Gian-Carlo Grossi takes a look at how Covid-19 changed the landscape for builders’ merchants

2020 has been a year of massive change for millions in Britain and right across the globe. The Coronavirus pandemic and the resulting lockdown measures implemented by the Government have sent shockwaves through many industries, including the construction and building supplies sector. According to a YouGov poll, nearly 56 per cent of British homeowners engaged in DIY over lockdown, which meant that builders’ merchants had to react quickly to capitalise on this spike in demand.

The closure of many builders’ merchants’ physical stores meant that DIY-hungry Brits were forced to source materials for their projects and seek any guidance they needed online. According to Statista, this resulted in a year-on-year increase of over 50 per cent for online sales of DIY supplies. This demonstrated not only the need for traditional builders’ merchants to build an effective online presence as a sales channel, but also to reclaim their lost status as homeowners’ go-to for DIY advice.

Those builders’ merchants that were already well-established online or agile enough to divert significant resources to digital marketing and customer service were those that saw greatest success. In place of going to the local builders’ merchant for advice on a DIY project, consumers were now reading blogs, utilising online tools such as project calculators and getting in touch with merchants via telephone or email to access their expertise.

In addition to this shift towards DIY and online, many tradespeople were also unable to work at the height of lockdown. This meant that the products generating the greatest amount of revenue for merchants changed along with the transformation of consumer demand. As professionals set down their tools, many more complicated products such as roof windows saw a decrease in sales, whereas simpler products that are more commonly a part of DIY projects such as lightweight synthetic tiles experienced an enormous surge in demand.

Another effect of Covid-19 was the unprecedented increase in demand for certain products and materials, particularly plastics such as PVC and polycarbonate. This was due to their use in the healthcare sector, as well as later in the creation of ‘Covid-Secure’ office spaces. This meant that builders’ merchants needed not only to effectively manage customer expectations on lead times for orders, but also that strong relationships with suppliers had to be maintained to ensure that orders could be fulfilled in as timely a fashion as possible.

However, for builders’ merchants that were neither able to capitalise on the huge spike in online demand, nor effectively manage their supply chain and delivery networks, far too much precious time was spent triaging existing orders and staying afloat. One thing that this pandemic has demonstrated, is that stability and business continuity must be at the heart of everything a builders’ merchant does. This extends from working effectively online to diversifying your supplier network to ensure that issues with a single manufacturer do not present a significant danger to your business.

Ultimately, whilst the Covid-19 pandemic caused severe disruption to builders’ merchants and the construction industry as a whole, the outlook for the future is positive. Tens of thousands of Britons are now far more interested in undertaking DIY projects and choosing to renovate their existing properties rather than move home. The key to success as a builders’ merchant will be fully embracing ecommerce and ensuring that you can deliver a fantastic customer experience to those that do 15business with you, whether in-store, over the phone or via your website.

Gian-Carlo Grossi is Roofing Megastore’s Managing Director. Roofing Megastore is one of the UK’s largest and fastest growing online roofing and DIY supplies retailers. It features over 40,000 products including roof tiles, roof windows and more available at trade prices for everyone.
For more information, please see https://www.roofingmegastore.co.uk/