Unlike the residential market, which is essentially single family housing and most often dealing with remodels, the commercial sector is a vast sea of segments, ranging anywhere from corporate offices to healthcare to education to hospitality to retail to government/military and technically anything else not handled by the typical neighborhood retailer.
And, unlike residential, which is generally easier to gauge in terms of how business is doing, the vastness of the commercial market can be hard to figure out, as one segment could be booming while another is struggling. By the same token, how the commercial sector is doing could also depend on where you are in the country as some places are more suited to a particular area, such as government/military or healthcare.
Nonetheless, when taken as a whole, there is no question the commercial industry is improving. Granted, business—in most cases—is not back to the way it was prior to the recession but based on conversations with flooring contractors from around the country things are getting better.
But as already noted, the better part depends on where you are and also what areas of the commercial market a company most targets.
Harold Chapman, president of Bonitz Flooring Group in Greenville, S.C., noted while the year got off to a slow start following what was one of the company’s best quarters at the end of 2013 “our backlog has picked up over the last couple of months and I think the third and fourth quarters of this year should be pretty good. It is still highly competitive in the market but there is still some pent up demand that has helped fill some of the voids. I think 2015 could be a really good year for the commercial sector.”
Healthcare is still the firm’s largest market segment and “this will probably continue over the next several years,” he said. “There is still some uncertainty with how things will shake out with the [new] healthcare program so some organizations are putting projects on hold. But others are moving forward because of the aging of the baby boomers. The healthcare providers are vying for everyone’s dollar so they must update and modernize in order to attract business.”
After healtcare, Chapman said education is still good with higher education leading the way in building or renovating existing facilities.” Interestingly, he pointed out there “seems to be a direct correlation where college sports teams have success—the money seems to flow. Not just money for sporting facilities but money for academic facilities. Alums don’t mind donating when winning is involved.”
While government and miliary was holding strong, he feels it “will be down over the next few years especially coming up on an election year. And, although Bonitz doesn’t do much in multi-family “it seems to still be strong. A lot of people were hurt with the last recession and some are cautious about home ownership. Some of the young people also like the flexibility renting versus ownership offers them. The corporate sector made some improvements during 2013 but it is still not as robust as it was prior to 2008 but up over 2012.”
Speaking of multi-family, Dave Triepke, president of Universal Metro in Santa Fe Springs, Calif., cited this as a large segment, though with a bit of a caveat. In the vein the commercial market is fragmented in many areas, the projects he is seeing in his market are not just multifamily housing jobs.
“These are projects that have different aspects to them,” he explained. “They have retail stores at the street level and then move up to housing but in different ways. That is, on the lower floors they are at the more affordable levels, and as you move up the building the apartments become larger and more high end.”
For Carlton Billingsley of Floors and More in Benton, Ark., “Our market has seen a surge of education and hospitality projects over the last couple of years. We have enjoyed many primary/secondary projects due to an increase in new building opportunities.
“Also new projects in hospitality and retrofits have kept us busy working toward achieving the end use clients goals,” he added. “Our backlog of projects through the first quarter of 2015 will be primarily in education, but I’m starting to see the momentum shifting to more specialized healthcare projects. This would be such things as a wound care facility, an added wing to an existing hospital for specific care, etc. We are starting to develop some nice contracts for this market segment that will begin end of this year or the first of 2015.”
Randy Rubenstein of Rubenstein’s Contract Carpet in Seattle, said, “For the first time since 2008, there is some reason for cautious optimism in our market areas. We’ve seen upticks in hospitality and corporate as well as continued momentum in high rise multi-family. Healthcare appears to be steady, but education is lagging due to the lack of successful bond issues.”
He believes the growth is occurring in the way it is “because of a general increase in confidence in the health of the overall economy in general. And while we don’t expect a return to the go-go years, we do expect to see a steady but modest continued growth pattern.”
Robert Sabosik, president of M.E. Sabosik Associates in Point Pleaseant, N.J., feels “the hottest segments are going to be Class A office renovations due to the fact a majority of companies have not renovated in a number of years because of the softness of the economy.” These, he explained, are the high-end offices, the ones considered to be top tier in terms of their locations and their tenants.
Healthcare is another area Sabosik thinks “will be on the upswing for I see a a growing use of LVT in certain areas to give a new look and appeal to some aged structures.” When it comes to the healthcare segment he pointed out places such as assisted living facilities and specialty care units are where the majority of the growth is coming from but in general it is a segment destined for good things over the next few years.
Moving toward the middle of the country, Leonard Zmijewski, CEO of Mr. David’s Flooring International in Chicago, said, “Overall business seems to be very positive. Obviously there are challenges, but the economy as a whole seems to be improving.”
When it comes to the hotter segments of his business, he said they are healthcare and hospitality, “as both have been very strong over the last year. Within healthcare, hospitals still seem to be building and we expect them to continue to build through 2020. We believe assisted living will likely be doing major work starting later this year and continuing for years to come.”
In the hospitality area, Zmijewski noted, “We have specifically seen a major increase in boutique hotels doing a lot of work.”
John Stanfield, president of Resource Colorado in Denver, said, “In our market, we are finding business to be strong through the first part of the year. Healthcare and government projects are where have seen the largest growth over the same period compared to last year. We see the healthcare market as a growth area with the senior living and assisted living being where the emphasis is shifting along with urgent care facilities. Denver and Colorado are popular areas for seniors so we see this as a continuing opportunity.”
Two other areas he described as positive are corporate and multifamily. On the corporate side, “it is holding steady with several large projects on the boards to happen this year.”
In multifamily, Stanfield said, “We have a large supply of these projects coming on line this year, as there are 34,000 apartments planned to be completed going into 2015.”