By Ken Ryan Some flooring retailers have referred to 2021 as the “best/worst year ever”—a record sales campaign achieved despite myriad challenges that hamstrung many dealers, leading to record back logs.
As the year winds down, 2021 will go down as one of the most wonderfully difficult years in the annals of the flooring trade, long-time retailers report. “To say our people and our customers are quite fed up with the situation would be an understatement,” said Craig Phillips, president of Barrington Carpet, who owns two other retail businesses in Ohio.
Despite his comments, Phillips’ businesses achieved record sales in 2021.
For Taylor Carpet One Floor & Home in Fort Myers, Fla., 2021 sales “have been beyond belief,” said John Taylor, owner. Less than two years ago, Taylor said he wondered if he would even have a business amid the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Here we are a year later with a record-setting year.”
At Carlson Flooring America, another Fort Myers-based dealer, traffic slowed during the pandemic for a period of just a few weeks. After that, sales came back with a fury. “It not only came back, it flourished!” said Travis Carlson, vice president. And it’s been going like gangbusters ever since.”
Among other reasons outside the usual spike retailers experienced via higher consumer expenditures on home improvements as a result of people spending more time at home, Carlson cited another factor: southbound migration. “We saw a high volume of people moving to Florida on a daily basis from other states because of the leniency in regulations here,” he explained. “People are literally trying to get away from certain types of politics and look at Florida as the gateway, so to speak. They’re coming down here to play, and they need flooring.”
No cake walk
The record-setting 2021 for flooring dealers wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t pretty. An ongoing supply-chain slowdown, worsening inflation and labor shortages (not to mention COVID-19 variants) challenged the resolve of the industry and forced many to adapt.
As Dan Mandel, co-owner of Anaheim, Calif.-based Sterling Carpet and Flooring, explained, “The shipping backlog is a problem for everyone, but with our warehouse expansion we were able to start inventorying a lot more product and, in turn, have ready-to-go stock. I think this helped us gain market share as competitors who don’t have stock were put at a disadvantage.”
It seemed no matter the obstacle placed in their path, flooring retailers were able to navigate around it. For example, RC Willey Home Furnishings in Salt Lake City dealt with inventory shortages by tagging the products on its floor that had extended back orders so its RSAs and customers were aware and could choose product. “I had very few complaints or cancellations due to back orders and being booked out over six weeks to install,” said Eric Mondragon, hard surface flooring buyer for RC Willey. “I am most proud of the fact that we were able to handle a 20% increase in volume with shortened store hours and about 20% less in personnel. We have already surpassed 2020 numbers by $10 million and we are on track to have a record-setting year ($70 million), 20% ahead of 2020.”
When it comes to back orders, flooring retailers agreed they have never experienced anything quite like 2021 as the global supply-chain slowdown—coupled with lack of installers—created delays that kept top-line sales from being even higher.
For many, inventory was king. “We increased inventory dramatically to ensure we would always have stock available,” said Ted Gregerson, president/CEO, Abbey Carpet & Floor, Anniston, Ala. “We had many more store meetings and management meetings throughout the year to ensure we could stay ahead of any potential problems.”
During the year, Gregerson’s No. 1 salesperson, who sold $2 million annually, retired; he lost another key employee to relocation. “We are very proud of the fact that we were able to have a record year in spite of losing two key members of our team, and all the other challenges this year presented,” he told FCNews. “That is a testament to the amazing people we have working here, and their determination to succeed no matter what.”
Other dealers like Phoenix-based Baker Bros., which operates multiple locations, shared their praise for staff members during these challenging times. According to Phil Koufidakis, president, 2021 was a “great year” for business, as the company achieved substantial increases not only over 2020 but also 2019. “We could have not achieved the success we did without their amazing results-driven effort,” he said. “Overall communication was huge. We gave everyone the proper expectation of challenges that might be presented before, during and after install or delivery.”
Unlike some of his colleagues, Taylor from Taylor’s Carpet One said supply-chain issues have not negatively impacted his business, which posted record sales in 2021. “We have had to re-educate our sales team as back-order dates need to be discussed up front and the need to purchase now rather than later because of all of the price increases,” he explained. “We told our people from the beginning that we had to over-communicate so the consumers’ expectations could be met. Our people really performed above expectations in a very tough period of time.”
After a record-setting performance in 2020, Sterling Carpet and Flooring beat that mark by nearly 20% in 2021, according to Mandel, who defied labor shortages by hiring multiple new sales associates, installers, a new office staff, and he expanded his warehouse. “The growth and expansion is something we did not foresee but luckily, with our incredible team here, we have taken advantage of the opportunity. The labor shortage was another tough obstacle, but we have somehow managed to pick up five or six additional crews in the last couple months alone. We raised our labor rates and also kept the guys busy—which I think helped a lot.”
Mandel said he is proud of the work ethic and enthusiasm his team demonstrated—from the warehouse to the office staff, salespeople and managers. “Everyone comes to work with a can-do attitude and a great team mentality,” he said. “No job is too small or too big and everyone has pitched in during these crazy times to help us grow.”
The Vertical Connection Carpet One Floor & Home, Columbia, Md., also adapted to what life threw at them. “As with anything in life you just figure it out,” said Adam Joss, owner. “We set different expectations with clients; our team worked tirelessly to keep up and we stayed focused on being successful. Our team is the best in the business. A ‘good year’ doesn’t mean an easy year. It really takes a dedicated team to managing and overcome the many challenges that we faced this year.”