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The latest Builders Merchants Building Index (BMBI) report shows that value sales to builders by Britain’s builders’ merchants in December were almost 9% higher than in December 2019, with total Q4 sales also up 5.4% compared to Q4 2019, in value terms.

Although sales across all the main categories were down in December compared to November, as result of the usual seasonal slowdown, another lockdown and five fewer trading days in Q4, December sales held up well compared to last year.

All categories except decorating saw a year-on-year increase. While total sales were up 8.8%, Landscaping increased by as much as 25.1% compared to December 2019, with Timber & Joinery Products also performing strongly at 20.3% ahead of the previous year.

Looking at the full year figures, total sales were down 10.7% on last year, with Landscaping the only category to see an increase in sales compared with 2019. Sales of Landscaping materials grew by 5.4% in the year – despite the effects of the pandemic and the initial lockdown in the earlier part of the year, which caused April sales to temporarily contract by almost 75%.

Other categories have some way to go in their recovery from the pandemic. Full year sales figures show that sales of Tools through merchants are more than 20% lower than last year, with Plumbing, Heating & Electrical (-19.1%) and Kitchens & Bathrooms (-18.1%) also far behind. Plumbing, Heating & Electrical, however, was the fastest growing category in December.

Mike Rigby, CEO of MRA Research, which produces the BMBI reports says: “Although value sales have been somewhat buoyed by price increases for timber, stone and other imported products and materials, growth continues to be driven by an increase in underlying demand, which has been sustained throughout the year as people have spent more time in their homes and gardens.

“Timber & Joinery Products and Landscaping have consistently performed above the total index since the start of the pandemic, while the more competitive Decorating and Tools categories have been tracking well below.

“The differences in performance between the categories show how differently Covid-19 has impacted on different sectors. The question is whether already existing trends in the distribution market and the growth in online and retail channels seen in some sectors, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic, are here to stay or if this will reset once the crisis is over.”

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. An in-depth review, which includes commentary by sector experts, is provided each quarter.

The December and Q4 BMBI report is available to download at www.bmbi.co.uk.