RCI Column – Lacklustre February – before COVID-19 hit

Lacklustre February – before COVID-19 hit

Having endured three and a half years of Brexit turmoil, the country now faces a far bigger challenge and greater uncertainty. The BMBI February report pre-dated social distancing (which started on 19 March) and the lockdown (which took effect on 24 March), hence merchants’ February trading will not have been much affected by the emerging Coronavirus pandemic.


Total Builders’ Merchant sales to roofers, builders and contractors in February were down 1.3% compared with February 2019. Three categories were weaker: Timber & Joinery Products (-6.9%); Tools (-4.0%) and Heavy Building Materials (-1.9%). Among the seven categories that sold more this year, Workwear & Safetywear showed strong growth (+30.8%) driven by higher demand for protective equipment (including masks, goggles and gloves).


Compared with January, sales in February increased +2.2% despite having two less trading days. Eight categories sold more, led by Landscaping (+16.5%). Kitchens & Bathrooms (+7.8%) and Workwear & Safetywear (+6.8%) also did well. Four categories sold less, including Timber & Joinery Products (-2.2%) and Plumbing, Heating & Electrical (-1.5%).

Other periods

Sales in the three months, December 2019 to February 2020, were down by 1.2% compared with the same period a year earlier. Sales for the 12 months March 2019 to February 2020 were down 0.9% on the same period the previous year, with one less trading day.


February’s BMBI index was 107.6. Ten of the twelve categories exceeded 100, led by Workwear & Safetywear (128.0).

Wienerberger UK Commercial Director Kevin Tolson and BMBI’s Expert for Bricks & Roof Tiles comments: “After a couple of interesting years across the industry we’re seeing the merchant focus shifting slightly, with interests in factors such as specification, customer service and sustainability increasing within the sector.

“Due to events in recent years, products such as cladding and facades are now in the spotlight, prompting a change in the specification process. Because of this, now more than ever, merchants are educating themselves further on all aspects of products to allow them to recommend the right materials for the job. In addition, there is a much broader range of information available to merchants following changes to specifications, which have allowed for an improved merchant-customer relationship.

“Sustainability is also an area of consideration that has become important across most industries over the past year or so. The construction sector, in particular, has been put under the microscope for its efforts to reduce any negative impacts on the environment and make the entire build process as green as possible. We expect queries around the sustainable credentials of products, packaging and distribution will become more commonplace as merchants begin to actively push more sustainable offerings to meet the demand.”

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

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