By Ken Ryan
It was the year of the comeback for flooring retailers in 2020—a year in which dealers endured weeks of showroom shutdowns during the initial phase of COVID-19 only to bounce back stronger than ever, many producing record sales performances.
There was a time in late March when some successful and seasoned flooring retailers said they believed their business was in serious trouble. Fast-forward to December and many of the same dealers are talking about sales numbers that surpassed 2019 or were close to matching them.
Clearly, the coronavirus shutdown affected retailers differently depending on their location. For some, it was more of a slowdown than shutdown while others were completely closed for nearly three months. And yet, businesses from coast to coast came back to a degree that few, if any, saw coming.
“With how hard we were hit up in the Northeast and how long we were shut down, we never expected to bounce back the way we have,” said A.J. Boyajian, co-owner of A.J. Rose Carpet & Flooring, with three Massachusetts locations. “2020 will represent our worst residential months on record [by far] as well as our best. That summarizes how unprecedented 2020 has been. We had some of our busiest residential months on record from September to November, which has been a pleasant surprise. A lot of it was pent-up demand but a lot is a result of the focus on investing in the home that our economy is seeing. This has a been a very big and welcomed surprise for 2020.”
Josh Elder, owner of Gainesville CarpetsPlus ColorTile in Gainesville, Fla., echoed that sentiment, adding, “If you asked me back in March—with the nation starting to close—I would have been way off on my forecast for this year. [As it turned out], we have had a record year and will finish about 10% up over 2019. New home starts and commercial projects were two categories that we grew the most this year, helping to make what could have been a bleak year into a great one.”
Stories like those shared by Boyajian and Elder are not uncommon across the landscape. Carpeting by Mike, Somerset, Wis., has notched a record year, overcoming a slow start in January and February, followed by the pandemic. “I had so much uncertainty and fear of the coming months,” said Typhannie Watson, owner. “When we reopened, customers were ready to shop. We have exceeded our monthly goals, month over month since April. Our work has doubled and continued to stay there in the last six months. I was expecting it to slow down or taper off, but it has been at the same crazy speed since April.”
Business has also been operating at warp speed for Abbey Carpet & Floor, Anniston, Ala., which is closing out 2020 with record years for both of owner Ted Gregerson’s two retail stores—as well as the entire company (he also owns a Floors to Go store). The record year was achieved, he said, despite his commercial division being down 20%. “The fact that people continued to spend money on home projects for the entire year was not something we were expecting given this year’s situation,” Gregerson stated.
CarpetsPlus ColorTile of Wyoming had a record sales year in 2019; however, its 2020 total will exceed 2019’s numbers by 25%, according to Eric Buehler, owner. Like many others, he said he was taken aback by the resurgence in business after the spring. “When May came, it was like the flood gates opened. We had so many requests from customers that were moving here from large cities because they realized if they could work from home they can live anywhere. We had several customers from Arizona, Florida and California who just bought a house without seeing it in person and wanted us to change all the floors before they got here.”
Despite all of the uncertainty and anxiety experienced during 2020, Tulsa, Okla.-based Johnson Floor and Home generated more business this year than in 2019. “I continue to be pleasantly surprised by the overall optimism of American consumers,” said Palmer Johnson, vice president. “This optimism goes a long way in fueling the economy. Despite what everyone hears when they turn on their television sets, Americans still see their homes as relatively safe investments.”
Even those flooring retailers who didn’t set records in 2020 have something to feel good about it. In many cases, they rallied from a potentially catastrophic year to almost break-even. A case in point: Independent Carpet One Floor & Home in Westland, Mich. “I honestly thought on March 23 of this year that the end was close,” said Cathy Buchanan, owner. “All the doom and gloom of something never experienced before has turned around to be just a down year based on numbers. When it’s all compiled, and the year of the pandemic is over, we will be down written sales only 2.5%, which is much better than I had expected. Delivered sales are a different thing; I know that will turn around for 2021 as we have been installing so many jobs this last quarter.”
Lauren Voit, owner of Great Western Flooring, Naperville, Ill., said her overall sales will be down this year, despite a surge in later summer and fall that couldn’t quite offset the sales losses during the shutdown. “Some of our key commercial jobs were restaurants that canceled their projects altogether this year,” Voit explained. “What surprised me the most this year has been the housing market. While the supply and demand make sense to me, the instability of the global/national economy combined with unemployment rates would have suggested the opposite of what we saw happen this year. We are grateful for the boost that housing has given to this industry.”
While 2020 will certainly go down as an unprecedented year, the lasting effects of the coronavirus on retail may be felt much longer, according to some dealers. “The pandemic changed business forever as people are paying more attention to who is entering their living spaces and what safety precautions they take,” said Mike Foulk, owner, Foulk’s Flooring America, Meadville, Pa. “The whole supply chain seems to have changed as well. Companies have had to streamline their whole process from start to finish due to fewer employees working. We have seen a large swing to ordering and tracking online.”
Despite these challenges, Foulk’s 2020 numbers will also surpass that of 2019—as the surge in business that started in May ignited a great comeback.