A new year has brought optimism to life across the UK, with the vaccine rollout and easing restrictions giving us a first glimpse of future normality. During these first three months the Builders Merchants industry has benefitted from being deemed an essential service, and if anything, is starting to be more affected by the indirect repercussions of the global pandemic.
To say the first quarter has gone well is an understatement, but it needs to be put into perspective by looking at both 2019 and 2020’s performance. January was down -3.7% versus last year, with February seeing growth of 2.3%. March however was a record month for the industry, increasing by 47.4% against March 2020 and 23.0% against March 2019, albeit with 2 extra trading days against the latter. When recalculated to take into consideration March trading days in 2019 and 2021, the market still increased by 12.3%.
Looking further into March some noteworthy trends can be observed. The monthly BMBI report highlights the top-level categories being tracked in the market, but there’s also 74 lower level categories that feed into these. Examples would include Timber feeding into Timber & Joinery and Bricks feeding into Heavy Building Materials. Thirty seven of those 74 lower-level categories saw record sales during March 2021, with some of the big hitters including Timber, Bricks, Aggregates, Insulation, Cement and Plasterboard. It was however not only the core categories seeing record sales, but also areas such as Toolhire / Hire Services, Plumbing Equipment, Power Tools, Hand Tools and Boilers, Tanks and Boiler Accessories.
All of this results in a Q1 growth of 15.1% against Q1 2020 and 6.0% against Q1 2019. Timber & Joinery drives growth against 2020 with an increase of 30.5%, with Heavy Building Materials and Landscaping up by 10.3% and 41.4% respectively. Ironmongery, Services, Tools and Plumbing, Heating & Electrical were the other areas to see growth.
As mentioned, the industry might now become more affected by the indirect repercussions of the pandemic. Stock shortages are front and centre with pent up demand leading to a buying frenzy. RMI is expected to be the main driver during the first half of the year and it could very well remain that way throughout 2021. Q2 figures should see massive growth due to last year’s first lockdown, with the remainder of the year very difficult to predict at this stage.