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Pandemic Keeps B-N Home Improvement Businesses Busy

John Minchillo
Home improvement projects and furniture purchases have increased as people spend more time at home during the pandemic.

The pandemic may be wrecking a lot of things for a lot of people. But one part of the economy that’s doing well is home improvement.

A Consumer Specialists survey of more than 600 homeowners showed that 57% completed a home improvement project from March to May.

What does that mean for family-owned businesses like Bloomington Carpets? 

“We’ve been busy every day. We’re just trying to keep up with it,” said owner Brian Bowen. “There’s people walking in the door more often than we are used to.” 

The 42-year-old flooring company remained open throughout the pandemic as an essential business, but now a lot of homeowners are doing more and more to improve their homes. 

Another flooring company adjusting to increased demand is Floor’d Concepts in Normal, a flooring gallery and installer, that is booked for about four weeks and are experiencing longer wait times on getting products.

However, that’s not the only nail in the baseboard.

“Materials are harder to get right now,” said Floor’d bookkeeper Alexa Curry. “It’s been all over. It’ll be hard one week and then the next week it’s not as hard. There’s been a lot of tariffs.”

Getting materials shipped from other countries has gotten more expensive and that has increased some pricing, which is based on their supplier.

“If the supplier has increased, obviously we have to increase,” said Curry. 

For example, some hardwood increased in price by 15%.

Unlike other local companies, Al-Jon Remodeling and Construction was off for about seven weeks when the initial shutdown struck the nation.

“We’ve had a good year, but on the same token we missed about seven weeks,” said owner Harold Alderman. “One kind of balances the other. I didn’t like being off, but I also respect the homeowner who didn’t want my workers and I in their house because of the virus.” 

The business also has faced material shortages.

“That has been a real big challenge. Not only because of COVID-19, which when you don’t have people in your manufacturing plants, whether it be tile or wood products, then our inventories run out,” said Alderman. “The other thing is when some of the people got to return to work, in Florida, when they had the tornados and hurricanes, a lot of the supplies were shipped down there to demand.” 

The devastating winds and storm surge from Hurricane Laura threatened 1.1 million homes with more than $265 billion in reconstruction cost value, according to global property data and analytics provider CoreLogic.

That's made it harder to get things like 2-by-4s, OSBs (oriented strand boards), and decking boards.

“A lot of people were working on their decks, and doing a lot of projects they’ve put off for a while,” said Alderman “It’s been a tough time with several things trying to get products.” 

 Al-Jon Remodeling and Construction is booked out for two months. 

Customer motivations 

According to the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, 42% of the U.S. labor force is working full time from home.

“People are stuck in their house,” said Bowen. “They might have a home office that has to be equipped, or they have kids who have to have a room devoted to a computer. People aren’t going on vacation, they’re not spending money in other places and they’re concentrating on their home.” 

Alderman said a lot of people are doing more to their home because they are more aware of things that were neglected. 

“I think a lot of people are doing things themselves,” said Alderman. “Not necessarily with a professional, and I don’t think that was so much a big deal before the pandemic hit.”

Homeowners will be re-imagining the type of life they want to live post-pandemic.

“More people are about their family and spouses, maybe more religious than they were to begin with. It’s like being terminally ill, all of a sudden things that weren’t important become important,” said Alderman.

In July, a KFF Tracking Poll said 53% of adults in the United States reported their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the coronavirus. This is significantly higher than the 32% reported in March, the first time the question was included in KFF polling.

“I think it's good for the mind, soul and body,” said Alderman.

Alderman and Al-Jon Remodeling and Construction have several repeat customers who are branching out and doing it themselves with some help from the pros. 

“Some of my past customers, this has really hit home really bad for them. Not being able to leave their house, to see their grandkids or their kids,” said Alderman. “Whatever they can do in their home or in their yard, just to get out of their house. I think that has helped them mentally quite a bit.”

Homeowners are always on the ladder, balancing work, life and finances. According to a Consumer Specialist survey, homeowners spent nearly $2,000 making home improvements and cited time as the primary reason driving their efforts.

“A lot of people are staying home and working from home, so they are able to get projects done right now,” said Curry.


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