With a plethora of reports and statistics outlining the pace of the recovery in the construction industry, the latest Plumbing & Heating Merchant Index highlights how a “bumper March” made for a strong first quarter for the plumbing & heating sector.
Driven by strong March sales, the latest Plumbing & Heating Merchant Index (PHMI) report was released in late May and shows specialist plumbing & heating merchants’ Q1 2021 value sales improving year-on-year. Indeed, Q1 2021 value sales of plumbing and heating products were said to be 6.8% up on Q1 2020, with one less trading day this year. Sales in March 2021 were up 26.0% on March 2020, with one more trading day this year.
The authors of the PHMI report note that comparisons with March last year are “not especially informative” as merchants were closing branches at the start of Lockdown 1 on the 24th of March. Consequently, year-on-year comparisons with that period show considerable gains, but with such volatility it’s difficult to assess the strength of recovery.
For a more useful comparator, it makes sense to look back two years and benchmark 2021 against the ‘more normal’ trading conditions in 2019. Using this metric, sales in the first quarter of 2021 were 3.5% higher than the same period in 2019, with no difference in trading days. Furthermore, March 2021 was 13.7% stronger than March 2019, with two more trading days this year, whilst average sales a day were up 3.8%. So, the recovery is a strong one.
The PHMI Index for March 2021, which contrasts sales with the base period of January to December 2019, was 118.2, helped by two more trading days. For Q1 2021, the Index was 106.6 — an improvement from 99.9 in Q1 2020.
Mike Rigby, CEO of MRA Research (which also produces the BMBI reports), said: “First quarter figures for specialist plumbing and heating merchants are very encouraging, with growth fuelled by strong demand in March as Covid restrictions eased. It is also reassuring to see growth compared with pre-pandemic levels in 2019.
“Price increases could continue to drive value sales growth, with costs of raw materials continuing to rise and ongoing disruption to supply channels. Overall though, it’s a positive start for specialist plumbing and heating merchants, and I expect it to continue.”
Produced by MRA Research for the Builders Merchants Federation, the PHMI data is from GfK’s Plumbing & Heating Merchant Panel which represents over 80% of Britain’s specialist plumbing & heating merchants’ sales. Set up last year to complement the existing Builders Merchants Building Index, there is no overlap or double counting between PHMI and the BMBI sales data whilst both are able to deliver up-to-date, ‘real time’ data based on actual sales from merchants to tradespeople