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Flooring dealers brace for long battle ahead

With the gravity of the coronavirus (COVID19) gripping the nation, the government mandating social distancing and schools and businesses closed or on hiatus acrossthe country, flooring dealers have been forced to react quickly to this fluid situation.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended no events with more than 50 people for two months. Then, on March 16, Federal officials recommended people avoid gathering in groups of 10 or more (through at least March 31) in a move to try and blunt the impact of the virus. In addition, guidelines called for schooling to be done at home and discretionary travel and social visits should be avoided.
In the meantime, the flooring industry is scrambling to keep pace with this new reality. CCA Global, which oversees Carpet One Floor & Home and Flooring America, among other entities, held an all-member CCA conference call on March 18 to outline its support. “We’re doing a lot forour members and circumstances are changing rapidly,” Keith Spano, president of Flooring America/Flooring Canada/Floor Trader, told FCNews. “We’re handling an influx of member calls and needs.”

Olga Robertson, president of the FCA Network, said she has discussed business conditions with every dealer in her group. “Some pockets of the country are doing just fine and there’s a steady flow of customers and calls,” she said. “Some customers, however, are taking a wait-and-see approach and postponing measures, but I’m not sure if that’s COVID-19 related, a stock market issue or both.”
Just as the expanding coronavirus has disproportionately impacted the U.S., [as of the morning of March 18, there were more than 1,700 confirmed cases in New York vs. five in North Dakota], the same is true for dealers. In Bismarck, N.D., coowner Jon Dauenhauer of Carpetworld Bismarck, said, “So far, it has been business as usual, but I anticipate that to change in the coming weeks.”
Eric Langan, owner of Carpetland USA (The Langan Group), with nine locations in Iowa and Illinois, said the situation will have a negative impact on its own business and on the industry alike. “The length and depth of the impact is what is so concerning,” he said. “No one knows how long these restrictions and bans are going to last or when we can return to some sense of normalcy.”
In Pennsylvania, nonessential businesses have closed, a development that has created a challenging environment for retailers like Mike Foulk of Foulk’s Flooring America, Meadville. “Some places want work done while they are shut down and others, such as the medical profession, cannot run the risk of having extra people on site,” he explained. “Retail traffic has come to a screeching halt. However, Main Street and bid commercial remain strong in most instances.”
While attempting to run a business, retailers are also trying to ensure the utmost safety for employees and customers. At Carpet Country and Barrington Carpet & Flooring Design, Twinsburg, Ohio, owner Craig Phillips said his intention is to stay open for business until otherwise instructed by officials. “We have ample supply of cleaning products that we are asking our employees to use at their workstations several times a day. I’ve asked our staff to abide by the 6-foot rule when working with other staff or customers, including no handshakes. Most importantly, I’ve asked our folks that if they show symptoms of the coronavirus that they stay home and get well.”
Elisabeth Stubbs, Enhance Floors & More, Marietta, Ga., joked that her showroom is cleaner than it has ever been from all the constant sanitizing. On a more serious note, she said, “The phones are dead, and traffic has dropped off tremendously. I have laid off one person.”
Allaying fears
That level of uncertainty is pervasive throughout the industry. Questions like, “How much longer will this last?” and “When will it peak?” are being asked. One flooring dealer told FCNews, “Cash flow is going to be a very real issue for dealers, and I’m concerned many are going to get wiped out.”
In the meantime, dealers are monitoring developments to determine next moves and contingencies. “This has been a very trying event to lead through,” said Lauren Voit, owner of Great Western Flooring in Naperville, Ill. “We just aren’t sure what we can sustain as a company until protecting everyone in the short term turns into financial losses that hurt the company and everyone in the long term. We know people depend on their income and we want to provide that.”
Cathy Buchanan, owner of Independent Carpet One Floor & Home, Westland, Mich., sent a letter to her customers outlining steps her store had taken to provide a safe environment. “We want you to feel comfortable coming into our store for all your flooring needs,” she wrote. Buchanan also offered a slew of incentives for those customers who may choose to stay home.
In hard-hit Washington state, Ilaria Hare Heiderich of Seattlebased Floorworks Inc./Flooring America said the level of anxiety everyone is feeling in her area was palpable. “Universities and schools have been closed, so we’ve had a few clients want to postpone their installs because they don’t want the added chaos in their homes,” she explained. “Traffic has been sporadic.”
The flooring industry has dealt with crises before—recessions, natural disasters, terrorist attacks. And now COVID-19. “All I can say is stay positive, keep smiling and keep 6 feet between you and the other guy,” FCA’s Robertson said. “As they say, ‘This, too, shall pass.”’