The commercial sector for the past two years has been experiencing the same challenging conditions that have plagued its residential counterpart since late 2006. The good news is that the downturn will not be nearly as prolonged, with many indicators suggesting the rebound may be forthcoming during the second half of the year.
For Mannington Mills, the segments hardest hit have been retail and hospitality as fewer new stores and restaurants were being built and flooring replacement work slowed significantly, according to Dan Natkin, director of hardwood business. “Healthcare and government-funded construction (military housing as an example) have fared better than the other traditional commercial segments in the past year.”
Mark Brunelle, national sales manager for USFContract, manufacturers of cork, bamboo and hardwood, sees corporate specifications as the mill’s strongest growth sector the first part of the year. “Corporate seems to be rebounding faster than the other markets for us,” he said. “The less institutional aesthetics, maintenance and performance contribute to these sales.” He also cited hospitality, restaurants and public spaces as growing markets for hardwood.
Steve DeCarlo, vice president of business development for Shaw, concurred with Brunelle, saying interest in hardwood for commercial projects is high “but tight budgets have led to some lower priced products. Some similar looking styles in laminate or VCT have replaced the original selection. Corporate work seems to be steady, while there is very little in education.”
For some companies, such as DuChateau Floors, the commercial rebound has already begun. “We are seeing strong interest from architects and designers, domestically and internationally, who are looking for wood for a variety of projects,” said Mitch Tagle, president. “You can tell the business is ramping up because they are increasing their requests for product samples and literature. They are seeking innovative and unique products that are also sustainable.”
Unlike the majority of manufacturers, DuChateau is actually finding favor in hospitality. “Hotels and restaurants are strong,” he said. “We recently completed an Ian Schrager hotel project in Hawaii and have signed on with the Trump Plaza project in Miami.”
Mannington, however, is just beginning to see signs of life in the retail and hospitality sectors, Natkin said. “True recovery, barring any unforeseen circumstances, will occur in the next nine to 12 months.”
Whether the rebound is happening now or about to begin, Daniel Call, vice president, product management for Armstrong, said there is no secret sauce for manufacturers, but providing value is a good start. “Price becomes a sensitive issue—everyone is trying to manage budgets while looking for high-value options. Relationships are still key but those that continue to provide options will remain successful.”
Call is looking at the third quarter for the commercial recovery. “We expect the recovery in commercial to lag behind residential by about two quarters. We are beginning to see a steady rebound on the residential side.”
The revisions to the Lacey Act will also have a profound impact on the industry. “There is a tremendous amount of exotic products currently specified for commercial work that ultimately will revert back to sustainably harvested domestic species,” Mannington’s Natkin said. “The U.S. has some of the most sustainable hardwood forests in the world and we’re beginning to see recognition to that effect.”
Armstrong’s Call added the Lacey Act is actually more relevant for the commercial category than residential, as commercial customers can apply for LEED credits.