Covid-19: Construction supplies back in stock after demand surges and panic buying hits DIY market

Flatbed truck delivery of building supplies, Hampshire
Flatbed truck delivery of building supplies, Hampshire

Many DIY products are selling well and some sold out

Office furniture suitable for home use and outdoor fencing and gardening products sold unexpectedly fast in the spring and summer of 2020. Consumers have been remodelling their homes to accommodate a change in routine with working from home and spending more leisure time in their own properties. Internet accessories flew off the virtual shelves. Webcams sold out speedily as millions of households unexpectedly needed to set up their new virtual offices in their least used or spare rooms.

Gardening became a popular activity for all ages after the 1st lockdown and so any related items have been very popular purchases. Garden centres quickly ran out of seeds and items like canes that support plants. Seeds, bulbs and plant sales grew by 48% and these precious gardening essentials were very hard to get hold of during most of last year. The most popular garden varieties were being snapped up quickly in the first lockdown in the spring of 2020.

Builders Merchants Federation (BMF) chief executive John Newcomb explained that there was  some panic buying among contractors in the industry in the spring of 2020 which has exacerbated the low stock situation that DIY wholesalers faced. Newcomb told Lem Bingley at Construction News in July 2020 that for “Any external product, like fence panels, fence posts, decking, timber-composite products in particular, we’re seeing somewhere between 150 and 300 per cent increases in demand” (1)

In March 2020 “online sales of home improvement and gardening retail products grew almost by 50 percent compared to the same period the year before.” (2) reported Statista this week.

Dulux rationed paint products over the unusually hot and dry summer months as UK customers used the fine weather and official requests to ‘stay at home’ for an opportunity to do some simple redecorations both inside and outside. Statista also stated that in 2020 sales of building materials for the residential market rose by 31.4%. Paint sales increased by a remarkable 47% in 2020, compared to the same period the year before. (3)

Amazon and other online companies have expanded during the pandemic. Amazon lists silicone sealant, dehumidifying equipment, insulation, heaters, step ladders and LED torches as best sellers this year. These items demonstrate how adults in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all been doing all those ‘little jobs on the list’ around the home to maintain their precious premises while they have the opportunity. (4)

Tradesperson visits into residential homes postponed

It is common in England for home improvement and maintenance jobs that are more challenging to be given to experienced contractors. Those who are older or less physically able or people who are ‘time poor’ due to their professions or family commitments all employ trades people to get important tasks around the house done. A high proportion of these home visits have been postponed or cancelled during the last 12 months. Across the country new appointments for interior trades people have not been arranged in the usual way, since the coronavirus restrictions first started in the UK.

Residents in all counties continue to avoid organising workmen and women to come into their homes to do home improvements unless it is urgent, to prevent the spread of Covid-19. However private builders have still been in demand. Extra individually designed spaces situated both internally and externally are now required for homeschooling activities, home gyms and adult study rooms. Many of these building projects involve working out in the fresh air so social distancing by a team of workers can still carefully take place while the latest extension to the household’s residence is constructed.

Some DIY product shortages seen in 2020

Spring 2020 has seen a national shortage of plaster as people refinished and added new walls to divide and increase their usable space. Millions more homeowners and renters than usual are taking on fresh decorating schemes to brighten up their abodes during the ongoing lockdowns. Suppliers hadn’t anticipated the unexpected rise in demand so their stocks were limited. This was further frustrated by problems with a lack of production in the industry.

After the rush on gardening essentials in England some of the major hard landscaping suppliers closed which affected lead times for paving and stone supplies.

Damon Schunmann at Construction News reported in April how plasterboard, bricks, mortar, internal doors, steel lintels and concrete have all been in short supply since the outbreak of the virus. Manufacturers stopped making these vital building components for some time during the first lockdown which added a lot of extra pressure for anyone involved in creating original buildings. Plasterboard was commandeered for the Nightingale hospitals which meant private builders were left looking for alternative solutions to finish their walls. (5)

Government supports industry and future supplies look good

The construction industry has been prioritised by Boris Johnson’s government as essential and so it has been allowed to continue to carry out its operations just with some extra safety restrictions. The Sector Deal for construction “aims to strengthen the partnerships between government and industry.” and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has helped to collate data on product availability and share trends across the country to optimise the delivery of the resources and supplies needed. Despite some difficult times in the first 3 financial quarters of last year, this adaptable sector has managed to get back up and running. There have been some delays to most projects but generally the industry has been able to weather the storm to ensure the timely flow of materials to where they are required in the depots and warehouses nationwide. (6)

Today it is possible to order all the major components for fabricating all sorts of structures both for both interior and exterior usage on the B&Q website for home delivery without any problems.

Sales advisor Tom who works for Travis Perkins, the biggest building material store in the UK, said that this afternoon that currently “we have good supplies of everything needed. There was a slow down initially due to Covid. The infrastructure and supply chain is very good so there are no problems now.” (7) This is great news for anyone thinking of updating their dwellings in 2021.

It is early days in terms of keeping up a consistent building supply chain availability across all  departments following Brexit. The introduction of additional bureaucracy will lead to further changes and costs that started from the 1st of this month when the UK formally left the European Union. With a lot of continued support from the British government to overcome the logistical challenges faced by Covid-19, we are confident that this sector which is built on teamwork and professionalism will take any manufacturing and transportation hurdles in its stride, so we can all carry on building a better future.



(1) ‘Materials check: tackling supply shortages and ‘panic buying’ of plaster’ Lem Bingley, Construction News, 14 July 2020 ‘Materials check: tackling supply shortages and ‘panic buying’ of plaster’ Lem Bingley, Construction News

(2) ‘Online gardening and DIY sales growth during the Coronavirus outbreak in the UK 2020’, Statista Research Department, 12 Jan 2021 ‘Online gardening and DIY sales growth during the Coronavirus outbreak in the UK 2020’, Statista

(3) ‘UK plaster shortage leaving builders and DIY fans frustrated’ Rebecca Day and Sarah Hughes, Cheshire Live, 4 July 2020 ‘UK plaster shortage leaving builders and DIY fans frustrated’ Rebecca Day and Sarah Hughes, Cheshire Live

(4) ‘Amazon best sellers in building supplies’ UK Amazon 20 January 2021 ‘Amazon best sellers in building supplies’ UK Amazon

(5) ‘11 materials, products and services in most short supply’ damon Schunmann, Construction News, 20 April 2020 ‘11 materials, products and services in most short supply’ Damon Schunmann, Construction News

(6) ‘Industrial Strategy, Construction Sector Deal’ HM Government, 20 January 2021 ‘Industrial Strategy, Construction Sector Deal’ HM Government

(7) Travis Perkins website, 20 January 2021 Travis Perkins website