Paver manufacturers aren’t anticipating the crazy growth they’d experienced in each of the past few years. But the market is still strong for hardscaping, and contractors that stay on top of the latest trends can definitely pull off another banner year.
“What we are experiencing now is nothing like in 2008 and 2009,” says Charles Gamarekian Sr., founder, chairman and CEO of Cambridge Pavingstones. “That was a real financial crisis. Even then, money seemed to eventually come out of the woodwork. The one thing people realized was that they could still comfortably invest in their home. That’s what we’re seeing now.”
That said, demand has started to soften a bit. Joe Raboine, director of Belgard residential hardscapes at Oldcastle APG, says things are starting to feel a bit more like 2019 again, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The days of being awarded a job just for showing up might be over. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of opportunity for contractors who can deliver what the market is asking for.
“The consumers who tend to choose our products are more concerned about a premium-quality product than a budget,” says Samar Irshad, product marketing manager at Unilock. “Focusing on being unique is something that will help set hardscaping companies apart in this market.”
Hardscape contractors have something working in their favor. A lightbulb that went on for consumers during the pandemic has remained lit.
“There has been a shift in mentality of what an outdoor space is and how it’s utilized,” Raboine says. “A lot of people are looking at their outdoor space as a necessary extension of their home. The health and wellness benefits of being in an outdoor space are huge. When you start looking at an outdoor space as more than just a place to entertain, how you view the return on your investment also changes.”
To that point, Raboine says there has been a trend toward larger projects. Then, one part of the market has shifted to more modern, modular designs. At the other end of the spectrum are more organic, almost fragmented designs with no edges; the edges branch off into a separate area with boulders or rock.
“This is where we’re seeing how different paver styles, shapes and textures can come into play,” Raboine says. “We’ve also seen a larger interest in larger-format pavers. We’re even making things as large as 24x36-inch slab pavers that have a very modern appearance.”
Techo-Bloc has also evolved its paver lineup to include larger sizes, says James Roth, sales director. The company makes them as large as 36x36-inch.
Irshad says the shift toward slabs is the biggest trend Unilock has been watching. “Consumers these days like the very clean, monochromatic look of those larger-sized slabs,” Irshad says.
Then color starts to come into play. “Consumers aren’t looking for something as dark as a simple gray, nor something as bright as a traditional beige,” Irshad says. “Today’s consumers are looking for something in between.”
Size, shape, color and texture are each playing a role in the consumer’s desire to create outdoor spaces that look unique.
“The market has been evolving to larger units with a smooth surface, blended with grays and whites,” Gamarekian says.
“This look is proving to be a good match for everything from colonial to contemporary homes, and even your typical ranch-style home. Then some of our products that are blacks and different shapes are popular for both borders and inlays.”
Raboine says something known as biophilic design is also becoming more prominent. This has to do with helping people connect with nature.
“Science is showing that certain styles and colors can help people feel more relaxed,” Raboine says.
“Color and texture are really coming to the forefront, whereas a few years ago you had a few shades of certain color palettes. Now we’re seeing a lot more interest in these almost tone-on-tone, solid colors. Organic-type textures are also becoming more popular.”
Roth says texture has become a focal point for Techo-Bloc. Recent innovations are helping deliver unique textures such as wood grain, slate, basalt and flamed stone. One of the company’s more recent innovations, HD2 Technology, is engineered with higher particles per square inch, resulting in a tighter surface that allows for some unique, high-definition finishes.
A side benefit of Techo-Bloc’s HD2 Technology is product durability. That’s because the higher particles per square inch reduce the paver’s absorption level. Klean-Bloc Technology, which is also new, also enhances paver durability.
Roth says Klean-Bloc pavers are becoming popular for use in outdoor kitchens where everything but the kitchen sink might get spilled on them.
With all of the choices consumers now have, Roth says design is becoming an increasingly important step in the outdoor living sales process.
“Consumers are looking for more combinations of color, texture and scale,” Roth says. “You’re not always seeing that single product on a 10x10 patio anymore. Consumers are looking for different shapes, patterns and mosaics. They are adding inlays. A lot of creativity is going into these designs nowadays. Contractors shouldn’t be afraid of getting creative, because homeowners are eager for bold designs.”
Catching on in commercial settings
Residential landscaping isn’t the only opportunity to sell and install pavers. Roth says demand for precast products in commercial settings has been steadily growing. Roth says precast products like pavers can be a good alternative to asphalt for several reasons:
- More longevity, less maintenance
- Removable and repairable if subterranean infrastructure must be accessed
- Lower solar reflective index, reduced heat island effect
- More environmentally friendly since they aren’t made with oil
- More unique, attractive appearance
Roth says a lot of commercial property types, from high-rise apartments to retail centers, are getting in on the outdoor living trend. Dining areas, parkways and walkways are becoming common outdoor features on commercial real estate.
Gamarekian says an emerging trend is going through the roof, literally. “Rooftop applications are huge right now. Whether in residential or a business setting, builders and developers are looking for rooftops that are functional,” Gamarekian says. Patios, walls, planters and firepits are among the features coming into play.
Municipalities are also looking more to pavers for downtown sidewalks as part of broader revitalization programs.
“When you look at virtually any municipality across this country, a majority of their budget goes toward sidewalk and street maintenance,” Gamarekian says.
“That’s why engineers are starting to spec pavers a lot more. Engineers have come to realize that pavers aren’t going to get the cracks and potholes like concrete does. Once they’re down, they’re good to go for many years.”
Straightening out the supply chain
One other trend worth addressing has to do with product availability. Obviously, hardscape contractors and their suppliers faced unprecedented challenges over the past couple of years. Now demand is softening a bit, but it’s still strong.
“My barometer is always the contractor,” Gamarekian says. “From what I’d heard at the beginning of the year, contractors’ phones were ringing, and they had work pre-booked through the end of summer.”
So, the question is, can contractors get the pavers they need to knock out all of those projects?
Gamarekian is among those who feel a lot better than they did a year or two ago. “It was a struggle for a while because demand was unmatched. We reduced our number of SKUs (Stock Keeping Units) to make production more efficient. Now we’re starting to reintroduce those SKUs again and inventory levels are looking good.”
Techo-Bloc was also forced to focus on specific segments of its product line. Roth says there is still some pressure on the supply chain, although things have improved considerably.
Furthermore, Techo-Bloc has been making investments to help handle demand for its products.
“We just finished building a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in the greater Toronto area,” Roth says. “We’re really excited about this plant because it will help us keep up with demand in our various markets all across North America.”
Belgard is in the process of opening more than a dozen new facilities across North America. “By mid-2023 and going forward, we should not have any supply issues,” Raboine says. “We’ve actually built these new production plants in anticipation of our next five years of growth.”
Unilock has recently opened two new facilities, one in Ohio and one in the Boston area. “It has been a difficult couple of years, but I have no doubt that we will be able to meet demand going forward,” Irshad says. “Supply chain will no longer be an issue.”
And as long as hardscape contractors stay on top of the trends, and maybe get a little more creative than they are accustomed to, demand shouldn’t be an issue, either.
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