Buildingtalk blog – Merchant sales collapse under COVID-19 lockdown

April’s BMBI report is unlike any other. The Government enforced COVID-19 lockdown came late in March, so had a limited impact on the month. However, April took the full force, with many trades not working and most merchants temporarily closing branches or providing a restricted service only for essential sectors or emergencies. As a result, this report contains unprecedented figures.

Year-on-year

Total Builders Merchants value sales to builders and contractors in April were down 76.3% compared with April 2019. All categories saw heavy falls, with Workwear & Safetywear least affected (-60.2%), and Tools (-90.0%) hit hardest. Kitchens & Bathrooms (-86.8%) and

Decorating (-81.6%) were also particularly weak.

Month-on-month

Total merchant value sales in April were 72.1% below March 2020, with two less trading days. All categories were severely hit with Services (-59.0%) and Landscaping (-64.5%) the least affected. Tools (-87.4%) and Kitchens & Bathrooms (-85.3%) were weakest. Average sales a day, which removes trading day differences, were 69.3% lower overall than in March.

Other periods

Sales in the first four months of 2020 were 25.2% lower than in January to April 2019, with one more trading day this year. Workwear & Safetywear (+4.4%) was the only category that sold more – having experienced a significant uplift in March driven by strong demand for protective equipment.

Index

April’s BMBI index was 29.0 and all categories were well down.

Malcolm Gough, Group Sales & Marketing Director Talasey Group and BMBI’s Expert for Natural Stone Landscaping Products, Vitrified Paving & Artificial Grass comments: “Approaching Easter, we were set for our best year ever. We had a positive weather forecast, full stock levels and new product lines. Then, at the peak of the season, COVID-19 struck, and the market was shut. We continued to service a few customers and dealt with continuing demand for artificial grass, but in this ‘box-moving’ world it was a nightmare for China to lockdown first. The previous shortage of containers became even greater as they all backed up in China. We also had to land newly-arrived Indian sandstone, organise transport in a fraught market and get product to distribution centres.

“Prices from China have started to rise due to a combination of exchange rates, shipping costs and raw material costs. Prices of Indian sandstone are also expected to rise as the lockdown in India halted production. Manufacture of the popular Italian porcelain has stopped, although there is no sign of pressure on prices.

“As a result of this crisis, millions of homeowners have never spent so much time looking so long and so closely at their homes. The outcome is a surge of interest in improving them. If they can’t spend money on a holiday this year, they may spend it on their gardens. April’s traditional demand spike for all landscaping lines could be pushed back to August.”

BMBI Experts speak exclusively for their markets, explaining trends, issues and opportunities.

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Launched in 2015, the award winning monthly Builders Merchant Building Index (BMBI) report is the only reliable measure of repair, maintenance & improvement (RMI) activity in the UK. Filling an important gap, it can be widely used in construction, and by economists, Government, national media, commentators and influencers outside the industry.

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