Krystal Williams, Managing Director Pavestone, is BMBI’s Expert for Natural Stone & Porcelain Paving.
First quarter market demand is significantly ahead of last year, with volumes more than double compared to Q1 2020. During the first and third lockdowns, homeowners have been spending big on their outdoor spaces and we are hearing that many landscapers have full order books to Christmas 2021.
This unprecedented demand has brought immense challenges. We have seen threefold increases in shipping costs, still poised to rise further, as well as container shortages and port congestion limiting exportable volumes and resulting in surcharges on (what feels like) a weekly basis.
Within the industry there are mixed opinions about whether the high shipping costs will last. Some feel the inflated costs and disruptions will be the new normal for the UK for the next few years, while others hope things might settle down by the new year.
To add to the industry’s woes, most of the UK’s sandstone comes from India and with the country battling to bring COVID infection rates under control, our partners on the ground estimate that just 30% of workers are available as many have entered voluntary self-isolation or forced lockdown. The labour shortage affects the stone processing volume, the timber used for the packaging and available transportation to port. The result has been increased procurement prices.
We are hopeful that India’s ports and factories can avoid a national lockdown, and supplies will still get through albeit at a very reduced rate. But if they do have to close, there will be even more stock issues, with pressure on manufacturers reliant on product they only have on the water (4-5 weeks in most cases).
While supply is challenging, we are encouraging merchants to move away from just-in-time and start planning, and to explore more stable alternatives such as porcelain. Alongside India, porcelain is mostly imported from Italy and Poland, which avoids cheap but unsuitable (not anti-slip) products from Turkey and Egypt.
Increased demand has broadened the scope of what homeowners will look for and what merchants can sell and achieve with landscaping products. The boundaries have been pushed and hopefully this will continue.