As a retailer or hardwood flooring consumer, have you ever thought about the impact domestic wood manufacturers have—not only in the flooring world we all live in, but on the economy as a whole? Do you think about how buying decisions and sales you make every day impact all those financial numbers we read about in The Wall Street Journal—or hear about on the nightly news?
While it is difficult to get exact numbers, industry estimates put wood flooring manufacturing sales between $2 billion (more recently) to $2.7 billion at its high in 2005. Whatever the exact number, it’s significant—yet the number takes into account only the sales dollars that manufacturers generate.
It does not reflect the full scope of the entire economic impact.
Perhaps the most important impact is job creation. There are thousands of jobs in wood flooring manufacturing facilities across the country, mostly in the Appalachian region where job creation is particularly critical. While there are always ebbs and flows, and certainly the economic downturn caused some job loss, wood flooring continues to rebound, gain market share, and conversely create more jobs as this growth occurs.
Additionally, there is residual job growth when domestic manufacturing expands. Sawmills supply lumber, retailers add staff—the economic growth ripples throughout the economy.
Reports indicate that for every one manufacturing job created, there are another three additional jobs created. For example, at Somerset Hardwood, we stopped importing engineered flooring years ago, and invested in our own facility to produce engineered flooring in Crossville, Tenn. Not only did that result in improving our product quality, it added jobs then and continues to add jobs now as we grow the product line. These are jobs that were once performed in China.
As an industry, we must be conscious of our decisions when we do business. If we relinquish jobs to another country, fewer people in America will make the salary to have the income to purchase flooring and other products that drive our economy.
It’s simple economics, but we can’t overlook the positive ripple effect on the overall economy, when consumers decide to purchase domestically manufactured products. Research shows that for every $1 spent in manufacturing, another $1.35 is added to our economy. It is not an accident when you see reports about the growth of the Chinese middle class, while simultaneously reading about the decline of America’s.
How much of that trend is our own doing?
In addition to job creation, there are other important contributions made in our country by domestic wood flooring manufacturers. There is endless conversation these days about being green. And, there are certainly two sides of the debate about the impact of the various programs in place.
But, let’s not forget that domestic wood flooring manufacturers have been environmentally responsible, i.e., green, long before green was cool. Who has more interest in making sure that an ample supply of healthy trees are available, than those of us who depend on them for a living?
Domestic manufacturers have countless programs in place—from replanting of trees, to land management, to conservation and other programs they not only sponsor, but also invest in heavily.
For example, I would bet very few people are aware companies like Somerset has foresters on staff that compile 100-year plans to protect and properly harvest the forests we own. In addition, we repurpose thousands of tons of by-product sawdust to produce wood fuel pellets that are shipped to customers in the U.S. This not only keeps waste out of landfills, but the fuel helps reduce our country’s dependence on fossil fuels.
Many manufacturers in the industry are not given credit for the work they do—and have been doing—every day to make our country cleaner and stronger.
The fact is, we have a strong, reliable and growing base of hardwood manufacturing in this country that offers consumers a full range of exciting, excellent quality flooring choices, and in doing so, also makes a positive impact on their communities and the economy.
North American, and particularly Appalachian hardwoods are among the most beautiful and durable species in the world. In many instances, manufacturers in this country have set the standard for quality and style in hardwood flooring. As such, part of our industry’s charge is to at least make buyers aware of their American-made choices.
Beyond that, it is often helpful to educate buyers about the many benefits of American-made flooring and the benefits of buying locally—confidence, service, support. Consumers aren’t always aware of their choices. When you combine domestic and import products, there are so many brands, styles and options, it can be overwhelming to consumers. They look to retailers, and sometimes manufacturers, for expert advice and assistance.
Today, there is an amazing range of styles, colors, textures, etc., all made by American manufacturers. And when it comes to making a purchase decision as important as wood flooring, if consumers are educated, the decision isn’t always driven by the cheapest price.
A recent industry survey stated retailers had two main concerns related to the success of their business: The economy and manufacturers selling direct.
I continue to be amazed every day when I travel the country and see all the imported products being sold. Now, I know the retail argument: “I need a hot price; I get great quality from this import product at half the price I could get from a domestic supplier.” I get it. I don’t blame the retailer at all.
But, what does concern me is that, often, they don’t—at least—get to know the domestic lines, educate the consumer about the availability of domestic product lines, and let the consumer make an informed decision. I get calls almost every week from customers who say they love our product and while it may have cost more than some other choice they could have made, they wanted to buy American.
We love those calls, because, they get it. But, if retailers don’t even take the time to make sure their customers know that domestic products exist, some manufacturers may be forced to get that information—and sometimes the product—to the consumer directly. I can assure retailers that would not be the first choice of most manufacturers.
This brings us to the final and major point: Win-win scenarios. While business is business, and retailers need to run their businesses as they see fit, I want to stress there is huge value in making sure you give domestic manufacturers every opportunity. Obviously the sales will be a great benefit for both of us, but never underestimate the impact those sales have on our country as a whole. There are thousands of jobs that rely on your decisions.
As an example, Somerset is heavily vested in doing business with our distribution partners. We sell only through the distributor/retail channel. No big boxes, no big discount chains, etc. So, having a successful relationship with retailers is essential to our continued success and to the jobs of our hundreds of employees and the families they support—just as it is to most domestic manufacturers.
There are consumers who prefer to buy Made in the USA. My advice is to make sure you have that choice available for them, and also make sure you understand the full value of selling domestically manufactured hardwood flooring. It’s more important than you may think, and you, as a retailer, have the opportunity every day to help our industry make a positive impact on the future of our country.
Paul Stringer is vice president of sales and marketing for Somerset, a vertically integrated forest products company with multiple manufacturing facilities in the Appalachian region of the U.S. His leadership in the company extends from the development and launch of Somerset’s prefinished products in 1999 through 15 years of impressive growth. He was instrumental in Somerset’s recent commitment to expand operations to manufacture all flooring in the U.S. He can be reached by calling (877) 404-9663 or emailing email@example.com.