Sales hold up at merchants despite third lockdown

Sales through builders merchants fell by 3.7% in January compared with that month last year with the country going through its third lockdown.

The latest Builders Merchant Building Index also pointed out that there was a two-day difference in the number of trading days and when that is taken into account, sales were up by 5.9%.

Year-on-year growth, said the report, was driven by three categories. Timber and joinery sales were up by 7.7%, followed by landscaping at 3.7% and workwear and safety wear, which was up by 2.4%.

The BMBI noted, however, that indoor trades were more adversely affected by the new lockdown. Plumbing heating and electrical was down 11.9%, kitchens and bathrooms down 13.5%, with decorating worst hit with a fall of 17.2%.

Compared with December, total merchant sales were up by 20.6%, with workwear and safety wear up 39.1%, timber and joinery up 26.2%, heavy building materials up 22.8%, plumbing heating and electrical up 15.8% and kitchens and bathrooms up 8%.

Sales in the three months to January 2021 were 4.4% higher than the same period the year before.

Commenting on the latest figures, Mike Rigby, chief executive of MRA Research, which produces the BMBI report, said: “Given the post-Brexit shipping delays, various supply problems related to the pandemic and a third lockdown being imposed in January, these figures actually paint a positive picture and show it’s been pretty much business as usual for merchants, despite the many challenges they have faced.

“As we approach the first anniversary of the initial lockdown, it is interesting to look at merchants’ sales over the 12 months to January 2021, which bear the full impact of Covid-19 closures in the spring. While total sales are only 10.8% lower than in the previous 12 months, it is concerning that indoor trades have seen a much slower pace of recovery than other sectors.”

He added: “The kitchens and bathrooms and plumbing, heating and electrical categories are almost 20% below last year’s level, as showrooms have been closed and householders have been reluctant to undertake bigger projects such as replacing bathrooms, kitchens or boilers while being stuck at home.”

The BMBI uses GfK’s Builders Merchant Point of Sale Tracking Data, which analyses sales out data from more than 80% of generalist builders’ merchants’ sales across Great Britain.

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