The growth rate of home centers and hardware stores both outpaced that of other building material dealers during the middle of this decade, while the number of traditional lumberyards appears to have decreased, new census data indicates.

The Census Bureau's 2007 Economic Census counted 39,528 locations in the United States that fit the "other building material dealers" category as of March 2007, about 2.4% more than it found in its previous survey in the spring of 2002. That compares with a 5.7% rise in the number of home centers to 6,965, and an 8.3% climb in hardware stores to 16,349.

Sales at building material dealers rose 23% during that period to $118.5 billion, while the number of employees grew 4.7% to 411,022 and the payroll climbed 20.6% to $15.83 billion. That's roughly half the pace enjoyed at home centers, where sales climbed 42% to $134.55 billion, payrolls jumped 43.3% to $13.47 billion, and the employee count soared 40.5% to 578,213.

Meanwhile, sales and payroll growth at hardware stores were much more akin to building material dealers, with sales rising 20.9% in 2007 to $20.07 billion and payroll going up 25.5% from 2002 to reach $3.15 billion. Those increases occurred even though the number of employees barely budged, increasing just 0.1% to 143,075.

The Census Bureau conducts the Economic Census every five years and then needs several more years to parse the results. The numbers listed above are prelminary statistics; final numbers for LBM-related categories won't come out until next year.

The census also fails to reflect all the construction supply companies that have gone out of business since early 2007. A ProSales count of just those shuttered since January 2008 has turned up hundreds. Some experts believe thousands of lumberyards, specialty stores, and fabrication plants have closed during this housing market crash.

Nevertheless, the survey does give a sense of the changes that occurred during the middle of this decade. For instance, the 2007 census came up with 29,957 establishments that sold dimensional lumber and related products, including cabinets for installation. That's down from 31,606 similar stores open in 2002. There also were decreases in the number of stores selling treated dimensional lumber (2007: 10,991; 2002: 11,065) and all grades of boards (to 7,414 from 7,531).

On the other hand, the number of establishments selling engineered wood products rose to 7,228 in 2007 from 6,201 in 2002, while there were 6,405 establishements selling trusses and related building components in 2007 vs. 5,985 stores in 2002. The gains in these two categories might reflect the growing acceptance of these products in construction.

The census backs up the general perception that the number of one-stepper or specialty stores is growing. The number of establishments selling siding jumped to 9,974 in 2007 from 8,752 in 2002, and the count of establishments selling roofing jumped to 10,534 from 9,623. The number of doors and moulding outlets held steady at 13,953, as did the count of stores selling windows, skylights and patio doors (12,183).

Click here for 2007 data.

Click here for 2002 counts.

The actual count of retail lumber establishments vs. other building material dealers won't be known until next year. For 2002, of the 38,586 total stores in the generalized other building material dealers category, 9,377 were identified as retail lumber yards while 29,209 were regarded as "other" building material dealers.