Tom Davis, CEO of Mannington Mills, did not mince words during Wednesday's open house for his company's commercial division. "This is the worst housing slump I've seen since probably World War II," he told the architects and designers on hand at Mannington's headquarters in Salem, N.J. Despite that dire assessment, he also saw a silver lining -- the continued expansion of the commercial market.
"The commercial business is doing great, and we see that though there may be a pause coming, there is long-term growth ahead," he said.
With the economy struggling and lawmakers in Washington squabbling over the details of a $700 billion rescue package for the troubled financial sector, it's hard to argue that the situation has reached a boiling point. It may even lead to quick, panicked decisions from dealers looking desperately for new business -- such as jumping headlong into the commercial segment. But, according to the commercial pros NFT spoke with during the Mannington meeting, it is more important than ever to take a deep breath and map out exactly how you want to approach the commercial sector before plunging in.
"I'd really caution dealers against entering commercial without doing the research first," said Greg Lanno, a commercial specialist for Mannington distributor Elias Wilf. "They sometimes get burned. That's not to say I haven't seen retailers make a success out of it, by hybridizing their business to work on both residential and commercial. But it is a really different business."
Ria Gulian, an ASID designer for Interiors by Ria in Long Branch, N.J., said she has found success in niche markets. "I'm finding a lot of projects in dental offices," she said. "It's a market that never dries up because the dentists are always trying to outdo each other."
And while it may seem obvious, retailers looking to break into commercial should quickly align themselves with the A&D community, said Gary Mazza, vp of Mazza's Flooring America in Hammonton, N.J. "Most people don't have the money right now to renovate," he said. "But those who do are using designers."