Pandemic enables many to work from, and on, their homes
The COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone to become intimately acquainted with their homes -- both the positive and negative aspects. The place where they usually laid their heads at night, ate one or two meals a day and enjoyed television/movie nights, suddenly became their 24/7 environment.
And under this constant surveillance, many found their cocoon needed improvements.
Experts estimate that 70% of homeowners have completed a home improvement project during the pandemic and more projects are planned. People immediately found ways to carve out workspace for themselves and study space for their suddenly-at-home children. Some also painted spaces within their homes that had been calling for attention for a while.
And when the weather turned warm, homeowners looked to their yards to give them extra seating, dining and work space; erected fences to assist with social distancing; and made home improvements like new roofs to secure their sheltering place.
The money that families probably would have spent on a vacation or trips to entertainment facilities or concerts was suddenly and understandably diverted to improving the place where they were spending most of their time.
"Nearly every category of furniture exploded in demand when COVID struck last spring," said Mike Walsh, owner of O'Reilly's Furniture and Amish Gallery, 1151 S. Milwaukee Ave., Libertyville. "People who suddenly had to work from home and had their children learning from home were buying desks, sofa tables, dining tables -- virtually anything with a flat surface where someone could work. They were also buying new family room furniture because many had grown tired of what they had -- and because they were home, they were tired of looking at the old stuff."
"The only category that was virtually flat for us was bedroom furniture," Walsh added.
The demand for furniture has been so high it takes 14 to 25 weeks to even get domestically made furniture delivered, he said.
"Many furniture factories couldn't get to full staffing because workers had gotten sick or were afraid of getting sick so they preferred to receive unemployment compensation. One of our California suppliers just got back to full operations three or four weeks ago."
"Another supplier pre-pandemic promised things in three weeks or less. Now that delivery time is 18 to 20 weeks even though they have doubled their production to try to catch up," Walsh said in a 2020 interview.
Even O'Reilly's Amish craftsmen fell behind because their manpower is very limited due to the size of the Amish communities.
"Customers wanted to use their stimulus money and the money they weren't spending on vacations or the holidays to update their homes. It has just been amazingly great. Usually, January is a slow month for us but it was our third best month of the past year," Walsh said.
Customers readily accepted the bad news about delivery delays, knowing that all furniture stores were in the same situation. "We are going to have to see a dramatic drop-off in demand in order to catch up and I don't see that coming yet," he said.
Outdoor living goods
"Last year was a big year for us at Lurvey, seeing sales numbers increase across the board," said Tom Partipilo, outdoor living and home decor coordinator and buyer for Lurvey, a gardening and outdoor living shop at 2550 E. Dempster St., Des Plaines. "The pandemic brought with it many changes to the way we did business. In the early part of the year when information about COVID-19 was still very much fluid, we started to set precautions in place to protect our customers and ourselves, implementing curbside pickup, plexiglass barriers, social distancing and mask wearing, to name a few. The new norm was created, and it was the first step to getting customers back in the store to shop.
"Once everything was in place," he continued, "we found that customers had the confidence to come in and purchase the products they needed, and they needed most everything we were supplying. Family has always been the reason to do what each of us do, but last year the idea of family became even stronger. People needed to bond, connect and relax with the ones they love while still protecting each other. The outdoor space became the new family 'living room' and created a new customer ready to purchase things to improve and embrace their outdoor spaces."
Some of the product lines in which Lurvey saw big sales were pottery, umbrellas, fountains, plants (perennials, shrubs, annuals, edibles), bagged goods, stone and outdoor furniture.
"Everything and anything to make their outdoor surroundings look and feel better was purchased," Partipilo said. "People weren't spending money on travel, so they spent it on the next best thing, their homes."
There was also an increase in Victory gardens in 2020 as both veteran gardeners and new home gardeners planted vegetables and fruiting plants in a big way. "The idea of creating extra food, needed comfort and more beauty for their families was important because social distancing in backyards became a part of how families got through feelings of isolation and connectedness," Partipilo said.
"As we approach our season this year, we anticipate similar numbers in sales. At least this year we know what to expect and have prepared as best we can."
The oft-used line -- "Good fences make good neighbors" from a Robert Frost poem written more than a century ago -- became truer than ever during the 2020-21 COVID-19 pandemic. People were encouraged to stay at least 6 feet away from others and fences encouraged such social distancing. They also allowed families to enjoy their yards without worrying about a child or pet running off or an unwanted guest invading without an invitation.
Rustic Wood Fencing and Decks in Niles experienced a huge increase in demand for their high-end Western red cedar, vinyl, aluminum and steel fences.
"People found themselves having to stay at home all the time -- even working from home -- and it gave them more time to assess what they wanted/needed at their home. We had a very busy season in 2020," said Randy Jaacks, spokesman for Rustic Wood Fencing and Decks.
In business since 1965, this was Rustic's first pandemic but they rose to the challenge and had a record-breaking year. All of their naturally decay-resistant wood fences are custom built at their 9116 N. Milwaukee Ave. facility. In fact, they offer more than 35 styles of cedar fencing in varying heights, including solid, board on board, picket, traditional and board on batten, all topped with the detail of the buyer's choice.
Rustic Fence also offers a maintenance-free vinyl fencing that may be installed by a Rustic Fence crew or by the homeowner. Vinyl fencing comes in white, almond and khaki. Additionally, Rustic Fence offers steel and aluminum fencing, which is growing in popularity.
The Rustic Woodmen side of the business handles the design and construction of decks made of either cedar or Trex decking. Decks have also been in high demand during the pandemic.
"We had many calls from people seeking to improve and replace their decks so that they could both work and spend time with family outdoors," Jaacks said. "Western cedar is the choice material when it comes to wood decks, but we also specialize in composite deck installations. They are becoming increasingly popular today. Customers have loved adding this amenity to their homes, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, because it adds to their living space so substantially."