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JCHS: Strategies for Achieving Scale in the Residential Remodeling Industry

Strategies for Achieving Scale in the Residential Remodeling Industry

 by Abbe Will
Research Analyst
Since its inception nearly twenty years ago, the Remodeling Futures Program of the Joint Center for Housing Studies has been investigating trends in contractor size, concentration, performance, and survivorship to better understand the evolving structure of contractors serving the residential remodeling market. Unlike the national homebuilding industry, which saw significant achievements of scale and consolidation in recent decades, the professional remodeling industry continues to be highly fragmented, where the vast majority of remodeling companies are relatively small, single-location businesses that likely will not experience any significant growth over the course of the business’s life-cycle. Two thirds of remodelers are self-employed, and fully half of payroll establishments have total revenues of under $250,000. Yet our research suggests that there are significant benefits to be gained through larger scale businesses.The evidence for the benefits of scale in the remodeling industry is compelling. Comparing the revenue growth of larger-scale remodeling companies to the industry as a whole shows that larger-scale remodelers benefit from significantly stronger revenue growth. Where the average revenue of all residential remodeling contractors increased less than 18% in inflation-adjusted terms during the last industry upturn from 2002-2007, larger-scale firms with annual revenues of approximately $1 million or more increased their average revenue by over 30% during the same period. Additionally, larger-scale remodeling contractors benefit from higher revenues per employee, which implies that they enjoy greater labor productivity (Figure 1). While an admittedly crude measure of efficiency and productivity, the trend is obvious that larger remodeling businesses are seeing a benefit of scale.

Source: Unpublished tabulations of the 2007 Economic Census of Construction, U.S. Census Bureau.

Furthermore, there is evidence that larger-scale remodeling firms suffer significantly lower failure rates across the rocky business cycle (Figure 2). Remodelers with estimated receipts of $1 million or more during the last industry upturn in 2003–04 had a failure rate of only 2.7% that year, and their failure rate remained essentially unchanged during the cyclical downturn in 2009-10. These low and stable failure rates for the largest remodelers are in stark contrast to the roughly 20% failure rates of smaller remodeling businesses. With the efficiency gains that come along with achieving scale economies, larger remodeling companies seem much better equipped to ride out the volatile business cycles in the remodeling industry.

Source: JCHS estimates using U.S. Census Bureau tabulations of the 1989-2010 Business Information Tracking Series.

Although larger-scale remodeling firms enjoy significant benefits to scale, the industry has remained fragmented over time due to the many obstacles to gaining scale such as low barriers of entry, highly customized work, and difficulty attracting capital, to name a few. Understanding how remodeling companies are overcoming these major hurdles in their pursuit of scale economies should provide insights into how the industry is likely to continue evolving over the next several decades, as well as what opportunities exist for more widespread consolidation moving forward.

To this end, the Remodeling Futures Program has been conducting in-depth interviews with several dozen remodeling industry leaders including founders, presidents, and CEOs of larger-scale remodeling companies on the topic of benefits from scale and challenges and strategies for achieving scale. Key research questions for the project focus on exploring the major approaches used for gaining scale, challenges and opportunities unique to each type of strategy, and whether certain types of remodeling specialties or niches are more or less likely to attempt to establish a larger-scale or even national presence.

A key insight gained from these interviews is that successfully achieving scale in the remodeling industry has more typically occurred using strategies outside of the traditional model of organic expansion and acquisition. Common among remodeling companies that have been successful in establishing a larger-scale presence are strategies or approaches that involve strategic partnerships or arrangements, such as:

  • Strategic Alliances: When expanding to new markets, building brand awareness and trust takes a significant investment of time and money, so securing strategic alliances or partnerships with long-standing, nationally known manufacturing and retail brands to sell, furnish, and install products and projects is very effective for gaining entry into new markets with instant name recognition and credibility with consumers, who, given the same quality and price, will choose the brand with which they are already most familiar. Strategic alliances ultimately provide a contractor with a high volume of quality leads in new markets.
  • Franchising: Franchising is a well-established scaling strategy in many industries that allows a business to quickly expand its brand recognition and reach without the challenges of managing each independently-owned and operated franchise location. Franchising in the remodeling industry seems to be more successful with single focus or specialty businesses, such as painting and insurance restoration services that are easier to standardize and streamline.
  • Outside Investment: Pursuing outside investment through private equity partnerships, for example, provides a company with an influx of working financial capital for expanding into new markets, developing additional lines of business or products, or restructuring operations or management to better foster growth. Though a highly effective way to scale a remodeling company toward a national presence, this strategy of securing outside investment has not been more common because investors are deterred by the relatively high-risk nature of such a volatile and fragmented industry.

Since the remodeling industry is so diverse, with business segments and market niches that cover the full spectrum from full-service and design/build firms to specialty replacements and handyman services, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to achieving scale. Companies often employ multiple business strategies and arrangements either consecutively or concurrently. Some of the biggest benefits of scale reported by industry leaders include improved buying power, lower costs, efficiency of centralized accounting and management, and improved use of technology systems, as well as geographic diversity (i.e., not being dependent on the economic strength of one market or region), greater ability to explore new business opportunities, greater consumer recognition and trust, and being able to provide growth opportunities to key team members. The many issues surrounding this topic of strategies, benefits and challenges of achieving scale in the residential remodeling industry will be explored in greater detail in an upcoming Joint Center working paper.

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CR: Lumber Prices off 25% from recent peak

Lumber Prices off 25% from recent peak

by Bill McBride on 7/07/2013 

Just two months ago I mentioned that lumber prices were nearing the housing bubble highs. Since then prices have declined sharply, with prices off about 25% from the highs in early May.

Some of the decline could be related to additional supply coming on the market, and some due to less buying from China (several sources are reporting that China has pulled back significantly on buying North American lumber).

On additional supply, a few months ago the WSJ had an article about some producers increasing supply:

Georgia-Pacific, the largest U.S. producer of plywood … plans to invest about $400 million over the next three years to boost softwood plywood and lumber capacity by 20%.

Lumcber PricesClick on graph for larger image in graph gallery.

This graph shows two measures of lumber prices (not plywood): 1) Framing Lumber from Random Lengths through last week (via NAHB), and 2) CME framing futures.

Lumber prices are now about 25% off the recent highs.

Read more at http://www.calculatedriskblog.com/2013/07/lumber-prices-off-25-from-recent-peak.html#6cFiluGhPTIo9Fcv.99

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CR: Lumber Prices decline Sharply over last month

Lumber Prices decline Sharply over last month

by Bill McBride on 5/20/2013  

Just over a month ago I mentioned that lumber prices were nearing the housing bubble highs. Since then prices have declined sharply, with prices off about 20% from the recent highs.

Some of the decline could be related to additional supply coming on the market, and some due to less buying from China (several sources are reporting that China has pulled back significantly on buying North American lumber).

On additional supply, two months ago the WSJ had an article about some producers increasing supply:

Georgia-Pacific, the largest U.S. producer of plywood … plans to invest about $400 million over the next three years to boost softwood plywood and lumber capacity by 20%.

Lumcber PricesClick on graph for larger image in graph gallery.

This graph shows two measures of lumber prices (not plywood): 1) Framing Lumber from Random Lengths through last week (via NAHB), and 2) CME framing futures.

Lumber prices are now 20% off the recent highs.

Read more at http://www.calculatedriskblog.com/2013/05/lumber-prices-decline-sharply-over-last.html#UyI6GKlagaM8APOV.99

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CR: Builder Confidence declines in April due to higher costs

Builder Confidence declines in April due to higher costs

by Bill McBride on 4/15/2013  

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reported the housing market index (HMI) decreased 2 points in April to 42. Any number under 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as poor than good.

From the NAHB: Rising Costs Put Squeeze on Builder Confidence in April

Facing increasing costs for building materials and rising concerns about the supply of developed lots and labor, builders registered less confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes in April, with a two-point drop to 42 on the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI), released today.

“Supply chains for building materials, developed lots and skilled workers will take some time to re-establish themselves following the recession, and in the meantime builders are feeling squeezed by higher costs and limited availability issues,” explained NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “That said, builders’ outlook for the next six months has improved due to the low inventory of for-sale homes, rock bottom mortgage rates and rising consumer confidence.”

While the HMI component gauging current sales conditions declined two points to 45 and the component gauging buyer traffic declined four points to 30 in April, the component gauging sales expectations in the next six months posted a three-point gain to 53 – its highest level since February of 2007.

Looking at three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the Northeast was unchanged at 38 in April while the Midwest registered a two-point decline to 45, the South registered a four-point decline to 42 and the West posted a three-point decline to 55.

HMI and Starts Correlation Click on graph for larger image.

This graph compares the NAHB HMI (left scale) with single family housing starts (right scale). This includes the April release for the HMI and the February data for starts (March housing starts will be released tomorrow). This was below the consensus estimate of a reading of 45.

As I noted last week, lumber prices are near the housing bubble high, and it appears highers costs are impacting builder confidence.

Read more at http://www.calculatedriskblog.com/2013/04/builder-confidence-declines-in-april.html#DcTF9VALOx5AY9XT.99

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CR: Lumber Prices near Housing Bubble High

Lumber Prices near Housing Bubble High

by Bill McBride on 4/09/2013  

Demand for lumber is increasing, but demand is still far below the levels during the housing bubble. However supply is lower than during the bubble years too. There are several factors impacting supply including a large number of sawmills still idled (it takes time to restart), the impact of the Mountain pine beetle, reduced maximum cuts in parts of Canada, and the permanent closure of high cost mills.

Note: Here is a great series on the mountain pine beetle from the Vancouver Sun: Pine Beetle

The B.C. government estimates that of the 2.3-billion cubic metres of merchantable lodgepole pine in the province, the beetles have claimed 726-million cubic metres over at least 17.5-million hectares.

Last month the WSJ had an article about some producers increasing supply:

Georgia-Pacific, the largest U.S. producer of plywood … plans to invest about $400 million over the next three years to boost softwood plywood and lumber capacity by 20%.

Much more capacity is needed.

Lumcber PricesClick on graph for larger image in graph gallery.

This graph shows two measures of lumber prices (not plywood): 1) Framing Lumber from Random Lengths through last week (via NAHB), and 2) CME framing futures.

Lumber prices are now near the housing bubble highs.

Read more at http://www.calculatedriskblog.com/2013/04/lumber-prices-near-housing-bubble-high.html#ztQdV2FMO5DDTqOQ.99

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CR: Lumber Prices up Sharply, Suppliers Scramble to Keep Up

Lumber Prices up Sharply, Suppliers Scramble to Keep Up

by Bill McBride on 3/21/2013 

From the WSJ: Amid Housing Recovery, Humble Plywood Shines Anew

Growing demand and tight supplies have pushed up plywood prices by 45% in the past year, and U.S. producers are scrambling to get back up to speed after slashing output of the basic construction material during the housing bust.

Georgia-Pacific, the largest U.S. producer of plywood, will announce Friday it plans to invest about $400 million over the next three years to boost softwood plywood and lumber capacity by 20%.

With demand rising, the composite price for structural panels, which includes plywood and other wood products, jumped to $511 per thousand square feet on March 15 this year, up 45% from $351 in mid-March a year ago, according to Random Lengths, a Eugene, Ore., wood-products market reporting service.

Lumcber PricesClick on graph for larger image in graph gallery.

This graph shows two measures of lumber prices (not plywood): 1) Framing Lumber from Random Lengths through last week (via NAHB), and 2) CME framing futures.

Lumber prices are now at 2004 and 2005 levels.  Demand is far below the levels during the housing bubble, but supply has fallen sharply too.

Read more at http://www.calculatedriskblog.com/2013/03/lumber-prices-up-sharply-suppliers.html#by52g5HXfx0IO3fT.99

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Eye on Housing: How Big a Home Do Home Buyers Want?

How Big a Home Do Home Buyers Want?

from Eye on Housing by Rose Quint

In the world of home buyer preferences, there is one question that pops up more often than any other:  how much space are home buyers looking for?  NAHB’s study What Home Buyers Really Wantanswers this important question, based on responses from more than 3,600 home buyers, sampled to represent all home buyers in the country[1].

Among all home buyers combined as one group, the median home size desired is 2,226 square feet.  However, a closer look at the data broken down by various buyer characteristics shows there are significant differences in how big a home different types of buyers really want.

Age, for example, plays an important role, with the amount of space desired dropping steadily as the age of the buyer increases.  Among those younger than 35, the size desired is 2,494 square feet, compared to 2,065 square feet among those 65 or older (Figure 1).

Figure1Blog2

Race and ethnicity also affect home size preferences, as minority buyers tend to want more space than White, non-Hispanic buyers.  While the latter report wanting about 2,197 square feet, Asian buyers desire to have 2,280 square feet, Hispanic buyers want 2,347 square feet, and African-American buyers want 2,664 square feet (Figure 2).

Figure2Blog2

Estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that the median size of all single-family homes started in 2012 was 2,309 square feet (the average was 2,521 square feet).  After peaking in 2006, the median home size fell in 2007, 2008, and 2009, but then reversed course and has now risen for three consecutive years.  The reason for this reversal, to a large extent, has to do with buyers’ ability to access credit.  In recent years, the less financially-solid buyers have been shut out of the new home market by overly stringent mortgage lending requirements.  As a result, homes built in the last few years reflect the preferences of those who are still able to obtain credit and have large down payments – typically wealthier buyers who can afford larger homes.


[1] Survey participants are representative of all home buyers in the country, across geographic, age, income, and race groups.

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