One of the features of the plumbing product sector is the breadth of products and markets served, which also necessarily broadens distribution channels. While there are major established brands of products (and branding tends to be very strong in the sector), no one company offers an entire product portfolio. Many plumbing products are also imported and the outcome of the UK’s trade deal negotiations with the EU will be important, potentially strongly influencing the production strategies of these highly international industries.

COVID-19 has impacted every aspect of plumbing product sectors and significantly impacted demand in 2020. There will be a varied impact going forward depending on the sector served. Housing repair and maintenance will recover relatively quickly, but some of the recovery will be impacted by rising unemployment and reduced employment certainty. Demand in some commercial sectors will, however, change more fundamentally. Offices and retail outlets are likely to be repurposed to residential accommodation as structural changes accelerate, potentially expanding already buoyant demand from the new housing sector.

Structural changes are also being seen in the hotels sector, a key market for bathroom products, where the refurbishment plans of major chains have been impacted by reduced income amid the introduction of measures to restrict the spread of COVID-19.

Key issues covered in this report

  • The impact of COVID-19 on the development of the plumbing products market

  • How the mature market has been impacted in the short term but why long-term growth can be expected

  • How branding is key to the diverse manufacturing sector

  • How the international nature of the market makes Brexit trade negotiations important to the sector

  • How demand breaks down between diverse market sectors, and the varied influences on those demand sectors

  • How distribution and purchase influences are changing

COVID-19: Market context

The first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the UK at the end of January, with a small number of cases in February. The government focused on the ‘contain’ stage of its strategy, with the country continuing to operate much as normal. As the case level rose, the government ordered the closure of non-essential retail stores on 20th March.

A wider lockdown requiring people to stay at home except for essential shopping, exercise and work ‘if absolutely necessary’ followed on 23rd March. Initially, a three-week timeframe was put on the measures, which was extended in mid-April for another three weeks. On 10th May a conditional plan to reopen society was announced, including those who cannot work from home, such as those in construction and manufacturing, being encouraged to return to work from 11th May. It was subsequently clarified that companies will have to prove they have introduced safety measures before they can reopen.

The Health Protections Regulations 2020 came into effect on 15th June, allowing the reopening of all non-essential retail stores in England, as well as the mandatory use of face coverings on public transport. Pubs, restaurants, hotels and hairdressers were able to reopen on 4th July, with many beauty businesses following on 13th July.

To avoid a return to national lockdowns, the government reacted by introducing local restrictions in areas where COVID-19 cases are rising strongly in excess of national averages. Such local measures have to date affected Leicester (from 29th June with easing as of 3rd August); parts of North England (Greater Manchester, parts of Lancashire and West Yorkshire from 31 July) and Luton (with easing as of 1st August).

On 31st July, some national lockdown-easing measures scheduled to begin on 1st August were postponed for two weeks amid concerns of rising COVID-19 cases, with bowling alleys and casinos remaining closed. With a subsequent rise in cases during September and early October, the government then announced a three tier system of measures to be applied regionally, with only the highest level resulting in the closure of pubs, which was applied to Merseyside as of 14th October.

Economic and other assumptions

Mintel’s economic assumptions are based on the Office for Budget Responsibility’s central scenario included in its July 2020 Fiscal Sustainability Report. The scenario suggests that UK GDP could fall by 12.4% in 2020, recovering by 8.7% in 2021, and that unemployment will reach 11.9% by the end of 2020, falling to 8.8% by the end of 2021.

The current uncertainty, however, means there is wide variation on the range of forecasts, which is reflected in the OBR’s own scenarios. In its upside scenario, economic activity returns to pre-COVID-19 levels by Q1 2021. Its more negative scenario, by contrast, would mean that GDP doesn’t recover until Q3 2024.

Products covered in this Report

For the purposes of this Report, Mintel has used the following definitions.

The UK domestic central heating market has been defined as follows:

  • Boilers

  • Radiators

  • Heat controls

  • Pumps

The UK commercial heating market has been defined as follows:

  • Commercial boilers

  • Steel radiators

  • Other radiators

  • Heat emitters

  • Warm air heaters

  • Radiant heaters

The UK bathroom and sanitary ware market has been defined as follows:

  • Baths

  • Sanitary ware

  • Sinks

  • Taps and mixers

  • Showers

  • Bathroom accessories

The UK tubes, pipes and fittings market for plumbing has been defined as follows:

  • Copper tube

  • Copper fittings

  • Plastic pressure pipes and fittings

  • Plastic non-pressure pipes and fittings

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