By Ken Ryan— Despite a host of potential roadblocks—inflationary pressure, the Delta variant, ongoing supply-chain slowdowns and a lack of installers—flooring retailers, for the most part, continue to report strong business activity through early August. With nearly two-thirds of the calendar year in the books, the flooring retail segment remains on pace to match or possibly outperform 2020, which was a stellar year despite—or because of—COVID-19.
“We are consistently booked out eight weeks on installation as business continues to remain strong,” said Eric Mondragon, hard surface flooring buyer for Salt Lake City-based RC Willey, with 15 locations across four Western states. “With flooring installers still in short supply, we are running at max capacity, but most consumers are OK waiting as they have come to the realization that there is a waiting list to hire anybody for any home improvement project.”
Several retailers said July was a record month for business. That list included John Taylor, president of Taylor Carpet One Floor & Home, Fort Myers, Fla. “Business has continued to be very strong throughout the summer,” he told FCNews. “We had a record July and although traffic decreased compared to a few months ago, it was still stronger than most summers. The real estate market continues to be strong and, therefore, spurring a lot of home improvement opportunities for us. We are getting all sizes of jobs but are still seeing a fairly good amount of larger-size jobs.”
On a year-to-date basis, Ted Gregerson’s Abbey Carpet & Floor and Floors To Go in Anniston, Ala., is up 7% over 2020, which was an outstanding year for business. While retail traffic over the last 60 days has slowed to some degree, Gregerson cited summer vacations as the reason rather than a slowdown in business.
The still-robust activity comes despite price increases at the gas pumps, grocery stores and car dealerships that have made consumers more concerned with their disposable money, retailers said. In fact, the Labor Department reported that its consumer price index rose 5.4% in July from a year earlier, matching the largest jump since August 2008.
Steve Weisberg, president of Crest Flooring, Allentown, Pa., said he has noticed a slowdown since mid-July. “That could be due to a number of factors—the nature of the time of the year with vacations, etc., taking precedence,” he explained. “While we’ve been fortunate to have been so busy while spending less on advertising, I am planning a finance promotion to help drive business in October through mid-November.”
RC Willey’s Mondragon said he expects the third quarter to end up 30% above the prior- year period. How the fourth quarter fares, he said, will depend in part on its Labor Day sale and fall private sale (formerly known as a Stainmaster sale). “Our question of ‘Did we take the holiday sales out of the market early this year?’ will be answered; or are there still consumers wanting to get projects done before the holidays? Will families try to get back to some normal family gatherings this holiday season? Only time will tell.”
For now, retailers are finishing up a strong third quarter even though back orders remain an obstacle. “Some customers are understanding about the [delayed back orders]; some are not,” said Penny Carnino, COO, Grigsby’s Carpet, Tile & Hardwood, Tulsa, Okla. “Most people are waiting regardless. We do lots of commercial as well as residential, and both are still vibrant and strong, including the builder portion of our business. Based on what we are still doing, I think the fall will remain strong. We are currently up 15% and are hoping for a strong finish for the year.”
With the lumber shortage becoming less of an issue, the home improvement sector is still moving along at a high pace. That’s according to Matt Wien, manager of Marshall Carpet One & Rug Gallery, Mayfield Heights, Ohio. “Business is still as strong as it ever was,” he said. “We expect a very strong fall heading into the holidays.”
While most retailers agree that business has remained strong, many dealers acknowledge there are signs the pace of retail activity is slowing, and that the commercial side is becoming more conscious about cost. Mike Foulk, owner of Foulk’s Flooring America, Meadville, Pa., is one of those concerned. “We as an industry need to start conveying optimism instead of [talking about] the shipping costs, price escalations and shortage of materials as people are starting to listen and pull back,” he said. “Our installers are busy and will remain busy to catch up. Cash and carry is slowing down. Sales on future work is becoming more competitive as people are looking at costs with a closer eye.”