Nearly 40% of dealers responding to a ProSales survey last month said sales at their facility are down by at least one-fifth this year and only 55% think their location will turn an operating profit.

The online poll's results also revealed big regional differences: only 16.6% of dealers in the Northeast expected sales would be down at least 20% versus 50.6% of dealers in Southern states, 30.6% of dealers in the North Central United States and 39.5% of dealers in Rocky Mountain and Pacific states.

Close to one-third of all dealers expect sales to decline 10% to 19%, and another 10.8% forecast a 1% to 9% drop. About 8.1% said sales should be roughly equal. Only 11.3% of dealers believe sales will increase in 2008, and nobody forecast as much as 20% growth.

As with sales, profit expectations varied sharply by region: 68.4% of dealers in the West and 64.5% in the Northeast predicted they'd post an operating profit in 2008, while only 53.6% of Southern dealers and 42.0% of North Central dealers said the same.

Regardless of location, respondents from lumberyards, molding/millwork dealers and short line dealers were more optimistic about sales in 2009. Only 8.2% of dealers expected another 20% drop in sales next year, and 58.8% expected their location would turn a profit. Northeasterners were most cheery about the future, as none of them expected sales to go down as much as one-fifth in 2009 and 63.3% forecast an operating profit. On the other hand, Southerners were gloomiest regarding sales, with 10.5% foreseeing another 20% fall, and Westerners had the bleakest profit expectations, with only 48.6% expecting to be in the black in 2009.

"It feels like we are approaching a bottom," one dealer from New England wrote. "Since our core of small contractors is adaptable and can take on smaller projects, our customers are mostly holding steady. While I think this winter will probably get worse, I feel that by late 2009 we will be seeing an uptick in business overall."

"We continue to cut costs and add market share, but the market contraction makes it tough to stay ahead," a Midwestern dealer commented. "[It's] no place for chickens."

ProSales conducted the survey in November. A total of 247 people responded, 207 of whom identified themselves as working at lumberyards, molding/millwork shops and short line specialty companies. The results above were taken only from those 207.

Click here for results of other ProSales surveys.