By Ken Ryan
Vermont became the first state to require big box retailers like Home Depot and Lowe’s cease in-person sales of non-essential items—including carpet and flooring. The state’s Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) issued the directive in order to reduce the number of people coming into the stores.
The list of non-essential items included carpet and flooring as well as clothing, consumer electronics, entertainment (books, music, movies), furniture, home and garden, jewelry, paint, photo services, sports equipment, toys and the like. “These are not new restrictions or additions to what have previously been announced,” Nate Formalarie, communications director, ACCD, told FCNews. “These are the same guidelines that were laid out in the executive order issued on March 24. This was a reminder to businesses that the governor’s executive order and efforts to protect public health and the viability of our healthcare system apply to all doing business in the state.”
Flooring retailers took issue with Home Depot and Lowe’s being able to sell flooring in their markets while so many retailers closed, arguing the situation tilted the playing field against flooring dealers. After seeing the news in Vermont, Ben Case, co-owner of The Carpet Collection in Lockport, N.Y., called it “a huge win,” adding, “I hope for that same change in my state.”
In Napa, Calif., which is under a stay at home order, Janice Clifton of Abbey Flooring Napa also applauded the move by Vermont. “It did seem a bit unfair to retailers in general that Home Depot and Lowe’s can continue selling floor covering while the rest of us have to close our doors,” she said. “I believe this would be a welcome change to most independent retailers. The rules should apply to everyone. Many areas in California have shut down construction sites as of this week, but regular retail customers are still trying to shop for flooring for their own homes. These customers are shopping at the big box stores for essential items, and then they are also able to shop for flooring.”
Bill Zeigler, co-owner of Charles F. Zeigler & Sons, Hanover, Pa., said big box stores should only sell essential items during this crisis, a common sentiment among retailers. “Most of the independents like ourselves are shut down completely; therefore, we are at an extreme disadvantage.”
The Carpet Collection’s Case, who said he was “absolutely bothered” that box stores can remain open and sell flooring while he can’t, suggested that many consumers who are currently working from home can use their stimulus checks and unemployment benefits to go to a box store and “get their quarantine home projects done.”
Not all flooring dealers share the same mindset, however. Bonnie Fenwick, owner of Carpet One Floor & Home, in Jacksonville, Fla., said she believes it is a mistake to not allow flooring sales during this time whether you are a big box or the small family business. “I believe that selling residential customers should be handled with caution,” she said. “If you are a provider to a general contractor, halting projects only puts more strain on the economy.”
While they remain open, the big home improvement retailers are making slight changes to their procedures. Home Depot, for example, announced a change in its deliveries and in-home service, saying it will limit service installations to those that are essential for maintenance and repair needs in some markets. If customers have an installation or other in-home service scheduled and want to postpone to a later date, Home Depot said it would be happy to reschedule.
In reference to the Home Depot posting, Sam O’Krent, owner of O’Krent’s Abbey Flooring in San Antonio, said, “Hopefully Lowe’s will follow suit. They need to stick to ‘essential’ business.”
Like many of his fellow independent flooring dealers, O’Krent’s has been closed for two weeks; however, the owner remains resolute, saying, “We’ll come out of this stronger.”