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Distribution: Wood

Leading the industry out of the woods

By Ken Ryan

Oct. 21/28 2013; Volume 27/number 13

No flooring product has benefited more from the uptick in new home construction and an improving economic picture than hardwood flooring. For some distributors, wood has risen 15% to 20% in 2013, after 2012 outperformed 2011.

“Wood has been the strongest category,” said Bruce Zwicker, president and CEO, J.J. Haines, the industry’s No. 1 distributor. According to Zwicker, the improvement started in late 2010 and slowly continued in 2011 and 2012, with 2013 the strongest of the three years. “The uptick in home building in 2013 helped sustain the momentum. It will be interesting to see how long such momentum continues as rising interest rates and other macroeconomic factors suggest a [slowdown],” he said.

John Anderson, vice president at BPI, reported his company’s wood business is up 16% to date in 2013, and 2012 eclipsed 2011 by low double digits. “The residential market, especially the new home construction business, has bounced back overall, but particularly in Texas,” he said.

A classic, popular choice

Even during the darkest days of the downturn, from 2007 through 2009, hardwood flooring never lost its appeal as a fashion choice among homeowners, distributors said. Back then, however, many consumers postponed their purchases. Now that the housing sector is on firmer footing, business has picked up.

Screen Shot 2013-10-28 at 9.29.58 AMRick Holden, COO at Derr Flooring, said he noticed a slow building in early 2012 that continued throughout the year. “After the first quarter [in 2012], following three months of growth, I thought, ‘Hey this isn’t bad, maybe we’re in for a nice run here.’”

By mid-2013, hardwood flooring was flourishing in all channels­—residential replacement, builder, even commercial. Domestic species, including oak and hickory, displaced exotic foreign species such as Santos mahogany and Brazilian cherry as market favorites. Moreover, handscraped, handcrafted, distressed and gray/metallic finishes enhanced the domestic market greatly.

Supply and demand

Having the right inventory and being able to deliver it efficiently and on time is crucial to being successful these days, said Bob Eady, senior vice president of sales and marketing, T&L Distributing. “Price and products are meaningless unless you can deliver it immediately,” he added.

Noting that wood is T&L’s largest category at 45.5%, Eady noted, “We are very fortunate to have the two best national brands of wood in Anderson and Mannington, and they both continue to grow and prove to be brands that dealers can depend on domestically. Again, it’s back to having inventory. In most cases their products are produced in the USA and available in much shorter lead times than our imports.”

Galleher president Jeff Hamar added that the company sees faster growth in wood continuing. “For us, and for people who are really focused on the category, wood is a growth market. You can’t have one, two or three lines and say you are in the wood category. You need a wide platform of products, multiple brands, multiple lines, multiple species, multiple looks to really take advantage of this category.”

To that point, Jonathan Train, vice president of Swiff-Train, said his company has greatly diversified its portfolio of hardwood suppliers compared to the past. “Way back when we would have 50 SKUs, and 10 or 15 of them would do 80% of the business. Now we have 150 to 200 SKUs to do the same volume of business.”

The formula is working for Swiff-Train, which has seen its wood business grow 20% in 2013. “This is the highest we have ever been in the wood category,” Train said.

Said one leading distributor, “They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. If that is the case, the industry truly admires wood looks because whether it is laminate, vinyl or ceramic, wood visuals are the hottest buys these days. Of course, there is nothing better than the real thing, and wood is ‘it’.”