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Business confidence might be waning but the construction pipeline remains solid, leading key players in this category to report strong year-on-year sales. And several see scope for further growth as new technologies take hold and opportunities arise in areas like passive fire protection.
“Many were predicting the market to plateau but we certainly haven’t seen it,” reflects Tony Smith, Business Unit Manager at Sika.
“We’re still seeing growth in all of the major categories that we’re selling through builders’ merchants, and overall construction activity remains at a very high level. And we see 2020 continuing to grow with residential permit numbers still looking pretty good.”
Equally upbeat is Selleys Country Manager, Darren Newland, who says 2019 has delivered satisfying year-on-year growth: “We’ve had good growth coming through across all different categories, and glues, sealants and fillers continue to perform well.
“As it stands, with all the measures and metrics that we track, it’s looking very positive through until 2021 and residential – particularly in the greater Auckland region – just doesn’t seem to be slowing down at all.”
Residential may be trucking along, but larger scale projects are driven by different factors: “The commercial space can change as business confidence comes off and if investors start to get a bit nervous, they may start to look differently at investing significantly in big projects.
“You can see some highs and lows in the trade business based on confidence, consents or investment, whereas in the DIY/home improvement area, you tend to see greater consistency because the consumer is out shopping each week regardless of whether it’s an ‘up market’ or a ‘down market’.”
Also sounding a note of caution is Winstone Wallboards’ Product Manager for Accessories, Cath Montgomery, who says the overall market remains busy with the caveat the company is “not expecting a great deal of growth going forward”.
Paul O’Reilly (Bostik): “We are planning for 2020 to be more of the same; very busy but at a more manageable level…”
While reluctant to state the obvious, Cath also admits that “demand in commercial is lumpier than in residential, with the orders coming in waves, making it harder to manage stock.”
Bostik Sales Manager, Paul O’Reilly, remains of the opinion that we are seeing a flattening of the market: “We saw a real spike in volumes in 2018, whereas now it has evened out into a more manageable level.”
And looking ahead? Paul says: “We are planning for 2020 to be more of the same; very busy but at a more manageable level” and kept in check, he predicts, “by the current labour shortage that the country is experiencing across various trades”.
And based on current trends and the pipeline of construction activity, Soudal COO, Melanie Reid, says the company “expects solid industry growth to continue but perhaps not at the levels of a couple of years ago.”
WHAT’S MOVING AND WHAT’S STICKING?
Moving to products now, Soudal’s Melanie Reid says work on the company’s offering has continued apace: “We have filled some of the obvious gaps in our range this year along with continuing to rationalise our brand portfolio. And we will build on this next year with further new products and innovation but nothing that we are ready to announce yet.”
Melanie has a clear view on which factors are most vital in retaining brand loyalty in this category, highlighting consistency of quality products that are supported by innovation.
There’s also clearly still a need to remind some end users that price isn’t everything: “As a category we need to continue to educate the market on using products that are fit for purpose, and of a quality that builders can depend on and stake their reputations on,” says Melanie.
“The sealant and adhesive component is small over the cost of the build, however failure through poor brand or product selection can be very expensive to resolve.”
Product performance is one thing but Sika’s Tony Smith also views the technical side of the business as being crucially important.
“Being able to answer technical questions efficiently is, I think, one of the things that maintains brand loyalty. It’s something that we and our dedicated technical staff pride ourselves on in the seven different market fields that we operate in.
“We have a market field manager dedicated to each of those products and 10 customer services people on the phone at any one time, in addition to the sales staff.”
Tony Smith (Sika): “Many were predicting the market to plateau but we certainly haven’t seen it…”
In terms of which products are hot right now, Sika’s biggest growth category is “sealing and bonding”.
“Sealants and adhesives in cartridge ranges account for most of our products and while most of the growth has been in existing products, we’ve also had the launch this year of our new MS sealant (Sikaflex 123 MS Bond) that is tailored more towards being an adhesive than a sealant. That product is growing very strongly after only five months in the supply chain. Already, over 50% of sales are re-orders.”
Tony Smith says the technology comes from the auto industry for which Sika globally manufactures adhesives to bond together parts of cars that used to be welded, making them stronger, quieter and more environmentally-friendly.
“Essentially it has a much wider adhesion profile than anything else we’ve ever had, so it will work on the tricky plastics used in construction or building wraps and it’s even compatible with bitumen, concretes stone, glass, aluminium and other metals.
“Plus, it can be used as a sealant or an adhesive with really high performance. We know the normal old MS is just a joint sealant but now we’ve got one that builders can use as a sealant and as an adhesive.”
The trade also seems willing to accept a higher price point: “It might be three times the price of a standard solvent-based adhesive,” Smith concedes, “but it does 10 times as many things.”
NEW PRODUCTS AND PLAYERS
Also building on its brand through highly-visible new product promotions is Selleys. Recent television advertising campaigns for its Storm sealant and Power Grip glue have promptly paid dividends, reports Darren Newland.
“Any time we’re on TV promoting products, we find we get an immediate lift in activity. A lot of it is awareness; people realise there’s a product that will allow them to get a job done easily and quickly.”
Reinforcing the ad spend is an additional campaign through new product sampling vehicle Black Box that will see Power Grip tested in 5,000 Kiwi homes this Spring.
Darren Newland (Selleys): “As it stands … it’s looking very positive through until 2021 and residential – particularly in the greater Auckland region – just doesn’t seem to be slowing down at all…”
“And another big one we’ve just launched is Marine-Flex. It’s had a really good take-off. We’ve already started to see some re-ordering coming through and it’s showing all the signs of being a very good seller for us.”
Dissecting the marketplace, Darren Newland says the household/DIY market is certainly still a growth area whereas the trade space is very much about the projects that are on at a particular time, and it can be impacted by numerous things.
“In the glues area in particular, you’ve got a lot of specialty applications, and we have a full range of products under the Selleys and Araldite brands with suitability for certain repairs.
“But Power Grip is a standalone product in terms of what it does and our team talks about it as one of those products that everyone should have in their cupboard or top drawer at home. If you do break or damage something, you can grab it straight away.”
Available only in small packs for household use, Power Grip is another product range that stems from Selleys’ Sil-X polymer.
“We’re really excited about Power Grip because it’s a product that outperforms the old Superglue. It will effectively stick anything to anything but as well as having the strength of Superglue, it offers flexibility so the join won’t become brittle and potentially break again if knocked or bashed. The driver behind it is the Sil-X technology, which allows us to push the boundaries of what we can do with different products.”
Macsim Fastenings National Sales Manager, David Knight, says Macsim’s New Zealand operation is really only dabbling in the glues and sealants category compared with its counterparts across the Tasman but he acknowledges the category’s potential here.
Macsim currently markets a pair of kitchen and bathroom products along with a roof & gutter sealant. Sales are largely through plumbing merchants as opposed to the big-box hardware retailers, “which is a work in progress for us,” says David.
He adds that Macsim has recently enjoyed modest expansion of its product reach through the plumbing sector with more stores taking the roof and gutter product in particular.
“It’s very much a growing segment for Macsim in Australia. They see it growing further over there and want to try to do that here as well. We do have access to those products and it’s a ‘work-on’ for us, but not being so well known in the silicone section makes it hard to make headway.
“It’s very difficult to get traction with new products here because it’s already a crowded market and retailers stocking four brands of roof and gutter on their shelves question why they would need a fifth.”
FIRE PRODUCTS SET TO SPREAD
Another company whose technology is enabling the development of products with which users can achieve more and more is Winstone Wallboards, a relatively small player in the sealants and adhesives market.
GIB Accessories Product Manager Cath Montgomery describes the range as “small and niche”. Accounting for half of the eight SKUs are water- and solvent-based GIB glues, a gap filler, and GIB Fire Soundseal, which was introduced at the very end of 2018.
“The addition of Fire Sound Seal means that our sealant product now meets all the requirements in our noise control systems as well as our fire protection systems,” Cath explains.
“We had six or seven systems that required fire sealant and, because we didn’t have one of our own, it was a generic specification, which caused our customers some frustration. Introducing Fire Sound Seal meant we could complete those packages that were 99% sown up.”
Melanie Reid (Soudal): “Expect solid industry growth to continue but perhaps not at the levels of a couple of years ago…”
She adds that the volume of sales has been very strong, “possibly exceeding expectations”, indicating that GIB Fire Soundseal has clearly been used beyond just the specified applications.
“10 years ago, with predominantly standalone housing, there was a much clearer division between commercial and residential. But now they have merged to a degree with greater construction of townhouses and apartments, and with that part of the market growing, so too has the need for fire sealants.”
Meanwhile Sika NZ is in the process of launching a full new range of passive fire protection products, including sealants, fire board and collars designed specifically for passive fire protection.
“Passive fire protection is going to be a big growth market for us,” Tony Smith enthuses. “If there are penetrations going through a building’s firewall, you’ve got to make sure the products used are to the right fire rating for that particular wall.
“They sit there as functional sealants but if there’s a fire, that’s when they do their job.”
The new products are already in warehouse storage with Sika waiting on certification and a BRANZ endorsement.
“We’ve sold fire-rated products for a long time,” adds Tony Smith, “but I think that market’s really going to tighten up and if you’re not a full-range supplier with all the testing and documentation to back it up, you won’t be in that space very long.
“It’s quite a specialised application, even though the products may be broadly sold through builders’ merchants.”
Selleys’ Darren Newland agrees that fire-rated products will be another area of growth as more high-density housing is built: “You’ve got to be compliant with the Building Code, it’s very specialised, and something we need to have a good look at moving forward.”
Cath Montgomery (Winstone Wallboards): is “not expecting a great deal of growth going forward…”
Darren expects fire and sound insulation will be a critical area in which we’ll see increases in both product volumes and product performance: “There are a raft of things that will evolve and get better over time as technology improves and, if you’re going to go into that market, you need to make sure you have a product that meets all the industry design and build standards and that you’ve got the product range that the market requires moving forward.
“Building codes will change and learnings from overseas may come into place, so you’ve always got to have products coming on line to meet new standards.”
MORE OPPORTUNITIES AFOOT
Another area with growth potential is flooring with Darren Newland reporting that Selleys’ Liquid Nails Direct Stick range is performing well for the company in the thriving residential space.
“There are a lot more engineered floors going down these days and we’ve seen a resurgence in terms of the laminates, and particularly lino. As we’re seeing more residential apartment-based projects going up, demand for that sort of project is increasing. We have a vapour barrier system and a glue system under Direct Stick and it would be one of the market leaders in that space.”
However Tony Smith says Sika doesn’t regard wood floor bonding as a particularly big category because most residential timber flooring is now “floating”.
“A big commercial job like an art gallery might require an acoustic flooring system that is bonded down, and we still have a couple of products for the wood flooring market, but what we’ve found in New Zealand is most of the flooring is floating,” he explains.
“It sits on top of a foam underlay and the floor is essentially clipped together. Those floors seem to be the most popular and you can’t even tell that the floating floor isn’t bonded down.”
Having said this, a different flooring type is offering big growth for Sika, says Tony Smith, in the form of tiling adhesives or tiling industry products which are being sold through more specific channels than just the builders’ merchants.
“Tile Depot and Tile Direct have become two of our biggest customers with SikaCeram tile adhesive sales,” he explains. “And we’re now starting to roll out a few products in Bunnings stores and that’s also working pretty well for us.
Silicone supply back on track
Raw material supply for silicone manufacture has settled down with no foreseeable issues on the horizon.
Raw material prices were skyrocketing in 2018, largely due to non-compliant factories being closed down in China. And while supply lines have since improved, the price increases of 18 months ago have not been reversed, advises Tony Smith at Sika.
“At the time, we went with a small price increase but not to the extent that we could recover a sudden increase of 40% in raw materials,” he says candidly.
Tony says Sika has since moved to protect itself from future supply shocks by purchasing a high-tech silicone supplier in China: “Once it’s fully integrated into Sika that will probably be a great source for us and guarantee ongoing supply.”
Bostik’s Paul O’Reilly says the Bostik Group foresaw the problem and acted accordingly: “Silicone supply has been an issue for 12 months or more but Bostik bought large quantities of the various types of silicone sealants when the shortage first loomed in order to guarantee ongoing supply to our customers and their large end-users.”
David Knight at Macsim says the shortage impacted its roof and gutter sealant, the company’s best-performing product in the local market: “We have been hit by shortages of raw materials and that has forced up costs and delayed shipments as well.
“It was a case of managing stock levels for a while but it seems to be improving at the moment and it’s no longer as difficult to get hold of stock.”
Selleys’ Darren Newland says such shortages are simply just another part of the business to be taken in one’s stride. “Raw materials are always an ongoing challenge. As with any product, you have certain market influences or shortages that come into play.
“For instance, we’ve just had a situation with oil, and that impacts a huge range of costs across all businesses, whether it be through transport, shipping, manufacturing and even packaging. So it’s not just the raw materials that go into the making of a product that can have a major short-term impact.”