We recently had the opportunity to speak with Kim Wahlgren, longtime editor of Wood Floor Business, to discuss the changes we saw in the wood flooring industry during 2020, and what trends to expect in the year ahead.
Can you give us a wrapup of the state of the wood floor industry in 2020?
Of course, the story of the wood flooring industry in 2020 was the pandemic. Everyone seemed to be off to a solid start when suddenly many areas came to a standstill. Here at the magazine we spent countless hours attempting to track lockdowns as they happened across the country and trying to interpret whether the government regulations being implemented applied to construction work. Construction largely recovered from any shutdowns, however, and recently we had the positive news that single-family housing starts reached their highest rate since 2006, as did existing home sales. Any time we can reach numbers from before the Great Recession, it feels significant. On a less positive note, we recently had the news that in two-thirds of states, construction employment is below pre-pandemic levels, but it appears to be the commercial segment responsible for keeping those numbers down.
We’ve read so much since the pandemic began about homeowners being stuck inside, staring at their home more than usual, and deciding to renovate, particularly when they aren’t able to spend money on traveling. I’ve done it in my own house, and wood flooring pros tell us their customers are doing the same. Anecdotally, so many contractors have told us they are busier than ever, but we were curious to discover what the actual data from them would show. Our 2021 State of the Industry responses are still being collected (full results will be in the April/May 2021 issue of WFB), but preliminary data show that half of wood flooring contractors say the pandemic actually had a positive effect on their business, while about a third said it had a negative effect. More than half said they had experienced pandemic-related supply shortages, with many citing plywood as something they had trouble finding. Others said they found shortages on everything from PPE to abrasives to wood flooring.
Was there anything in particular which surprised you with regard to industry trends?
If there’s any surprise, it might be the staying power of the obsession with white oak! But there’s a good reason for it: White oak can’t be beat when it comes to having a blank slate for custom color, and custom color is where the industry is at. Of course, white oak takes stain well, but it’s also a great candidate for less common techniques such as fuming or using iron acetate. Pros report they expect the trend this year to only strengthen for both dark floors, gray and light floors. Across the country, natural colors and whitewashed looks—more of a Scandinavian aesthetic—are also trending.
Another powerful trend continues to be wide plank. It used to be that we thought of a 5-inch board as wide plank, but it isn’t uncommon now to hear of contractors installing 10- or even 12-inch-wide boards. Herringbone and chevron floors are also increasingly common, whether as an entire floor in a large room or as a smaller picture-framed feature area in an entryway. Of course, when dealing with a really wide plank or a chevron install, you better know what you are doing. Just the other day on social media I saw a contractor post a photo of a chevron installation that had been done in a super-high-end home by someone the builder hired. It was crooked, full of putty and simply hideous! These days jobs like that are being posted for the entire industry to critique, and it’s creating a sort of positive peer pressure for people in the industry to raise their game. Of course, if those jobs are to be done well, they require a builder or homeowner who value paying a skilled professional instead of a low-bid hack!
Regarding social media, Instagram seems to work well for us in terms of engaging with our customers. Which social media networks do you see contractors utilizing most often?
Not surprisingly, the importance of social media in the wood flooring industry continues to grow. Our data show that Facebook is still No. 1 among wood flooring contracting businesses—the 2020 results showed that almost twice as many pros use Facebook as Instagram. Facebook’s leading position makes sense when you consider that our data also show the average age of a wood flooring contractor is 53. For 2021, for the first time we added TikTok to our survey asking which social media pros use for their businesses. At first we thought it was just an app for sharing dance videos, but it has evolved beyond that, and while preliminary numbers from our survey appear to be low, anecdotally we’ve heard from some pros using it successfully. We recently wrote about one pro who found floor finishing videos are a great fit for the trending (yet somewhat perplexing!) “satisfying videos” genre.
What do you think? Do you see these trends taking place already in 2021? Leave a comment below with your thoughts!