Attack on America: Flooring retailers mourn their countrymen, ponder the future of their businesses
In the days that followed, American citizens began to pick up the pieces -- literally -- and attempted, as their president urged, to resume their lives. "Getting back to normal," however, has not been such an easy task, as anxious Americans question not only their physical security, but their financial well-being as well.
Though the human and financial costs have yet to be tallied, few would argue that the Sept. 11 tragedy did not send a shockwave through the U.S. economy. National Floor Trends asked retailers from around the country to share with readers how their business has been affected in the wake of the attacks. These are their stories.
Mixed signals in the Western U.S."I don't know about other areas but, in central California, it's been quite busy. [The days immediately following the attack] were off a little, but overall it's gearing up for the holidays. I'm looking to put on some additional personnel," said Ed Vincent of Mr. Ed's Carpet Service in Santa Maria, Calif.
"I hope everyone weathers the terrible acts of [Sept. 11] and puts out a helping hand to those that need the help."
Margee West of Builders Showcase Interiors in Santa Rosa, Calif. notes that her company is not open to the public, but rather has contracts with builders. Her short-term outlook is a bit muted compared to Vincent's. "We understand that unless some one is already buying the home, sales will slow through the end of the year," she said.
At Fresno, Calif.-based A&M Carpet Max, Lee Horwitz, a former president of the WFCA, noticed that customer traffic was particularly limited during the week of the attack. Sales, he added, remain slow for two reasons: "partly financial apprehension, partly shock and upset." Horwitz said he believes many people are still spending time with their families. "Most floor covering purchases are not an immediate need," he added.
Normally, when a big event happens, Horwitz advertises extensively on television and radio. When the terrorist attacks occurred, however, he pulled a lot of ads. "When I watch TV [coverage of the tragedies], I get such a negative feeling...I was afraid people watching would subliminally transfer a negative feeling to the store."
The Southwest feels ripple effects“The week of the 11th was off a little, but has rebounded nicely,” said James Hale, Harmony Carpet Cleaning & Floorcovering in Seminole, Okla. “No layoffs planned or expected. We put our faith in something more reliable than the economy.”
Roger Frederick, CEO and owner of Flooring America of Denton, Texas has seen a "humongous change" in retail sales. "Sales are down 75% to 80%," he said. While consumer sales have been affected, however, commercial business is still good at Frederick’s store.
Frederick believes there are two key factors that will determine the outcome of the current situation. "The one thing in people's minds is the stock market," he says.
The other factor? "When people are not traveling and are home more, they have a tendency to remodel and redecorate...this could be a positive sign," he says.
Frank Rivera, of Image Floor Covering in Albuquerque, N.M. was succinct in his perspective on business. "We haven't noticed much change," he said.
Guarded optimism in the Midwest"Traffic is significantly slower, last week more than this week,” noted Tom Jennings of Lawrence, Kan.-based Carpet One. But Jennings remains guardedly optimistic about the future prospects for floor coverings.
“[Consumers] are still walking on it. They're still wearing it out,” he said. “We assume [business activity] will resurrect...I think, as a people, we're just waiting to see what happens."
Tim Hyland, owner of Floor Covering Brokers in Traverse City, Mich., says that during the first few days following the tragedy, traffic was slower. "People were very uneasy to be in the store," he said. “[they] felt guilty about spending money.”
By the weekend of Sept. 22, however, sales traffic began to increase and is now back to normal at Floor Covering Brokers. Hyland predicts that the second home market will slow down because of the attack, but advises, "you can't jump the gun." He adds, "At this point, people seem to be at ease...but the first week was tough."
Activity runs the gamut in the Northeast"Things weren't outstanding beforehand. [We] noticed a slowdown. People are scaling back," said Albert Benavides of Aldo Carpets in Carteret, N.J. Benavides noted that some customers who committed to buy changed their orders to lower grade products.
But David Hunt of Vermont Custom Rug Co. in Bristol, Vt. had a far more upbeat experience. "Business is better than ever,” he said. “In fact, we have just invested in adding two new woven lines -- one Wilton, one Axminster -- onto the sales floor.
“Cash flow has been very positive, as has the amount of dollars spent per customer purchase,” Hunt added. “The way we see it is, if you plan for an economic slowdown, that's exactly what you'll get. Failure is NOT an option!"
Business pauses, then rebounds in the SoutheastHarry Harles, vice president of Brentwood Carpets in Raleigh, N.C., noticed "a little bit of a drop in retail," but said that commercial sales have stayed the same.
In the tourist town of Naples, Fla. where many people spend their winters, Daniel Setterquist of Setterquist Carpet said a change in sales is hard to gauge because September is a slow time of year for his store. The first couple of days were slow, he said, but the most recent week was been better.
Thomas Hadinger of Hadinger Carpets, also in Naples, Fla. said that, although he experienced a lull for about two weeks, sales are "starting to come back again."