The final quarter of 2019 rounded off a disappointing year for builders’ merchants, as severe weather events and Brexit uncertainty takes its toll

Sales figures for the final quarter of 2019 published in the BMF’s Builders Merchants Building Index (BMBI) reveal a third consecutive quarter of negative growth.

A comparison of average sales per day (which removes the impact of trading-day differences) for the Q3 and Q4 of 2019 shows a decline of -5.2% in total builders’ merchants’ sales in the final quarter.

Year-on-year builders’ merchant sales

Comparing Q4 year on year sales also saw a decline.

Q4 2019 had one less trading day than Q4 2018 and year-on-year average daily sales were down -2.4%. Within this, the largest category, heavy building materials, was down by -3.0%, timber & joinery by -5.2%, landscaping by -1.9% and plumbing heating & electrical by -0.7%.

A few categories did experience an increase in sales. For example, kitchen & bathrooms rose by +4.7%, renewables & water saving by +8.2% and workwear & safety wear by +7.6%.

The BMBI uses GfK’s point of sale tracking data drawn from over 80% of builders’ merchants’ sales throughout the country.


Taking 2019 as a whole, builders’ merchants experienced marginal growth of +0.1% against 2018, albeit having one less trading day this year.

A review of the 12 topline categories tracked by GfK shows that four of these saw a decline in value from 2018. Tools have seen the largest drop, decreasing by -6.3%, with heavy building material (-0.1%), timber & joinery (-1.0%) and plumbing, heating & electrical (-0.3%), also showing negative growth.

Emile van der Ryst, senior client insight manager of trade, at GfK said: “Within the core categories, heavy building materials reported small declines in most key areas such as bricks, blocks, roofing and aggregates, with plasters & plasterboards the big winner in the past year.

“Both timber and sheet materials saw declines within the timber & joinery category, with cladding and flooring the areas with the most positive growth.”

Another bumpy ride for builders’ merchants

John Newcomb, BMF CEO, added:  “The final Quarter of 2019 didn’t give builders merchants much to cheer about and the same can be said for the year as a whole.

“The Brexit drama dominated headlines and created uncertainty across all spheres of business in the UK, including the Builders’ Merchant industry. Differing weather events in 2019 vs 2018 also played a part.

“Looking forward, Q1 2020 could bring another bumpy ride. Word on the merchant grapevine is that January trading was more positive, but with Storms Ciara and Dennis in February, we are unlikely to see a Boris Bounce just yet.”


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