As the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic affects the daily lives of people all over the globe, the hardwood wood flooring industry is beginning to feel its impact—and may continue to for some time, industry experts say. The effects are being felt at all levels of the industry, from contractors with customers suddenly nervous about the economy to manufacturers, importers and distributors concerned about the shutdown of manufacturing in China. Wood flooring distributors that depend on imports from China, which has seen the most cases of the virus so far, have also been left with uncertainty as production slows and borders tighten.
Van Nuys, Calif.-based National Hardwood Flooring and Moulding, which imports engineered wood flooring from China, hasn’t been able to receive a product shipment since January, according to its founder and president, Omer Katzir. That’s when the company’s Dalian, China-based manufacturer ceased production and went into a mandatory quarantine.
“The minute they announced the virus is starting to spread really quickly, they stopped themselves,” Katzir says. “The whole economy, shipping, freight, nobody could do anything. There were no people in the workforce in any direction, in any level, in any department, anything. Just shot.”
Dalian’s quarantine was lifted in early March, at which point the engineered hardwood flooring manufacturer began production again, Katzir says. However, the U.S. halted shipments from China in mid-February in an effort to curb the virus’s spread, again preventing the material from reaching National Hardwood. Katzir estimates he’s behind by eight or nine shipments.
“Right now, I’m almost out of material,” he says. To keep up with demand, the company has been buying from competitors, but that inventory is dwindling, as well, Katzir says. He believes it will be a while before shipments begin flowing smoothly again, leaving supply chains vulnerable.
“I give two months maximum estimate for this economy to sustain itself as-is,” Katzir says. “And after that, it will start to affect us.”
Lumber Liquidators, which sources nearly half its products from Asia, has also warned that the coronavirus could disrupt its supply chain, predicting a material impact beginning in the second quarter of 2020 should the virus continue causing shutdowns of factories and borders.
Ua Floors CEO Andy Su also sees long-term impacts down the road for the hardwood flooring industry in terms of demand.
“From the forest industry’s perspective, the real estate sector will suffer due to the outbreak,” Su told WFB via email. “Fewer buyers will be viewing houses; therefore fewer houses will be sold. This will reduce the demand for hardwood flooring. It is a tough battle to beat.”
Ua Floors, based in Douliu City, Taiwan, has been able to remain in operation so far, but enacted measures to protect employees, including monitoring body temperatures before people enter the company’s facilities and providing medical masks for daily use at work.
“Many product meetings scheduled in North America were cancelled,” Su says. “We are offering one-to-one visits and video conferences with our clients instead.”
The postponement of client meetings has also crept into the contractor sector of the industry. In a WFB poll asking whether they’ve had clients postpone projects due to the coronavirus pandemic, 45% of pros responded yes, while 55% said that they hadn’t had cancellations. Some pros have reported silent phones since the outbreak, whether because customers are now working from home or have children home from school, or simply due to anxiety about a potential economic downturn. Others noted a slight uptick in clients who had time for a project now that businesses were closing or having employees work from home. Several pros said they’d picked up work at restaurants due to closures.
“On Friday I had three customers say they are ready to move forward but want to wait until the coronavirus stuff passes,” pro David Habib wrote in response to the WFB poll. “Ironically, on the following Monday I had three people I did proposals for four years ago call to schedule, stating they finally had the chance to get it done.”
The number of wood flooring project postponements could increase amid the rapidly evolving health crisis, however—on Tuesday, the mayor of Boston froze all construction work in the city for two weeks in an effort to curb the spread of the virus, a temporary ban that could be replicated in other municipalities as governments tighten restrictions on public gatherings.