COVID-19

Home improvement sales are holding steady despite the overall retail slump

Kristin Schwab May 19, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
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Home improvement sales saw only a small dip in the U.S. in April. Ming Yeung/Getty Images
COVID-19

Home improvement sales are holding steady despite the overall retail slump

Kristin Schwab May 19, 2020
Home improvement sales saw only a small dip in the U.S. in April. Ming Yeung/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Bryn Behrenshausen has been using his time during North Carolina’s stay-at-home order, and his government stimulus money, to upgrade his home.

“So I’m going through and repainting all the doors and trim,” he said. “Eventually we’ll be repainting all the walls. I’ve been doing landscaping. I built our own sofa.”

He’s also replacing all the carpet on the second story with vinyl flooring. At home it’s just him, his wife and “believe it or not, five cats. They’re the impetus for the carpet removal,” he said.

Retail sales took a stunning blow in April. Clothing sales, for instance, were down almost 80%. But one category that’s holding fairly steady is home improvement, which saw only a small dip in sales, down 3.5%. A report from Gravy Analytics, which tracks location data, shows foot traffic at those stores is steady. 

“A lot of it is people itching to get out, people having time, people looking for something to do and remain focused,” said Rod Sides, who is a vice chairman at Deloitte and leads its U.S. retail and distribution practice. Being classified as essential retail helped the industry, he added.

People are spending most of their time at home, and that’s naturally made them think about how they can improve their spaces.

“Your backyard has become your vacation spot,” said Scott Hazelton at IHS Markit.

Paint and plants are big sellers right now because they’re cosmetic and don’t demand a lot of skill. And more people are tackling necessities, like a leaky faucet, on their own.

“Do you really want to have people in your house that you might not know that well given the fear of contagion?” Hazelton said.

Plus, in an economic downturn, people tend to tackle bigger home projects themselves instead of hiring pricey contractors. 

That includes Behrenshausen in North Carolina. He’s already got his eyes on his next project: a new backsplash for the kitchen.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Are states ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccines?

Claire Hannan, executive director of the nonprofit Association of Immunization Managers, which represents state health officials, said states have been making good progress in their preparations. And we could have several vaccines pretty soon. But states still need more funding, she said. Hannan doesn’t think a lack of additional funding would hold up distribution initially, but it could cause problems down the road. “It’s really worrisome that Congress may not pass funding or that there’s information circulating saying that states don’t need additional funding,” she said.

How is the service industry dealing with the return of coronavirus restrictions?

Without another round of something like the Paycheck Protection Program, which kept a lot of businesses afloat during the pandemic’s early stages, the outlook is bleak for places like restaurants. Some in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, only got one week of indoor dining back before cases rose and restrictions went back into effect. Restaurant owners are revamping their business models in an effort to survive while waiting to see if they’ll be able to get more aid.

How are hospitals handling the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases?

As the pandemic surges and more medical professionals themselves are coming down with COVID, nearly 1 in 5 hospitals in the country report having a critical shortage of staff, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. One of the knock-on effects of staff shortages is that people who have other medical needs are being asked to wait.

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