As part of an on-going effort to stay current on key industry issues and market trends, National Floor Trends sponsors several market studies each year. These quantitative research studies serve as the foundation for a series of informative, educational features designed to give a deeper, more insightful look at the state of the floor covering industry.

The purpose of NFT’s hardwood market study is to obtain feedback from flooring dealers/contractors concerning the hardwood flooring business in today’s competitive marketplace. Specifically, the study seeks to identify:
  • Retail business activity and hardwood flooring sales
  • Changes in the sourcing and distribution of hardwood flooring
  • Issues facing the hardwood flooring segment of the retail business
  • Future business expectations

Chart 1

The survey went out in early January to 6,083 active, qualified domestic NFT subscribers, selected on an Nth name basis, whose primary business is flooring dealer/contractor.

First, the good news: after a dismal 2010, annual sales of hardwood flooring products rebounded sharply in 2011, with respondents reporting sales almost doubling year over year to more than $308,000(Chart 1). Around 70 percent of those sales came from residential replacement, followed by builder/new construction at 23 percent. The commercial market, however, continued to maintain a relatively low profile in the high single digits.

Factory pre-finished wood, as you’d expect, continues to dominate, making up 86 percent of respondents’ sales last year. Job-site finished flooring claimed the other 14 percent. But that was then, this is now: when asked to gauge the sales potential going forward for hardwood in the residential segment, 56 percent of respondents said they expect business to “increase or significantly increase” in 2012, with 37 percent expecting things to remain the same. That sentiment is basically flipped around when respondents were asked about the commercial market: 28 percent expect an “increase or significant increase” in business, while 62 percent expect sales to remain steady.

Chart 2

Interestingly, when it comes to total sales, respondents on average expect hardwood products to make up slightly less of their overall mix in 2012 (20%) than they did in 2011 (24%)(Chart 2).

As with all segments of the floor covering industry, an uneven economy mixed with cautious consumers made last year’s retail landscape somewhat unpredictable. And as you might expect, when talking about the single most important issue facing the hardwood flooring segment, it comes down to dollars. More specifically, it’s competitive pricing that 44 percent of respondents cited as issue No. 1, and that’s not expected to change any time soon. Foreign imports (12%), competition from other hard surfaces (11%) consumer knowledge of products (7%) and other concerns lag far behind.

One of hardwood’s greatest selling points is, of course, quality; consumers have high expectations when they’re considering a hardwood floor, and retailers know that if a problem arises, they’re sure to hear about it sooner than later. So much of the literature, though, focuses on thewhatof quality instead of looking at thewhere. We thought it would be interesting, then, to go beyond the usual brand/width/finish questions and ask “Do you have more wood product quality issues with domestic or imported materials?”(Chart 3)

Chart 3

  More than twice as many respondents (40%) said they had more issues with imported products than with domestic materials (17%). That said, this marks a dramatic change from 2009, when 63 percent said they had more quality issues with imported products.  In addition to product quality (70%), the “very important” factors affecting the evaluation of a product line, price (60%) and product availability (58%) round off the top three. Interestingly, the environmentally friendly aspect and supporting marketing and merchandising products were cited by respondents as the least important. (Chart 4)
As new styles and trends influence the floor covering market, and (fingers crossed) the economy keeps showing improvement, it’s a good bet that hardwood will continue gaining in strength, momentum and market share.

Chart 4

The NFT Market Study Series is intended to help manufacturers and retailers better understand their markets and, more importantly, each other. This article is a snapshot of a comprehensive study examining trends and opinions in and of the floor covering industry. The conclusions are based on the opinions, preferences and purchasing behavior of professionals who agreed to participate in the survey.

The survey was conducted and findings were compiled by BNP Market Research, a division of BNP Media. To find out more, contact Ulka Bhide at