Look for North America’s specialty dealers and big box retailers to grow their profits at slightly faster rates than lumberyards and distributors as the overall distribution market, worth $99.5 billion in 2011, expands by 6% per year to reach $122 billion in sales volume in 2014, a comprehensive new study forecast today.

Principia’s  Building Products Distribution 2012 study concludes that the U.S. and Canadian distributors and dealers who occupy the supply chain from the factory gate to the customer’s jobsite bought their goods for $78.1 billion and racked up $21.4 billion in gross profit selling those products. Canada accounted for roughly 11% of that revenue and profit, the Malvern, Pa.-based research and consulting group said.

Specialty (aka “one-step”) distributors—mainly firms that focus on selling roofing, siding, and insulation, took in 36% of the $99.5 billion in revenue last year and also collected 36% of the gross margins, Principia reported. Meanwhile, lumberyards took in 32% of the revenues but got only 26% of the entire distribution market’s gross margins. That’s mainly because lumberyards receive much of their material through wholesale distributors, which take their own cut out of the $21.4 billion in overall margins, Principia said.

Principia’s 343-page report represents a rare attempt by any consulting or research group to get a handle on a market that has 26,000 outlets and a reputation for being hard to measure.

This time, it’s more circumscribed but also more detailed. “Instead of throwing in everything and the kitchen sink, we’re doing a deeper dive and a tighter drill-down,” Ken Jacobson, a partner at Principia and a leader in the research project, told ProSales in an interview Monday. Principia focused on the $99.5 billion in sales in just 14 product groups, virtually all of them used in the building envelope: dimensional lumber, engineered lumber, insulation, siding, trim, roofing, doors, windows, railing, decking, masonry products (cinder block and brick), barriers and wraps, sheathing, and drywall and ceilings. Plumbing, electrical, cabinetry, steel, and concrete all were excluded from the study.

As with other analysts, Principia believes the housing market’s revival will boost sales, but it says growth won’t be equal. It predicted that specialty dealers will see an 8% compound annual growth rate in their gross margin dollars through 2014, big boxes will record a 7% gain, and lumberyards and distributors will increase 6% annually.

"You could say that a difference of two percentage points per year over three years is kind of eating someone’s lunch … but it’s not a seismic shift," Jacobson said. "We've done a lot of studies over the years, and contractors buy where they buy for a reason." Indeed, Principia’s report includes results from a survey of 150 contractors in which the respondents gave the top marks to each channel category for the reasons one would expect: deep selection of specific product lines for the one-steppers, convenience for the big-box stores, and on-site delivery for lumberyards.

The report summarizes eight months of research and features in-depth looks at sales and prospects for 14 products and 37 subproducts. It also includes a spreadsheet-style database that can be used to drill down into the numbers, make “what-if” assumptions based on metrics like housing starts and remodeling investment, and update the numbers when fresh information arrives. There also is an online database of more than 25,000 locations, products offered, and suppliers represented. The report costs $25,000.