The most recent release of monthly sales data from the US Census Bureau reported that unadjusted retail sales at building material distributors and other related sales outlets posted a 25% increase from February to March of 2020 – despite the fact that many parts of the country were under shelter-in-place orders in the second half of March. Such sales were up 10% over comparable levels in March 2019.
While this increase can be partially attributed to better weather conditions as winter turned to spring and construction professionals stocking up on supplies in expectation of an increase in work as the weather improved, another factor may also have worked to boost sales: consumers undertaking long-delayed home improvement projects.
Many homeowners – either working from home or furloughed – suddenly found themselves with plenty of time on their hands and decided to take advantage of the situation by engaging in projects around the house. Others, casting a critical eye across their home, decided now was a good time to transform their residence into something completely different. Either way, home improvement centers, hardware stores, garden centers, and other retailers – to say nothing of the manufacturers of these items – have benefitted .
Sales have increased most for products that are best suited to DIY projects, particularly paint and wallpaper, flooring (most notably easier to install types such as luxury vinyl tile, laminate flooring, and decorative tile), garden supplies and tools, and outdoor furniture and grills. Cabinets, plumbing fixtures, drywall, and lumber appeal to customers who have the skill and tools to tackle larger or more complicated projects.
However, this spike in sales has led some government agencies to close all or part of such stores, since visiting crowds were getting too big to allow sufficient social distancing and protection for the staff. For instance, Michigan’s governor has tightened business restrictions so that large discount and home improvement stores that were otherwise labeled as “essential” and allowed to remain open during stay-at-home orders must close areas "dedicated to carpeting, flooring, furniture, garden centers, plant nurseries, or paint".
In order to keep from being subject to additional restrictions, retailers must institute policies and practices that will allow safe shopping and ensure appropriate distances between customers, including limiting the number of customers allowed at a time. Greater use of online ordering and curbside pick-up services will help.
For more information about these products and the US retail sales outlook, see the following Freedonia Group reports: Live Goods: Plants, Trees & Shrubbery, Cabinets, Countertops, Outdoor Furniture & Grills, Outdoor Kitchens, Global Flooring, Global Architectural Paint, and Global E-Commerce.