What if the other shoe never drops? What if those storm clouds looming in the distance instead dissipate to allow the sun to shine through again. Flooring retailers expecting a rough patch in the second half have discovered that business conditions are actually picking up again for the fall selling season.
To be sure, retail store traffic has softened in 2022, with most observers blaming soaring inflationary costs with spooking some consumers. And yet, flooring retailers keep booking projects—all of which has the makings for another profitable year for the flooring sector.
“I’ve been amazed that it just keeps on going,” Penny Carnino, COO of Grigsby’s Carpet, Tile & Hardwood, Tulsa, Okla., said of business activity. “We are currently 14% up for the year and our business remains strong after a great July. Our commercial business remains very strong without any signs of slowing right now. I’m just thankful we continue with good traffic during these [uncertain] times. So, yes, I’m optimistic for a great fall.”
Grigsby’s is hardly the only retailer reporting sales results that are outpacing 2021—a record year for many flooring retailers. “Our remodel business has been awesome,” said Jon Dauenhauer, co-owner of North- Dakota-based Carpet World Bismarck. “Many customers are finding new homes to be very expensive, so they are spending money updating their current home. We are pleasantly surprised by the amount of walk-in traffic we are still experiencing.”
The idea that 2022 could very well top 2021 is impressive given 50-year-high inflation, supply chain slowdowns and softening housing data. And yet, flooring seems to remain well positioned to weather any economic storm. What’s more, the positive results span the U.S.
For San Jose, Calif.-based Conklin Bros., pent-up demand continues to drive business, according to Rick Oderio, owner of the three-store chain. “The good news is our area is still wak- ing up from the pandemic and finishing jobs,” he explained. “We have more than a few multi-family projects that will keep us busy until the end of the year. Each of these projects was put on hold during the pandemic, so we’re very optimistic about the fall sell- ing season.”
Several flooring retailers reported an uptick in business after July 4th following a subpar June. While there was fear that the June swoon would continue, in some areas that has not been the case. “We were not so optimistic in June as our traffic hit the skids and our July numbers reflected that,” said Matt Wien, owner, Marshall Carpet One & Rug Gallery, Mayfield Heights, Ohio. “After [July 4th] our traffic picked up significantly and we’re on pace for a record August. As kids go back to school and parents are back from summer travel, we anticipate our traffic and sales will continue to move upward. We are extremely optimistic about the upcoming fall selling season.”
Ditto for Eric Langan, who operates nine stores in Iowa and eastern Illinois as owner of Carpetland USA (The Langan Group). “I feel that business will remain good for the fall selling season,” he told FCNews. “While prices are still too high, they seem to have hit their peak and the price of fuel has fallen over the past few weeks. The stock market has recovered a little bit during that same time period; plus, we’re coming off of a better-than-average summer selling season. I feel the fall will provide some solid sales opportunities this year.”
A climate conducive to growth
Many flooring dealers have contributed to their success by being smart about their inventory purchases by staying on top of pricing amid multiple increases this year. And then there are those fortunate to be located in business-friendly states. “Our outlook will continue to be strong through 2022,” said Mike Hayes, owner of David’s Abbey Carpet, Knoxville, Tenn. He said his business is currently running 19% ahead of 2021. “The leadership of our state and local officials continues to move small businesses forward in Tennessee. We have been blessed with consecutive record years.”
Location is also contributing to a record year for Floor Covering International, Franklin, Tenn., where Rich Innes, owner, expects 2022 will eclipse 2021 as his best year ever—and by double digits no less. “I am surprised as we had a hiccup in June and I was concerned about what would happen as inflation was out of control and gas prices were off the charts,” he said. “But people seem to get bored with stuff real quickly. They accepted the fact that inflation was high but realized that we have to move on—and some need flooring. By July things had snapped back and the fall is going to be big. We also benefit by the fact that this place [Franklin, near Nashville] is growing like crazy. I’ve been here since 1997 and can say it is pretty much a recession-proof area.”
For some retailers, their busy season is about to begin. That would include Eric Buehler, owner of Carpets Plus ColorTile in Thayne, Wyo. “Because we live in a seasonal resort area in Wyoming, October and November are busy for us,” he said. “Sales are still strong, walk- in traffic has slowed a bit but new construction and commercial business is staying strong.”
For Marjorie Benson, owner of Friendly Floors in Port Charlotte, Fla., the unrelenting summer heat will soon give way to more favorable conditions. “Our season is when the snowbirds make their way south to escape their winters,” she said.
But before the industry does its happy dance, there remain issues of concern that could dilute sales over the next few months. In housing hotbed Boise, Idaho, there is some hesitancy among consumers creeping in, observers say.
“We’ve certainly seen a slow-down across all elements of the business except for commercial,” said Casey Dillabaugh, president of Dillabaugh’s Flooring America, which operates three locations. “That said, we’re in one of the hottest markets in America over the past two years. A correction here should be felt a little more. The unfortunate part is we’re still in a market that is ‘feeling itself out’—for lack of a better term—and until we start to see some clarity in key areas, I would expect to continue to see hesitation. Whether it’s inflation concerns, raw material costs, interest rates, a cooling housing market and, of course, an upcoming election, folks would like to have some level of predictable stability. Until that stability happens, I’d expect a moderate cool down to continue.”