Professional Housebuilder and Property Developer column: Strong sales continue at Builders’ Merchants

The latest figures from the Builders Merchant Building Index (BMBI), published in October, reveal that year-on-year value sales to builders and contractors by builders’ merchants were 23.0% higher in August 2021 than the previous year.

Helped by one more trading day this year, eleven of the twelve product categories sold more in August 2021 compared to August 2020. Heavy Building Materials (+16.9%), Landscaping (+11.5%) and Kitchens & Bathrooms (+11.3%) put in a strong monthly performance. Average like-for-like daily sales rose 17.1% compared to the same month last year.

Compared to August 2019, a pre-pandemic year, total merchant value sales were up 18.2% in August 2021, with no difference in trading days. This growth was largely driven by two categories – Timber & Joinery (+48.4%) and Landscaping (+29.7%). Heavy Building Materials (+10.1%) also recorded higher sales compared to the same month two years ago, while Plumbing, Heating & Electrical (-0.6%) and Decorating (-3.1%) were among the seven categories that sold less.

Month-on-month
For the second month in a row, total merchant sales were down in August compared to July (-7.9%) with no difference in trading days. Only Workwear & Safetywear (+3.1%) sold more. Plumbing, Heating & Electrical (-3.6%), Kitchens & Bathrooms (-6.5%), Heavy Building Materials (-7.2%) and Timber & Joinery Products (-8.6%) all sold less. Landscaping (-14.4%) was the weakest category month-on-month.

Index
August’s BMBI index was 139.3, helped by strong performances from Timber & Joinery Products (182.6) and Landscaping (175.3). Seven other categories exceeded 100, including Heavy Building Materials (127.0).

Krystal Williams, Managing Director Pavestone UK Ltd and BMBI’s Expert for Natural Stone & Porcelain Paving comments: “The market has slowed but it’s still busy, although more manageably busy. The end of Q2 saw a noticeable drop in demand as the lifting of restrictions meant homeowners could spend their money on going out and holidays again rather than on home improvements.

“Most contractors are booked well into 2022, but fulfilling their orders remains a challenge. There’s a lot of uncertainty around product availability and cost. Shipping costs have risen to $7,000 a container, and it’s looking highly likely container rates will hit $10,000 before the end of the year.

“With space at a premium, the industry is having to rethink what gets imported. Each shipment has to be popular products or core lines – there’s no room for specialist and niche items. Arrival times are hit and miss, but once containers get to the UK, port congestion and a lack of hauliers means it can take up to two weeks to get product offloaded and to merchants. It used to take two days.

“High demand is pushing up prices and we’ve seen prices rise every month since March. As this makes quoting for jobs problematic, many contractors are pushing consumers to buy their own paving offering merchants the opportunity to highlight the features and benefits of different products and introduce premium options like porcelain, which can be cheaper than sandstone, and available.

“Where the market goes next remains to be seen. A slowdown in demand is most likely, as material costs and availability problems put customers off committing to new projects.”

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