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Mild winter lifts builders' merchant sales

24 May 19 Sales at UK builders’ merchant stores were up by 5.9% in the first quarter of 2019 compared with the same period in 2018.

With particularly bad weather impacting sales of ‘outdoor’ products in the first quarter of 2018, the biggest sales growth this year has been in landscaping and heavy materials. Materials used indoors, by contrast, have seen somewhat limp year-on-year growth.

The Builders Merchants Building Index (BMBI) uses data from members of the Builders Merchant Federation which is collated by research firm GfK.

Landscaping products saw the strongest annual value growth at +15.6%.  The two largest product categories also performed well with Heavy Building Materials up +6.8% and Timber & Joinery Products rising by +6.6%.  These increases were substantially larger than the decreases they saw in the same period last year.

There was a mixed picture for interior product groups, with Decorating rising by +4.3%, Ironmongery up +2.3% and Kitchens & Bathrooms up +1.1%, but Plumbing, Heating & Electrical showed a marginal decrease at -0.2%.

Comparing average sales a day in Q1 2019 with Q4 2018 also shows winners and losers.  Sales of Landscaping Products grew by 1.9%, quarter-on-quarter, while the small Renewables & Water Saving Products category showed the highest increase at +6.6%.

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However, with sales values in both the largest categories – Heavy Building Materials and Timber & Joinery Products – dropping by -3%, total quarter-on-quarter sales were down by -3%.  Kitchens & Bathrooms outperformed the average with a decrease of -0.3%, while Decorating (-3.9%) and Plumbing, Heating & Electrical (-4.0 %) both underperformed.

The comparison of month on month average sales a day (March v February 2019) was largely positive.  In March 2019, total sales were up by +6.5% over February, led by Landscaping at +27.7%, Renewables & Water Saving (+13.9%) and Heavy Building Materials (+6.8%).  Decorating (+5.6%), Timber & Joinery (+4.6%) and Kitchens & Bathrooms (+1.5%) also saw sales value growth, but Plumbing, Heating & Electrical was down -0.6%.

Builders Merchant Federation chief executive John Newcomb said: “Overall there are more positives than negatives within the BMBI Q1 2019 results. At the moment consumer confidence is holding and homeowners continue to invest in RMI projects, but we are still living in uncertain times. No one can say for sure what impact the prolonged uncertainty over the UK’s withdrawal from the EU will have over the course of the next 12 months.”

GfK key account director Richard Frankcom said: “This time last year we were waiting to see if we’d see merchant sales recover from a weather damaged start to the year, which they did.  This year it’s more about how the political situation will affect consumer and business confidence.  With value growth still outstripping volume, inflation will be putting the squeeze on already cautious consumers who are a substantial proportion of the RMI market for merchants SME trade customers. Furthermore, any slowdown in house prices may slow the larger house builders land turn, which will further hit trade.  Time will tell, but some political clarity would really help.”

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