this year, and the company recently increased the workweek in Warroad to 35 hours.
The siding will be manufactured at Marvin's facility in Fargo, where it now has about 220 employees. Susan Marvin said that so far the new product hasn't resulted in increased hiring at the facility.
Marvin claims the new product has several features that give it an edge over traditional wood or vinyl siding. It has a durable finish that's integrated into the material that is four times thicker than paint, making it highly resistant to fading and chipping. It has a built-in water management system that makes it less susceptible to mold or rot and is relatively light, which makes it easier to install. Another plus -- it's so tough bugs and rodents can't nibble at it.
The company wouldn't disclose specifics on pricing. Hanson revealed only that it's at the upper end of the market -- less expensive than brick, but more expensive than vinyl.
Susan Feyder • 612-673-1723