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8For 2008: Growth areas

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New products are the lifeblood of home improvement retailing. To mark the new year, our editors have identified eight product categories expected to make noise in 2008.

Vinyl plank flooring

Luxury vinyl may seem a contradiction in terms for those who remember the linoleum floors of the 1970s, but high-resolution photography has done wonders for the resilient flooring category. Add in texturing, and you’ve got a low - cost product that looks like wood, stone or ceramic. “The hottest thing is LVT (luxury vinyl tile),” said Randy Brown, divisional merchandise manager for soft flooring at Home Depot. “It’s become so realistic looking, and it’s extremely easy to install. All you really need is a utility knife and a straight edge.”

While property managers still gravitate toward vinyl sheets and peel - and -stick tiles, luxury vinyl usually comes with fiberglass backing for a softer feel underfoot. Popular brands are Armstrong, Tarkett, Halstead and Congoleum.

Vinyl planks that resemble hardwood floors are hot sellers at Home Depot. The Atlanta retailer offers a private labeled product called Allure that sells for about $1.70 a squarefoot. It comes in several varieties and can be laid right over an existing floor.

“The customer is looking for style at a much more affordable price,” said Craig Menear, executive vp-merchandising for Home Depot. He credits the product for turning sales around in the vinyl flooring department. “It’s been tremendous forus,” said Men ear. “We went from double - digit negative to double -digit positive in this category.”

Digital thermostats

Environmental friendliness, a universal product trend going into 2008, extends beyond what people use to how people live.

Case in point : digital thermostats have taken the market majority in units and dollars spent in the past few years. Undoubtedly, digital thermostats have become the top market player and will continue to grow in 2008, especially with the new emphasis on green products and energy savings, which digital thermostats help provide.

“The acceptance of digital controls from TV to climate comfort is growing,” said George Griffin, v p – multi client group for research firm Synovate.

According to data from Synovate, digital thermostats accounted for 72.7 percent of unit share and 76.4 percent of dollar share for the home thermostat market, up steeply from 63.2 percent and 71 percent respectively in 2004.

Outdoor kitchens

Perhaps no product category—inside or outside—has been super-sized to the extent of the modern outdoor grill. New technologies combined with the high - end social trend of outdoor entertaining make the outdoor kitchen high hopes for 2008. Showrooms and retailers are playing along.

“More and more consumers are making investments in outdoor living kitchens,” said Sam Rose, showroom manager for Ferguson, the plumbing supply leader which is engaged in designing blended showrooms with sister company Stock Building Supply.

“We’re doing larger and larger outdoor kitchen areas because of the emphasis our consumer has on it,” said Rose. In a recent tour of a Fergus on showroom in Williams burg, Va., Rose explained the company works as a liaison between the upscale customer in search of bells and whistles and the manufacturer. “This is a big business,” he said, lifting a massive Viking grill cover. “See how heavy this is?” he demonstrated. “That’s cool.”

Cordless power tools

The introduction of lithium ion batteries into the power tools category was huge in 2007. Cordless power tools with the new batteries provided a lighter weight option to their nickel cadmium predecessors. But with more and more lines introducing lithium ions as an option, 2008 just may see a growth spurt for the young category.

“I think the lithium ion definitely brings some excitement into the market,” said Tom Baldwin, group products manager for DeWalt cordless tools.

While Baldwin was quick to point out that lithium ion batteries don’t live up to the marketing hype of longer run time and longer battery life, their lighter weight will allow manufacturers more options in developing new cordless products.

For De Walt, one option was to introduce a 36v lithium ion drill (what they call their Nanoseries) that weighs the same as their 18v nickel cadmium drill.

PVC exterior trim

PVC exterior trim has made steady inroads in the LBM market for years. A ZEK, one of the biggest names in the game, has bolstered its distribution of the low - maintenance, exterior building products in the weather- be a ten eastern U.S in 2007, partnering with Wolf Distributing Co. and Parksite Plunkett - Webster.

High - end manufacturer Kleer Lumber of Westfield, Mass., is expecting double - digit sales growth in the category. And distributors a reprimed to build with their own private label varieties. Even the home center channel is seeing signs of a strong 2008. Home Depot describes PVC trim as one of the fastest growing categories of molding, and one that is enjoying strong demand in replacement molding. The Atlanta -based retailer plans to expand its own line of Veranda exterior trim in 2008.

CFL bulbs

Compact fluorescent light bulbs were a monster category in 2007. Wal-Mart, who set a goal of selling 100 million of the energy saving bulbs by the end of the year, hit that mark in early October. With the recent federal mandate to phase out the incandescent bulb by 2014, the category poised to grow even more.

One area of interest in particular would be dimmable CFLs, an option which until recently was one of the category’ s biggest drawback s. “The driving force behind this is that dimming is of increasing importance to consumers,” said Terry McGowan, director of technology for the American Lighting Association. McGowan said that the total acceptance of CFLs hinges on their ability to be as flexible as incandescent s. “Where I see the growth will be in the technology associated with dimmable CFLs,” he said. Currently, dimmable CFLs used in a typical dimming system will dim down about 50 fifty percent, but without the smoothness of incandescents.

Outdoor storage

Americans have expanded their living spaces to the outdoors in recent years, leading to another growth category: outdoor storage.

Homeowners are using smaller storage sheds to keep outdoor toys and lawn equipment accessible, and as people spend more time entertaining on their decks and patios, the usefulness of items like deck boxes becomes more apparent.

A glance at Home Depot’s Web site—with more than 250 skus—gives some insight into the growth of the category. More specifically, sales of Rubbermaid outdoor storage items were up in 2007 at most accounts, with top retailers seeing more than 7 percent growth in the category, according to senior product manager for outdoor storage, Scott Griffith.

“We believe people are spending more time outdoors, and their outdoor storage needs have grown accordingly,” he said. “We anticipate this trend will continue, and people will look for innovative solutions to help them store and secure all the things they use to enjoy their backyards.”

Low-VOC paint

Building on the Ozone Transport Commission’s low - VOC paint regulations in 2005, further regulations went into effect in certain areas of northern Virginia in January 2008. In May of this year, Connecticut will en act its own Architectural Industrial Maintenance (AIM) regulations, restricting non - low - VOC paints. Massachusetts will en act its AIM regulations in January 2009. Further legislation is expected at the federal level, with a proposed implementation date of Jan. 1, 2009. Leaving no room for confusion, a statement on the issue from Benjamin Moore says, “This will have a major impact on the products available throughout the country.”

New York - based C2, a paint company founded in 1998 by Tom Hill, former chief chemist for Pratt & Lambert, recently launched “ Lo Vo,” a low - VOC paint with a line of 496 colors. “With the media so focused now on becoming healthier and more sustainable, that has really driven consummer demand and made them aware of healthier options,” said Jill Logiudice, a spokewoman for C2. “I think the regulations definitely help, especially within the design community. But I think people are always looking for ways to do things in a healthier way. Low -VOC paints are a no-brainer.”

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