Extraordinary, synchronised recovery for builders’ merchants’ sales

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% on Q1 2019.

Landscaping and Timber & Joinery Products saw exceptional growth year-on-year and when compared to 2019. 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%.

Total sales grew 47.4% compared to March 2020 and by a no less extraordinary 23.0% compared to the same month in 2019.

There are a few exceptions, particularly for indoor trades, where Covid restrictions has impacted the rate of recovery in these sectors. Sales for Kitchens & Bathrooms were down -2.1% in Q1 2021 compared to the previous quarter, and -1.8% on Q1 2020. However, month-on-month there are signs of improvement across the board. Sales for Kitchens & Bathrooms was up 12.3% in March compared to February.

Commenting on the results, Mike Rigby, CEO of MRA Research, said: “Considering where the industry was this time last year, the rate and strength of recovery has been phenomenal, and it caught forecasters, including the OBR, flat footed. Recovery has been fuelled by strong growth in new house building and RMI (Repair, Maintenance & Improvements), amplified by homeowners – synchronised by lockdowns – getting the idea and desire for home improvement at the same time. The latest ONS figures confirm that construction output recovered to 2.4% above its pre-pandemic February 2020 level, with RMI 7.7% above February 2020.

“However, the pace of recovery varies between product sectors, with Landscaping and Timber & Joinery the strongest. Lead times are extending and prices rising as demand for building materials exceeds supply. It’s reported that many hard landscaping installers are booked out to the end of the year.

“It is encouraging, now that lockdowns have eased, to see internal categories like Kitchens and Bathrooms, Plumbing, Heating & Electrical and Decorating, starting to catch up with growth across the board in March compared to February. We expect differences across sectors to start to even out over the coming months.”

Developed and run by MRA Research, the BMBI – a brand of the Builders Merchant Federation – is a monthly index of builders’ merchant sales, and the most reliable, up-to-date measure of Repair, Maintenance, and Improvement (RMI) activity in the UK. The index is based on actual sales from GfK’s Builders’ Merchant Point of Sale Tracking Data, which captures value sales out to builders from generalist builders’ merchants, accounting for over 80% of total sales from builders’ merchants throughout Great Britain. An in-depth review, which includes commentary by sector experts, is provided each quarter.

Download the Q1 Report here.

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