In the latest Builders Merchants Building Index (BMBI) report published in May, Britain’s Builders’ Merchants continued to report strong growth in Q1 2021, with total value sales up 8.6% compared to the previous quarter and 15.1% up on Q1 2020.
Removing the effects of Covid, results are still positive, with merchants reporting an increase of 6.0% in Q1 2021 on Q1 2019. Growth was fuelled by a bumper March, with total sales up 47.4% on March 2020 and by a no less extraordinary 23.0% compared to the same month in 2019.
Landscaping and Timber & Joinery Products saw exceptional year-on-year 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. Heavy Building Materials also did well, with sales growth of 10.3% and 1.3%.
Merchants sold more in all but one category compared to Q4 2020. Landscaping (+26.2%) was by far the strongest category over the period, followed by Timber & Joinery Products (+12.9%).
Total sales grew 38.9% in March 2021 compared to February 2021, with all categories reporting growth month-on-month.
The BMBI index for Q1 2021 was 120.7. Timber & Joinery Products and Landscaping were the strongest categories, each at 141.5.
Simon Woods, European Sales, Marketing & Logistics Director, West Fraser (formerly known as Norbord) and BMBI’s Expert for Wood Based Panels, comments: “Over recent months, Merchants and DIY stores have seen demand outstrip supply of most timber products, leaving a feeling of lost sales opportunities in most areas. Couple this with shortages of some of the key raw materials used in the manufacturing processes, and we are all in the middle of the perfect storm… and it feels like we are inappropriately dressed for it!
“As we move into Q2, demand for all forms of timber products is at an all-time high – at least if pricing is anything to go by. The increase in demand has many facets. The move to wood as a Carbon Friendly resource, the drive towards home improvement (research suggests between 50%-60% of people in the UK, depending on their location, are planning some form of home improvement) and the swing towards larger new houses, are just some of the drivers of the increases we are experiencing.
“From a wood based panel perspective (OSB, MDF, and PB,) the manufacturing sector is doing all it can to improve production by removing slower to produce products, increasing facility utilisation and reducing engineering downtime where possible. However, it is unlikely to be enough to fill the void and most commentators are suggesting that the current imbalance in supply and demand will last for the next 12 months or more.
“Particle board is being affected on more than one front. The demand for general flooring PB is high, which is causing its own problems within the supply chain. However, the demand for Kitchen, Bedroom and Bathroom renovation is causing a much more severe situation. Almost all of the carcasses used in Kitchens, Bedrooms and Bathrooms are manufactured using Particle Board and manufacturers are diverting volumes in that direction, to keep up with demand, exacerbating the issues on Flooring PB in the process.
“2021 is shaping up to be a year of both optimism and frustration for all sectors of the timber market. But strong planning partnerships across the whole supply chain will help to smooth the inevitable choppy waters.”
This column was published in the July/August issue of Timber Trades Journal (TTJ).