Team spirit in merchant industry

by John Newcomb, BMF CEO
24 July 2018

John NewcombThe merchant industry is very much a people business, we love to network and what better place than a conference? Elsewhere in this journal you can read a great deal about this year’s All Industry Conference hosted by NMBS, which everyone attending agreed was an excellent event.   

By alternating the annual Conference between BMF and NMBS we raise the bar every year.  In 2019 the baton passes back to BMF.  Our last Conference, in Budapest, has been shortlisted as one of the best by any Trade Association in 2017. Next year’s will be even better, and we are already off to a flying start.  

We announced the 2019 Conference location – the stunning and historic coastal city of Dubrovnik - at the end of this year’s event.  Just one week later we had sold or pre-booked 80% of the merchant delegate places and 75% of supplier packages.  

We continuously look at ways to make Conference even better, but some things can’t be improved, like our host for 2019.  TV presenter Gethin Jones gained 100% approval rating from attendees in 2017 and we had no hesitation in inviting him back for a second time.  

Find out more about Dubrovnik and our accommodation at the 5 Star Sun Gardens Hotel, visit  

Football’s coming home  

The All Industry Conference is almost a year away, but there is another fantastic opportunity for merchants and suppliers to get together at BMF Members’ Day Conference and Awards Dinner on 26 & 27 September

This takes place at another great venue, St George’s Park, the Football Association’s national football centre, which plays a major role in developing successful teams including World Cup and European success for England’s Under-20 and Under-19 teams respectively, and third place in the 2015 World Cup for England’s Women’s team.  At the time of writing the men’s team is doing pretty well too, not least by delighting supporters with six World Cup goals against Panama.  

26 September is devoted to our annual Golf Tournament and other social activities, including an opportunity to experience the world-class training facilities and find out what it would be like to play for England.  

The team spirit generated continues in our Business Conference the following day, which is hosted by sports presenter Ray Stubbs and where Laura Bassett, of England’s women’s squad, is one of the speakers. Other speakers include Andy Street, ex-John Lewis boss and now the first Mayor of the West Midlands and Joe Lynam the award-winning BBC business journalist.  After presenting, Andy and Joe will also take part in a Q&A session on business and the economy.  With workshops on mental resilience and confidence building, market resilience and a GDPR/technology survey, Members’ Day is set to inform, inspire and entertain.  

Secure your place here or contact  

Rallying round  

The social side of merchanting is again evident in the Vado Rally which has established itself as the industry’s prime charity fundraising vehicle (pun intended). Introduced by Aaron Frogley four years ago, the Rally has raised well over £300,000 since its inception.  

This year I joined the BMF team to experience four exhausting, but rewarding days as we donned fancy dress and drove our customised car (bought for £500) through seven countries and 1300 miles undertaking a variety of daft challenges on the way.  I’m proud to say we were this year’s highest fund raiser, contributing £17.5K to a projected total of £100,000 which will be shared between the Rainy Day Trust and Variety – the children’s charity.  

Congratulations to everyone involved and, in particular, to Aaron for getting the rally on the road.    

This article appeared in the July/August 2018 edition of Builders' Merchants News (BMN)
Team spirit in merchant industry. John Newcomb, BMF CEO talks about how the merchant industry is very much a people business. We love to network and what better place than a conference?

Online training for profit

by Cortexa, BMF Campus training provider
31 July 2018

BMF CampusThe most successful merchant sales staff exude confidence in their knowledge of building materials and systems, and that confidence helps them to build mutual trust with their customers.  They are not only able to give customers the best advice, they also get most out of every transaction by offering them options, add-on selling and upselling.  

Now it’s easy for every member of the merchant team to increase their base-line knowledge and keep up to date with new products and systems as they come to the market. They just have to get online with BMF Campus, the ultimate product learning system, delivered by the BMF’s partner, Cortexa.

BMF Campus delivers engaging, bite sized programmes on the features and benefits of individual manufacturers’ products, enabling merchant staff to quickly develop their understanding of a wide range of product and technical issues.  The technical courses are complemented by a range of selling and communication skills courses, all available 24/7 via pc and increasingly by mobile devices.  

In addition to a specialist ‘Wood Campus’ section, BMF Campus includes content from over 100 of the industry’s leading building materials and accessories brands to keep staff informed of the latest products and trends in every area from foundations to ridge tiles, and heating systems to hot water taps.

It also offers training in key areas such as Management Skills, Microsoft Office, and Health & Safety Compliance.   

For individual users, access to the system is available free of charge. However, as many merchants want to manage training for their wider staff team, there are three levels of subscription-based service – all available at a reduced cost for BMF members.  If a staff member uses the system as an individual and their company subsequently upgrades to a subscription service all their initial training records are retained on the system for continuity.  

With a subscription service, local managers take full control. They can enroll their staff, add new starters and allocate specific programmes to individuals, for example by linking online training to POS campaigns or product targets for sales staff to match specific promotions. Staff can also be encouraged to use the site to discover as much about different product areas as they can.  

Two of the subscription packages are designed to suit either single site or multi-branch merchants. The Professional Package, which allows up to 30 staff to be registered, is best suited to a single site, while the Enterprise Package provides the facility to manage a network of branches and departments with unlimited numbers of users.  Both subscriptions include “site manager” access enabling merchant managers to run reports and monitor staff activity.  In addition, a recently introduced self select service allows subscribers to access sets of skills courses, with simple monthly payments, with bundles including Customer Service, Health and Safety and Cyber Security.  

A third, Bespoke, subscription is available for companies who want to include additional content, for example company induction, systems or procedural training.  

Whichever option you choose, BMF Campus is the simplest way to quickly build a wide range of skills across the company.  Courses typically take between 20 minutes and an hour to complete, with auto-bookmarking helping with the longer ones.  Every course completed is recorded along with the student’s assessment score, providing an individual learning profile for every staff member.  

To see the current list of products included and to find out how your company can benefit from this service, visit or telephone Cortexa direct on 01933 227226.  

BMF training ranges from formal Apprenticeships and, with leading British universities, sector-specific Diplomas, Degrees and a Masters Degree in Merchant Leadership and Strategy, to on-line product knowledge and other specialist skills training.    

This article appeared in Training Zone in the July 2018 edition of PBM
Cortexa, BMF training provider, talks about online training for profit: the most successful merchant sales staff exude confidence in their knowledge of building materials and systems, and that confidence helps them to build mutual trust with their cu

Time for merchants to diversify  

The BMF’s Intelligent Employment Plus service provider, Halborns, outlines simple steps to encourage greater gender diversity in the workforce.  
25 July 2018

BMF Intelligent Employment PlusThe merchant industry offers an array of dynamic and exciting career paths to explore. It has opportunities for a diverse range of skills, experience and knowledge to flourish. However, as a sector we are still struggling to shrug off the ‘macho’ image and the preconceptions and stereotypes that undoubtedly come along with it. It isn’t an entirely unfair label; the sector is represented by roughly 85% men, which is a figure mirrored within the uptake of apprentices on the BMF scheme.  

While not flattering, such figures should represent an opportunity, not a hindrance. With the BMF looking to double the number of women entering the sector by 2020, this is an opportunity to open up a positive and transparent dialogue, internally and externally, to drive proactive initiatives and break down existing barriers to encourage more women into the sector.  

With women representing just under half of the available labour force in the UK, and a well documented skills shortage within the merchant sector, fishing in the same pools is leaving a vast amount of promising talent largely untouched. A diverse workforce is more innovative, creative and effective because it draws on experience from different backgrounds instead of reiterating the same ideas because ‘that’s how it has always been done’.  

So what steps can you take to attract, retain and develop female talent within your business?  

Champion your female role models. Whether a director, branch manager, sales team, it doesn’t matter. What counts is celebrating and encouraging positive female role models to demonstrate success and longevity within the business, so emerging female talent is exposed to the opportunities available to them to develop their career.  How about a mentoring initiative utilising your current female stars? Partner your new female recruits with strong and experienced female members of your team who can offer advice and guidance throughout their journey, and nurture them through new and exciting opportunities to develop within your business.  

Embrace flexible working. Caveat; flexible working doesn’t just apply to women or working mums. However, with women less likely to take up a role if it doesn’t fit with their childcare arrangements, embracing flexibility could be a valuable tool to attract talented and skilled females into your business. Variable start/finish times, flexitime, compressed hours, working from home, are all various ways in which you can shun the traditional 9-5 rigidity. Offering flexible working is an enticing proposition that portrays a modern employer brand, and helps attract, engage, motivate and retain talented individuals. Instead of asking ‘why?’, start asking yourself ‘why not?’.  

Gender doesn’t define a job role. Consciously, or unconsciously, job roles have a habit of attracting a gender label. ‘Men can do that because they’re stronger, women can do that because they’re more organised’, I’m sure we’ve all come across similar attitudes at one time or another. But to remove such attitudes requires a business wide culture shift, from the top down and across all aspects of your operation. Strive to have the right people in the right roles, and centre your focus on enabling employees to do a great job for your customers and your business, irrespective of gender.  

The task of attracting and retaining female talent within the sector is undoubtedly much wider than these suggestions, but they demonstrate a few steps to take to narrow the glaring disparity between women and men as they are currently represented. Open and honest conversations need to be had, and will no doubt require a degree of introspection, however the more businesses can share their experiences and struggles, and also shout about their success, the easier it will be to take positive action.   

Taking positive action is also likely to result in a more equitable working environment. Sectors with a tradition of gender disparity are more likely to find themselves defending sex discrimination and sexual harassment claims, which are often highly sensitive and difficult claims to navigate your way through. As such, the need for flexible and proactive legal advice from the outset is imperative. The BMF Intelligent Employment Plus service does just that.  It provides unlimited, fixed cost general employment advice from two commercially minded employment lawyers, who are experts at working within your sector. You also get access to Halborn’s bank of our up-to-date, contemporary and commercially robust employment law documents to support you throughout the employment journey.    

This article was supplied by Charles McHugh of Halborns, the employment lawyers supplying the BMF Intelligent Employment Plus service. For further details of any of the issues discussed in this article or the BMF Intelligent Employment Plus service please contact Halborns at or call 0115 718 0333.  

This article featured in the Business Helpdesk in the July 2018 edition of BMJ.
Time for merchants to diversify The BMF’s Intelligent Employment service provider, Halborns, outlines simple steps to encourage greater gender diversity in the workforce.

Trade Supplier Apprenticeship attracts new talent to merchanting 

By Richard Ellithorne, BMF Membership Services Director
17 July 2018

IRichard Ellithornef you are looking to bring new talent into your business the new TradeSupplier Level 2 Apprenticeship Standard could not have come at a better time.

This is an apprenticeship that has been written by BMF members, in conjunction with members of the Electrical Distributors Association, specifically to meet the needs of our industry.  It covers both warehouse and counter training to give apprentices a broader base of skills and knowledge.  Its main aim is to introduce new recruits to merchanting, but it’s also a valuable resource to upskill existing employees at an early stage of their career.   

Trade Supplier is a comprehensive 12-15 month training programme that looks at all operational and departmental areas of the merchant business. It is delivered onsite in the workplace, which ensures appropriate training for individual organisations, and is assessed by a third party ensuring robust quality control.  

Richard Ellithorne, Member Services Director of the BMF, says the new apprenticeship standard will help merchants promote the industry amongst a wider range of high calibre candidates.  

“Historically the merchant industry has lagged behind other industries in promoting career opportunities for new entrants and we are looking to change that,” said Richard. “The BMF exhibited at a number of national and regional events this Spring attended by large numbers of school and college leavers, their careers advisers and their parents.  We are making it clear that merchanting offers a wide range of careers and the Trade Supplier Apprenticeship is a great stepping stone to learn the business basics which will enable them to progress quickly up their chosen career ladder, whether that is within branch management or in other areas such as finance, HR or health & safety.”  

The Trade Supplier Apprenticeship covers:  

- Overview of the builders’ merchanting sector and their organisation’s role within it
- How goods and services flow between manufacturer/supplier and the merchant’s customer
- Recognising the products, services and language used by their customers
- Serving customers and understanding their needs
- Taking orders and deliveries
- Communicating confidently with internal and external customers
- Effective listening and identifying specialist customer needs  

The new apprenticeship is available through BMF Apprenticeship Plus, a comprehensive service that can handle everything from the recruitment of apprentices, to contracting with the most appropriate training provider and managing the apprenticeship. Working with BMF Apprenticeship Plus means that your HR resources are not tied up in administration which makes the logistics of the whole process simple.  We can even undertake complex levy administration on behalf of larger members or employ apprentices on behalf of non-levy payers.  

BMF Apprenticeships Plus Operations Manager, Carmen Daley, who is responsible for recruiting apprentices on the merchants’ behalf has found the new apprenticeship standard generating a lot of new interest.   “As well as giving merchants a tool to introduce new talent, we are also finding that Trade Supplier is attracting candidates (and their parents!) who might not previously have considered the industry.  The formalisation of an entry level qualification and its assessment by a third party is very appealing to them,” said Carmen.  

To find out more about BMF Apprenticeship Plus and the Trade Supplier Apprenticeship Standard, please contact Carmen Daley on 07496 370224 or    

This article appeared in the June 2018 edition of Professional Builders’ Merchant (PBM) in the Training Zone

Trade Supplier Apprenticeship attracts new talent to merchanting by Richard Ellithorne, BMF Membership Services Director. If you are looking to bring new talent into your business the new Trade Supplier Level 2 Apprenticeship Standard could not have

Clean Air Zones in English cities  

by Brett Amphlett, BMF Policy and Public Affairs Manager
10 July 2018

Clean Air ZonesIn spring 2017 Brett Amphlett, BMF Policy and Public Affairs Manager, reported in One Voice magazine how the BMF was lobbying to mitigate proposals on air pollution that will adversely affect merchants and suppliers. Below is an update on further policy developments, what the issues are, and what the BMF is doing on behalf of its members.  


The EU Ambient Air Quality Directive 2008 sets legally-binding limits for air pollutants such as particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide that affect public health. In recent years, the Government has failed to bring down air pollution to within legal limits and has lost three court cases as a result.    

In July 2017, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) published its latest plan to tackle roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations. This plan set out action needed nationally and locally towards emissions from transport.  

The Greater London Authority and Birmingham, Nottingham, Derby, Leeds and Southampton City Councils must introduce Clean Air Zones from January 2020. Another 23 local authorities are forecast to exceed the legal limit in the next few years. They are required to devise plans to limit nitrogen dioxide within the shortest possible time. Councils should have lodged interim plans with DEFRA by 31 March and - after local consultation this summer - must submit final plans by 31 December 2018.  

Clean Air Zones  

To comply with EU rules and court judgements, DEFRA has produced air quality plans for English towns and cities, showing how ministers intend to improve air quality as quickly as possible. A network of Clean Air Zones is the main proposal and the first cities being compelled are Leeds, Derby, Nottingham, Birmingham and Southampton. Bristol, Cardiff, Oxford, Manchester, Liverpool and other cities are due to follow.  

Restrictions on access for the most polluting petrol and diesel vehicles are planned, ie older buses, coaches, taxis, lorries and vans. Vehicles will be required to meet the Euro 6 standard or face a daily charge. Private cars and motorcycles will be exempt. The zones are expected to come into force at the start of 2020.  

The question of whether local authorities can charge drivers to enter is disputed. Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, has decided charging is the option of last resort, not the first choice. This is a win for BMF lobbying, but it may ultimately end up in the High Court again.   

What is the BMF doing?  

The BMF has been working on air quality, Clean Air Zones, and the demonisation of diesel users for over two years. During that time, the BMF have:  

  • been involved in three DEFRA consultations, contributing to two from the Mayor of London and one by Leeds City Council
  • made representations to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Environment Secretary and Transport Secretary
  • attended a parliamentary debate and lobbied the MPs who spoke
  • submitted views to four House of Commons Select Committees
  • met councillors and officials from the local councils involved and
  • participated in fringe events at three political party conferences.  

In February 2018, the BMF had a letter published in the Daily Express that urged Whitehall and municipal leaders to proceed with caution, because most BMF members have no choice but to use diesel HGVs. Other associations signed the BMF’s letter, including the Freight Transport Association, British Vehicle Rental & Leasing Association, and the National Federation of Builders.   


Last November, four parliamentary committees conducted an unprecedented joint inquiry into air quality. The BMF submitted a 2,300-word paper to speak up for merchants who use diesel HGVs. Face-to-face lobbying was done to support the arguments the BMF made, including with local Government, Transport and Treasury ministers who had to appear before MPs.  

In March, these committees published their report in which the BMF was specifically mentioned. MPs endorsed the BMF’s view that current timescales for Clean Air Zones leave insufficient time for small businesses to prepare. They recommended ministers should investigate the feasibility of providing small businesses with more time, or resources, to upgrade vehicles. This is the first time in the BMF’s 110 year history that the BMF has been named in this way.   


The BMF is talking to local authorities to learn what their plans are. The BMF have been to see Leeds and Birmingham City Councils and Derby is next. The BMF want to persuade councils not to penalise its members unfairly and there are grounds to be optimistic. Options discussed include:  

  • tapered charges against the worst polluters: Euro 4 vehicles pay more than Euro 5
  • exemptions for merchants if receiving deliveries before 7am from suppliers
  • councils bidding for money from Whitehall to offer as grants to retrofit vans.  

The key question is what happens if our members can demonstrate that (by January 2020) they have taken reasonable steps to comply, but that it was not possible to do so - perhaps for technical reasons, or no suitable vehicles were available to buy or lease?   


Unlike buses, coaches and taxis, merchants have little or no choice but to use diesel HGVs to move heavy materials. Electric vehicles are not yet a realistic option. This may change as manufacturers make electric HGVs capable of carrying heavy loads without a loss in performance or payload.  

The BMF cannot stop Clean Air Zones being implemented. The best to hope for is flexibility to help businesses most affected with:   more time to enable members to make the necessary operational changesdiscounts or temporary exemptions for SMEs based in or near a Zonefunding or tax changes to help replace old lorries, trucks and vans with cleaner, greener models.  

The BMF hope to have more news in time for BMF Members’ Day Annual Conference on 27 September. 

Brett Amphlett, BMF Policy and Public Affairs Manager, provides an update on Clean Air Zone policy developments, what the issues are, and what the BMF is doing on behalf of its members.

Angela SouthallNine cost-saving health and safety tips for builders merchants  

by Angela Southall, Director and Co-Founder of Health and Safety Consultancy Southalls, the company that provides the BMF Safety Plus service, offers advice to keep you sane, and safe  
3 July 2018

Saving time and money is imperative when you are operating in a competitive market. But it is not at all easy to combine cost-cutting with good health and safety practice. After all, overlook key health and safety requirements and you will find yourself vulnerable to all manner of fines and civil claims.  

It can be difficult to find cheaper health and safety solutions without compromising on safety but from over a decade of experience of working with merchants, we’ve put together a few money-saving tips:  

1. Decrease your PAT frequency  

Portable appliance testing (PAT) is an essential part of electrical safety for business merchants. However, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has estimated that employers are wasting more than £30m per annum on unnecessary testing.  

Items that are in heavy use or exposed to the elements e.g. portable hand tools may require 6 monthly portable appliance testing but office based equipment like desktop computers and VDU screen would not require testing at all if double insulated or, if not, then testing only 5 yearly would be adequate providing they receive a visual inspection every 2-4 years.  

2. Consult on PPE and bulk buy  

When it comes to saving on health and safety, buying items in bulk can help. It is also important to consult with staff to ensure items are fully fit for purpose - this can be a particular issue for female workers and those workers who are at the edges of sizes.   A number of merchants have seen reductions in lost time accidents through the provision of gloves to all yard staff, reducing hand injuries.  

3. Conduct independent racking inspections  

Independent racking inspections are not legally required, but would be recommended if you have a significant amount of racking. Alternatively, in house monthly visual checks on the condition of racking checking for knocks, deflection, overloading or poorly loaded stocked can be conducted in house. Safety software such as Safety Cloud can manage monthly inspections conducted by managers, and these can be complimented by six-monthly audits by companies such as Southalls.  

4. Implement E-learning training systems  

Whether for day zero induction training or ongoing refresher training, Southalls E-learning on Safety Cloud ensures staff get up to speed on essential safety training such as fire safety awareness and manual handling without the time and expensive of face-to-face training providers. Further merchant specific training including, racking awareness, work at height, powerline safety, workplace transport and banksman training can all be conducted through Safety Cloud.  

5. Accident investigation and Accident Statistics  

If an accident does occur, it is imperative that you can learn from it as quickly as possible. By bringing on a qualified consultant, you can minimise your reputational damage, chance of prosecution or enforcement action and implement practical preventative measures to prevent a re-occurrence. The cost of management time eaten up in an accident investigation can be reduced if a suitably experienced and qualified consultant is brought in from the start.  

6. Be examination savvy  

Avoiding unnecessary examinations of lifting equipment is a quick way to save money, so every business-owner should understand which reviews are legally required, and which are not. Pallet trucks are not defined as lifting equipment under the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER) and therefore they do not require a thorough examination.   Sometimes through examinations are duplicated by both an insurer and another service provider. Thereby unnecessary doubling of cost.   Where pedestrian lifting cages are used with a forklift, nominating designated forklifts to be used with the lifting cage that are then thoroughly examined six monthly is more cost-effective than simply thoroughly examining all lift trucks on the site every six monthly.  

7. Legionella Sampling  

Occasionally we come across merchants paying for independent Legionella water sampling, system cleaning or testing of water temperatures at taps on a rolling contract. If you operate on a domestic scale system then this expenditure is completely unnecessary.  

8. Asbestos overkill  

The Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations require merchants to assess and manage the risk of asbestos. This is achieved through the undertaking of an asbestos survey and complimented by an asbestos management plan. There is no legal requirement to re-survey on an annual basis, only to review the survey and management plan you have in place.  

9. Equipment and machinery maintenance  

Keeping equipment and machinery maintained saves money on callouts or breakages, and reduces the subsequent downtime. Using a system like Southalls Safety Cloud manages this process efficiently through automatic email reminders when maintenance tasks are due.  

If you would like to discuss any of the issues in this article or any other health and safety matter, please contact Southalls on 0345 257 4015 or e-mail Our team of highly-qualified and experienced consultants will be happy to answer your questions.  

Southalls specialise in helping builders merchants stay on top of their health and safety legal requirements, keeping their staff and customers safe, and their businesses compliant. For information about the BMF Safety Plus service or to discuss anyof the issues in this article, please, get in touch with the Southalls team on 0345 257 4015 or    

To take part in the next BMF Health and Safety Forum click here

This article appeared in the Helpdesk in the June 2018 edition of BMJ
Angela Southall, Director and Co-Founder of Health and Safety Consultancy Southalls, the company that provides the BMF Safety Plus service, offers advice to keep you sane, and safe.

Politics, people and prospects  

by John Newcomb, BMF CEO
26 June 2018

John NewcombWith housing high on the political agenda, the BMF has increased its political advocacy over the last 18 months, promoting the interests of its members and ensuring that politicians from all parties understand how materials get from the quarry or factory gate to building sites. 

Visits to merchants’ premises are an important part of this strategy and already this year we have welcomed Liberal Democrat Leader Vince Cable to Alsford Timber in Twickenham and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell to Lords Builders Merchants in west London.  

BMF Policy and Public Affairs Manager, Brett Amphlett works closely with political representatives in Westminster and the English regions, and he is supported in Wales by a specialist public affairs consultant.  We recently added a second specialist consultancy to increase our profile and campaigning work in Scotland and Northern Ireland .  

Fostering relationships with parliamentarians and their advisers is an important aspect of our work, requiring constant attention. The Housing brief at Westminster, for example, has been held by 17 ministers in the past 20 years – a higher churn rate than the manager of the England football team!  It is something of an achievement that two of the last three Housing ministers have spoken at BMF events. Alok Sharma addressed Members’ Day last September shortly before he moved on. Sajid Javid who took over the housing brief was then promoted to Home Secretary a few months later, just weeks after speaking at the BMF’s Parliamentary Reception in April.  

It was extremely pleasing to hear Mr Javid, in his role as Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, praise the builders merchant industry for initiatives such as the BMF Apprenticeships Plus service which is helping to attract more apprentices into the sector.  Under the scheme 50 new apprentices are already in place and we anticipate a further 200 new apprenticeship roles by the end of the year.  

Women in merchanting  

Increasing the number of apprentices is essential, but we also want to increase the gender diversity of young people coming into merchanting. The current ratio of men to women in our industry stands at 85:15 and while the balance is slightly better amongst the 50 apprentices employed to date (78:22) there is still a long way to go.  

The BMF exhibited at a number of national and regional Apprenticeship events this Spring attended by large numbers of school and college leavers, their careers advisers and their parents.  We are making it clear that merchanting offers a wide range of careers and the new Trade Supplier Apprenticeship – designed by merchants for merchants - is a great stepping stone to learn the business basics which will enable them to progress quickly up their chosen career ladder, whether that is within branch management or in other areas such as finance, marketing, HR or health & safety.  

The formalisation of this new entry level qualification and its assessment by a third party is proving very appealing, attracting candidates who might not previously have considered the industry but to encourage more young women to join, we need to raise the profile of those who are already working here.  

Last month we held our first Women in Merchanting Forum in conjunction with Builders Merchants News. It was a great event and underlined both the opportunities for women, the contribution they make to their businesses. We have the success stories, now we need to shine a light on them.  

Future prospects  

Over the last few weeks I have been visiting merchants in various regions and hearing anecdotal evidence about the market.  Naturally there are some concerns about the slow start to the year – and the BMF’s Builders Merchants Building Index (BMBI) for Q1 reflects this, with absolute growth at just +0.4% – but most experienced a far better April, which has continued into May.  Hopefully this bodes well for the rest of the year.  

Merchant sales in Q1 outperformed the construction figures from the Office of National Statistics – which fell -2.7% on the previous quarter.  Price inflation may be a factor in the BMBI sales value figures but continued growth into Q2 will give us more clarity on the direction of travel.   

While we may not see the market grow at the same levels as 2017, we remain confident that that the upward trend will continue throughout 2018.  

This article appeared in the June edition of Builders Merchants News
BMF CEO John Newcomb talks about politics, people and prospects: With housing high on the political agenda, the BMF has increased its political advocacy over the last 18 months, promoting the interests of its members ...

From Hello to Goodbye – how good is your customer service?  

by Richard Ellithorne, Membership Services Director
19 June 2018

Richard EllithorneEvery merchant will say that customer service is essential to their business. But do they know what their customers really think of service they receive in branch?  

As Lynda Moore, head of talent management at Bradford Building Supplies, says: “We may think we do it well, but we can always do better.”  

Bradfords, which has over 40 branches serving south west England, used the BMF’s From Hello to Goodbye service to get a clear understanding of customer service at four of those branches and is using the report as a starting point for a targeted training programme for staff at all levels.  

From Hello to Goodbye
is one of three bespoke services that the BMF offers under its In-Branch Mentoring programme.  Jason Routley, who heads up the programme, has worked in every aspect of merchanting with TP and Builder Centre and has also experienced life on the other side of the counter running his own building company.  His background gives him a complete understanding of how the industry works.  

Jason spent half a day at each of Bradford’s nominated branches observing activities and interacting with staff and customers before drawing up a detailed, illustrated report for each one.   

Bradfords wanted to find out what they did well, so they could use examples of good practice elsewhere, to see if their people were engaged and enjoying their work, and to understand the areas they needed to work on and improve.  Jason was briefed to look at how they merchandised, what customer service was really like for the customer, how their people interacted with customers – were they helped or left alone – and overall what they did well and where and how could they improve.  

Lynda Moore says having someone from outside the business undertake this research was invaluable.  “We hadn’t come across this format before.  It sounds so simple, but it was a huge advantage to have Jason look at everything with fresh eyes. Our managers regularly visit all the branches but are so familiar with them, they may stop noticing things.  For example, parking at one branch may be a nightmare, but we just accept that and don’t think what effect it may have on customers.  

“By observing what was going on in each branch and asking staff to talk him through why they were doing something in a certain way, Jason was able to produce extremely detailed and insightful feedback, complete with photographs illustrating the points he made.  The images were very powerful and caused us to look at our branches in a different light.   

“He highlighted a lot of the good stuff that was going on, but his report has given us a springboard to do much more to improve.  We have clear parameters for some initial wins as well as those requiring a longer-term focus and will be creating a training programme for every member of staff involved.”  

From Hello to Goodbye is one of three bespoke in-branch services offered by the BMF.  The others focus on Effective Team Building and Selling Success.  

To find out more about BMF’s bespoke services or any other BMF course or apprenticeship, please contact BMF’s Membership Services Director at or telephone 02476 854980.

This article appeared in the May 2018 edition of Professional Builders Merchant (PBM)
From Hello to Goodbye – how good is your customer service? Every merchant will say that customer service is essential to their business. But do they know what their customers really think of service they receive in branch?

Merchant overview - Q1 2018

by John Newcomb, Chief Executive, BMF
4 June 2018

John NewcombSitting in the sunshine we have all but forgotten the cold arctic blasts that swept the country in the first three months of the year. They certainly had an impact on construction and I think most will agree that 2018 got off to a slow start.  

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) have already revised their figures for the quarter up by 0.5 percentage points on their initial estimate, but they still show that overall output fell by 2.7% on the previous quarter.  Even private house building, which has long been the construction industry’s star performer saw the number of new house registrations in Q1 fall by 14% over the same period last year. 

However, the bigger picture is not all doom and gloom. The ONS statement also points out that construction output reached a record high in the final two months of 2017, and despite this quarter’s decrease output remains 22.7% above the sector’s low point of April 2013.  

House starts also picked up in April, with the IHS Markit/CIPS UK Construction Purchasing Managers’ Index showing residential work growing at is strongest rate since May 2017, with activity resuming as soon as the March snows melted.  

The Federation of Master Builders’ (FMB) State of Trade Survey for Q1 2018 reported workloads for SME builders continued to grow slightly, albeit at a slower rate than for the previous quarter. Nonetheless the FMB survey has now recorded five years of continuous growth.  

However, increased material prices coupled with extended lead times remains the elephant in the room as far as SME builders are concerned. While some of the claimed lead times we have seen quoted for bricks in both the trade and national media are unlikely to stand up to robust investigation, merchants will be only too aware of the pressure on both prices and availability for imported timber, certain brick types and roof tiles. Despite this, FMB members continue to predict rising workloads in Q2, which is positive news for merchants.  

More positives can be taken from the annual Sunday Times BDO Profit Track 100, the league table which tracks Britain’s private companies with the fastest-growing profits. 25 of the top 100 companies are involved in construction and house building.  

To sum up, we are not writing off 2018 based on a relatively poor first quarter. We may not see the market grow at the same levels as 2017, but we remain confident that it will continue to grow.  

To view more about market data click here
Merchant overview - Q1 2018 by John Newcomb, Chief Executive, BMF. Sitting in the spring sunshine we have all but forgotten the cold arctic blasts that swept the country in the first three months of the year. They certainly had an impact on constr

The true meaning of European union  

by John Newcomb, BMF Chief Executive
30 May 2018

John NewcombLast month I was honoured to be nominated for the position of President of Ufemat – the European Association of National Builders Merchants Associations and Manufacturers.  I will be taking over this role in October, the same month that the withdrawal treaty governing the UK’s departure from the EU is due to be finalised.  

There is more than a little irony in the timing as Ufemat’s 60-year history is bound up with that of the EU.  Anticipating new regulations that could affect their business following the Treaty of Rome, national merchant trade bodies from the original six members of the European Economic Community came together to form Ufemat as a lobby group to promote their interests.  Today it represents 19 national trade bodies as well as some of Europe’s largest building materials manufacturers and is respected by European legislators for its representation of building materials supply throughout Europe.  

Trading post Brexit  

Whatever Brexit brings, it is more important than ever for the BMF to have a voice in Europe.  At least 20% of our building materials are imported from Europe, many of our members are part of European-owned businesses and the BMF’s Irish members will still be operating as part of the EU.  And, of course, the UK also exports products to Europe.  We are well and truly meshed together. A great many products will continue to cross our borders and, needless to say, our European colleagues share our concerns as to what will replace the current customs union.  

The impact of Brexit will be high on the agenda at Ufemat’s annual conference in Lisbon in October, where John Sinfield, MD of Knauf Insulation, will present a materials producer’s view.  The BMF has taken a small group of UK merchants to the last two annual conferences.  With Brexit to the fore this year, we anticipate larger numbers from the UK attending and it is a great opportunity to speak with their opposite numbers around Europe.  

The merchant mix  

The way merchants operate across the 19 member countries varies greatly.  Several are comparable to the UK with a mix of national and regional groups as well as smaller independents.  Others, like Italy, are almost entirely served by small family-owned businesses.  Similarly, large buying groups play an important role in some countries, while merchants purchase directly from materials producers in others.  

Perhaps because of this diversity, no-one has yet undertaken a study into the total size of the building materials market in Europe.  I will be prioritising this during my term as President, as defining the extent and financial power of the market will undoubtedly have a positive impact on Ufemat’s central lobbying role.

Like the BMF, Ufemat promotes networking and learning from each other.  It is particularly keen to broaden the experience and horizons of young people in our industry.  The BMF’s Young Merchant group has taken advantage of this with overseas trips to Ufemat members in Berlin and Milan where they visited manufacturing facilities and merchants to learn more about the markets in those countries.  

Common challenges  

Over the last ten years the building materials market throughout Europe has experienced similar cycles bringing common challenges.  While price rises linked to currency fluctuations may affect the UK more than others, virtually all markets are experiencing shortages of certain building materials and their customers face a shortage of qualified labour. Poor quality counterfeit products reaching the market through non-merchant channels is another issue facing the whole of Europe, and we are all seeking to differentiate the merchant’s specialist service from often unreliable, online market places.  

What also remains the same in every country is the partnership between merchants and marterials’ producers and the added value service merchants provide for their contractor customers.   

How they deliver that service will undoubtedly change over the coming decade and Ufemat is a useful forum to share best practice, for example in digitising sales systems or creating an omnichannel customer experience.  Ufemat is also looking at blue sky ideas such as large scale consolidation and distribution centres to optimise logistics in large cities and reduce CO2 emissions. This would obviously require a new kind of partnership between merchants and others in the building chain, but it is clear that the current system is unsustainable in the medium to long term.   Becoming President is both an honour and a challenge, but I am looking forward to supporting and guiding Ufemat as we enter a further period of change and development.  

For more information on Ufemat visit  

This article appeared in the May edition of Builders' Merchants News (BMN)
BMF blog: The true meaning of European union by John Newcomb, BMF Chief Executive. Last month John was honoured to be nominated for the position of President of Ufemat – the European Association of National Builders Merchants Associations and Manufa

BMF: Responsive, influential and effective 

22 May 2018
by Peter Hindle, BMF Chairman

Peter Hindle MBEIn an ever-changing world political representation is vital and advocating members interests with policy makers and legislators is an increasingly important aspect of the BMF’s work.  Our latest Member Survey revealed that over 80% of BMF’s merchant members and 86% of supplier members place high value on this service.  
Last year we pro-actively and effectively campaigned to focus government attention on tackling the issue of late payments, which formed part of their Spring Statement.  We are now working to ameliorate the unintended consequences of proposed charges on vehicles entering five cities introducing new Clean Air Zones.  We have taken local members to meet with councils in Birmingham and Leeds to discuss our concerns and put forward suggestions to help overcome them.  Stemming from this, Andy Street, the first Mayor of the West Midlands, visited BMF in Coventry in May and speaking at Members’ Day in September.

We also play a prominent role in three special interest groups at Westminster, with BMF representatives sitting on All-Party Parliamentary Groups covering Apprenticeships, Timber and Women at Work.  

Housing agenda  

With the Government pushing for 300,000 new dwellings a year, housing is high on the political agenda, and we are taking advantage of this to promote the vital role played by our industry in the house building process.  Our core message is that homes cannot be erected or improved without the products that our members supply, and that merchants remain the most efficient route to market for those products.  

This involves a high degree of engagement with politicians of all colours, many of whom have little understanding of how materials get from quarries, forests and factories to building sites. 

In 2017, we directly engaged with more than 115 MPs including the then Housing Minister and current Employment Minister, Alok Sharma, who spoke at Members’ Day, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, one of four MPs to visit BMF merchants in the last 12 months, and Liberal Democrat leader, Vince Cable, sharing a platform with him at a round table event at last year’s party conference. 

Last month, with our 110th anniversary as trade association as a catalyst for the occasion, we held our first Parliamentary Reception in the House of Commons to garner support from an even wider cohort of MPs.   A broad cross section of members attended to support our message at this extremely successful event.   

Strength in numbers  

The BMF’s work with devolved administrations is gaining traction too. This will become even more important in a post-Brexit environment and we are putting more resources here to support members in those areas.  A public affairs consultant for Wales has been in place for the past 18 months and we are recruiting others to develop our work in Scotland and Northern Ireland.   

The BMF is now the largest trade association in the building materials sector and our voice is growing in influence. With a membership covering distributors and manufacturers of building materials, our views are regularly sought on the availability of materials and skilled labour amongst other industry issues and we are playing an important role in managing expectations. Working together we have a far greater impact to effect change than individual companies working in isolation - as other sectors, notably the motor industry, have demonstrated.  

The BMF has earned its place as the trusted “go-to” organisation for national, devolved and local government seeking the industry’s view.  Be assured our members’ views are now heard by politicians of all parties.  

This article was featured in the May edition of Builders Merchants Journal (BMJ)
BMF Chairman Peter Hindle talks about how, in an ever-changing world, political representation is vital and advocating members interests with policy makers and legislators is an increasingly important aspect of the BMF’s work.

Change, Challenge and Opportunity

15 May 2018

Richard EllithorneRichard Ellithorne, Membership Services Director of the BMF outlines the merchants’ perspective on the timber market  

Timber is an important product group for generalist builders’ merchants as well as dedicated timber merchants. It is stocked by over 250 of the BMF’s 340 merchant members and accounts for around 20% of their business making it the second largest product category, in terms of turnover, behind heavy building materials.  Furthermore, timber and wood products are frequently the most profitable area for generalist merchants in terms of margin performance.  As such it is a sector that the BMF is keen to promote and support.  

The BMF is in a unique position to bring together merchants and suppliers to advance this technical product group.  For example, since 2014 we have run twice-yearly Timber Forums, open to any member with an interest in timber, to share best practice, disseminate information, hear from experts in the industry and gather views on legislation, product and building standards or other issues that may affect trading.  

BMF Timber Forums, which are run in collaboration with the Timber Trade Federation (TTF), have proved extremely popular with BMF members.  Stemming out of our forums, is another joint initiative with TTF, a bi-annual information digest, Timber Forum News, bringing up to date timber news and expert guidance to all BMF members selling timber and timber products.  The latter initiative is particularly designed to help merchants to maximise their sales.  

Strong performer

Timber has been a strong performer in recent years.  The BMF’s Builders Merchant Building Index (BMBI) report, which uses the research company GfK’s point of sale tracking data drawn from over 80% of builders merchant sales throughout the country, found that overall merchant sales in 2017 finished 4.8% ahead of 2016 by value, with Timber and Joinery outperforming the average, growing by 5.4%.  The positive story has continued in January 2018 with total merchant sales up by 8.4% on January 2017, and Timber & Joinery products showing a 9% increase. 

With the lion’s share of merchant sales driven by the housing market, the BMBI results can appear out of kilter with headline figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS).  The reason for this can be seen in the Government’s continued support for private housebuilding and the fact that private domestic RMI work has held up well to date, while the commercial and industrial sectors, also included in the ONS data, have both seen a sharp decline since the vote for Brexit.  That said, while the strength of the sectors that builders’ merchants operate within has generated some growth, price inflation has also been a contributing factor to the rise in sales value, and it is one of the big issues for timber this year. 

We are mindful that price rises, together with a number of other factors could impact on trading throughout 2018.  Initial reports have shown a weakening in new housebuilding and there are renewed concerns over skilled worker shortages which could affect output.  Interest rates are also expected to rise sooner and faster than previously predicted, thereby increasing the cost of borrowing, potentially affecting consumer confidence and thus the RMI market.  

Challenges and opportunities

Merchants who stock timber now face a challenging period, with price inflation at a pace rarely seen before compounded by reduced availability and extended lead times for both UK and imported timber affecting almost every product area.   

The softwood market is ever-more affected by global trends.  Price rises here are not solely down to the depreciation of sterling.  They are being driven up by expanding markets in the US and China adding to the already firm consumption in traditional markets to create extremely high demand.  We are concerned by reports that shortages will begin to hit UK merchants in April, with further price rises predicted from this time. The story is the same in the panel sector, with price rises from UK, Irish and European MDF and OSB producers.  Global plywood markets are also under inflationary pressure.  For example, US demand for South American softwood ply led to a 30% increase in a year.  With other markets prepared to pay more than the UK, the situation shows no signs of stabilising any time soon.  

In tough trading times, initiatives like the BMF Timber Forum are especially relevant.  Agenda items for the next meeting, on 27 June, include presentations on Merchant Timber Sales in a Challenging Market, and Plywood – How to Buy Better.  

While it is likely that merchants will have to face challenges head on for some time to come, it is important that the industry presents a united front to campaign for supportive policy and market frameworks.  The BMF regularly arranges visits by MPs to merchants in their constituency to see how building materials in the supply chain delivers for local communities.  In addition, along with TTF, the British Woodworking Federation (BWF) and the Structural Timber Association (STA), the BMF is part of the renewed Confederation of Timber Industry (CTI), which acts an umbrella organisation to grow the UK timber industry as well as promoting ethical and sustainable sourcing.   

Responsible purchasing has long been one of the BMF’s key goals for the industry and we have partnered with WWF’s Global Forest and Trade Network in the UK (GFTN-UK) to promote responsible forest trade throughout the merchant supply chain.  Many merchants already consider sustainability as a matter of course, but we have a responsibility to encourage every one of them to do so.  GFTN-UK can help them ask the right questions to find out where their products are coming from, so they will know if they are sourcing from sustainable forests.  

We also support the Grown in Britain campaign, to give merchants information and ideas for making the most of the British timber in their supply chains and grow their timber business, both pre and post Brexit.

Developing markets

Despite the challenges in the current market, builders’ merchants are looking to expand the range of timber products they offer.  Along with TTF we undertook a survey of BMF merchants in 2017 to find out which products they sold and which they believed had the greatest potential for growth.   Engineered Timber was seen as having the greatest potential, which came a surprise as relatively few merchants were selling these products at the time.   Softwood was seen as another area for growth.   

Within engineered timber products there is a huge opportunity for specialist providers to partner with merchants to meet the specification needs of their customers, for example with i-joists, trusses, glulam and timber frame.  Even those who don’t hold stock want to be able to support customers with a specific request by working with supply partners to provide a quote and win the business with products that are fit for the purpose. 

The survey also found that merchants wanted more education and training to help with sales of timber in key product areas.  In response, the BMF and TTF are running a series of free CPD accredited skills development sessions for their members covering topics from plywood and preservatives to responsible purchasing and regulation.   

People power

Merchant competitiveness relies on having the best people in addition to the best product selection and keen marketing acumen.  Our aim is to secure high-quality skills for the future development of the merchant industry.  This year the BMF is introducing its new Trade Supplier Apprenticeship Standard.  This is the first apprenticeship to be developed by people who actually work in our industry and is set to become the sector’s primary Level 2 qualification, ensuring new entrants have up-to-date workplace skills that are fully relevant to their merchant employer’s business.  

Builders merchants will remain an important distribution channel in the overall construction market, with timber and wood products growing in importance, despite the challenging times facing us this year.  The BMF will continue to work with our timber industry partners to support our members and promote timber solutions.

This aticle appeared in the April edition of Timber Trades Journal (TTJ)
Richard Ellithorne, Membership Services Director of the BMF outlines the merchants’ perspective on the timber market

Marketers ruin everything  

Peter Sumpton (left) and John Newcombby Peter Sumpton (Marketing Study Lab and Head of Marketing at IKO)
11 May 2018

I have been in Marketing my entire career, through education and then into the professional world, and at the heart of it, it is true – marketers ruin everything! It is not a necessary evil however, as this statement only tells half the story. It is a profession that is very much misunderstood and can be easily overlooked if not careful.  

As a Marketer it pains me to say those words, Marketers ruin everything, but behind this pained expression is a slight smirk at the fact that Marketers ruin everything, as this means that if you are in the marketing profession you must have a little piece of entrepreneurship inside of you. This also means that we have our fingers on the pulse of what is going on in our own industries or across multiple industries, always looking out for the latest trends, technologies and fads, the ones that hold the most attention, the attention of our target markets, the ones we want to influence the most and subsequently get them to know, like and trust us as an organisation that is worth doing business with.  

But what do I mean by ‘ruin everything’ and how can this statement, a statement that on the surface sounds like a negative comment, be turned into such a positive attribute.  

Let’s break it down.  

Through the ages great inventions have come along that have allowed us to communicate with one another in ever increasingly intrusive ways;  

The newspaper or magazine was a great way of communicating, on mass, the latest newsworthy stories. Along comes marketing and includes adverts, advertorials, offers and promotions that dominate most publications today.  
A way of broadcasting topical content and news items, taken over by more commercial stations supported by promotional segments that can last minutes - getting in the way of your listening pleasure.  

Mixing audio and visual, where some of the most iconic moment we can remember took place – Olympics, Moon landings, royal weddings, etc, etc. These items are now being replaced by infomercials and even channels dedicated to shopping.  

Where to begin. What was started as a way of accessing files over computers has been replaced by skyscraper banner ads, eshots about losing weight and videos of cats with hats!  

And finally, Voice
This seems to be the next communication frontier and it seems like we are yet to ruin this for anyone, or haven’t we? If you ask your friendly voice activated bit of kit to order toothpaste from Amazon, what will you get? What brand will it choose for you? Perhaps your favourite? Or perhaps the one that pays the most money to have their brand of toothpaste set up as the default option…. See we’ve already ruined that and you probably didn’t even notice!  

Marketing is brilliant though
It is a cynical view on Marketers to say we ruin everything, because good marketing, researched, studies, well-placed, strategically thought-out marketing can only be a good thing. It is the attention grabbing communications that we can’t live without. We get all the information we want, when we want it, to make a valid decision in order to resolve a problem or issue we may have and although we are now almost bombarded with messages 24/7, it is this content we actively seek and have given our permission to be sent, that is where marketing has its place and can be most effective.  

Good content, to a targeted audience, over the correct media channels.  

Marketers, can’t live with them, can’t live without them!  

The importance or learning, marketing and colouring in  
Education is vitally important regardless of the industry you are in; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. That is the main reason I started Marketing Study Lab, as my 5-9 project (alongside my 9-5 profession as Head of Marketing for IKO).  

From an educational perspective same can be said for the Marketing profession, which can be frustratingly known as the ‘Colouring in Department’, but those that choose this unfitting phrase are doing a disservice to not only those that work in the profession, but to themselves and possibly their business, as Marketing is both an art and science that we are all influenced by whether we like to think we are or not and this influence and have a dramatic impact on your business if performed correctly.  

Anyway, back to the importance of education within Marketing.  

Where you get your education from is another matter and one that has multiple channels and options to be explored. In general, our current educational system is very linear, structured and systematic and although offering the potential of good grades for those that are academic, once this is over and you are out of the educational system, what next? Where do you turn? No one prepared you for this? Which is why it is important to never stop learning, never stop learning through other methods and means. Here are just a few snippets into some educational methodologies that I feel work really well regardless of your background:  

Just Do It
Learning by doing is fundamental within a digital world. Methods of communication change so quickly now that if we are not testing and learning from this testing, then we get left behind.  

Learning from others through schemes such as mentorships can pay dividends to your Marketing education and your career. Getting advice from someone who has been there and done it can be invaluable. Learn from the best.  

Apprenticeships are again one way of learning by doing, with the backup of a structured system or pathway.  

I was fortunate enough to sit down with John Newcomb for a brief chat and discuss different educational methods that are now available via the BMF as well as his career to date, the importance of Marketing and how it has helped the BMF double its membership and what the BMF can and does do for its members on a wider scale. Here are just some snippets of what was a very enlightening little chat from Episode 2 of the Marketing Study Lab (If you build it, they will come)!

John Newcomb, BMF CEO talks about how important an education is and why the BMF are advocates of apprenticeships. Click here to listen (1:55)
What the BMF IS and DOES for its most valuable asset - its members. Click here to listen (1:47)
John Newcomb talks about his career to date and where is all began. Click here to listen (2:20)

To hear the podcast in full click here (26:52)
Peter Sumpton (Marketing Study Lab and Head of Marketing at IKO) talks about marketing, lifelong learning and apprenticeships. This includes a podcast with BMF CEO John Newcomb

Data Protection: the clock is ticking

By Andy Flinn, RDS Global, supplier of BMF's GDPR and Cyber Audit Plus Services
23 April 2018  

Andy FlinnThe General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will become law on 25 May 2018. That’s just over a month from now. If you have been meaning to do something about this for the past 12 months and have yet to take action, the clock is most definitely ticking. No matter what the size of your business, data protection is about to become your single biggest business risk. There are legal and financial penalties for those who chose to ignore the new laws.  

That’s the bad news. The good news is that you still have time to take action and doing so is not as scary as may seem. As the company behind the BMF’s Cyber Audit Plus service, RDS Global can help put your business on the right track, starting with an internal audit of your data records.  This not only gives you legal support to say that you have started the compliance process, but also gives you a detailed understanding of an action plan to make you compliant with the new law.  

What is GDPR?
The new law governs the way we hold, process, store and manage personal data.  It relates to the data files, internal business processes and controls, and the way you run your business.  

How is Data defined?
Data is information relating to any person resident in the UK or EU.  Data is often thought of as just computer records, but the GDPR includes all paper-based records as well. Data may be passed to you by customers and suppliers alike, and vice versa.  Companies in countries all over the world will need to comply with the new GDPR if they want to do business with us.  

An internal audit will help to establish what personal data you hold, where it is held, where it came from, how it was collected, what evidence you have that it has been collected and processed legally, with whom it has been shared (both internally and externally), on what terms it has been bought or licensed, whether and where it has been archived or deleted and who is responsible for its safekeeping.  

What should I do now?
You need to establish what data you hold, where it is, who has access to it, whether you have permissions to use or process this data, and how securely you protect data. You then need to purge all non-compliant data, or seek explicit permission to continue to hold it. Note that data held for a legitimate business purpose, such as support under product warranty, is allowed.  

The next step is to ensure that all new data created from this point forward is dealt with in accordance with GDPR.  RDS Global can assist here.  We also check legal contracts, their compliance with GDPR and the power and obligations held within such contracts, terms and conditions etc.  We can also advise on reviewing your supply chain to ensure that the people you are dealing with are also, or are about to become, compliant. Otherwise it will be like filling a bucket with water, only to find it has a hole in the bottom.  

There is a cost for this service, but it is an essential investment. GDPR compliance will become a requirement before you do business with any other compliant business from 25 May onwards.  Non-compliance could prevent you from trading – a far higher cost.  

RDS Global are accredited as Gold Certified Partners of IASME, who are one of the governing bodies approved by UK GOV. If you would like to discuss the next steps to GDPR compliance for your business, feel free to get in touch on 03330 2211 244. Or drop us an email at    

This article appeared in Business Helpdesk in the April 2018 edition of BMJ
Data Protection: the clock is ticking by Andy Flinn, RDS Global, supplier of BMF's GDPR and Cyber Audit Plus Services. GDPR will become law on 25 May 2018. That’s just over a month from now. If you have been meaning to do something about this for

Tomorrow’s leaders  

by James Spillane, BMF Training & Development Manager
16 April 2018

James SpillaneThe BMF is calling for applicants for its fourth Postgraduate Diploma in Merchant Leadership and Strategy course, which is planned to start in May 2018. This unique course, run by Birmingham City University, is aimed at experienced managers workig for a BMF merchant or supplier member company.  

Despite the course name, candidates don’t have to hold a first degree to apply. It is open to senior managers with a minimum of five years’ experience, and credit will be given for that experience. There is a formal selection process, which includes a written submission and interview, but that shouldn’t put anyone off applying. Since its introduction in 2015, over 30 people completed the course.  Many had not studied since their school days but, so far, all have achieved their qualification.  

The 12 month part-time course covers five modules and combines a programme of self-study combined with seven two-day workshops.  Studying alongside their normal day job does take commitment and organisation, but candidates have the benefit of immediately applying the knowledge they gain to benefit both their personal development and their business.  

Marc Lucock, Human Resource and Training Director at Selco, had such a positive experience he is already looking to sign up for the BMF’s Masters Degree, which all course graduates are entitled to do.  

Marc said: “Despite some initial reservations of going back into a classroom environment this course has been truly enjoyable and beneficial to how I tackle daily work challenges. The various module topics have enabled me to think differently in my role and how I manage my team. As well as improvements in these areas I also have a better understanding of theories and frameworks that help me predict and interpret current business challenges and how I should go about solving them. I’ve met with a great group of people from various merchant backgrounds and it has been well worth the effort of attending and completing the various assignments. I would encourage anyone who is sceptical of this qualification to give it a go as the content is very relevant and the lecturers are knowledgeable and have a great understanding of our industry.”    

The course is equally relevant to managers working in merchant or supplier companies. Another graduate, Samantha Hanks, National Key Account & Specification Manager for Cembrit UK, explained:  “As a supplier, the BMF Postgraduate Diploma in Leadership and Strategy was hugely valuable for my business as well as my own personal development. It enabled me to see the merchant business in greater depth and critically analyse my own business. The knowledge was imparted through modules dealing with Strategy & Branding, Leading Service & Change, Finance & Business Models and Operational Improvement and Innovation, culminating in an In-company project that produced a practical and tangible area of focus relating to my company. Throughout the year-long course, I gained a greater awareness and appreciation for colleagues and their roles and with the enhanced knowledge I gained I had the confidence to recommend change and improvements back in the business.  Of course, being awarded my Postgrad Diploma by Birmingham City University and graduating in the impressive Birmingham Symphony Hall was a major plus too!”  

This year’s course is again being sponsored by the Builders Merchants Training Trust who have generously agreed to subsidise the £5,500 cost for merchant candidates by 50%, resulting in a fee of only £2,750.   With the deadline for applications fast approaching, anyone interested should immediately contact me at or call 02476 854989.

Click here for more information about the BMF's many other training courses.

This article appeared in the April 2018 edition of PBM.

James Spillane, BMF Training & Development Manager calls for applicants for its fourth Postgraduate Diploma in Merchant Leadership and Strategy course, which is planned to start in May 2018. This unique course, run by Birmingham City University....

Interesting times  

by BMF CEO John Newcomb
10 April 2018

John NewcombWhile purporting to be a Chinese blessing, the expression “May you live in interesting times” is in fact a curse. It is always used ironically, with the clear implication that 'uninteresting times', of peace and tranquillity, are more life-enhancing than interesting ones. In business, however, periods of disruption – rather than disorder – are a good thing, which frequently result in a highly positive outcome.  

There are signs that we could be at the start of such a period right now, with the announcement that Parkers, currently number 18* in the builders’ merchant top 20 by turnover, has been acquired by Cairngorm Capital Partners who have already announced ambitious growth goals for the next five years.  With no family members coming through to take over from him, it made sense for Tom Parker to sell the business he founded and we wish the new owners and Parkers’ management team every success.   

I suspect many are wondering if this is the beginning of a wider trend, as venture capital actively targets a thriving merchant industry with significant future growth prospects.  Several other leading independent merchants are also looking to private investment companies to help them grow their businesses.  Huws Gray, the 6th* largest group, is among the latest to put a significant shareholding up for sale to fund major expansion plans, while MKM, the largest independent builders merchant, has been working with private investment partners for some time.  

There are likely to be more announcements like this, but it won’t be a path that every independent will choose to take.  Fortunately, there is space for merchants of all sizes, and ownership, within the market place.  As the BMF celebrates its own landmark anniversaries (110 years as a trade association and 40 as a Federation), some of our members are beating us hands down in the longevity stakes.  For example, Elliott’s has remained a family-run business for more than 175 years, or six generations.  Others, like Chandler Material Supplies who were named Independent Merchant of the Year (1-10 branches) in last year’s BMN Awards, now have the fourth generation of the family on board. At the same Awards, Lauren Penney, daughter of current MD, Julie Chandler, won Trainee of the Year.  

Young merchants  

Investing in their people is key to the success of any business.  Our industry is constantly developing and more than ever we need the drive, ambition, imagination and skills of the next generation of merchants to carry it forward.  The BMF plays an important role here, not just through the formal management and leadership courses we offer, but also through the informal support network of the BMF Young Merchants Group.  

Formed some 25 years ago, the Group was established to nurture the development of young merchants and suppliers by providing a forum for ideas and expertise to be shared, to help individuals and businesses grow.  Many of its early members now hold director or MD positions, with one, Knauf Insulation’s John Sinfield, having also chaired the Construction Products Association.  

The Group’s core purpose remains the same today, providing opportunities to build long-lasting business relationships, join in open debates, receive presentations from a wide variety of business speakers and take a wealth of knowledge back to their companies – and, of course, there is also a social element!  Not surprisingly, the value placed on the Group by former and current members is unanimously positive.   

On 11 October, during UK Construction Week at the NEC, we will be holding our very first Young Merchants Conference; confirmation that the Group has not only come of age but will continue to play a crucial role in supporting future generations as they move the business of merchanting forward.  

The programme details for the Young Merchants Conference will be announced over the coming weeks.  Make sure you hear them first by registering your interest with BMF Training Manager, James Spillane at  

* Source: PBM UK Merchant Sector Top 20 January 2018

This article appeared in the April edition of BMN

Interesting times by BMF CEO John Newcomb. While purporting to be a Chinese blessing, the expression “May you live in interesting times” is in fact a curse. It is always used ironically, with the clear implication that 'uninteresting times', of pe

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