The pandemic has had unexpected consequences, such as the explosion of demand for home improvement projects.

“In 2021, we saw crazy growth,” says Bill Darcy, CEO of the National Kitchen and Bath Association, a not-for-profit trade organization with over 50,000 members, including manufacturers, remodelers, retailers and other industry specialists. “It was the third highest rate of growth we have seen in the history of the quarterly report. Right now, it is at 12.6%.”

This is despite lingering issues of supply chain and labor shortages.

“Persistent challenges such as supply chain disruptions, cost of materials and availability of skilled labor are hampering the industry’s ability to take full advantage of the strong demand,” Darcy says.

The kitchen and bath industry was able to thrive early in the pandemic, registering historic levels of growth as homeowners enjoyed higher home equity levels and were eager to renovate as they continued to spend more time in their homes. However, ongoing challenges are beginning to catch up with the sector as members rated the health of the industry nearly 4% lower compared to Q2 as consumers, who early in the pandemic were willing to face potential delays in their project timelines and rising costs to materials, are now becoming more inclined to wait until 2022 with the hopes that prices will stabilize. As a result, the measure of current and future business conditions saw a more cautious outlook from respondents – down 6% and 3% respectively with members expecting more consumers to continue pushing projects off into 2022.

“The positive news is that, despite the ongoing challenges, the report found that consumers are opting to delay their projects rather than cancel them,” Darcy says. “Another interesting fact is that 68% of designers are using products they never used before. When the supply chain is disrupted and they can’t get certain products, designers get creative. They are also stocking up on products, perhaps renting storage space for them.”

Darcy admits that there is no quick fix for the labor shortage. For many years, young people have been guided away from the building trades in favor of expensive higher education, and are only slowly coming to see carpentry, plumbing, masonry and other hands-on work as a good living. “It will take time to train young workers.”

In the face of ongoing issues, the industry remains cautiously optimistic about the health of the sector in 2022, with members giving it a 7.9 out of 10 in the Kitchen & Bath Market Index third-quarter report. Despite projects being pushed into 2022, the industry is continuing to see demand for building and construction projects as 84% of firms report low postponement rates and 90% report low cancellation rates relative to their overall project volume.

“My advice for anyone starting a renovation project is to plan ahead as far as you can imagine,” Darcy says. “In addition to planning and being patient, buy ahead if what you want is available now. Store the appliances in the garage until you need them because we just don’t know how those supply chain issues will resolve themselves.”