Within the commercial market, wood flooring represents about 5% of the total sector and about 9% of hard surface sales. Unofficially, executives say because many of the jobs are sold and installed through residential channels business has not been so bad through the first five months of the year and the prospects for the remainder of 2011 are relatively positive.
“There is much more wood put in commercially than generally stated,” noted Milton Goodwin, Armstrong’s vice president, product management-hardwood. “but there is no way to accurately track it— like laminate.” He explained except for Armstrong’s base grade products, all of its wood floors carry some type of commercial warranty. As a result, retailers are able to sell to local business who wouldn’t normally subscribe to spec work. “If our commercial team or our distributors’ commercial sales force are tracking it, it’s commercial; otherwise we have no way of really knowing.”
Looking at things from a strictly specified channel, the companies that sell in this area say the year has been mixed from flat to good depending on the segment. Overall, most see the market compared to last year as relatively flat as budgets and credit remain tight.
“We’ve had some good spec work early in the year that put us slightly ahead of last year,” Goodwin said. “The challenge has been with available money people have to spend on projects. So we have to help them through the options and hit the right price point and looks. Luckily, Armstrong has the largest selection in the industry. Which means our people have to sometimes use another commercial product, such as resilient, to save a job. In today’s world, many times it’s more consultancy selling than anything else.”
Jason Brubaker, vice president of sales and marketing for Nydree Flooring, maker of the Permagrain and Gammapar brands, couldn’t be “more excited now than we’ve been in three years. Our first five months this year are on pace to outperform 2010 by 20% or more. We have some very large projects in the pipeline and we are seeing increased sample activity and a general buzz within industry events that has not been there in a while.”
Like Goodwin, he said the greatest challenge “continues to be a desire for transparency in pricing and a high level of service. The challenge in the commercial market is the wide variety of customers we interface with each day so we like to focus resources on getting customers quick answers to questions from people who know our product inside and out. If that involves bringing employees in to advise on product application or suitability outside the normal forward facing team we are nimble enough do to that and we believe it makes a real impact at the end of the day.”
Luc Robitaille, vice president of marketing for Boa-Franc/Mirage, sees the second part of 2011 being a “little better than the first half. We should expect some opportunities if retail, office and lodging construction effectively pick up.”
He pointed out, one of the bright spots is the public’s preference for green, “which means the hardwood flooring industry is in a good position to pick up steam in 2011 because of the sustainability features of the product versus other flooring categories.”