Builders’ merchants rebound as Britain gets into the garden

Covid-19 restrictions have given many people more time to get some of those long-neglected jobs done

Figures for the third quarter of 2020 (July-September) from the Builders Merchants Federation (BMF) reveal sales bouncing back to near normal levels.

Sales in Q3 were 63.2% up, compared to the second quarter (or 53.2% when adjusted for trading days in each quarter).

Year-to-date sales are still 15.4% down on 2019 but sales in Q3 2020 were 1.0% higher than in Q3 2019, albeit with one extra trading day. September 2020 sales were particularly strong – up 8.3% on September 2019.

Comparing the two largest categories for Q3 2020 with the pre-Covid Q3 2019, Timber & Joinery grew by 3.5% in value, while Heavy Building Materials saw a decrease of 1.0%.

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Landscaping was the big winner with year-on-year sales growth of 24.2% in value. Decking, Garden Walling, Paving and Fencing & Gates were product categories that all saw substantial growth from last year as a furloughed nation had little else to do but home improvements.

Having been locked down for April, however, Britain did not want to stay indoors. Sales of Plumbing, Heating & Electrical items were down 11.9% in summer 2020 compared to 2019, and Kitchens & Bathrooms were down 7.1%.

Commenting on the Q3 sales data, BMF chief executive John Newcomb said: “The level of activity over the summer and early autumn has been extremely encouraging, but we must also recognise that this has been against a backdrop of furlough payments, stamp duty holidays and continuing work on existing sites. It remains to be seen how consumer confidence holds up going forward.  The construction industry should benefit from government initiatives such as the Green Homes Grant, which has just been extended through to March 2022.  But with lockdown measures continuing throughout the nations of the UK we are likely to see more volatility in the coming months.”

Emile van der Ryst, insight manager at GfK, which collates point-of-sale data from 80% of general builders’ merchants in Great Britain, said: “There is an expectation that the remainder of the year will be more challenging due to the second lockdown, but the merchant sector will benefit from being allowed to remain open for trading. Digital development will continue at a rapid pace, while looking further ahead, Brexit will bring its own challenges in 2021. The recent performance does however underline some positivity after this turbulent and uncertain year.”

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