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First Data from 2017 Economic Census Suggests Fewer LBM Dealers, Many More Dollars

Source: Census Bureau

The federal government's first report from the 2017 Economic Census, released Friday, shows that the category which includes construction supply companies shrank in numbers by 6.0% since 2012 while sales jumped 26.7%.

That performance by the "other building material dealers" category compares with a 12.9% drop in the number of home centers, a 2.8% decline in hardware stores and a 0.5% rise in the number of paint and wallpaper establishments. Sales changes between 2012 and 2017 were only available for hardware stores; they grew 24.4%.

The "other building material dealers" isn't an exact count of lumberyards, roofing stores, and drywall specialty firms because it's a catch-all for any facility that the Census Bureau doesn't regard as a hardware, home center, or paint/wallpaper store. Thus, it also includes kitchen and bath shops, flooring specialists, window and door dealers, and the like.

The report issued Sept. 20 was the first of what will be months' worth of reports. We'll get a better idea regarding dealers when later Census reports tell how many of the "other" dealers sell particular products, such as framing lumber or roofing. For instance, out of 31,390 "other" dealers discovered in the 2012 Economic Census, 8,013 sold dimensional lumber, 6,171 sold gypsum, and 6,335 sold roofing.

In 2017, the Census Bureau found that 22,764 firms in the "other" category owned 29,509 establishments. That count compares with 31,392 establishments in 2012 and 39,551 in 2007, so between 2012 and 2017 the establishment count shrank 6.0%, and for the 10-year period since 2007, the facility count went down 25.4%.

Sales rose 26.7% from 2012 to reach $100.88 billion in 2017, payroll rose 26.6% to $13.17 billion, and the number of employees went up 11.5% to 283,992. All those counts were much higher in 2007, near the housing market's peak before the Great Recession.

As for the other businesses in the retail building material category, Census reported 15,026 hardware stores, 5,970 home centers, and 7,021 paint and wallpaper stores in 2017.

To find these and more numbers, go to, scroll to the Tables section, click on EC1744BASIC, and then look in the NAICS code for operations with the"444" classification.

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