There's a fine line between frustration and anger, and when it comes to how they feel about the reduced inventory levels at many lumberyards, remodelers appear close to crossing it.
Just over 37% of the respondents to a recent reader panel conducted by Remodeling, a sister publication to ProSales, said they have noticed shortages or delivery delays in product availability from suppliers. That matches widespread anecdotal evidence that dealers nationwide have reduced inventories to bare-bones levels, partly to save costs and partly because they believe their suppliers can ship goods to them so quickly that dealers needn't keep those products on their own racks.
ProSales' conversations with dealers suggest that LBM executives believe they are, for the most part, continuing good service. But some of the remodelers, while patient, are beginning to think otherwise.
"Just-in-time deliveries are great, but occasionally the promise is hollow," said John Sperath, president of Blue Ribbon Residential Construction in Raleigh, N.C.
Added another remodeler: "We feel like we have lost credibility since we have to wait 30-plus days to complete a project when it should only take half that. It also causes a cash flow problem since you do not get paid until it is installed in most cases."
Those were the stronger comments, and even Sperath says he understands dealers' challenges. As with many others, Kevin Transue, principal designer at CHC Creative Remodeling in Kansas City, Mo., is compensating by trying to place orders earlier.
"The problem is more about shortages than delays, and it's more of an inconvenience than a problem," Transue said in an e-mail to ProSales. "It forces the contractor to rethink ordering practices.
"Previously, there were products that you just knew were sitting in the warehouse (because everybody uses them) and a quick call would get them out to the job site the next day," he continued. "Not so now, be it commodity items like typical trim and doors, or more specialized products like, for instance, a dull-sheen lacquer.
"It seems everyone has reduced their inventory carrying costs in the same survival mode as the rest of us," Transue said. "And, for the wholesale provider, that's an understandable strategy. On the other hand, I know of a retail paint and decorating shop that I like to patronize, and their shelves are nearly bare. Their reaction was to eliminate their inventory. That means that there is less that can be purchased, which is a counter-productive reaction at best."
Survey respondents split over the types of products that have seen delays. Some said the slowdowns were only for custom-ordered products, such as windows and cabinets. But others noted that the well was drying up for commodities, too. Other product groups with reported shortages included roofing, bricks, trim, hardware, plumbing, carpet, appliances, tile, and siding.
"My concern was about stock material at local lumber yards, which
I use as much as possible, not the big boxes," wrote Mike Blank of MBC Building & Remodeling, Millersville, Pa. "On recent separate trips to two different yards, I couldn't get R-30 insulation in 16-inch size. They only had one bundle in stock."
He added: "There are other things I used to be able to get no problem in the past that don't seem to be stock items anymore, or they keep so few in stock that they always seem to run out."
Contractor Verl Dyer of the Verl Dyer Co., Falls Church, Va., reported that most shortages he's seen have been at the specialty shops. "I think manufacturers have cut staff in order to stay profitable," he wrote. "They also seem to take longer on color items (windows, doors), and I have been told it is because they wait until they have enough orders to make it worth their time." Indeed, one wholesale cabinet supplier said the cabinet companies he deals with are producing cabinets as quickly as ever, but then they wait at the factory until enough orders are processed to fill a truckload–and those trucks don't get filled as fast as they once did.
"I see it both ways," said Paul Sturzinger of CBI Remodel, Salem, Ore. "The suppliers are only stocking what they think they can sell. When we go to pick an item up or have it delivered, if it is not in stock they order it from the wholesaler, who either has some in stock or has to order it from the manufacturer. The manufacturer then waits until when they will run that item again or will have to wait until it can be on a full truckload.
"Another trend I see is that wholesalers will not deliver more than they have to, so we will have to wait until the next time they have a truck in the area or we go get it if it is close enough," he added. "In addition to the delays and shortages, the suppliers and wholesalers have a minimum crew, and we experience poor communication and poor knowledge knowing when and where the product is."
Compounding the problem for remodelers is their lingering feeling that they don't get the attention from building material dealers that they deserve. Even now, at a time in many communities when remodelers are likely to be busier than new-home builders, the Remodeling survey found that just 27.6% of the 163 respondents said they've noticed an increase in sales, discounts or services by LBM dealers to get their business.
"The problem isn't too bad if you understand that side of business, and it can be dealt with by planning properly," Sperath said. "Having been in the residential construction business for a gazillion years, this will be the new normal."