Driven by strong March sales, the latest Plumbing & Heating Merchant Index (PHMI) report shows sales improving year-on-year for specialist plumbing and heating merchants in the first quarter of 2021.

Q1 2021 value sales of plumbing and heating products were 6.8% up on Q1 2020, with one less trading day this year. Sales in March 2021 were up 26% on March 2020, with one more trading day this year.

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 is difficult to assess the strength of recovery.

However, looking back two years and benchmarking 2021 against more normal trading in 2019, sales in the first quarter of 2021 were 3.5% higher than the same period in 2019, with no difference in trading days. March 2021 was 13.7% stronger than March 2019, with two more trading days this year. So, the recovery is strong.

The PHMI Index for Q1 2021 was 106.6, an improvement from 99.9 in Q1 2020.

Mike Rigby, CEO of MRA Research, which also produces the BMBI reports, commented: “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.”