By Ken Ryan
The COVID-19 punch that temporarily dazed flooring retailers during late March-April has been supplanted by a rather frenetic period of activity, resulting in higher ticket orders and, in some cases, record sales.
Despite scores of showrooms being closed for weeks, many retailers contacted by FCNews say they have bounced back quickly and are matching 2019 levels on the strength of a resurgent June. Unlike the restaurant or airline industries, which continue to suffer from the effects of the lingering COVID-19 virus, flooring has largely benefited by consumers staying at home.
Indeed, many retailers cited pent-up demand and consumers’ willingness to invest in their homes as two major factors in leading to the uptick in business. “The customers coming into the stores today are definitely buying; they are serious shoppers for sure,” said Ted Gregerson, owner of Ted’s Abbey Carpet & Floor, Anniston, Ala., who reported second quarter sales are up 42% over the year-ago period.
Other retailers say the commitment of today’s shoppers is leading to higher close rates. “Our store beat the projected goal we set for May and June at the beginning of 2020,” said Chris Green, owner of Great Southeast Flooring America, Melbourne, Fla. “Due to the COVID-19 crisis, people are investing in their homes. Usually, people would be spending money on vacations during the summer.”
With few places to safely travel to—here or abroad—and with entertainment options like sports or Broadway not allowing spectators, consumers have stayed home more often and have the disposable income to be spent on projects such as flooring. “We have seen a real uptick in business since the Memorial Day holiday,” said Eric Langan, president and owner of Carpetland USA (The Langan Group), with several locations across Iowa and Illinois. “I attribute that to some pent-up demand being released, coupled with the hard work and focus of our team members. I’m hopeful this positive momentum has some legs.”
Even where traffic is lighter, customers are spending more per average ticket, dealers note. “The biggest surprise has been the size of the jobs—our average job increased by about 30%,” said Eric Mondragon, hard surface buyer for RC Willey Home Furnishings, with 14 locations in four Western states. “Consumers who are coming in are serious buyers and not competitively shopping around as much.”
After a desultory May that saw its business decline 40% from the year-ago period, California-based Carpet One Floor & Home Concord opened its showroom to customers June 1 and promptly produced its highest grossing sales month ever, according to Phil Meyer, owner. His business is currently up 17% over last year.
Even in states where COVID-19 is hitting daily highs and hospital capacity is being stretched, flooring business continues to flourish. “For us, May began a strong rebound that picked up steam in June,” said Kelby Frederick, owner of My Flooring America, Flower Mound, Texas. “We are definitely seeing pent-up demand, but we are also seeing people willing to invest in their home so they can enjoy the amount of time they are spending there.”
Nick Freadreacea, president of The Flooring Gallery, with multiple locations across Louisville, Ky., is one of several retailers experiencing long back-logs—the result of being closed for weeks. Despite this, closing ratios are well above normal. “Everyone seems to be in a rush to get things done,” he told FCNews. “May and June were better than we had expected, and retail is starting to build with serious buyers.”
In that same vein, Lauren Voit, owner of Great Western Flooring in Naperville, Ill., said May and June fared better than expected based on the pandemic and economic uncertainty. “We have seen steady traffic in both the residential remodel and new construction sides of our business,” she said. “Commercial activity has seen the biggest decrease with many of our projects on hold for new brick and mortar businesses, and restaurant work coming to an abrupt halt. One surprise is we are seeing carpet gain share of sales.”
Denise Fike, co-owner of Fike Bros. Carpet One Floor & Home, with three Pennsylvania locations, said that while business is a “mixed bag” right now with the number of new leads down on the retail side, the good news is the close rate is much higher.
Outlook for the remainder of 2020
Flooring retailers are cautiously optimistic about the second half, acknowledging there are many unknown variables that could slow business down such as a major spike in coronavirus cases. There is also the specter of a Presidential election looming.
Asked for his outlook over the next quarter, Adam Joss, co- owner of The Vertical Connection Carpet One Floor & Home, Columbia, Md., quipped: “Outlook? What outlook? Buckle up. The next three-plus months will be a bumpy ride with ups and downs. The key is to survive the ride because there are certainly brighter days ahead.”
To prepare for any possible slowdown, My Flooring America’s Frederick has shifted his business to be more mobile to satisfy the customer’s desire for a personal, touch-less buying experience. “That is paying dividends for us and we believe will help separate us from most of our competition,” he said.
Abbey’s Gregerson is also preparing for a slowdown in the second half. “We realize no one knows the full effect the past three months are going to have on the economy as a whole, and we are therefore still preparing for a drop-in business,” he said. “With us preparing for that, at least we will not be caught off guard if that happens. We do not feel business will drop off dramatically, but enough so that it will make us have to work harder to get it.”
Echoing a familiar refrain, Kevin Rose, owner of Carpetland USA and America’s Flooring Store in Illinois, is expecting a strong third quarter based on his current projections. However, he admits the fourth quarter makes him a little nervous. “I’m staying positive—preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.”