The latest results from the National Bed Federation’s (NBF) quarterly sales tracker report confirm that, despite a slowing down of demand since mid-summer, the federation's members are increasingly optimistic about future levels of business, although ongoing concerns over raw material costs and labour shortages still linger.

In the Q3 period covering July to September 2021 (based on 44 companies), the total estimated UK sales volumes of bed sets, mattresses, adjustable bed sets and divan bases declined by -8.5% from Q2 (April to June) to Q3, to just over 2 million units, while the total value dropped -2.5% to almost £249m at factory gate prices.

Nevertheless, respondents remain positive about future levels of business, with 42% saying they were optimistic, compared to 39% in the previous quarter and only 35% in Q3 2020.

Two years ago, in Q3 2019, the major limiting factor on obtaining output was concerns over order levels, with almost 60% reporting that as their main headache. Fast-forward two years, and that has dropped to only 16%, while 43% of respondents now list the availability of raw materials and components as their main limiting factor, and 24% list the availability of skilled labour.

However, the number of respondents reporting increases in costs in excess of +5% dropped from 83% in Q2 to 67% in Q3, possibly indicating a slight easing of inflationary pressures. Around a quarter (23%) reported smaller increases of up to +5%, while a couple of members actually reported a significant decrease in their costs.

Almost 70% said that they had subsequently passed on these cost increases, with nearly half saying the increases had been in excess of +5%. Just under a third of respondents reported that they had kept their selling prices about the same over the previous three-month period.

Margins continue to be under pressure, with 40% of respondents reporting a drop and a couple saying this was in excess of 5% – but almost half had managed to maintain their profit margins over the period.

Jessica Alexander, NBF executive director, says: “Our quarterly sales tracker reveals the challenging environment our members are still having to deal with. Volumes have yet to recover to pre-pandemic levels, costs are under constant pressure and a shortage of labour is still affecting almost a quarter of members. Nevertheless, there are signs that the pressure might be easing, and optimism has risen. Predicting future demand and capacity and budgeting for next year is probably the toughest it’s been for a long time!”