Builders’ merchants’ sales bounce back in Q3

Figures for the third quarter of 2020 published on 23 November in the Builders Merchants Federations (BMF) Builders Merchants Building Index (BMBI) reflect the resilience of the sector, with sales bouncing back to near normal levels.

Comparing Q3 and Q2 2020 sales values highlights the dramatic impact of the first lockdown earlier in the year, with total builders’ merchants’ sales up by +63.2% in Q3 (+53.2% when adjusted for trading days in each quarter).

September 2020 sales delivered a particularly strong performance, increasing by +8.3% compared to September 2019, albeit with one extra trading day

Looking at year-on-year changes, total builders’ merchants’ sales in Q3 2020 saw growth of +1.0% compared to Q3 2019. Of the two largest categories, timber and joinery grew by 3.5% in value from Q3 2019, while heavy building materials saw a decrease of -1.0%.

Landscaping was the big winner with year-on-year sales growth of +24.2% in value, with performance driven by decking, garden walling / paving and fencing and gates, which all saw substantial growth from last year.

Timber was the key driver in timber and joinery growth, with cladding also contributing. A small decline in heavy building materials was due to a mix of both single digit increases and decreases across the board, with aggregates, bricks, cement and roofing products the best performing subcategories.

However, year-on-year sales declined in some categories, with both plumbing, heating and electrical (-11.9%) and kitchens and bathrooms (-7.1%) down on Q3 2019.

Only landscaping and workwear and safetywear have seen growth year to date, increasing by +1.5% and +1.2% respectively. Workwear and safetywear Q3 growth was also up by 8.0% in value as COVID-19 safety requirements remain at the forefront.

Commenting on the Q3 sales data, John Newcomb, chief executive officer of the BMF, 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 UK, we are likely to see more volatility in the coming months.”

Emile van der Ryst, senior client insight manager at trade at GfK, added: “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.”