RCI Column – Builders’ merchants’ sales soar in Q1 2021

Total value sales to builders, roofers and contractors by Britain’s builders’ merchants in Q1 2021 increased 8.6% compared to the previous quarter, according to the Builders Merchants Building Index (BMBI) report published in May. Sales surged in March 2021, up 47.4% compared to the same month last year, and removing the effects of Covid, sales were also 23.0% up on March 2019.

Year-on-year

Q1 2021 Total Builders Merchants value sales were 15.1% up compared to Q1 2020, and 6.0% up compared to Q1 2019. Landscaping and Timber & Joinery Products saw exceptional growth. First quarter Landscaping sales were 41.4% up on Q1 2020 and an astonishing 32.3% up on Q1 2019. Over the same periods, Timber & Joinery Products was up 30.5% and 15.8% respectively.

Quarter-on-quarter

Merchants sold more in all but one category compared to Q4 2020. Landscaping (+26.2%) was by far the strongest category over the period.

Month-on-month

Total sales grew 38.9% in March 2021 compared to February 2021, with all categories reporting growth month-on-month.

Index

The BMBI index for Q1 2021 was 120.7. Timber & Joinery Products and Landscaping were the strongest categories, each at 141.5.

Neil Hargreaves, Managing Director Knauf Insulation and BMBI’s Expert for Mineral Wool Insulation, comments: “Confidence in the sector is sky-high, with a healthy recovery forecast for construction and manufacturing. In fact, just after the quarter ended the Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) hit levels not seen since 1994. Loosening lockdowns, pent-up projects and ongoing government support for the housing market have turbocharged demand in Q1, with little sign of it abating as the year progresses.

“In the face of this voracious demand, supply has become a challenge. Across the board, from timber to plaster, steel to insulation, suppliers have faced a perfect storm of disruption. Lockdowns, Brexit and the Suez Canal blockage have compounded with other factors to restrict raw material flows and inflate costs, even for products manufactured in the UK. That inevitably means price increases for common construction materials and in some cases, it may also mean limited availability.

“We are working hard to bring new manufacturing capacity online to increase the supply of high-performance, non-combustible Mineral Wool insulation for our customers in the UK. The non-combustible part is key. In the face of high demand, it’s vital that the construction industry doesn’t cut corners. We’ve all seen the headlines from the Grenfell inquiry, and the ongoing turmoil caused by cladding remedial work.

“With building regulations changing, the new Construction Products Regulator coming and mortgage lenders and insurers taking a keener interest in material choice, it’s clear that the issue of fire safety isn’t going away.

“The specification teams at larger contractors are already taking action to design out fire risk by using non-combustible insulation. But what about smaller builders? Is an independent installer working on an extension aware of all the risks involved with using certain products, and the potential for future liability issues?

“This is where merchants can make a big difference. By asking questions when insulation is purchased, and encouraging the use of naturally non-combustible materials, they can help their customers to deliver better, safer buildings.”

This column was published in the June issue of Roofing, Cladding & Insulation (RCI) magazine.

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