Across the first quarter of 2021, the value of builders merchants sales increased by 15.1% compared to Q1 2020. This growth was mainly driven by Landscaping (+41.4) and Timber & Joinery Products (30.5%).

Removing the effects of Covid, results are still positive, with merchants total value sales up 6.0% on Q1 2019.

First quarter growth was fuelled by a bumper March, driven by unbated demand in RMI work (repair, maintenance and improvement) and a strong house-building market. March sales were up 47.4% compared to March 2020 and by 23.0% compared to March 2019.

While this recovery is promising, supply chain issues are expected to inhibit continued growth at this level.

Aside from Landscaping and Timber & Joinery, other product groups seeing string growth in Q1 2021 over Q1 2020 were Tools (+15.9% year on year), Heavy Building Materials (+10.3%) and Plumbing, Heating & Electrical products (+3.7%). 

Sales of Workwear & Safetywear fell 8.9% this year but this had been one of the strongest performers a year ago when PPE was in great demand.

Taking Covid-19 out of the equation and comparing 2021 with 2019, Landscaping (+32.3%) and Timber & Joinery (+15.8%) were again the strongest performers in the first quarter.  Heavy Building Materials also increased (+1.3%), but sales of Tools (-1.8%) and Plumbing Heating & Electrical products (-4.4%) were both lower on the two-year comparison.

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Overall sales figures for Q1 2021 were up 8.6% on the previous quarter (Q4 2020), helped by three more trading days in Q1. Average sales per day were up by 3.4%.

Quarter-on-quarter, sales increased in 11 out of 12 categories in Q1 2021 vs Q4 2020, again led by Landscaping (+26.2%) and Timber & Joinery (+12.9%), strongly supported by Tools (+9.9%), Heavy Building Materials (+5.9%) and Plumbing, Heating & Electrical (+5.9%). 

Kitchens & Bathrooms was one of the few areas to record a fall in sales in Q1 2021 against all three comparators, down 2.1% on Q4 2020, down 1.8% compared to Q1 2020 and down 6.7% on Q1 2019.  This may be due to showrooms being deemed non-essential retail and remained closed during the first quarter.

John Newcomb, chief executive of the Builders Merchants Federation, said: “The first three months of the year may have seen the country once again in lockdown but even this could not prevent a boom in construction activity.  This is an excellent start to the year and we are already seeing strong product demand in many areas, notably timber which has been one of the main drivers for growth during the quarter.  Managing product demand and supply will be a recurring theme this year and the Construction Leadership Council, product availability group, which I co-chair, is issuing monthly updates to assist with forward planning.”

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