It is estimated that the builders and plumbers merchants’ market will see growth of 2% in 2017, compared with 2016, in value terms. The end use sectors of the merchants’ market have fared differently reflecting each sectors’ construction performance. However, most end-use sectors have experienced growth since 2013, stimulating demand for merchants’ products, with key sectors including housebuilding, offices, infrastructure, industrial and education.
The merchants, which are dominated by a group of 5 organisations, remain an important distribution channel in the overall construction market. However, the merchants’ market has undergone some significant structural changes, with many national operations consolidating and restructuring to streamline and enhance multi-channel offerings, and the regional sector has expanded branch networks.
Competition from other channels, particularly the internet and home improvement multiples, continues to impact on the market. However, merchants appear to have outperformed home improvement multiples in recent years and their expansion into e-commerce has offset some of the movement towards internet-only distributors.
Prospects for the merchants’ market remain optimistic, although cautious, with confidence in the continued recovery of the UK economy positive but tempered by the uncertainty of the outcome of the General Election and Brexit negotiations. Drivers in the residential sector include under-investment in the housing stock in terms of new build requirements and the age of the current dwellings, which has stimulated expenditure on RMI activity. The cost of fuel and energy as well as the volatility of the exchange rate of Sterling against both the US Dollar and the Euro is likely to drive up prices and therefore market value will increase.