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Celebrating Our Spirit: Home improvement projects soar

Mar. 6—LIMA — With myriad financial questions surrounding the lingering coronavirus pandemic, it would be reasonable to assume homeowners have been keeping their spending habits close to the vest, holding off on home improvement projects until a degree of predictability could be detected in the unsteady employment market.

Industry experts, however, say just the opposite has proven true.

From July through September of last year Porch.com tracked 330 million U.S. Google searches for home improvement work — up almost 50% from the same period the previous year.

A Consumer Specialists survey of more than 600 homeowners conducted in June 2020 revealed that 57 percent of homeowners did a home improvement project from March to May as the pandemic was gripping the country. On average, those homeowners spent $1,750 making home improvements.

One Allen County company has found that to be the case as well.

“When people are stuck at home staring at their four walls they begin to see certain areas that could use an upgrade,” said Dave Karras, director of marketing for KSI Kitchen and Bath. “We’ve been pleasantly surprised. Despite the current economic uncertainty, sales have been strong for the past several months.”

KSI, a regional home design and remodeling firm with a showroom at 3035 Elida Road in Lima, celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2020. The family-owned company based in Brighton, Michigan operates seven design centers: five located in Southeast Michigan as well as showrooms in Lima and Toledo.

Never in those previous 49 years has the company faced challenges the likes of which were presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Karras said 2020 presented “big changes in some ways, while in others it was not so different” from previous years.

“At first, when the pandemic first surfaced, there were radical changes — especially for our designers,” he said. “We design new spaces, and people are used to coming to our showrooms to look at options. When homeowners are deciding whether to spend $20,000 to $30,000 to upgrade their homes, it becomes a risky proposition.”

Karras said showrooms were closed to the public for the first several weeks of the pandemic as designers turned to digital presentations to show off their various product lines. That business model proved less than ideal, he admitted, mainly because “people want to see and touch stuff.”

By late spring of 2020 showrooms were re-opened, albeit with the now-familiar trappings that accompany business protocol during a once-in-a-lifetime health crisis. In addition to required face coverings for employees and customers alike, and daily deep cleanings, “we encouraged people to make appointments (to visit showrooms) instead of just showing up,” Karras said. “It seemed to make people more comfortable.”

Business has been fairly brisk during the pandemic, which General Manager Greg Maraugha attributed to 50 years of customer satisfaction.

“KSI since 1971 has focused on teamwork, community and providing quality products while developing long-term relationships with our customers, vendors and team members,” said Maraugha.

A surprisingly strong market

Rick Boughan, assistant manager at Modern Builders Supply Inc. at 1245 Neubrecht Road in Lima, said business has remained unexpectedly brisk for the wholesale supplier of cabinets, roofing and siding, doors and windows.

“Our sales last year were better than the year before, and to be honest I’m not sure why that was. I would imagine some people decided to use their (COVID-19) stimulus money to get some home projects that they otherwise wouldn’t have. Also people who were laid off may have had some extra time to do those projects they had been putting off.”

During the early days of the pandemic Modern Builders closed its doors to walk-in customer traffic, relying instead on phone calls and emails to conduct company business. But much of the company’s business was unaffected.

“We work with a lot of contractors, and they know the products that we have,” said Boughan, “although now that our doors have reopened we are getting a fair amount of walk-in traffic.”

Boughan said he was a little surprised at the company’s strong sales numbers last year, especially in light of skyrocketing costs and limited supplies for some home improvement materials.

“We’ve had a hard time getting windows, for instance, because there are several glass factories that shut down during the pandemic,” he said. “Other materials like oriented strand board (a plywood substitute) got real expensive over the past year. Those cost increases can add 20% to the cost of a new home and some people are holding off on new construction to see if the prices will go back down.

“I think they will as inventories get built back up,” Boughan predicted.

Reach J Swygart at [email protected]