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Merchant sales steady as boom runs out of steam

17 Dec 21 Builders’ merchant sales slowed in October across great Britain after a brief rise in September.

Total merchant sales were down 5.1% by value in October 2021 compared to September, with one less trading day in October.

Workwear & Safetywear (with sales up 8.4%) and Plumbing, Heating & Electrical ( up 3.4%) were the most improved categories in October, while Landscaping sales fell 13.6% month-on-month.

The Builders Merchant Building Index (BMBI) scored 140.4 for October, down from 146.1 in September. Timber & Joinery Products continue to sell strongly, (with an index of 181.0). All bar one category recorded indices above 100, including Landscaping (148.5), Plumbing, Heating & Electrical (131.0) and Heavy Building Materials (130.8). Renewables, at 71.5, fell below 100.

Year-on-year sales in October 2021 were 16.4% up on October 2020 by value, on a like-for-like basis, taking trading day differences into account. 

Such growth in a more normal year would be remarkable, the Builders Merchant Federation pointed out, but the post-Covid bounce-back has seen much higher year-on-year growth in previous months. Besides, with rampant inflation pushing up prices, actual volume sales growth would have been somewhat more modest.

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Eight out of 12 categories sold more in October 2021 compared to the same month in 2020, despite one less trading day this year. Timber & Joinery Products continued to top the list, up 28.3% by value – but much less by volume as timber prices have soared.

Sales of Landscaping materials were up 9.5% year-on-year, Heavy Building Materials by 6.5%, and Kitchens & Bathrooms by 4.7%. Of the four categories that sold less, Workwear & Safetywear (down 7.8%) was weakest.

Compared to October 2019, a pre-pandemic year, total merchant value sales were up 11.3% this October, with two fewer trading days.

John Newcomb, chief executive of the Builders Merchants Federation, said: “These year-on-year results make positive reading for Britain’s builders’ merchants as total value sales remain up on 2020 and 2019. However, this latest BMBI data shows that the run of spectacular sales figures driven by unprecedented demand since July last year is starting to run out of steam. Month-on-month sales are stabilising at a more manageable level, which may come as a relief to merchants as they continue to navigate supply chain issues and the possibility of a winter of Covid-fuelled discontent.”

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