By Ken Ryan
Seemingly undaunted by the COVID-19 virus that has spread even to rural areas across the U.S., scores of specialty floor covering retailers continue to report above-normal sales activity—and, in some cases, record-setting performances.
While flooring dealers are by no means taking a victory lap, there is no doubt they are thrilled with how business has performed after a desultory April that shuttered scores of retail showrooms across the U.S.
Some of the brightest reports today are coming from states now hardest hit—such as Florida and Texas. Dealers there and elsewhere attribute the resurgence to pent-up demand, availability of disposable income and committed shoppers. “Our traffic counts were up in May and June this year, but, more importantly, the quality of the customer coming in is incredibly strong,” said Sam O’Krent, president and owner of O’Krent’s Abbey Flooring in San Antonio.
He reported June was his best month ever for retail sales. “They are serious retail shoppers who want to make their selection and move on. These aren’t people who are ‘thinking’ about replacing their floors.”
O’Krent’s sentiment echoes throughout the U.S.—from the Southwest to the Northeast. As A.J. Boyajian, co-owner of A.J. Rose Carpets & Flooring, with three Massachusetts locations, put it: “If they are making an effort to wear a mask and come into our showroow—which they are—they are serious about buying.”
Once Massachusetts saw cases of COVID-19 decrease, activity ticked up and hasn’t stopped since. “We switched to appointments only, and the close ratio was phenomenal,” Boyajian told FCNews. “We are now appointment ‘preferred,’ but the close ratio is still very high as you do not have a lot of people who come in that are not serious shoppers. This summer has definitely been busier than usual.”
Consumers are ready to spend
Flooring retailers who got a late start because their states were closed found that pent-up demand made up for lost time in June and July.
Others who were not initially impacted as much saw a spike in May and especially June. For Cathy Buchanan, owner of Independent Carpet One Floor & Home, Westland, Mich., July turned out to be much better than June. “The pulse is high, traffic is great,” said Buchanan, whose showroom was closed until May 26. “The average ticket has increased considerably. People coming in are serious buyers for sure.”
Ditto for Typhannie Watson, owner of Carpeting by Mike in Somerset, Wis. The last two months have been the biggest in the company’s 47-year history, she said, and at the current pace, 2020 may eclipse 2019 sales by 20%. “I have hired two more installation teams to work through the amount of work we have on the books,” she said. “Our work in progress typically sits around $275,000. However, we were sitting around $474,000 over the last few weeks. So, we are doing amazingly well in light of the pandemic.”
Written sales have also been on the rise at Frazier’s Carpet One Floor & Home, Knoxville, Tenn., according to Kevin Frazier, owner. “Our written sales number for the eight weeks between May 1 and June 30 were our biggest ever for that particular eight-week stretch—even bigger than 2006,” he told FCNews.
Interestingly, on Jan. 1, 2020—long before the coronavirus began to impact the U.S.— Frazier forecasted a record sales year. Despite the COVID-19 outbreak, Frazier said the store remains on pace to produce its best year ever. “Whatever the factors are that are driving it, the underlying cause is an urgent consumer demand for home improvement right now,” he explained.
While not all retailers are generating record sales, most are seeing above-average action during the middle months. Case in point is Phil Koufidakis, owner of Baker Bros., with multiple locations in the Phoenix metro area. “June was a good month, and traffic and sales were positive,” he said.
While the cases of COVID-19 have ratcheted up in Arizona, Koufidakis acknowledged, “It is true that the traffic is quality, as people are not leaving the house to browse.”
Since opening its Allentown, Pa., showroom on June 5, Crest Flooring’s business has boomed. “The entire month [of June] was busy with people buying—not looking,” said Steve Weisberg, owner. “With the exception of the week around July 4, activity here has been remarkable.”
Even in hard-hit Florida, there are reports of strong traffic and serious shoppers. “We experienced levels of traffic in our stores equal to, or above, our normal seasonal traffic levels,” said John Taylor, owner of Taylor Carpet One Floor & Home, Fort Myers, Fla. “Most were serious buyers and knew what they wanted. We did not have tire kickers.”
In Meadville, Pa., near Pittsburgh, the story has been vibrancy in both residential and commercials sectors. “We have been extremely busy in all areas,” said Mike Foulk, owner of Foulk’s Flooring America. “People wanting to upgrade their residential surroundings and companies investing in their properties have led to a busier than usual summer. We are currently trying to handle as much as we can.”
Ben Case, co-owner of The Carpet Exchange in Lockport, N.Y, said COVID-19 has actually fueled the trend. “People have more disposable income (i.e., fewer vacations) and more time to dwell on home projects, which has created a good place for our industry,” he said. “Some vendors have predicted this strength lasting for the next 36 months.”