By Joe Raboine

The home improvement industry has experienced drastic change this year. With homeowners spending more time at home than ever before, many have taken the opportunity to invest in improvement projects to elevate their space. In June, Houzz reported a 58% increase in project leads for home improvement professionals, with outdoor professionals seeing the biggest lift. It seems the pandemic has given homeowners a renewed appreciation for their living space – both indoors and outdoors – with nearly 25 to 30% of office employees predicted to continue working from home. Given these statistics, contractors anticipate the demand for remodeling and home improvement will not slow down any time soon. 

Looking at where the industry is now, the end of 2020 will be one of the most unusual periods ever experienced. While homeowners typically start last-minute projects at the beginning of the school year, momentum is expected to continue through the cooler seasons and into 2021. Contractors are seeing unprecedented interest in every market, with bookings three to six months in advance. In addition to increased time spent at home, contractors and industry consultants are reporting an uptick in homeowners making the move to refinance. Rates are at historic lows and projected to continue dropping, giving homeowners the opportunity to take extra cash and invest in outdoor upgrades. 

Despite this boom in business, contractors are facing some immediate challenges heading into the new year. Labor continues to be at the top of the list, with the price of labor continually rising. Supply and demand have undergone major shifts as well, with the increased demand for home improvement services making it difficult to keep up the pace and obtain the right supplies and products. But there are several ideas and solutions on the horizon that can help contractors maintain and boost their businesses. 

After major revenue hits at the beginning of peak season, there is now a flood of clientele ready to build or update their outdoor living areas. Despite contractors experiencing the initial loss of revenue, the surge in demand in Q3 has provided an uplift. Homeowners have become less price sensitive, with timeline and availability as the priority. This in turn will assist on the labor front as well. Without price as a central issue, contractors can compete with other trades and offer increased wages – which will in turn attract more talent to the industry. 

In terms of supply, this has become an issue across all building products industry sectors – from lumber to hardscapes. Products are going out of stock quickly, and most dealers need four to eight weeks’ notice to ensure availability. This means contractors and dealers can only operate on a first-in-the-queue, first-served basis to meet customer expectations. As a result, scheduling and installation have become more arduous than ever before. 

The first step to managing these challenges in Q4 and into 2021 is better planning. While it will not be easy, it will make the entire process – from consultation to installation – smoother and more efficient. This includes focusing on building relationships with dealers and manufacturers to gain visibility into supply chain constraints, get ahead of the demand and anticipate customer needs.

While planning is the foundation, communication is the crux. Given current supply shortages, it’s imperative that manufacturers, dealers, contractors and customers have open lines of communication. Clear expectations need to be set, and all parties must be aware of all the key elements of the project. The more notice given regarding upcoming projects and materials, the better prepared manufacturers and dealers will be to fulfill orders and get contractors to work.

Once it’s time for the work to begin, contractors should take advantage of the educational materials – such as product guides, training videos and webinars – that are available from product manufacturers. These are excellent resources to use as preparation for crews, and an additional communication tool to help explain project details to the client. 

In addition to communication, the industry also must pivot to keep up with demand and create turnkey solutions for contractors so they can ultimately function more efficiently. Modularity will be a considerable driver moving forward, offering contractors a more simplistic approach tailored to a client’s specifications and aesthetics. Modular product lines open up options aesthetically for the homeowner without added complexity for the contractor. 

Simplified product designs will make it easier for contractors to book more clients, increasing profits and expanding their businesses. The time to complete a project, such as a custom outdoor fireplace, can be reduced using modular products and supporting installation methods. This does not account for additional customizations, but it’s an incredible gain to keep contractors moving from client to client. 

The increase in product sizes over the years also is a huge time saver. Larger-format pavers, for example, can be installed faster and easier, saving contractors valuable time. It’s also a great selling point for clients – not only is the design contemporary, but faster installation means they can enjoy their outdoor space sooner while potentially saving a few dollars.  

There are many opportunities for contractors to see continued growth and maximize their services. With the help of innovations from manufacturers, along with better planning, communication and partnerships with their dealers, contractors can plan ahead for a busy 2021.

Joe Raboine is director of residential hardscapes at Belgard. He works to ensure that Belgard’s contractors and dealers are receiving best-in-class service, products and experiences. Raboine started his career as a contractor over 25 years ago. 

Since 1955, Belgard’s locally made and nationally backed products have transformed thousands of residential and commercial properties in North America. For more information, visit www.Belgard.com