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November - December 2002

The Cutting Edge

Long-Term Warranties 
Can the Manufacturer Afford to Stand Behind Them?
by Jim Plavecsky

Warranty programs are an essential part of the window manufacturer’s product differentiation scheme. Advertising and promotional campaigns are designed to capture the interest and attention of prospective customers, but once the pitch is made and the prospect goes into decision mode, one of the final questions that will be asked is, “What type of warranty does this manufacturer offer?”

I’ve seen warranty programs ranging from a single year to lifetime and even lifetime-transferable. Obviously, a lifetime warranty offers the prospective buyer the highest comfort level provided that the manufacturer is a well-established company and is perceived as one that will be in business for many years to come.

Reasonable Warranties
Some warranties do more to protect the manufacturer than they do the customer. Many states have laws that guarantee the purchaser an implied “warranty of merchantability and fitness.” This means the manufacturer must stand behind the product to guarantee that it will perform the way a product of its type and design would reasonably be expected to perform and that it will last as long as a product of this type and design would reasonably be expected to last.
Now, what “reasonable” is de-fined as is open for interpretation in a court of law. Therefore, warranties that guarantee product durability for shorter durations actually favor the manufacturer because the manufacturer has informed the customer up front that the guarantee of performance is limited in duration and this period of time may be far shorter than what a judge or jury might define as reasonable should any type of litigation ensue. 

The warranty may also be designed to limit liability in terms of replacement cost as many warranties cover parts only and require the customer to pay for the labor portion of the window repair. This labor portion ends up being many times the cost of the parts so it is important that the customer read the warranty carefully and consider what his own actual out-of-pocket costs are likely to be.

Comprehensive Warranties
Recognizing that the product warranty will be a major factor in a replacement window customer’s purchasing decision, many manufacturers are offering longer and more comprehensive warranties than they have in the past.

However, many of these same window manufacturers are doing this, not by choice, but purely because it is what the market is dictating. The sales department goes out, and in the process of trying to land new business, they lose deals based upon a competitive offering with a better warranty. So, the salespeople come back and complain to the sales manager that the company needs a better warranty because “we are losing deals out there!”

As a result of pressure from the salespeople, the president or general manager tells the marketing manager to put a better warranty plan in place and get it back out to the salespeople. However, often what is missing in this whole equation is a discussion and analysis with the engineering, manufacturing and quality-assurance departments to determine what changes must be implemented for the company to expand its liability exposure significantly without incurring greater warranty expense. This could have dire consequences on the company’s bottom line! 

Much to Consider
A smart window manufacturer will not try and cut corners with less expensive components unless they are evaluated thoroughly with long-term durability in mind. Moreover, investments in advanced equipment that can automate the manufacturing process and minimize the probability of workmanship errors will pay huge dividends in the long run. Material selection is key, but workmanship is equally critical. Paying careful attention to both of these areas is an absolute must if the window manufacturer is going to be able to produce a product with long-term durability performance that can match the guarantee that is written on the warranty certificate! 

Jim Plavecsky is owner of Windowtech Sales Inc., a sales and consulting firm specializing in the window and door industry.

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