Tom Reynolds, Chief Executive of the Bathroom Manufacturers Association, urges the suppliers and merchant sector to remain upbeat.

You don’t have to go far to see something in the news about the rising costs. Global prices are going up and the impact has been felt for some time already in the construction supply chain.

The Bank of England has issued a bleak warning that inflation could reach 10% within months largely as a result of rising global energy prices.

And, according to the latest Builder Merchants Building Index report, the economic pressure is starting to tell.

Construction materials sales in the UK, first quarter of 2022, saw a 17.7% increase against Q1 2021, but this was almost entirely driven by the UK’s extreme inflation picture, rather than the 1.5% volume rise.

In the bathroom sub-sector, we are coming off the back of historically high demand and record-breaking sales. The initial concern about a pandemic-linked slump, proved short-lived. There has been unprecedent interest in bathroom refurbishment since late 2020 and throughout the whole of 2021, when total sales 4% up on pre-pandemic levels.

This demand and the resilience of companies in our industry to overcome the many and prevailing supply chain problems, stands us in good stead.

While a softening of the wider home improvement market is predicted in the Autumn, we are working with a remarkably high baseline. I appreciate, we are likely to see a settling back in the market as things readjust, but this is no time for doom and gloom.

We may be on the brink of a seismic shift in consumer demand, as environmental concerns shake up the home improvement market and conscientious consumption will influence everything we do. 

This is a golden opportunity for manufacturers, merchants and suppliers alike, to align with the new priorities of the end user and increase awareness of how to save money, energy and water by making informed choices.

Displaying the Unified Water Label is one example of how merchants can adapt to provide green information to builders and their customers.

As we grapple with the present-day inflationary pressures across the supply chain, we must keep alive to the development of the market and take a longer-term balanced view.

At a time when many commentors are talking down the economy, or waiting to see what happens next, I urge the suppliers and merchant sector to remain upbeat.

At the same time, we can help each other by reducing the cost of doing business with one another. While its clearly right we’re all transparent on environmental, social and governance  issues, so far, there has not been a common approach to reporting.

The wide variety of information and data formats demanded by different players in the marketplace entail extensive administration. A standardised approach to reporting would give everyone the assurance they need, while cutting back on the B2B bureaucracy. It would be in everyone’s interest, but we need to work together to make it happen.

I understand this is an incredibly challenging climate, and that economic headwinds cannot be ignored.  Nevertheless, the extent and timbre of coverage on the economic downside risks us being talked into a deeper downturn.

Collectively, suppliers and merchants need to do what we can to counteract the doom and gloom with positivity. In recent years together we’ve survived the COVID-crisis and a product availability crisis. We now need to brace ourselves to overcome a confidence crisis.