Figures for April 2020 from the Builders Merchant Federation's (BMF) Builders Merchants Building Index (BMBI) highlight the dramatic initial effect of the government’s COVID-19 lockdown measures on sales through UK builders merchants.

Total builders merchants sales during April were down -76.3% compared with April 2019. Tools took the biggest hit (-90.0%), with Kitchens & Bathrooms (-86.8%) close behind. Workwear & Safetywear saw the lowest year on year decline at -60.2%, having been up +36.5% in March against the previous year.

Although these figures show a variance to April’s construction output estimates from the Office of National Statistics, which reported a drop of -44.0%, the BMBI uses GfK’s point of sale tracking data drawn from over 80% of builders’ merchants’ sales throughout the country, which it says makes it the most reliable source of data for the sector.

BMF Chief Executive John Newcomb commented: “Sadly, April’s figures come as no surprise with the majority of construction sites and builders merchants closing, or significantly reducing operations, as a first response to the government’s lockdown measures to prevent to transmission of COVID-19. 

“However, the BMF tracked the operational status of our members throughout the crisis and the majority quickly adapted their business to offer phone or online sales and, following publication of our new branch operating guidelines, many were able to open branches and trade safely. Throughout May we could see the numbers open for business increasing on a daily basis and today all are operational.  

“With construction, housing and home improvement works all back onsite, we expect the picture to improve as data for the rest of Q2 becomes available. 

“It will be vital for the construction industry to work together to implement the Construction Leadership Council’s Recovery Plan in the months ahead and the BMF is involved in developing outputs to accelerate the housing and RMI sectors, both key customer groups for builders merchants.”