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Flooring dealers/contractors are selling more hardwood floor jobs each month in 2003, according to results from a just-completed Hardwood Flooring Market Trends Study conducted by National Floor Trends magazine in partnership with the market research division of BNP Media. Dealers are now selling an average of 11 hardwood floors each month, compared to nine monthly hardwood sales in 2002.

Fifty-two percent of respondents acknowledged increased residential hardwood sales this year vs. 2002 with another 34 percent stating their year-over-year hardwood volume stayed the same in 2003. Only 14 percent noted a decrease in the wood sector.

Commercial hardwood sales, according to survey respondents, have stayed the same (78 percent), with 14 percent noting a decline in 2003 compared to 2002. Only 8 percent are seeing an increase in commercial hardwood sales.

Bruce was named the top-selling brand of hardwood in this year's study with a 23 percent mention, followed by Mannington Wood at 11 percent, Mohawk and Hartco each with 8 percent. Characteristics cited most often for naming Bruce were name recognition, availability, and selection.

Annual hardwood floor sales average $123,370 per responding dealer/contractor with an average hardwood floor sales ticket of $3,269 (Chart 1).

Forty-eight percent of wood floors are being installed via the nail-down/staple method (up 8 percent from last year); glueless (floating), 27 percent (down 2 percent from 2002); and adhesive on 25 percent of jobs (down 6 percent from 2002) (Chart 2). And, solid and engineered products equally split the market with a 50 percent share each. Prefinished totals 88 percent of all wood sales (up 3 percent from 2002).

The hardwood segment of the floor covering product mix is expected to grow by 2 percent in the next 18 months from a 19 percent share to 21 percent, according to responding floor covering retailers/contractors. Products currently sold by retailers, look like this: carpet/area rugs, 42 percent; ceramic tile, 13 percent; hardwood floors, 19 percent; laminate floors, 11 percent; and sheet vinyl/tile, 15 percent.

According to the study, issues currently impacting the wood floor business are topped by (multiple responses allowed): increasing competition from other flooring channels, 48 percent; increasing numbers of Big Box channels and other flooring types, 43 percent; eroding profit margins, 38 percent; consolidation among retailers and manufacturers, 22 percent; and consumer brand switching, 11 percent.

Fifty-three percent of the respondents said that over the next two years, the hardwood floor manufacturers' biggest challenges will be: alternative hard surface flooring, followed by installation services, 30 percent; product innovation, 28 percent; and ability to meet consumer demands, 27 percent. Other challenges for manufacturers include price, quality control and product availability.

Other important survey findings include: retailer/contractors now use an average of 23 percent (up from 19 percent in 2002) of their store's floor space for hardwood products. More retailers/contractors are recommending hardwood floors to their customers than in 2002 (Chart 3). And, their customers' response to hardwood is higher than last year (Chart 4). The retailer/contractor customer perceives the hardwood characteristics of quality, selection/styling, durability and maintenance at their highest levels with price being viewed more to the average, compared to our 2002 results.

Factors in deciding to sell/promote a particular hardwood flooring brand/manufacturer. Our respondents rated product quality, 94 percent influential; distributor service/support, 82 percent influential; product design and styling, 80 percent influential; and ease of installation/maintenance, 78 percent influential; as the top four factors out of a group of 12. Price, customer request, technical support, sales representatives, training and merchandising support, and rebates and incentive plans were, in descending order, deemed by respondents to be less important factors when deciding to sell a wood floor product (Chart 5).

Our retailer/contractor respondents are using a combination of in-house installers and independent contractors to get the wood job completed. Thirty-two percent use in-house installers only, 31 percent use both in-house and independent labor, and 38 percent use only independent contractors. And, when providing installation services, 89 percent of our retailer/contractors specify all products to be used on the job.

These are just some of the findings in NFT's 2003 Hardwood Flooring Market Trends Study. The complete study is available for $225 each or $195 for multiple copies.