State of the hardwood industry: Category sees light at the end of the tunnel

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While manufacturers weren’t exactly eager to strip their poker faces, major hardwood players recently gave FCNews an exclusive perspective of the game. As if an economic recession wasn’t challenging enough, issues like recent legislation, a rise in material costs and the consumer’s visual market demands keep mills in a state of constant adaptation.

Though the flooring industry was hit hard with the collapse of the home remodeling and new construction markets, companies have started digging themselves out of the hole and reported profits for the early part of the year. Suppliers have even managed to shine in areas like consumer transparency, making the most out of legislation that regulates supply. Sticking it out in the seemingly limitless economic game is laying the groundwork for bullets in the hole.

The numbers: Making dollars and sense

As could be expected, manufacturers across North America reported that numbers were down in 2009, both in units and dollars. With what has been called the worst recession since the Great Depression, anything other- wise would likely challenge the credibility and mathematical skills of hardwood suppliers and today’s consumer is too skeptical to guess.

“We believe the industry was off approximately 23% to 25% in units for 2009,” said Daniel Call, Armstrong’s vice president of wood product management. “Dollars were probably slightly worse—price was certainly lower in 2009 and mix was also under negative pressure.”

This was backed up by reports from Anderson Hardwood Floors, a division of Shaw Industries. “Our sales and earnings were down almost 30% last year,” said John Woolsey, vice president of marketing.

Things were the same for Mannington. “From 2008 to 2009, we were down 25% in both units and dollars,” reported Kim Holm, president of residential. “We think that’s comparable to what the overall engineered market has experienced.”

The story was the same for almost every manufacturer with whom FCNews spoke. For example, at Mohawk, which markets the Mohawk and Columbia hardwood brands, dollars were down about 25% in 2009 versus 2008, according to Dewevai Buchanan, vice president of hardwood. “Units were down about 23%.”

Canadian suppliers reported similar results. Daniel LeDuc, vice president of marketing, Lauzon, declined to talk specifics being a private corporation, but noted, “We can say that our performance was similar to what the market has suffered, plus or minus a few exceptions.”

An exception to the norm

One company that seemed to outperform the market was Mullican Flooring, which told FCNews its sales in units and dollars “were down high single digits in 2009 versus 2008.”

When asked what separated the company from the masses, Brian Greenwell, vice president of sales and marketing, said, “We put together some programs in 2009 to take advantage of the remodel market, which was still very active for us.”

Product was also a key driver. “I think we have a broad product range and a high quality product, including the FSC-certified line. The things we had been doing started to pay dividends.”

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