RCI Column: Builders’ Merchants’ December Sales up on 2019

Jim Blanthorne

Sales to builders, roofers and contractors by Britain’s builders’ merchants in December 2020 were 8.8% higher than in December 2019, with total Q4 sales also significantly up on 2019, according to the latest Builders Merchants Building Index (BMBI) report.


Total builders’ merchants value sales in Q4 2020 (October-December) were up 5.4% compared to Q4 2019.

Landscaping continued to perform well with sales up 22.9% on Q4 a year earlier. Timber & joinery sales grew by 12.7% over the same period. Sales in the plumbing, heating & electrical category recovered less well (-6.0%).


Total value sales in Q4 2020 were down on the previous quarter (July-September) by 10.8%, the result of a seasonal slowdown, another lockdown and five fewer trading days in Q4.


Sales across all categories were down in December compared to November, for similar reasons. However, on a year-on-year basis, the two largest categories – heavy building materials (+6.2%) and timber & joinery products (+20.3%) – did particularly well.


The BMBI index for Q4 2020 was 111.1. Timber & joinery products (125.4) was the strongest category, followed by plumbing, heating & electrical (116.0).

Jim Blanthorne, managing director of KeyLite Roof Windows and BMBI’s expert for roof windows, said: “The year 2020 must go down as one of the most uncertain years of all time, and the uncertainty continued right up to the wire in Q4, with Brexit and Covid competing to be the most disruptive.

“However, while Brexit and Covid related angst ruled the headlines, the UK construction and repair, maintenance & improvement sectors showed remarkable resilience in the face of continued restrictions. The fact that demand remained so strong is to be celebrated in these difficult times.”

Jim continued: “Demand was fuelled by a combination of revealed need and accumulating funds to satisfy that need. With a large proportion of the employed population sent home to work, or furloughed, often sharing their small living spaces with young children, homeowners’ priorities shifted rapidly to improving the comfort and convenience of their living spaces, including rooms in the roof.

“Unable to spend money on holidays and entertainment, bank balances of some have continued to swell. By December, the Bank of England reported over £100 billion in their bank accounts. Currently, this is estimated to have grown to around £125 billion, and forecasts suggest it could be £250 billion by July.”

Jim concluded: “There were well documented supply issues, with manufacturers battling to meet strong demand, due to factors ranging from severe disruption in global shipping to Covid-related staff absences.

“This will inevitably flow through in material prices, with timber in particular continuing to pose challenges. But as we enter 2021, the market remains strong. Shipping challenges are abating, and we continue to build stock in support of what we expect to be a strong year.”

This article was originally published in RCI magazine‘s March 2021 issue

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