Sticking to the plan

by Peter Hindle MBE, Chairman of the Builders Merchants Federation  

Peter Hindle MBE, BMF ChairmanOne of my key roles as BMF chairman is to help shape our strategic plan and then to ensure that it is implemented.  

I believe we have a good strategy in place and have introduced a number of excellent initiatives that clearly benefit BMF members, but I also have a duty to pose the question, “what could we be doing better?”  Essentially, that means measuring performance against a number of KPIs.  

In that regard, to someone like me who has spent a lifetime in business a trade association can seem a strange beast.  Its purpose is not to make a profit, which means that one of the main KPIs of the business world is straight out of the window, so for each activity we have to start by asking, “what does good look like”?    

I also have to consider that “good” may not look the same to everyone. The purpose of a trade association is to serve its members but if those members are quite diverse – and the BMF is a broad church – we know we have to satisfy many different requirements.  It’s a truism that you can’t please all of the people all of the time, but if the BMF is to continue to succeed, we need to engage most of our members most of the time.  

To help us get to know all of our members better we are investing over £130,000 in a CRM system, which comes on stream later this year, that will help us engage more fully with every member.

It should also help us to form a better understanding not only of what they perceive as “good” but also what they want from a “great” trade association – which is what the BMF aspires to.  

Member engagement stands at number one on my key criteria of success, so I would also like to invite members to write to me personally with their views. I’d like to hear what you think we are doing well, but even more importantly I want to know what you think we could do better. To start that conversation I’d like to throw in a couple of discussion points.  

I want to see members attending the regional meetings, conferences, training courses, specialist forums etc. that the BMF runs on their behalf. If you have attended one or more, then tell me why you value them. At the Forums, for example, do we offer the right balance of education, discussion and networking? And if you haven’t yet attended any BMF events, we also need to understand why that is.  

To make it easier for members to travel to meetings and training events, we are currently opening BMF Regional Centres of Excellence around the country.  We have been extremely fortunate that a dozen members have already agreed to open their facilities to host BMF events on a regular basis, but we are still looking at ways to ensure that these excellent facilities are put to good use.  On this subject, I would like your views on who should take responsibility for arranging and running those events.  Do you think that that the Regional Chairmen and other members in each area should drive the content they want to see, or would your prefer the BMF’s own Regional Managers and head office team to decide what is required?  

There are, of course, a great many other ways in which the BMF works to support members and I’d like to hear your views on those too.  

The BMF is your trade association and I want to see it deliver value to all members.  Please help us to understand what “good”, or better still, “great” looks like to you. By working together we can make your BMF work for you.  

Contact Peter at:    

This article also appeared in the April 2017 issue of Builders Merchants Journal

Member engagement stands at number one on my key criteria of success, so I would also like to invite members to write to me personally with their views. I’d like to hear what you think we are doing well, but even more importantly I want to know what

Why PPC can serve as an effective digital marketing tactic for Builders Merchants

by David Watling, Head of Sales, Pauley Creative

David Watling, Pauley CreativeAs the world of digital marketing continues to expand and evolve, the competition to rank well in Google Search becomes fiercer year on year. As a result of this, builders’ merchants must be flexible with their marketing tactics, in order to maximise the online visibility of their products and services.

Pay-per-click advertising (PPC) is now dominating page one of Google, particularly with the removal of the advertising sidebar, meaning that PPC ads take up the majority of space in Google search. This means that you really need to be investing in paid advertising campaigns in order to stand a chance against your competition.

You may be sat there wondering, “how can I ensure PPC advertising works for my business?” or “is the investment in PPC even worth my time and money?”

If so, this blog post is for you. It will address five simple reasons for considering PPC advertising in the first place, alongside tips to ensure you align paid search campaigns against measurable marketing goals.

Without further ado let’s start with the 5 key reasons for employing PPC…

1) PPC is highly measurable

‘Pay-per-click’ advertising means that you only pay out for those all-important click-throughs, meaning that you know exactly where your budget is being spent. Unlike more traditional print-based advertising, where you simply spend money and hope for the best, PPC enables you to keep track by producing a result for every penny that’s spent. This means you can be flexible with your approach depending upon the outcome of each campaign.

2) Gain quality clicks through to your website

Ranking within both organic (un-paid search) and paid search doubles your opportunity for click-throughs to your E-commerce platform, and therefore doubles the chance of these leading to a conversion. The more listings you can gain on page one of Google search, the more legitimate and attractive your building products will look to online visitors.

3) Support your organic (un-paid) search

Ranking highly on page one of Google search, and trying to figure out why you’ve been positioned there in the first place, involves in-depth research on your keywords, as well as a thorough review of your website content. However, PPC displays results very quickly, allowing you to understand what keywords have worked straight away to bring the right prospects to your website, and ultimately gives you more control over your rankings. Whilst ranking highly in organic search is crucial, PPC is considered to support your overall search rankings with immediate effect.

4) Control your advertising costs

How much you are willing to spend on PPC is entirely up to you, and is flexible for you to change at any time. Obviously the less you spend, the less likely you are to see a huge turnaround; however, this will again depend upon the competitiveness for that particular keyword within the construction industry. Always set your PPC budget to meet your own business needs.

5) Provide support to campaigns

PPC is there to support a range of marketing campaigns, whether it’s a product promotion, website launch or a company rebrand. You can even feature campaigns overnight in order to get campaigns well underway as quickly as possible. Paid search ultimately helps to drive revenue and increase online visibility, becoming a consistent support system to any promotion or marketing campaign.

Aligning PPC advertising to your business goals

Now that we’ve discussed some of the key reasons for implementing PPC as an effective marketing tactic, it’s also important to emphasise that you’ll only reap the benefits of PPC with an effective strategy in place…

…and there’s no such thing as an effective strategy without specific marketing goals. Creating measurable goals will allow you to understand what keywords are required to improve the performance of your E-commerce platform.

When defining goals, you first need to consider what results you want from a website visitor clicking your ad and being directed to a landing page.

For builders' merchants the goal may be to increase sales, enhance brand awareness or improve traffic levels.

Consider the following…

  • Do you need to be driving awareness and sales for a new product?
  • Do you need to boost sales for an existing product type?
  • Are you looking to increase the number of product enquiries on your platform?
  • At what pace do you expect to see an increase in sales?
  • What percentage increase in sales is realistic for your business

Whilst it is crucial at this stage to be setting clear and quantifiable goals, they must also be flexible for industry changes, seasonal changes and services offered on your Ecommerce platform.

Benchmark from previous performance

At this point, you may be wondering where to actually begin when it comes to setting accurate PPC goals; this is where you’ll need to analyse data using Google Analytics to measure the previous performance levels of certain products. This will help you to determine what quantifies as realistic goals for your individual business.

  • In what months did we sell the most of Product A?
  • In what months did we sell the least of Product B?
  • What products had the least sales over the year?
  • What products are lacking online visibility?
  • On a monthly basis, how many people are aware of our brand and directly typing the website address into search?

Establish Short- & Long-Term Goals

It’s important to establish short-term as well as long-term goals for your business, in order to provide realistic stepping-stones towards achieving your desired outcome. This not only makes the long-term goal easier to achieve, but it also provides your team with the motivation to achieve it.

A short-term goal may be assigned on a weekly or monthly basis, such as increasing sales and revenue from X to Y; this short-term goal would be directly targeting people who are interested in your product and service in order to increase the chance of them buying from your Ecommerce site.

However, whilst sales could increase for a particular keyword overnight, they will naturally fluctuate depending on factors such as seasons or product launches. In particular, new accounts with little to no previous data take longer to see an increase in sales, as it takes time to optimise the campaign and review keyword performance.

This is when you need a long-term goal plan, typically aimed towards your businesses’ overall profit growth. Whilst most businesses intend to make a high profit as their long-term goal, very few actually measure how exactly they’ll get there, or what steps are needed to achieving this success.

Analyse your goal campaigns

Whilst creating a goal plan for your PPC campaign should always be the first step towards implementing an effective strategy, analysing the progression of these goals is just as important.

If your short and long-term goals aren’t being met, you need to dig into why this was and how the issue can be resolved. If they are being met, identify the tactics used to get there so that you can do more of what works and less of what isn’t.


The learning process to PPC is continuous, and as you begin to collect data for your paid keywords, the strategy may start to change.

Ensure you’re flexible with the strategy required to achieving these goals as the online behaviour of your visitors changes over time. And remember - without setting goals, you’ll spend a significant amount of money with little results to show for it.

For more information on implementing an effective PPC strategy for your construction business, download our PPC eBook for Ecommerce websites here.  
David Watling, Pauley Creative
As the world of digital marketing continues to expand and evolve, the competition to rank well in Google search becomes fiercer year on year. As a result of this, builders’ merchants must be flexible with their marketing tactics, in order to maximise

Apprenticeships Levy and support for BMF members  

The aim of the Apprenticeship Levy is to transfer the focus of training onto employers needs so as to improve the quantity of apprenticeships in England and enable employees across the workforce, from entry level 2 to post graduate level, to access tailored training to benefit the employer’s business. If not used within 24 months of payment your contributions to the levy will be lost. The Levy came into effect in April 2017. Please contact the BMF for more details on the levy and how it may affect your business on 02476 854980.  

BMF Apprenticeships Plus Service  

The BMF Apprenticeships Plus Service is recognised as a most effective and cost efficient way to train members of your workforce, management team and even directors. This initiative is a tried and tested way to recruit new staff, re-train or upskill existing staff and retain valued members of your team through tailored work-based training programmes.  

BMF Apprenticeships lead to nationally recognised qualifications. Merchants can utilise the BMF Apprenticeship Scheme to access funding for at least 90% of the cost of the training in England, with further availability of funding in Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland. The minimum duration of an entry level BMF Apprenticeship is 12 months, depending on the job role and the qualification.  

Some of the favoured qualifications for merchants include: • Trade Supplier (written and tailored by BMF Members and others to mirror precisely the merchant role) • Customer Service • Team Leading • Warehousing and Storage • Business Administration • Management  

Whilst the BMF Apprenticeship initiative provides funded and co-funded qualifications from entry level 2 through higher levels, foundation degrees, full degrees and even post graduate and masters levels the majority uptake is through the two entry level apprenticeship grades:  

Intermediate Level  

Apprentices work towards an entry level 2 qualification (equivalent to 5 GCSE’s at A-C) which involves tailored learning with BMF appointed experienced and industry competent training providers across every area of the UK. 

Achievement in England is measured through final exam style assessments, again delivered by specialist BMF approved assessors. Achievement in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland follows more of a continuous assessment format. New entrants or existing employees will often commence or progress to higher level apprenticeships.  

Advanced Level Apprenticeships

Apprentices may work towards a Level 3 qualification. The more commonly chosen advanced level funded and co-funded qualifications include wholesaling, management, IT, logistics, finance, sales and procurement, but here are many more to choose from by simply asking your BMF advisor.  

Progression from an advanced level apprenticeship could include a funded qualification at Level 4 or the BMF Diploma in Merchanting.  

As BMF Apprenticeships are work-based training programmes, most of the training is ‘on the job’. You must give your apprentices an induction into their role and provide on-the-job training. You are also responsible for paying your apprentices’ wages; for a minimum of 30 hours per week for the duration of the Apprenticeship; and providing training support.  

The BMF Apprenticeships Plus programme is managed by the BMF through a consortium of the best providers in the UK and with particular expertise in the merchanting sector. All BMF provision is delivered by providers graded by OFSTED as good or outstanding. BMF Apprenticeships Plus will work with you, the employer, to:  

• Help you decide which Apprenticeship is right for your business and your apprentice. • Explain the way that Apprenticeships work and source funding for a minimum of 90% of the cost. (please note that engagement of an apprentice at 16-18 years old (up to 24 years old in certain circumstances) will enable you to claim an employment grant of £1,000, which will greatly exceed the maximum 10% employer contribution. • Agree a training plan with you and your apprentice. • Help you recruit an apprentice or support your existing staff into Apprenticeships • Manage the training, evaluation and end point assessments. • Ensure that national quality standards are met and deliver integrated, coherent training.

BMF Apprenticeships Plus will ensure that builders’ merchants will benefit to the fullest extent from government funding targeted at apprentice training. The size of the contribution is a maximum of 10% of the course cost spread over the length of the course (typically £25 to £40 a month over a 12 to 15 month term).  

Training is free to employers with less than 50 employees for apprentices aged 16-18 years old. Employment grants of £1,000 are claimed for all apprentices aged under 19 and for others with care or learning needs up to 24 years old.  

At February 2017 the apprentice minimum wage for 16 to 18 year olds is £3.50 per hour and applies to working time and time spent training, albeit this rate increases annually. The rate increases incrementally with age. Employers are free to pay above the new wage and many do so due to regional employment pressures or simply in order to encourage the best possible candidate.  

If an existing employee is on a higher wage when commencing their apprenticeship, the employer must continue to pay that for the remainder of the training or until the apprentice becomes eligible for the full national minimum wage.  

Apprenticeships are subject to eligibility and funding rules, which are different for each country in the UK. In all cases, please contact by phone or email or email BMF Apprenticeships Plus for information.  

27 February 2017
Training is free to employers with less than 50 employees for apprentices aged 16-18 years old. Employment grants of £1,000 are claimed for all apprentices aged under 19 and for others with care or learning needs up to 24 years old.

Cyber Insurance - Bluefin

Cyber insuranceFollowing recently publicised high profile breaches of IT security and with threats of abuse of data increasing, there has never been a more pertinent time to consider cyber insurance.  

Businesses are increasingly having to manage the emerging threat of cyber crime and breaches and loss of intellectual property are now a board-level concern rather than an issue for IT managers to resolve in isolation. Criminals are increasingly using ‘non-targeted’ organisations to reach more desirable targets (a small supplier used to access a larger organisation) and fines for companies suffering data breaches are expected to increase when EU Global Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) takes effect in the UK– potentially reaching up to 5% of turnover for a privacy breach.  

Even seemingly robust networks are vulnerable, due to the difficulty in monitoring and negating all internal and external breaches:  

90% of large organisations (81% in 2014) and 74% (60% in 2014) of small businesses experienced security breaches in the past year*
31% of victims discovered the breach internally; 69% were notified by an external entity*
229 days was the median number of days taken to discover threats on a victim’s network before detection**  

* Source: HM Government 2015 Security Breaches survey
** Source: Mandiant M-Trends 2015 – A view from the frontline  

Purchasing trends
Historically, many organisations have chosen not to buy cyber insurance for a variety of reasons including premium levels, the misconception that standard business policies exclude cyber risks and the feeling that their cyber exposure is minimal or non-existent.  

Anticipated changes to UK Data Protection legislation, however, are expected to increase the take-up of UK cyber insurance products. A number of additional insurers are now entering the market, with some particularly focussing on providing more affordable policies for SMEs.  

Cyber insurance is increasingly recognised as a risk mitigation tool, ensuring that financing and support are available to IT teams in the event of a serious breach.  

Summary of the cover available
Insurer offerings differ; however the following table broadly outlines the covers available.  

Own losses
Cyber insurance: own losses

Third party losses  
Cyber insurance: third party losses

In summary, every company has a cyber risk– regardless of size or industry. Bluefin would be delighted to carry out an analysis of your own cyber risk and recommend appropriate, cost effective insurance options.  

For more information on cyber insurance products or Insurance Plus, please contact Juliette Honnor at Bluefin: or call 020 8781 9289
Cyber insurance - Bluefin. Following recently publicised high profile breaches of IT security and with threats of abuse of data increasing, there has never been a more pertinent time to consider cyber insurance. Businesses are increasingly havi

John Fairey FCILT of Prompt Training Ltd asks Drivers – Are they your ambassadors or a potential weak link?

Truck driverWhilst technology exists for driverless trucks, a completely autonomous truck that can travel from A to B with no human intervention beyond setting the route remains at least 20 to 30 years away by almost all estimates. Meanwhile, drivers with the human element will remain an extremely important part of our day to day operations.  

The ideal driver may not exist, so how do we create one? The simple answer is by training & management!  

Many merchants may already be “micro-managing” their drivers and have robust systems in place including professional development training to ensure their business is conducted in a compliant, cost effective manner and not exposed to risk. Through this article, I would like to stimulate some thought & provide a few simple ideas as to how standards can be continually improved together with both risk & cost reduction.

The job description of Driver clearly infers that the main requirement is to drive the vehicle. If the average day was analysed, actual driving may account for 50% or less of working hours. Drivers have to possess a wide range of skills and qualifications to meet the basic requirements of the business. These include driving, loading, unloading, interpersonal skills, general fitness and capability – each of which open up to a wide range of detail. Failure in any of this detail will lead to the business being vulnerable to complaints, incidents, collisions, prosecution, brand damage and the resultant additional costs.  

The first step may be to understand that simply to hold the relevant driving licence, DCPC & truck crane qualification, whilst critical- it is very much “only the first step”.  

Additional driver development training can help in ensuring your drivers are safe, your business is compliant, minimising the risk of collisions & complaints and improving both business performance & driver motivation.  

Consider identifying and targeting the areas for improvement and training. This could include the major areas of risk within the business for example WRRR (work related road risk) or high cost areas such as fuel and damage. Establish a training plan, which may include a monthly / quarterly tool box talk on a topical subject.  

Has the business set clear objectives in the form of comprehensive policies and procedures included in a driver handbook, employee handbook, code of conduct or employee contract? If so have the drivers been made aware of the detail and signed a declaration confirming their receipt, understanding and acceptance? Is the information included in a signed Induction checklist and regular refresher tool box talks or briefings? It is important to fully record any training, it is a vital part of your evidence to protect the business in the event of a claim.  

Ongoing commitment to development training will result in an improved overall performance and culture whereby drivers will become true loyal ambassadors of the business.  

The BMF Transport Plus Service assists members in every aspect of compliance with Goods Vehicle Operators Licence Undertakings and Legislation. Prompt Training Ltd are pleased to provide this service on behalf of the BMF.
Through this article, I would like to stimulate some thought & provide a few simple ideas as to how standards can be continually improved together with both risk & cost reduction.

A strong finish for Merchants in 2016  

BMBI“2016 was a successful year for generalist builders’ merchants, with revenues of over £5.44bn and sales value growth of 5.2% on the previous year. A strong final quarter’s performance (up 5.5% on the previous year) contributed to the overall success of 2016,” says Ricky Coombes, Channel Manager at GfK, which provides the top line data for the Builders Merchant Building Index.  

“Heavy Building Materials, the most valuable category, performed in line with the total channel. It grew 5.8% on 2015, driven by several key sub-categories, such as Roofing Products, Lintels and Plaster/Plasterboards”. Timber & Joinery Products, the second-largest category, was up 3.8%.  

Kitchens & Bathrooms (+7.9% on December 2015), Heavy Building Materials (the largest category, +6.5%) and Landscaping (+5.7%) outperformed merchants generally in December 2016 compared with 2015.  

Landscaping also performed well in Q4, up 10.3% on Q4, 2015. Heavy Building Materials (+7.1%), Kitchens & Bathrooms (+5.9%) and Ironmongery (+5.6%) were stronger than merchants generally. Most categories sold more this year.  

December’s Builders Merchant Building Index (77.1) was affected by fewer trading days in the month, although less so when adjusted to reflect average sales per day (94.1). The fourth quarter (100.9) was in line with the Index but ahead when adjusted for trading days (104.7).  

John Newcomb, Managing Director Builders Merchants Federation said: “Despite fears around the Brexit vote mid-year, another strong set of results for the final quarter of the year is encouraging. The BMF’s own Sales Indicators, which confirm that the final quarter of 2016 wrapped up three years of growth in the sector, provide a valuable insight into regional sales. Some of the highest percentage increases are currently occurring outside London and the South East, which are normally considered the busiest areas.”    

The Builders Merchant Building Index (BMBI)
The BMBI is a brand of the BMF. The BMBI report, which is produced and managed by MRA Marketing, uses GfK’s Builders Merchant Point of Sale Tracking Data which analyses sales out data from over 80% of generalist builders’ merchants’ sales across Great Britain. The full report is on
2016 was a successful year for generalist builders’ merchants, with revenues of over £5.44bn and sales value growth of 5.2% on the previous year.

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