Our parking lot is empty these days with the new restrictions in place. The only cars you see in the distance are company cars that have been grounded for two weeks.Prior to the lockdowns and closures caused by COVID-19, I was traveling from Boston to Florida, and by the time my plane landed I heard about businesses going “curbside” and civilians under “quarantine.” I manage one of five Wood Pro Inc. wholesale hardwood floor supply operations in the Northeast, and when I contacted my home office in Massachusetts, I was informed that our New York location was to begin lockdown immediately. Upon further research we found that my NH/MA operation qualified to continue restricted operations under the following provisions:

While in Florida, I noticed quite a bit of residential construction. Contractors were framing and roofing a home and I noted each worker either wore a dust mask or had one on them. The workers arrived early each morning and worked a full day. It struck me as a contractor that I would probably be comfortable working new construction, where no one had ever lived, with plenty of fresh air, and distance from co-workers. This all seemed promising to me; however, the Southern and Northern construction markets are vastly dissimilar; especially during winter months. Later that week I hopped a plane and flew back to New Hampshire. Upon my return, I got our state-of-the-union regarding coronavirus and our business operation.

We opened our New Hampshire branch that week aware of our lockdown in Albany, so we prepared to operate in the same manner: curbside, restricted deliveries, social distancing, and only allowing staff into the facility. Although New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, and Connecticut were not under the same restrictions as New York and Massachusetts, that changed swiftly as word came through that Massachusetts closed any operation “non-essential to the COVID-19 virus situation”. We knew that Massachusetts, which borders four of the remaining New England states including New York, would eventually have an impact on all our operations. We posted signs for our customers noting the imposed state regulations and that we would work within guidelines to provide our products and services.

With our trucks on the road, we prepared for the flow of contractors throughout our five divisions. Plans to move forward cautiously were prepared and implemented via phone conferences, text, emails, and social media. During the first quarter 2020 and the first two weeks that the pandemic began to “get legs,” branch managers reported sales were tracking quite nicely. As I write this, we are working to evaluate what we might expect from our dealers and contractors moving forward. Communication has been key as, obviously, the economic and social climate has been one of controlled chaos.

Many of our dealers requested that our road reps refrain from visitations and instead use electronic means in order to observe recommended closures and procedures and respect personal safety. Our contractors reported no stoppage of installations or sanding/refinishing. It is very difficult making any predictions regarding market conditions and fluctuations. It seems imperative to be more proactive than reactive, though there is a considerable amount of adjusting on the fly at this juncture.

Today, we are adjusting to the curbside sales and social distancing. We have heard that school closings have led to some project cancellations. Flooring contractors report they have enough work booked for several weeks, as long as supplies are available. Building contractors say they are busy, but tools, supplies, and building materials are becoming difficult to acquire.

Materials being moved through New York and Massachusetts may be delayed and even cancelled, and if this continues costs will rise and likely, in turn, so could prices. Some suppliers continue to report rigorous sales. Upon conversations with our competitors, some are closed, some have adapted, and some are not answering the phone. Materials coming in from Canada and points south have been fraught with factory shutdowns as well as trucking and material shortages. The only thing certain is change.

Clearly, COVID-19 is continuing its rampage in the U.S. after causing chaos throughout the world. The entire world will be, or has been, affected or infected by this scourge. Working with fellow flooring contractors and suppliers as we navigate these rocky waters can build a sense of community and cohesiveness and possibly provide a positive and most welcomed “shot in the arm” to all involved. Now we just need one with the smallest possible needle and the largest dose of hope.

Stephen Diggins works for Wood Pro Inc. in their Derry, N.H., branch as manager and training director. He has many years of installation, sanding, finishing, gymnasium design and technical consulting experience, which he uses to assist his flooring customers on a regular basis. With 34 years in the flooring industry, he has been a freelance columnist for magazine, newsprint and online medias and has conducted product seminars ranging from wood flooring to luxury vinyl tile.