Krystal Williams, Managing Director Pavestone UK Ltd, is BMBI’s Expert for Natural Stone & Porcelain Paving.
The market has slowed but it’s still busy, although more manageably busy. Compared to the first quarter of 2021, the end of Q2 saw a noticeable drop in demand as the lifting of restrictions means homeowners can spend their money on going out and holidays again rather than on home improvements.
Most contractors are booked well into 2022, but fulfilling their orders is a challenge. There’s a lot of uncertainty around product availability and cost. Shipping costs have risen to $7,000 a container, and it’s looking highly likely container rates will hit $10,000 before the end of the year.
With space at a premium, the industry is having to rethink what gets imported. Each shipment has to be popular products or core lines – there’s no room for specialist and niche items. Arrival times are hit and miss, but once containers get to the UK, port congestion and a lack of hauliers means it can take up to two weeks to get product offloaded and away to merchants. It used to take two days.
High demand is pushing up prices. We’ve seen prices rise every month since March, which makes it more difficult for contractors to quote for a job as the costs go up so frequently. To mitigate the problem, many contractors are pushing consumers to buy their own paving. This offers merchants the opportunity to highlight the features and benefits of different products and introduce premium options like porcelain, which can be cheaper than sandstone, and available.
Where the market goes next remains to be seen. Most likely is a slow down in demand, as material costs and availability problems put customers off committing to new projects.
With India maybe on the cusp of a third wave it’s hard to know the impact on sandstone imports. There will always be a market for sandstone, but porcelain has shown itself a worthy alternative for both traditional and contemporary style paving.