May merchant sales rise again

The latest figures from the Builders Merchant Building Index (BMBI) report for May 2020 show a sharp rise in sales as lockdown restrictions ease and trades return to work.

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Year-on-year, total builders merchants sales in May were down -39.9% by value compared with May 2019, reflecting the cautious reopening of merchant branches with many still operating a restricted service. However, the overall trading figures are a significant improvement on April 2020 sales (-76.3%).

Heavy building materials, the largest product category, was down 39.0% year-on-year but showed a substantial month-on-month improvement on April 2020 (+157.6%).  All categories sold less, with Tools (-66.1%) and Kitchens & Bathrooms (-62.7%) hit hardest. Workwear & Safetywear (-33.4%) was affected less and Landscaping finished just 12.5% below last May. With May having two less trading days this year, overall average sales a day for the month were 33.6% lower than May 2019.

With April sales at unprecedented low levels, May’s partial recovery resulted in some highly unusual month-on-month growth figures. Total merchant value sales in May were 171.3% above April 2020, with one less trading day this month. Five categories did better, lead by Tools (+308%), despite it being the weakest category year-on-year. To put this percentage growth into context, Tools revenue in May was four times that of April. Landscaping sold 278.9% more than in April and Kitchens & Bathrooms was up 210.7%. Largest category Heavy Building Materials (+157.6%) grew more slowly. Average sales a day in May across all merchants were 185.6% higher than in April.

Year to date sales in the first five months of 2020 were 29.2% down on January to May 2019, with one less trading day this year. Workwear & Safetywear (-2.7%) did best, boosted by strong demand for protective equipment. The three weakest categories were Tools (-40.4%), Kitchens & Bathrooms (-33.2%) and Timber & Joinery Products (-31.3%).

The 12 months June 2019 to May 2020 were down 14.1% on the same period a year earlier. Eight categories did better, led by Workwear & Safetywear (+1.7%), the only category that sold more. Tools (-23.3%) did least well.

May’s BMBI index was 78.7 and with the exception of seasonal category Landscaping (152.5), all categories were well down.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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