By Ken Ryan and Reginald Tucker
While many residential shoppers hunkered down over the past few months, some local businesses took the opportunity to spruce up. That’s according to anecdotal information provided by industry executives FCNews contacted for its annual Main Street market report.
In certain pockets across the country, small businesses such as boutiques, doctors’ offices, barber shops and hair salons in particular utilized the downtime to renovate their spaces under governors’ orders that limited commerce to “essential” businesses.
“This was a perfect time for our customers to get engaged in their communities and help small businesses refresh their space and get ready for their customers when their doors open,” said Amy Tucker, senior marketing manager for Philadelphia Commercial, a division of Shaw Industries. “We just had a dealer in Minnesota who worked with a local bowling alley to install one of our click LVT products and get the space in tip top shape for its customers.” Other industry executives report similar experiences and observations. “People are investing in their small businesses where they can, and cosmetics were an easy fix during the shutdowns,” said Eric Ruppert, product manager for Pentz, an Engineered Floors brand. “During the downtime, some businesses and organizations who could not afford to shut down during regular times had a unique opportunity to complete renovations or expansion projects that would not cause the business to have additional downtime and lost revenues.”
In fact, for some dealers, the shutdown accelerated timetables for projects that were already in the pipeline. Such was the case with Eugene, Ore.-based New Dimension Hardwood Floors. The company leveraged the shutdown in the region as an opportunity to get a head start on renovations for sections of a local school, according to Kurt Volstead, owner.
Commercial projects were also the saving grace for dealers like Tulsa, Okla.-based Grigsby’s Carpet, Tile & Hardwood during the shutdown. “All of our commercial guys remained busy,” said Penny Carnino, director of operations. “There were some retail jobs that customers wanted to have installed, and we did that as long as they were OK with it.”
Generating momentum for projects moving forward
The resiliency of the Main Street market has brightened many suppliers’ outlook on the light commercial market for the medium to long term. “Where individual states have opened construction, we have seen a greater opportunity for local renovations in small businesses,” said Brent Flaharty, senior vice president and chief customer experience officer, Armstrong Flooring. “We anticipate this to increase over the next 30-60 days with curbside service allowing for in-store remodeling.”
Robb Myer, vice president of business development at Aladdin Commercial, a division of Mohawk, said he also likes the sector’s prospects for the second half. “We’re seeing an uptick in order entry, and eventually that will turn to sales,” he told FCNews. “I truly believe by the end of Q3 and the beginning of Q4 and into 2021 we’ll see tremendous growth within Main Street commercial.”
Suppliers say the key lies in flexibility and diversification. “Dealers are now seeing that if they have all their eggs in one basket, i.e., the residential customer, that’s not where they want to play,” Myer added. “They know they need to have a good mix.”
David Sheehan, vice president strategic development at Mannington, agreed. “Many savvy dealers are beginning to recognize that Main Street can be a profitable way to drive incremental growth,” he explained. “With the right product line and program, dealers can easily add an additional 20% to 30% to their business. It’s also a great way to round out your customer portfolio. Having a healthy Main Street business can help when consumer activity slows.”
Product innovation provides crossover opportunities
Small businesses account for 99.7% of all businesses in the U.S., according to the Small Business Administration. After the economic downturn of 2009, many small businesses began replacing their old flooring—a project they put off for a couple of years. Now, all that seems to be accelerating. “In the last few years, our industry’s flooring offering expanded greatly, and so did those products that were suitable for Main Street commercial applications,” said Brian Warren, executive vice president, Foss Floors. “A flooring retailer now has a variety of floor offerings that cross over from the residential segment and work quite well for some commercial applications.”
More importantly, the pandemic has made business owners more keenly aware of their environments, their proximity to one another and the significant steps necessary to remain safe in the age of COVID-19. These considerations, suppliers say, factor into the flooring material selection process. “The pandemic has shown what an amazing flooring material vinyl really is,” said Kurt Denman, chief marketing officer, Congoleum. “Not only is there a seemingly unlimited number of design options, but it can also withstand harsh service environments, including aggressive cleaning and disinfecting protocols.”
(For more on this story, including an overview of design trends for Main Street applications as well as information on end-user specific programs suppliers have developed for retailers, look for the May 25-June 8 edition of FCNews.)