(last updated July 2019)
The carpet industry tends to benefit when the economy is strong and the housing market is buoyant. Between 2001 and 2004, consumer spending on carpets and floor coverings grew by around 15%, driven by a stable economy and by a booming property market. Demand stayed strong during the mid 2000s but then fell during the closing years of the decade due to the effects of the credit crunch and a much weaker housing market.
The depressed economy and sluggish housing market meant that expenditure on carpets continued to fall in the opening years of the 2010s. According to government figures, the amount spent by consumers on carpets and other floor coverings fell quite significantly between 2007 and 2009 and has remained sluggish since, despite the recovery in the economy and in consumers' disposable income levels since 2013 and the revival in the housing market during the mid 2010s. This doesn't include the amount spent on floor coverings by businesses, but it's likely that this followed a similar trend in the late 2000s/early 2010s as many businesses looked to cut unnecessary expenditure wherever possible. It's also likely that many businesses have remained cautious about their spending despite the recovery in the economy in the last couple of years.
Television programmes that feature home improvement can have a positive impact on the trade, because they raise people's interest in interior design and encourage them to change the appearance of their homes more often.
Although certain skills are needed, the carpet fitting industry is quite easy to enter. So at times when demand for floor covering services is strong there are generally plenty of people wanting to cash in on it - carpet fitting is always a competitive trade.
Alternatives to carpet
Not so very long ago, carpet was the standard floor covering for almost every room in the house. However, alternatives to carpet have become very fashionable. Stripped floorboards with rugs are a popular choice for many, as is laminate or wood-strip flooring. Ceramic, porcelain, and quarry tiles, slate and stone have also become very popular, and not just for kitchens and bathrooms.
Although these trends have eaten into carpet sales, they present new opportunities for carpet fitters and suppliers who are prepared to keep up with developments and learn new skills. Fitters may also look to exploit the growing popularity of electric underfloor heating systems and offer a fitting service for these. (Although connecting these generally requires a qualified electrician, the actual laying of them is quite straightforward and can be completed by a skilled trades person.)
Keeping up with developments
An excellent way to keep up with industry developments as they occur is to join a trade association. The National Institute of Carpet and Floorlayers (NICF) and the Contract Flooring Association (CFA) are the main organisations representing the industry in the UK. Another good way to stay in touch with your industry is to subscribe to a trade magazine - there are several available specifically for members of the carpet industry, such as Contract Flooring Journal.