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Segmenting single-family home builders on a measure of innovativeness. (Management).


The past decade has seen major shifts in the types of building materials specified by single-family home builders. With respect to wood products, engineered wood has displaced traditional materials, especially in joist and sheathing applications, e.g., I-joists and oriented strandboard. However, these two products were on the market long before their explosive growth in the 1990s. It is the early adopters that established these products in the building community and provided the foundation for the market growth of the past decade. This study segments single-family home builders on their tendency to adopt new technologies relatively early or late and then provides a demographic and communication profile of each segment. In 1998,200 single-family homebuilders (SIC 1521) in Washington, Oregon, and California were surveyed regarding their use of 9 innovative building products. These firms were then assigned to adopter groups based on both the number of innovative products used, and the time of first use of each p roduct relative to other builders. Upon profiling these adopter groups, it was found that the most innovative builders tended to be larger firms building high-end homes. These builders also generated the greatest proportion of their revenues from new construction, as opposed to the repair and remodeling business.


The past two decades have seen the rate of new wood products introduced into the home building market increase dramatically. The combination of new technology, a changing timber supply, and the ability to increase fiber recovery is credited with moving the forest products industry towards the production of engineered wood products. These supply-side factors are well documented (6,11). However, the demand side has seen few studies on the development of the engineered wood products market. Of the markets for wood-based building materials, the single-family home building sector is the largest, and therefore, most important. Yet little information is available on the adoption of new engineered wood products by single-family home builders.

The introduction of a new product into a market carries considerable risk. The failure rate of products that make it to the launch stage has been estimated at 30 percent (15). It is therefore important to understand the potential behavior of consumers of a new product to minimize the risk of product failure. Different consumers adopt new products at different times (9). In the single-family home building market, this may be the result of variations in demographic and communication characteristics among companies. On an individual innovation basis, the relative advantage conferred, and the compatibility of the innovation with the needs of a company, can differ among companies, also causing for a time effect in product adoption (9). Differences in adopter characteristics form a basis on which to classify or segment potential consumers. Properly targeting these segments is one way to facilitate the transition from traditional products to engineered wood.

For the purpose of this paper, clear definitions of the terms "adoption" and "diffusion" are needed. Adoption is a point in time where a new technology is used formally and continuously. It is often difficult to define the specific point when a technology has been adopted by an individual or company, however, when the use of new and traditional technologies can be concurrent. Therefore, this study substitutes the time-of- first-trial of a technology for the concept of adoption (3). Diffusion is the process by which an innovation is passed through a social network over time. Not all builders are expected to adopt a new building product at the same time. Rather, it is expected that a select few builders will use a new product first; other builders, witnessing the early adopters' experiences, will then follow. This diffusion process continues until the most skeptical and traditional members of a social network adopt (or ultimately reject) the new technology (9).

The field of forest products and forestry is very broad and the work that has been done on the adoption of new products reflects this diversity. Shook (10) studied innovation and diffusion in the home building industry with respect to engineered wood products. The perception of industry competition, the presence of trade unions, and the intensity of management were found to negatively influence the adoption of engineered wood products. He also found that firmand product-specific factors were more likely to affect adoption than were industry structure factors. Fell et al. (4) found that early adopters of a single engineered wood product tended to adopt other new wood products early. Hansen and Adair (5) found geographical differences in the perceptions of engineered wood products among single-family home builders. Eastin et al. (3) found evidence of geographical differences in the usage of engineered wood products. Nationwide studies have found that material usage can differ among regions in the United States (3,5).

Many of the adoption and diffusion studies in the forestry sector involve new processing technology. Cohen and Sinclair (2) looked at the adoption of new production technology by major North American producers of softwood lumber and plywood. Firms were clustered on the basis of their use of new technologies. The economic and market performance of each cluster was then analyzed. Firms that adopted more innovative technologies performed better than those that adopted fewer technologies. West and Sinclair (13) studied the adoption of innovative production technology in the household furniture industry. They found that innovator companies employed significantly more manufacturing and production engineers. Innovator companies were also significantly more technically progressive, as measured by response on a Likert-type scale (7). Dependence on trade shows for information was the only communication related variable that was significantly different between innovators and noninnovators (2-sided p-value = 0.08). Of th e firm demographic variables, innovators were found to have more employees and had higher-priced final products than did non-innovators.

The constructs of diffusion and adoption are both very important for marketing new products to home builders. It is important to identify those builders who will be the first to use a product when it is launched because these customers represent early sales, but more importantly, they start the process of product diffusion. A time-based diffusion measure (9) is best for this. However, we are also interested in identifying the builders who are loyal to new products and consume them in larger quantities. This adoption construct is captured by the cross-sectional definition of innovativeness (4). The ideal solution would be to capture both of these constructs in one measure. Fell et al. (4) developed a composite method of measuring innovativeness by combining the strengths of the time-based and the cross-sectional measures of innovativeness. We used this composite measure to analyze the findings from this survey. We segmented home builders by both the time and the degree of adoption of new engineered wood produc ts.

We studied adoption and diffusion of new building products among singlefamily home builders. A primary motivation for this study was to find out how builders learn about new building products. We surveyed single-family home builders in the northwestern United States to find out how they learned about new engineered wood products and how willing they were to use them. We then segmented builders based on a composite measure of innovativeness to create adoption profiles for the users of new wood products.


The population of interest in this study was single-family home builders on the West Coast of the United States. We selected California, Oregon, and Washington because the use of engineered wood products is similar in these states (3,5). Further, the history of use is longer and the state of diffusion is more developed than in other regions. Therefore, a late adopter on the West Coast could have conceivably adopted a new technology before early adopters in other regions.

The Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) for this population is 1521. A list of 1,100 firms in the geographical frame was randomly generated by Dun and Bradstreet Information Services. Dun and Bradstreet lists 21,078 firms involved in single-family housing construction (SIC 152100) in Oregon, Washington, and California. The number of home building firms included in the sampling frame was sufficient to assure a total of 200 valid responses. The target of 200 valid responses was based on the statistical methods to be used and the number of variables to be measured.


We developed a questionnaire to use when conducting telephone interviews with single-family home building firms. The questionnaire covered simple demographics, communication channels and methods, and use of engineered wood products.


The survey included a series of demographic measures to aid in profiling the resulting adopter segments. These included revenues, number of employees, and number of homes built, among others.

In general, respondents to this survey were medium to small home builders. The average number of homes built per year by respondents was six. Only 5 firms reported building more than 35 homes in 1997. These five respondents were dropped from the analysis as outliers. The remaining respondents reported generating 82.5 percent of their revenues in SIC 152100 (single family home building). Only seven firms (3.6%) reported annual revenues over $5 million, while 66.8 percent of firms reported 1997 revenues under $1 million. These demographics are discussed further in the results section.


The measure of innovativeness used required that the products considered be at different stages of their market diffusion. Therefore, we selected a spectrum of engineered wood products and wood-substitute building materials, from relatively old to relatively new, that were in different stages of their product lifecycles. The survey included questions about the use of these nine products.

The oldest product in the analysis was glulam (glue-laminated beams), which has been around for over a century (8). Wood I-joists and oriented strand board (OSB) are widely used but relatively new. Three forms of structural composite lumber were considered: laminated veneer lumber (LVL), parallel strand lumber (PSL), and laminated strand lumber (LSL). Two alternatives to solid wood studs were considered: fingerjointed studs and steel studs. Finally, structural insulated panels (SIPs) were considered, as they are in the introductory phase of their product lifecycle.

Builders were asked whether they had ever used each of these products, and if so, during what year was each product first used. They were also asked whether they still used each product in 1997. If a product was not used in 1997, the firm was considered to have discontinued its use. Respondents also were asked what percentage of floor area they built with I-joists in 1997. This percentage of floor area was used as a surrogate for degree of adoption of wood I-joists, and was compared across adopter groups. The degree of adoption was a useful measure since it allowed us to compare the dedication of respondents to a new technology.


The questionnaire was pre-tested by forest products marketing academics, building industry association representatives (via email), and local (Corvallis, Oregon) home builders. Initial feedback on the survey instrument was provided by contacts at APA-The Engineered Wood Association (Tacoma, Washington), the Center for International Trade in Forest Products at the University of Washington (Seattle, Washington), the National Association of Homebuilders Research Center (Upper Marlboro, Maryland), and the Field Company (Seattle, Washington).

In initial pre-tests with local home builders, builders not only answered the questions, but provided open-ended feedback. Two face-to-face open-ended pre-tests were conducted. Wording was adjusted on some questions after the first pre-test to ensure clarity. In these two pre-tests, telephone interviews were used to simulate actual data collection conditions.


A telephone research firm was contracted to collect the data (The Field Company. Seattle, Washington). This market research firm has a long history of projects in the wood industry and has conducted telephone interviews with single-family home builders in the past. Therefore, the interviewers were familiar with both engineered wood products and the type of companies that would be responding to the survey. Interviewer training took place on March 24, 1998, at the research firm's headquarters in Seattle, Washington. Interviewers were introduced to the goals of the project and were walked through the questionnaire. Samples of each of the engineered wood products in the study were displayed to ensure that the interviewers were familiar with each product.

About 1 week before data collection, a pre-notification letter was sent to potential respondents in the sample. Because there were only five interviewers, pre-notification letters were sent in three waves. This helped avoid a delay between a builder receiving the pre-notification letter and being contacted by an interviewer. Letters were sent to 400 home builders on March 30, 1998, and their contact information was turned over to the interviewers the next week. When the initial list of 400 was nearly exhausted, letters were sent to 400 more builders on April 20. When this list was exhausted, letters were sent to the last 300 builders on May 4.

Response rate was calculated to be 48.8 percent by using the single-stage sampling with eligibility requirement method (14). Response to this study was quite good, with 201 usable, completed interviews and only 63 refusals. Unfortunately, the list of builders was inconsistent; 331 of 1,100 firms were not eligible as at least 50 percent of their 1996 revenues were not from new singlefamily residential construction. The most common major business area in 1996 for ineligible respondents was repair and remodeling.


Firms were placed into one of three adopter groups based on a pre-existing and well-defined theory of adopter segments (9). The 13.5 percent of builders with the highest scores were considered early adopters. The 66 percent of builders with the next highest scores were considered majority adopters. Finally, the 13.5 percent of firms with the lowest scores were designated as late adopters. These groups are a reduced model of the Rogers (9) adopter groups, and rely on simple statistical definitions for group thresholds.

The composite method of defining innovativeness is a composite measure of the time of first trial of six products. (1) For each product, respondents were given a score based on the time they adopted the product. Earliest adopters were given the highest scores, while late adopters were given lower scores. Nonadopters were given the lowest score for each product. Scores were computed for each product, then summed together into a summed-scale composite measure of innovativeness. Respondents were then divided into three groups based on the breakdown of the normal distribution just described.



Demographics characteristics differed among home builders (Table 1). In general, larger firms that work primarily in single-family home building were the most innovative. The average number of houses built in 1997 was significantly different among groups. Early adopters built an average of 8.6 houses, majority adopters built an average of 6.0 homes, and late adopters built an average of 3.4 homes. (2) Early adopters were also more likely to build luxury or high-end homes (Table 2). Fifty-three percent of early adopters reported building primarily up-scale homes, while only 29 percent of late adopters were primarily in the high-end market. A total of 25.8 percent of late adopters reported being involved primarily in the construction of starter homes. Only 12.5 and 12.4 percent of early adopters and majority adopters, respectively, were involved primarily in starter homes.

The percentage of revenues generated in SIC 1521 also differed among adopter groups (Table 1). Early adopters generated 85.6 percent of their 1997 revenues in SIC 1521, while late adopters generated only 72.7 percent of their revenues in the single-family home building market. This difference is even more remarkable given that only firms generating 50 percent and above of their revenues from single-family home building were included in the study. The most common alternate source of revenues for firms in this category is repair and remodeling.

Total revenues also differed among the groups (Table 3). A total of 46.9 percent of early adopters had 1997 revenues over $1 million. This figure was 34.6 and 20.7 percent for majority and late adopters, respectively. On the lower end of the revenue scale, 55.1 percent of late adopters generated less than $500,000 in 1997. Only 39.9 percent of majority adopters and 28.2 percent of early adopters had less than $500,000 in revenues in 1997.

One very interesting outcome was an apparent county population effect on innovativeness. Close to 55 percent of late adopters came from large counties with populations over 500,000 (Table 4). Early adopters most often came from counties with populations of 100,000 to 249,999, suggesting that builders in these smaller counties were more likely to be innovative.

One final firm demographic that differed among adoption groups was membership in the National Association of Home builders (NAHB). Early adopters were most likely to be members of the NAHB. Although 37.5 percent of early adopters were members of NAHB, only 29 percent of majority adopters, and 6.7 percent of late adopters were. This is an expected result as the NAHB provides support to builders in applying new technologies.


Table 5 provides a summary of the communication channels homebuilders used to learn about new products, their importance to homebuilders, and their rank relative to each other. Only three of the communication channels were rated above the neutral value of 4.0 on the scale. Builders reported that building products suppliers were the most important source of new product information, followed by information learned through trade magazines and journals. The third communication channel rated as above average in importance was talking to other builders, or word-of-mouth communication.

The Internet, though a good vehicle for transporting mass quantities of information, was not yet an important communication channel for home builders. Only 41 of the 201 respondents rated the Internet higher than 1 (not at all important). This is likely due to limited access to the Internet at the time.

Trade shows received an average rating of only 2.6 out of 7.0 in this study. The average number of trade shows that builders attended per year was 0.96. Only 10 builders participated in trade shows as exhibitors.

Very few of the communications variables differed among the adoption groups. One difference was that early adopters rated communications with manufacturers' field representatives as more important than did other adopter groups; they rated it as 2.8 out of 7.0 on a Likert-type scale, whereas majority and late adopters rated it 2.2 and 1.9, respectively. However, communications with manufacturers' field representatives were not rated highly compared with other communication channels. This may be due to manufacturers' field representatives targeting larger firms that build more houses and have higher revenues because they represent large accounts. This is the profile of early adopters. Therefore, the fact that early adopters rated contact with manufacturers' field representatives higher than did other builders may be a result of having actually met with these representatives, while other builders have not. Overall, early adopters still rated this form of communication as below average in importance.

Although there were no significant differences among adopter groups on the importance of communication channels, this measure nevertheless provides insights into targeting new products to early adopters. For example, building products suppliers were rated the most important source of new product information by the entire sample (Table 5). Therefore, marketing strategies utilizing building product suppliers, such as displays, in-store demonstrations, and point-of-sale incentives, should be emphasized for new engineered wood products. If the demographic characteristics of early adopters are taken into account when designing these promotions, the marketing efforts will be even more effective.

Further, the selection of building suppliers to distribute through, or to run pro- motions through, can be targeted to the early adopter profile. Placing new products in building supply stores that serve upscale markets should be emphasized. This can be done by studying the appropriate demographic indicators of cities and towns. Areas with a high level of housing starts and a high income level should be targeted by distributing a product through local building centers and promoting the product at these retailers.

With regard to magazines and trade journals, the importance of advertising is apparent. Early advertising should be pitched towards builders of larger, higher quality homes. Magazines typically collect demographic data on their subscribers; this information should allow advertisers to choose a magazine with the desired audience. Further, the actual advertising copy should target these early adopters. Because early adopters build higher quality houses, the quality and performance benefits of a product should be emphasized in advertisements directed at this group.

Print sources can also be used in other ways. By getting a product into a feature article or supplying a product for a magazine's demonstration projects, companies can take advantage of free advertising. This type of exposure is also more credible than are traditional advertisements. However, because the message is not controlled by the manufacturer, but by the magazine, poor product performance will also be reported. The average number of different magazines builders regularly receive was 2.66 for this sample.

The third and final communication channel rated above average in importance was word-of-mouth communications with other builders. This is a very powerful source of communication. Unfortunately, it is also very difficult to control. In a 1995 article in American Demographics, Walker states that those with positive experiences with a good or service share their impressions with an average of five peers (12). Those who had a negative experience share it with nine peers. The importance of word-of-mouth communication demonstrates how providing a reliable product, good service, and prompt reaction to product failures is vital to producers, especially those in the process of launching new products.

The adopter groups had significantly different (p = 0.006) mean scores of opinion leadership (1) (Table 1). Early adopters had the highest level of opinion leadership and late adopters the lowest. Opinion leaders are generally viewed as experts among their peers and informally influence the attitudes and behaviors of others (9).


Table 6 provides a summary of product trial and continuance. Usage rates for engineered products were very high with the firms in this sample. This is due in large part to the selection of the states of California, Washington, and Oregon. These states have been shown in the past to have very high rates of engineered wood product usage (3).

Almost all builders had tried, and continued to use, glue-laminated beams. This was not surprising, as glulam is by far the oldest product considered in this study. In fact, glulam has been around so long that we did not ask when firms first used it, as the product likely predated all the firms or individual respondents in the sample. However, the continuance statistic for glulam was interesting, especially since other new beam products have entered the market. Very few builders did not use glulam in 1997. Although we cannot account for volume of products used with our data, there was no evidence that builders have substituted a newer beam product in all their beam applications.

Of these new engineered wood products, wood I-joists had the highest trial rate, at 90.5 percent (Table 6). In 1997, 86.6 percent of respondents used wood I-joists. This drop of only 3.9 percent is very low and may not even represent discontinuance, since it is possible that those builders did not have an application suitable for wood I-joists in 1997.

OSB had the second highest degree of diffusion of the new wood products, with 89.1 percent of firms having tried it. However, only 75.6 percent of builders surveyed continued to use OSB in 1997. Comments from builders seem to indicate that the high-profile failure of some OSB siding products has affected OSB's image as a structural panel product as well. This effect may have been masked by the low price of OSB relative to plywood sheathing in 1997.

The three types of structural composite lumber showed very low rates of discontinuance. All builders who tried LVL and PSL by 1997 continued to use them. Only 1 percent of builders discontinued using LSL in 1997.

Other products had much higher rates of discontinuance. Although 44.3 percent of builders had used finger-jointed studs, only 30.8 percent continued to use them in 1997. However, several builders commented on the inconsistent supply of finger-jointed studs in their areas. Therefore, supply factors may have played a role in this high rate of discontinuance. Steel studs faired even worse with regard to discontinuance. Although 51.7 percent of builders had at some point used steel studs, only 30.8 percent used them in 1997.

The final product category considered was SIPs. Although 10.4 percent of builders had used SIPs at one point, only 8.5 percent used them in 1997. Of all the products in the study, builders were least familiar with SIPs. Many commented that they had never heard of this product.


This study identified the demographic characteristics of early adopters, majority adopters, and late adopters. It also identified the communication characteristics that are most important to builders for learning about new products. Information on demographics, communication methods, and product usage is valuable in marketing wood products. However, the adoption of a new technology usually happens over time. In other words, not all builders will begin using a new product at the same time. Early adopters of a new technology may differ from later adopters, not only in their product usage, but in their demographics and communication behavior as well. It is desirable, then, to segment single-family home builders by their tendency to adopt a new product relatively early (their innovativeness).

Early adopters tend to build more high-end and move-up housing. They are also the builders who do the most building and the least remodeling. Finally, they build more homes per year than do other adopters. Promotions, displays, and demonstrations should be created with this adopter profile in mind. New products should be promoted to capture upscale markets early and lower-end markets later.

The NAHB produces a building magazine as well as technical training materials for builders. They also maintain a catalogue of building products arranged by product and company. As early adopters are more likely to have access to this catalogue, producers of new products should use this tool in promotion.

By understanding the adopter segments of a market before entering it, organizations may be able to reduce marketing expenditures, while increasing their chances of a successful product launch. This method can also be valuable in marketing products that have progressed beyond the launch stage of their product life cycle. To capture majority adopters or late adopters, marketing messages can be customized to their profiles. For example, because later adopters of engineered wood products tend to be located in urban areas, marketing efforts could shift from smaller counties to larger counties as a new product gains acceptance.

Targeting early adopters is important because they are instrumental in getting products accepted by later builders through word-of-mouth recommendations. Further, early adopters build more homes per firm annually than do later adopters. Therefore, efforts spent inducing the adoption of a new product by these builders have the additional benefit of higher potential volumes per adopter. Successfully capturing early adopters is an essential step to wide market acceptance of a new product.

Demographic characteristics of single-family home builders. (a)

 Adopter No. of Revenues Manufacturer Compete using
 group homes in SIC 1521 field representatives new products

Early 8.63 A 85.61 A 2.89 A 5.5 A
Majority 5.97 83.00 B 2.19 4.94 B
Late 3.44 A 72.67 AB 1.82 A 3.87 AB
ANOVA p-value 0.008 0.010 0.039 0.001

 Adopter Reputation for Opinion
 group new products leadership

Early 5.53 A 27.4 A
Majority 4.86 B 25.4 B
Late 3.52 AB 20.8 AB
ANOVA p-value 0.000 0.006

(a)Numbers with the same capital letter (in the same column) are
significantly different at the p = 0.05 level, using the Bonferroni
multiple comparison test.

Primary housing market in which builders from each adopter
group work.

 Primary market
 group Starter Move-up Luxury/high-end Total (n)

Early 12.5 34.4 53.1 100 (32)
Majority 12.4 47.4 40.1 100 (133)
Late 25.8 45.2 29.0 100 (31)
Total 14.5 45.0 40.5 100 (196)

Percentage of early, middle, and late adopter groups in each
revenue category. (a)

 group < 0.1 0.1 to < 0.5 0.5 to < 1.0 1.0 to < 5.0

Early 9.4 18.8 25.0 37.5
Middle 4.6 33.8 25.4 28.5
Late 17.2 37.9 24.1 20.7
Total 7.3 31.9 25.1 28.8

 group 5.0 to 10.0 > 10.0 Total

Early 9.4 0 100
Middle 3.8 2.3 100
Late 0 0 100
Total 4.2 1.6 100

(a)1997 revenue, in million dollars.

Population of the county where firms are based and adopter

Adopter 10,000 to 25,000 to 50,000 to 100,000 to 250,000 to
 group 24,999 49,999 99,999 249,999 499,999

Early 6.3 0.0 15.6 37.5 21.9
Majority 4.4 10.2 11.7 15.3 24.1
Late 3.2 3.2 9.7 16.1 12.9
Total 4.5 7.5 12.0 19.0 22.0

Adopter 500,000
 group and over Total

Early 18.8 100
Majority 34.3 100
Late 54.8 100
Total 35.0 100

Average rating of communication channels. (a)

Communication channel Avg. rating (out of 7) Rank

Building product suppliers 4.99 1
Trade magazines and journals 4.43 2
Talking to other builders 4.36 3
Manufacturers' literature 3.68 4
Visiting other building sites 3.49 5
Professional association literature 2.83 6
Trade shows 2.61 7
Manufacturers' field 2.24 8
Training seminars 1.84 9
Internet 1.30 10

(a)1 = not at all important in learning about new products; 7 = very

Percentage of builders who have tried each product, and the
percentage who discontinued using each product in 1997.

 Percentage of builders Mean year
Product Ever used Continued in 1997 of first trial

I-joists 90.5 86.6 1990.9
OSB 89.1 75.6 1990.6
PSL 66.7 66.7 1993.4
LVL 57.7 57.7 1993.4
Finger-jointed studs 44.3 30.8 1992.8
LSL 36.3 35.3 1994.5
SIPs 10.4 8.5 1990.7
Steel studs 51.7 30.8 1990.0
Glulam 98.0 96.5 --

(1.) The set of products used in to define innovativeness was reduced to six from the original nine. This is because some of the products were substitutes for each other. Glulam, structural insulated panels, and steel studs were, therefore dropped.

(2.) The 5 firms that built over 35 homes per year are excluded from this statistic. Of these firms, one was classified an early adopter, and four were majority adopters.


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* Forest Products Society Member.

The authors are, respectively, Forest Products Market Researcher, Forintek Canada Corp., 2665 East Mall, Vancouver, BC; and Assistant Professors, Dept. of Forest Prod., Oregon State Univ., Corvallis, OR. This is paper 3335 of the Forest Res. Lab., Oregon State Univ., Corvallis, OR. This paper was received for publication in December 1999. Reprint No. 9071.

[C] Forest Products Society 2002.

Forest Prod. J. 52(6):28-34.
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Author:Fell, David; Hansen, Eric N.; Punches, John
Publication:Forest Products Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2002
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