Plumbing sales soar, building material sales hold steady

Sales of plumbing and heating materials through specialist plumbing & heating merchants were up in April were up 192.4.% on April 2020, while general builders merchants’ sales held steady following record sales fogures in March.

The latest Plumbing & Heating Merchant Index (PHMI) report published in June shows year-to-date sales up 26.1% in January to April 2021 compared to the same four months last year, with one less trading day.

However, with many merchant branches closed last April because of the pandemic, comparisons between 2021 and 2020 are less meaningful. Comparing sales with 2019 and normal trading conditions are more useful. On this basis, value sales through specialist plumbing & heating merchants in April 2021 were up 4.3% compared to April 2019, with no difference in trading days.

Despite a difficult start to the year with a third national lockdown, sales from February to April were 6.6% up on the same period in 2019, with two more trading days. Month-on-month, sales were 13.8% below March 2021, not helped by three fewer trading days in April. Average sales a day were just 0.9% lower.

Figures released in the BMF’s Builders Merchants Building Index (BMBI) confirm that sales through UK builders’ merchants remained strong in April, following record-breaking results in March.

Although total merchants sales in April were -0.9% lower than the previous month, this must be viewed in the context of three fewer trading days in April. Average sales a day in April were +14.0% higher than in March, with all categories selling more. Total sales in April 2021 were +22.1% higher than in April 2019, pre-Covid, with 11 of the 12 product categories recording higher sales.

Looking more closely at the 2021 v 2019 figures, Landscaping led the field with sales values increasing by +63.3%, followed by Timber & Joinery (+37.2%). Other product categories grew more slowly, with the largest category, Heavy Building Materials, up by +13.8%, and Plumbing, Heating & Electrical up by +2.3%. Kitchens & Bathrooms (-1.3%) was the only category to sell less in April 2021 than April 2019.

John Newcomb, CEO of the Builders Merchants Federation said: “Coming off the back of a particularly strong March, the BMBI April figures confirm the continuing high demand for building products across the board, and for timber in particular. We know builders’ merchants are doing their utmost to manage demand and supply but forward planning and communication throughout the supply chain is essential. The more information they have from their customers regarding requirements going forward, the better able merchants will be to match this to available stock and provide greater certainty on lead times.”

Don Nisbet, Head of Insight, Wolseley, said: “April saw year-on-year comparisons distorted by last year’s semi closedown so the two-year comparisons are a more useful guide to the state of the market than the spectacular one-year figures. On a two-year comparison, with a more normal 2019, the index is up 4.3% on a monthly basis and up 6.6% on a three-month basis, indicating underlying market growth.

“The coldest April since 1922 will certainly have helped the demand for the boiler and heating market. Likewise, the working at home phenomena and the mini housing boom that has flowed from this, and the stamp duty holiday are certainly helping the domestic Plumbing & Heating (P&H) markets. However, commercial P&H customers will be seeing the flipside impact of the pandemic on the office market. The P&H market is undoubtedly moving in the right direction in terms of demand helped by the short-term boost of the housing market but, looking ahead, there is still a lot of uncertainty over the rest of the year with customer concerns over future availability and prices.”


PHMI April 2021 Highlight Inforgraphic


BMBI April 2021 Highlight Infographic 1


About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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