After five years of sluggish trade during the down-turn in construction resulting from the “Great Panic” in financial markets, building product manufacturers are now grappling with an unexpected problem – lack of capacity – and as the UK’s only national cosmetic repair specialist we can tell you it is a real problem; especially with heavyside materials such as bricks.
We are seeing an increased number of calls from customers who want our Finishers to repair patches of brickwork that they just can’t get replacements for – or even from builders who have been forced to make use of ‘rejects’ and need our special skills to get over problems such as staining or inconsistency with the colour.
Confirmation of the brick shortages came in the form of an announcement by brick manufacturer, Michelmersh, which is predicting further price rises this year as national brick stock levels hit a record low.
Chief Executive Martin Warner said: “Against industry practice for many years, we have not fixed prices forwards in 2014 and believe we are in a position to continue to push margin.The industry has entered a new phase as national stock levels have reduced.
“In spite of the low demand in the past five years, sales this year have exceeded production. This should release downward price pressure and allow the industry to achieve realistic margins against increased energy costs.”
While the Michelmersh statement quoted its average selling price as having risen from £343 to £348 per thousand, our enquiries of the national merchant chains have shown that depending on the order size, builders will be paying between £450 and £1,200 per thousand.
One source also said: “Not only have prices risen but we are routinely being quoted 16-20 weeks for deliveries, while you can wait as long as six months for some brick types and the order books for certain colours have been closed altogether. You simply cannot get them anymore.”
Referring to the surge in demand due to the recovery in housebuilding, Alan Baxter, Chairman of the Brick Development Association, commented:“Undoubtedly, the initial successes of schemes such as Help to Buy and indeed the growing pace of the economic recovery, has meant that the construction industry in particular has faced an upswing in demand. “Manufacturers have reduced production to adjust to the reduced demand levels experienced since 2008, with a few plants being closed and some being mothballed. They have also extended year end shutdowns extending into January and February each year to reduce production still further whilst also maintaining their brick ranges for their customers.
“In addition, builders merchants have sought to increase their brick stocks to more normal levels as they too have experience increased demand. Furthermore, brick customers have become accustomed to large stocks and therefore immediate availability since 2008. They now need to return to planning their deliveries and placing orders in advance as was standard practice prior to 2008 and the credit crisis.”
So it could be some time before builders are able to buy the bricks they want at a few days’ notice, and we would therefore suggest that letting us carry out brick tinting and repair is an ideal alternative to rebuilding. At Plastic Surgeon we have long quoted how, for every£1 that customers spend on our services, they save £3. However, with brick costs so high and availability so variable, you could probably double or treble it, depending on the situation.