UFPI Planning Debut For New Product Line

April 22, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Universal Forest Products Inc. (UFPI) is heading into the next generation of building materials, as the publicly held company plans to offer wood alternative products to its customers in all four of the markets it serves.

UFP Ventures Inc. recently purchased the equipment from Inno-Tech Plastics Inc. to produce synthetic lumber, and then entered into an exclusive licensing agreement with the firm to create a line of vinyl building materials.

“Synthetic lumber and building materials have been gaining in popularity, and Universal has been looking for the right opportunity to enter the wood-alternatives market,” said UFPI CEO William G. Currie.

“We believe we’ve found it with Inno-Tech.”

The products are extruded thermoplastic profiles made from polystyrene resins, are low maintenance and long lasting. UFPI CFO Michael Cole told the Business Journal that these products have become popular with consumers and industry in recent years, evident by the vinyl fences, decks and doors that are popping up across the country.

Cole said that UFPI bought some extrusion lines from Inno-Tech and plans to work with the principals of that company to manufacture the products. Door parts will be the first to be produced through the licensing agreement.

“Think of the operation as really being a research and development operation. They had developed a product and were showing it to manufacturers, but it was still primarily a start-up R&D operation,” said Cole. “We’re taking that part over, and are hoping to be able to expand on that.”

Universal plans to take the new product line into the retail do-it-yourself market, along with the industrial, site-built construction and manufactured-housing segments.

It’s likely the company will begin to offer the wood alternatives to the industrial market first, and then move the line into its three other markets.

But an exact starting date hasn’t been set.

“We haven’t sketched out a timeline, yet — basically when we’re ready and we have the capacity,” said Cole.

“That is such a big market that you really have to have the capacity to even start. Because once the product takes off, you have to be able to supply it.”

One product that Universal will eventually manufacture from its relationship with Inno-Tech is vinyl fencing.

“They have made fencing products in an R&D-type fashion and it’s a beautiful product,” said Cole.

“So we are real excited about it and we know we can do it; we just have to wrap it up into a full production-type mode.”

Despite the excitement that the new venture has created at Universal, don’t look for the company to stray from the natural material that has made it so successful.

“Wood will always retain its significant market share in our business segments, but alternatives are gaining in popularity,” said Currie, “and we want to provide our customers with the same reliability and excellence in alternative products that they’ve come to expect from us in our premium wood products.”

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