Malcolm Gough, Group Sales & Marketing Director Talasey Group is BMBI’s Expert for Natural Stone Landscaping Products, Vitrified Paving & Artificial Grass.
Approaching Easter, we were set for our best year ever. We had a positive weather forecast, full stock levels and new product lines. Our new decking range had arrived from China. Then, at the peak of the season, COVID-19 struck, and the market was shut.
We continued to service a few customers and dealt with continuing demand for artificial grass, but in this ‘box-moving’ world it was a nightmare for China to lockdown first. The previous shortage of containers became even greater as they all backed up in China. We also had to land newly-arrived Indian sandstone, organise transport in a fraught market and get product to distribution centres.
Prices from China – in particular of decking – have started to rise due to a combination of exchange rates, shipping costs and raw material costs. Prices of Indian sandstone are also expected to rise as the lockdown in India halted manufacture, and this will possibly not be resolved before the monsoon season. Manufacture of the popular Italian porcelain has stopped, although there is no sign of pressure on prices.
Our customers are builders’ merchants. If they’re closed, we’re closed. Bigger construction sites are starting to reopen, and when builders and landscapers return to work everyone can. Most merchants are now fully opened, operating click and collect, or just delivery only.
Millions of homeowners have never spent so much time looking so long and so closely at their homes. The result is a surge of interest in improving them. If they can’t spend money on a holiday this year, they may spend it on their gardens. April’s traditional demand spike for all landscaping lines could be pushed back to August.
We’re still not out of the woods, and nowhere near the turnover we need to support large staff numbers. Our concern is what can external sales staff do without traditional branch sales visits. We need inventive ways to communicate with customers.
Sales counters have safety screens and they’re taking sales calls but, crucially, they’re not placing stock orders, they’re buying for orders only. The industry is slowly getting there, but until people get braver and buy in stock things won’t change.