Census Bureau
Census Bureau

Editor's Note: The bottom table was updated on Oct. 6, 2015, to correct errors in all the numbers regarding product sales by dealers.

Long-awaited figures from the U.S. Census Bureau are delivering some of the most detailed evidence yet of how severely the housing crash hurt pro dealers as well as how many fewer of those dealers are in business still.

Preliminary data from the bureau's 2012 Economic Census suggest roughly 20% of the establishments in the category most akin to pro dealers were closed between 2007 and 2012, while the number of establishments selling particular products shrank by as much as 30%. For instance, the number of establishments selling nontreated dimensional lumber shrank 25.4%, from 10,867 in 2007 to 8,103 in 2012.

In contrast, the number of hardware stores shrank 6% in that five-year period, while the number of home centers declined by 5.8%, according to the preliminary figures, which were posted quietly online just before Christmas.

When measured in dollar terms, dealers' suffering amid the housing bust becomes even more apparent. Sales by establishments in the "other building material dealer" category--all dealers that aren't home centers, hardware stores, or paint/wallpaper stores--sank 31.5% from 2007 to reach $80.01 billion in 2012. In contrast, home centers' sales receded just 2.7% to $131.21 billion, while hardware stores swam against the tide, posting a 1.8% sales increase to $20.49 billion.

All of this data is from a census that the government conducts every five years. It's among both the deepest and most comprehensive reports on all business activity in this nation. But even this report falls short of accurately measuring how many dealers in this country get most of their revenue by catering to professional builders and remodelers. The long period it takes to collect and report the data also doesn't help; ProSales' openings and closures database suggests that while the number of dealer closures outpaced openings until around 2012, openings and closures were balanced  in 2013, and openings took command in 2014.

Despite those inadequacies, the report helps clarify a common question: How many pro dealers are there? While the official count for "other building material dealers" stood at 31,390 in 2012, it may be more valuable to examine how many establishments sold particular products in 2012 and how those numbers compare with 2007. Here are some examples:

Number of Establishments # Change % Change
2012 2007
Dimensional lumber & other building/structural materials & supplies     24,474     29,959     (5,485) -18.3%
Dimensional lumber, non-treated      8,103     10,867     (2,764) -25.4%
Treated lumber      7,463      9,798     (2,335) -23.8%
Gypsum, specialty boards & treatments      6,171      8,407     (2,236) -26.6%
Engineered wood products, including glu-lam, LVL, etc.      6,071      7,186     (1,115) -15.5%
Structural panels, including softwood plywood & OSB      5,845      7,913     (2,068) -26.1%
Floor trusses, roof trusses, etc.      4,732      6,277     (1,545) -24.6%
Connectors, including joist hangers, tiedowns, etc.      4,494      5,663     (1,169) -20.6%
Steel studs      1,498      1,954        (456) -23.3%
Doors & moulding     10,359     13,799     (3,440) -24.9%
Windows, skylights & patio doors      9,396     11,945     (2,549) -21.3%
Hardware      6,810      8,396     (1,586) -18.9%
Plumbing supplies & fixtures      7,193      9,012     (1,819) -20.2%
Electrical supplies      7,961      9,633     (1,672) -17.4%
Masonry supplies and cement (lime, plaster, brick)      7,432      9,071     (1,639) -18.1%
Insulation (all types) & weatherization products      7,156     10,013     (2,857) -28.5%
Siding, exterior trim & soffit      6,735      9,668     (2,933) -30.3%
Roofing (all types) including roofing supplies      6,335      6,638        (303) -4.6%
Kitchen & bath cabinets & countertops      8,827     10,691     (1,864) -17.4%
Paint & sundries      4,546      5,754     (1,208) -21.0%
Flooring & floor coverings      4,597      5,263        (666) -12.7%
Hardwood flooring      2,511      3,132        (621) -19.8%


As for sales, the contrast with home centers (a group that includes The Home Depot, Lowe's, Menards, and big consumer-oriented operations) can be quite stark. Roofing is a great example, with dealers suffering and home centers soaring. But in some cases, dealers didn't fare as badly as home centers; treated lumber is one example. Here's a list.

Sales Total ($000s) % Change
2012 2007
Other Building Material Dealers  $                80,012,231  $              116,866,222 -31.5%
Home Centers  $              131,206,787  $              134,821,247 -2.7%
Dealers: Dimensional lumber  $               52,065,025  $               76,473,750 -28.7%
Home Centers: Dimensional lumber  $               37,368,469  $               46,176,227 -19.1%
Dealers: Dimensional lumber, non-treated  $                 6,378,195  $               10,801,046 -40.9%
Home Centers: Dimensional lumber, non-treated  $                 1,924,164  $                 3,103,732 -38.0%
Dealers: Treated Lumber  $                 2,156,954  $                 3,678,806 -41.4%
Home Centers: Treated lumber  $                 2,332,856  $                 4,830,439 -51.7%
Dealers: Gypsum, specialty boards & treatments  $                 1,342,152  $                 3,090,143 -56.6%
Home Centers: Gypsum, specialty boards & treatments  $                 1,641,653  $                 2,460,760 -33.3%
Dealers: Engineered wood products  $                 1,342,157  $                 2,047,618 -32.8%
Home Centers: Engineered wood products  $                    147,499  $                    262,791 -43.9%
Dealers: Structural panels, plywood & OSB  $                 2,230,158  $                 2,965,514 -24.8%
Home Centers: Structural panels, plywood & OSB  $                 1,097,901  $                 1,643,596 -33.2%
Dealers: Floor trusses, roof trusses, etc.  $                 1,334,651  $                 1,890,203 -29.4%
Home Centers: Floor trusses, roof trusses, etc.  $                    175,706  $                    278,739 -37.0%
Dealers: Connectors, joist hangers, tiedowns, etc.  $                    357,035  $                    464,789 -23.2%
Home Centers: Connectors, joist hangers, tiedowns, etc.  $                 1,386,993  $                 2,371,378 -41.5%
Dealers: Steel studs  $                    325,702  $                   581,009 -43.9%
Home Centers: Steel studs  $                    292,922  $                      74,061 295.5%
Dealers: Doors & moulding  $                 4,790,548  $                 7,702,459 -37.8%
Home Centers: Doors & moulding  $                 4,750,338  $                 6,566,993 -27.7%
Dealers: Windows, skylights & patio doors  $                 4,528,853  $                 6,713,739 -32.5%
Home Centers: Windows, skylights & patio doors  $                 2,496,121  $                 2,197,557 13.6%
Dealers:  Hardware, Tools & Plumbing and Electrical Supplies  $               20,726,250  $               28,087,068 -26.2%
Home Centers:  Hardware, Tools & Plumbing and Electrical Supplies  $               32,832,774  $               30,995,388 5.9%
Dealers: Hardware  $                 1,421,965  $                 1,723,745 -17.5%
Home Centers: Hardware  $                 5,399,645  $                 5,481,853 -1.5%
Dealers: Plumbing supplies & fixtures  $                 7,287,110  $                 9,408,346 -22.5%
Home Centers: Plumbing supplies & fixtures  $                 7,336,505  $                 7,159,582 2.5%
Dealers: Electrical supplies  $                 7,325,413  $               12,902,395 -43.2%
Home Centers: Electrical supplies  $                 8,696,006  $                 8,873,289 -2.0%
Dealers: Masonry supplies and cement (lime, plaster, brick)  $                 4,990,332  $                 7,447,046 -33.0%
Home Centers: Masonry supplies and cement (lime, plaster, brick)  $                 1,626,302  $                 2,252,233 -27.8%
Dealers: Insulation  $                 1,034,629  $               1,644,148 -37.1%
Home Centers: Insulation  $                    848,404  $                 1,467,186 -42.2%
Dealers: Roofing  $                 4,651,507  $                 4,869,148 -4.5%
Home Centers: Roofing (all types) including Roofing Supplies  $                 3,451,963  $                 2,415,022 42.9%
Dealers: Kitchen & bath cabinets & countertops  $                 4,918,816  $                 7,186,619 -31.6%
Home Centers: Kitchen & bath cabinets & countertops  $                 5,927,266  $                 9,954,432 -40.5%
Dealers: Paint & sundries  $                    700,513  $                    995,646 -29.6%
Home Centers: Paint & sundries  $               10,038,722  $                 9,121,845 10.1%


The report also gives a sense of the manufacturing and installed sales side of LBM with a category called "construction receipts." The bureau says this includes "material and labor charges for adding rooms, installing windows, building fences, rebuilding furnaces, reroofing, etc., for work done by employees of this establishment." In 2007, a total of 3,555 establishments in the "other building material dealer" category collected a total of $12.21 billion for doing this work. By 2012, the numbers had dropped to 2,248 establishments and $5.5 billion in revenue.

While dealers' revenue in this area shrank, home centers soared. In 2007, just 181 home center establishments reported construction receipts worth $25.4 million. In 2012, there were 4,532 home centers in the business, taking in $1.18 billion.