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

Why built environment marketing needs to get personal  

by Dianne Lucas, Managing Director of CMDI (a BMF member)
3 April 2018

Dianne LucasPersonalised marketing has been around for years, but now it’s more personal – and needed –than ever.  

Over 42% of UK marketers identified “personalisation” as one of their top priorities last year, according to The Chartered Institute of Marketing. Because the penny’s finally dropped among B2B marketers that it’s not a “business” who receives their communications. It’s a person.  

B2B has become P2P, as marketers capitalise on the fact that only by understanding the person – or “Persona” – that you’re targeting can your marketing hit the mark, and not the bin.  

If personal marketing isn’t already top of your 2018 to-do list, here’s how to fast-track it with CMDi’s Persona Builder methodology.  

First, you need to build a case based on facts to ensure your Board both understands and supports this P2P approach. For instance, evidence is now widely available to support the need to dump a B2B one-size-fits-all approach. The Boston Consulting Group found that brands which create personalised experiences are seeing a revenue increase of up to 10% – and up to three times more quickly than those who don’t. Help is always available here from sector experts, such as CMDi.

Second, create an internal P2P team who can help share your P2P transformation objectives across your marketing, communications and customer services. Make sure this team includes a professional external partner, such as CMDi, who can guide you through this process from start to finish. 

Next, review your customer data. You need to have a clear picture of who your customers are, what knowledge gaps exist, and how well your current CRM can handle a transition to deeper segmentation. This may also be the time to review your overall approach to CRM.

Once you have gathered the facts about your customers and how they are currently segmented, you need to develop a Persona building research programme. This is the most effective foundation to ensure you segment your most valuable customers based on real facts and deep insights.

After your customer Personas have been built, you then need to develop a Persona-based approach to your communications by linking your newly created customer Personas to touchpoints, channels and a clearly developed path to purchase/specification maps. This is all about removing buy-barriers and increasing attraction. Remember, this needs to be as much about messaging as media: you must ensure that new communications are developed that press the most effective buttons which were uncovered in your insight-building research phase. 

Finally, ensure that customer feedback loops are built into the roll-out so you can obtain new insights and allow your Personas to develop and grow organically This form of real-time marketing ensures you match new needs as they arise and has exponential value activating your business at the right time, in the right place, at the right moment, with the right offer. 

As markets become even more overcrowded, and most communication messages become just noise, only those building and construction brands which recognise the value of treating consumers as individual people will be the ones to achieve a real advantage – and only if they get the approach right and are fully committed to it.

Watch Netflix’s example 

Netflix has built its success on a personalised algorithm that suggests relevant content to viewers. By tracking its users’ viewing history, the business builds a detailed picture of customer tastes and preferences.  

The company recently took this approach to the next level by creating personalised ‘preview’ adverts. These select and show a trailer for a series or film based on a user’s viewing habits, ensuring the content promoted is relevant to each user.  

These subtle elements of personalisation make users feel that Netflix knows them in a genuine way. Strong recommendations increase the amount of time viewers spend watching content on Netflix and minimise subscriber churn.  According to a paper published by Netflix executives, the company claims its AI-assisted recommendation system saves the company $1 billion per year. As one of the most successful digital content platforms in the world, Netflix exemplifies how getting relevance right is key to successful business strategy.  

Creating valuable and authentic connections with customers has never been more important, and should be at the top of any built environment marketer’s strategy for 2018.

For more information about CMDi call 01483 546 900 or email  

Consultants to the BMF, CMDi Managing Director Dianne Lucas says personalised marketing has been around for years, but now it’s more personal – and needed –than ever. Over 42% of UK marketers identified “personalisation” as one of their top priorit

Bucking the trend  

21 March 2018
by John Newcomb, BMF Chief Executive

John NewcombOnce again, sales through builders’ merchants appear to be bucking the general construction trend.   By the end of February, the Office of National Statistics (ONS), the Construction Products Association (CPA), and our own Builders Merchants Building Index (BMBI) had each published performance figures for the final quarter of 2017. The headlines around the ONS and CPA stats spoke of construction output falling in the last three months of the year, with output forecast to remain flat in 2018. In contrast, the BMBI found that builders merchants sales in Q4 2017 outperformed the same period in 2016, with sales values increasing in every category. The story was much the same when comparing builders merchants sales during the whole of 2017 with 2016, with every major category reporting growth, notably a 5.1% increase for the largest product category, heavy building materials.  

The difference is down to the performance of the sectors mainly served by builders merchants. While private housebuilding is forging ahead, assisted by Help to Buy, and private domestic RMI work is holding up well, the same cannot be said for the commercial and industrial sectors, which have seen a sharp decline post Brexit, largely due to a lack of clarity as to future requirements.  

Fortunately for merchants, the lion’s share of their sales is driven by the housing market, both new build and RMI.  In both these sectors the ONS and CPA figures concur with the BMBI which found total merchant sales in Q4 2017 were up by 6.3% on Q4 2016. This is in line with the ONS report of continued growth in new private housing, up by 8.7% in Q4 2017 over the same period in 2016, with private housing RMI also up by 2.6%. The CPA was quoted saying that private housing output is now 28.8% higher than its pre-recession peak. By contrast, commercial output is 26.4% below its historic high, whilst industrial output is 28.5% lower.  

Will these trends continue in 2018? On the plus side, the Bank of England, predicted to raise interest rates twice more this year, appears to have the confidence to now move towards normalising monetary policy. However, we have yet to see the full impact of Carillion’s demise, particularly on their many thousands of sub-contractors.  If a significant number go to the wall, the effect is likely to be felt by every sector of the building and construction industry.    

Data protection  

Meanwhile, something that we are sure will happen this year is the implementation of the General Data Protection Regulations in May. These introduce greater protection of personal information but place a greater responsibility on businesses to secure that data.  

Many merchants will already have plans in place to be certified compliant by the deadline. For those who would like further support, the BMF has a new Cyber Security service which will help members to reinforce information security and comply with the new regulations, while Halborns, who provide BMF Intelligent Employment Plus, are offering a GDPR HR Toolkit. We are also running a half day training course on 22 March to explain the issues and help delegates to move towards the solutions. To find out more, or to book your place on this timely training course email or click here to book online.  

This article appeared in the March 2018 edition of BMN
Bucking the trend. John Newcomb, BMF Chief Executive says that once again, sales through builders’ merchants appear to be bucking the general construction trend....

Apprenticeships rewritten  

by Carmen Daley, BMF Apprenticeships Plus
15 March 2018

Carmen DaleyThe BMF is making giant strides to transform apprenticeships in the merchant industry.  With our accredited Apprenticeship Training Agency (ATA) and a new division, BMF Apprenticeship Plus, we are helping members gain maximum benefit from the opportunities created by the Government’s apprenticeship reforms.   Carmen Daley, who runs the BMF Apprenticeship Plus programme, explains what’s new.  

Last year the Government took the book on Apprenticeships and shredded it. A better way to think of Apprenticeships now is as a means to train - or develop further – staff at any level, whether they are new or existing employees. These changes come at a time when the challenges faced by the industry mean staff need to be well trained and upskilled more than ever.   

The new reforms, however brilliant, don’t come without complexities, employer responsibilities and time-consuming administration. The BMF Apprenticeships team manage these on behalf of members.  We oversee all aspects of Apprenticeship learning, such as Levy management, recruitment, contracting of Training Providers and learner monitoring and reporting.  We can even employ Apprentices on behalf of members through the BMF ATA. Whilst this service is new to BMF members, it is not new to us.  We have been working with the Electrical Distributors Association for over six years and employ 400 Apprentices on behalf of their members.

Carmen is passionate about apprenticeships, and her goal is to encourage more people to join the industry, including young women, who are often hesitant when they call. 

If someone says, ‘Can I apply for the Driving Apprenticeship’, I know what’s coming next …’I wasn’t sure if girls could’.  

I love any opportunity to introduce people to this industry, and if it is someone who thought they might not be welcome, then it is even better. I tell them about the many BMF members who focus only on talent and enthusiasm. I explain that historically, yes, we might have been a male-dominated industry, but that is changing.

There may be a long way to go to bring greater numbers of female candidates into the industry but Carmen believes Apprenticeships are an excellent conduit for doing so.  

This year also sees the introduction of the new Trade Supplier Apprenticeship Standard, which – in another first for the industry - was jointly written by BMF and EDA members to ensure that newcomers are equipped with relevant workplace skills. With this additional resource in their toolbox, Carmen and her team are aiming high.  

Our aim this year for BMF members is to start 110 Apprentices to mark the Trade Association's 110th Anniversary. We are thrilled to already be working with a number of members on a range of Apprenticeships as diverse as Accounting, Driving, IT and Warehouse Operative. The coming weeks will also see the first learners begin the new Trade Supplier standard.

For further information on the services offered by BMF Apprenticeships Plus, please contact me at or 0333 305 7656.
Apprenticeships rewritten. Carmen Daley of BMF Apprenticships Plus talks about how the BMF is making giant strides to transform apprenticeships in the merchant industry.

Bespoke solutions for every training gap  

by James Spillane, BMF Training and Development Manager
5 March 2018

James SpillaneMany merchants are currently setting their budgets for the new financial year, and should have a separate line item for training within this.  While medium and large organisations automatically invest 2-5% of salary costs into their training budgets, smaller organisations may well begin the process by assessing the training needs of their business during the coming year.  

Identifying and focusing on the real issues and actual needs of the business and its employees will help them to allocate an appropriate training budget. Working with the BMF will ensure that this budget is put to good use, developing the right skills to improve productivity and performance.  

The BMF not only offers over 70 different industry-specific courses, our Regional Managers will be happy to help you undertake a Training Needs Analysis specific to your business.  They can also work with you to create your own bespoke programmes from the wide range of courses available.  

Depending on your particular needs, this “pick and mix” bespoke service can be used to create develop programmes ranging from basic induction, through graduate development to branch manager development. 

For example, a branch manager development programme may include elements such as:
  • Financial Principles of Merchanting – incorporating Finance for Non-Finance Managers, Margin Development and Managing and Controlling Stock courses
  • Personal Effectiveness – combining Excelling in Customer Service, Effective Time Management, Excellence in Business Writing and Presentation Skills
  • Leadership – bringing together Performance Management and Staff Engagement and Retention courses
  • As well as other key areas, for example Transport for Non-Transport Managers.  

These bespoke programmes will usually be combinations of the BMF’s one, two, three of four day courses. In addition, they give merchants the opportunity to represent the culture of their company within the training, and give priority to agreed topics. Courses can either be run at the merchant’s own premises or at a venue of their choice.  

For those who want a more thorough grounding in management skills and advanced leadership development training to equip them for further progression in their merchanting career, there is also the BMF Diploma in Merchanting, a two-year part-time course combining self-study modules and regular group workshops.

Not all BMF courses are aimed at those on the management track.  Many are highly practical, such as Measuring Building Quantities, Driver CPC Training, Kitchen and Bathroom Design, and Search Engine Optimisation. 

The complete range of BMF training courses can be found here.  For simplicity the different categories of training are divided into eight sections: Management Development, Leadership, Sales, Induction & Operations, Apprenticeships, Product Knowledge, Transport and Specialist. 

The Prospectus also includes a Training Roadmap, to show how various courses lead on from another, and how employees may use them to develop individual skills, as well as to help them progress up their career ladder. Using this in combination with a free Training Needs Analysis from their BMF Regional Manager will help merchants accurately determine their company’s current training needs, and identify the best means of delivery in the most cost efficient way.  

To find out more about any aspect of BMF training, please contact me at or on 02456 854980. Or contact your BMF Regional Manager direct to book a Training Needs Analysis.  

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

This article first appeared in the February 2018 edition of Professional Builders' Merchant (PBM)
James Spillane, BMF Training and Development Manager talks about bespoke solutions for every training gap, at a time when many merchants are setting their budgets for the new financial year.

Counting the cost  

by John Newcomb, BMF CEO
27 February 2018

John NewcombWhat a start to the year!  I’m writing this in the week that Carillion went into liquidation.  By the time you read this, the impact on the building materials supply chain – as well as on thousands of Carillion employees and hundreds of sub-contractors – will no doubt be clearer.  

Within days of the collapse we were asked to gather information from members to help inform the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) on the level of exposure to Carillion and potential issues that may arise across the supply chain.  

Our initial survey indicated that few merchants are directly affected, but some are likely to be indirectly exposed through customers who are, or were, Carillion sub-contractors.  It is well-known that Carillion operated on 120 day payment terms and most of their sub-contractors are owed money for work carried out prior to the liquidation.  It may, therefore, take time to discover the full effect on our sector, and the greatest impact may well be felt in the longer term and not in the first days, or weeks, following Carillion’s collapse.  

Leading on from this, we are calling on the Government to take immediate steps to promote and enforce the Construction Supply Chain Payment Charter (CSCPC), which is designed to ensure that payments are made to the supply chain within 30 days.   

We have also made it clear that there are great opportunities available for Carillion apprentices, and other staff, to move into the building materials industry. Through our own Apprenticeships Training Agency and our dedicated recruitment portal we can offer recruitment options to former Carillion employees who would like to find out more about furthering their career in the materials supply sector.  

Political profile  

In recent years, the BMF has placed a priority on raising our profile in parliamentary circles, developing policy papers to influence the parties, their strategists & spokesmen, and building relationships with parliamentarians and their advisors.  Our overriding aim is to develop their understanding of the role, value and importance of the building materials’ supply chain within the wider construction industry.  

It is highly appropriate that the first event we are holding to celebrate our landmark anniversary year is a Parliamentary Reception at the House of Commons. This takes place on 24 April and will bring together an invited audience of BMF members, MPs and Peers.  The event celebrates the BMF’s 110th anniversary as a trade association and its 40th anniversary as a Federation by looking to the future and highlighting the talents and opportunity of the next generation of merchants, and the vibrancy and resilience of the industry.  Speakers at the event will include a representative of the BMF Young Merchants’ Group and the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills.  

The importance the BMF places on building relationships throughout parliament is also evidenced by our regular programme of MP visits to merchants around the country. The most recent was a visit by Rupa Huq MP for Ealing Central & Acton, to Lords Builders Merchants in Park Royal, Ealing, in the lead up to local elections in all London Boroughs in May. With affordable housing a key concern for many Londoners, Dr Huq heard how the building materials supply chain is responding to today’s housing challenges.  

A year of anniversaries  

Finally, the BMF is not alone in marking significant milestones.  Several of our members also have important anniversaries to celebrate.  Our congratulations to them all, but prizes for longevity must surely go to Elliotts for their 175th anniversary last year, and Bradfords, who served their first customer in 1770 and are rapidly approaching 250 years supporting local trades.  That surely takes some beating! 

This article appeared in the February edition of Builders' Merchants News (BMN)

BMF CEO John Newcomb talks about Carillion, the importance of raising political profile and forthcoming BMF members' anniversaries.

Maximising your online performance through better user engagement

By David Watling, Head of Sales at Pauley Creative
14 February 2018    

David WatlingAs BMF members, we recently attended the BMF Supplier and Service Members Forum at Coventry University and were asked to deliver a presentation around construction marketing tactics to enhance online presence. We are proud to work with the BMF as a membership organisation, and by doing this presentation, we wanted to reassert the importance of truly understanding your audience to drive engagement through using the best tools and valuable, relatable content.  

You only need to look at the below stats to understand the amount of companies who still struggle to create a formal customer-led strategy, despite how crucial it is to reputation, profitability and overall success: “More than half of companies admit to not having a formal customer engagement program in place, and 60% didn’t know how many customers they’d lost over the past year.” — Convero 

“Customers who are fully engaged represent a 23% share of profitability, revenue, and relationship growth compared to the average customer.” — Gallup  

At the Forum we covered the following areas: 

  • Understanding your audience –re-evaluate your construction business as it currently stands: we’ll prompt you with the right questions and provide you with the best tools to kickstart your internal marketing audit
  • Build or rebuild? –from the above research, what tools, platforms and general marketing tactics would be most useful to your customers? Can your website currently accommodate the changes required?
  • Putting the right tools in your kitbag – which online tools will help you to stand apart from your competition? Take a look at some core examples we use that could help to drive engagement and attract your customers
  • Tips on reporting and insights – we’ll take you through a step-by-step guide on some key tips to effectively report back on key customer findings using your Analytics account.    

You can have your say in our annual construction marketing survey. Everyone who completes the survey will be automatically entered into a random draw to win an Apple Ipad! In addition to the Apple Ipad, by completing the survey you’ll receive exclusive results and insights retrieved from the study, highlighting key challenges within construction marketing today and valuable opportunities for 2018.  Our study is helping us to understand exactly how the best-performing firms manage their construction marketing by implementing goals and specific tactics to grow faster and generate quality leads.  Take the survey now here
David Watling of Pauley Creative talks about how to maximise your online performance through better user engagement.

Carillion and the role of credit insurance for BMF members

Richard Ellithorne
by Richard Ellithorne, BMF Membership Services Director
9 February 2018

Within the credit insurance industry Carillion has been a hot topic for some time. Following the three profit warnings issued in less than 6 months, it is no surprise that the credit insurers were treading carefully. With a £900m debt pile and £600m pension deficit you can see why the risk underwriters were worried. The warnings were clear to policyholders; keep a close eye on outstanding balances, keep within credit limits and be cautious.  

At the time, many were in the throes of projects and therefore trade continued as usual, as you would if you have traded with the second-largest construction company for many years without any issues.  There was also the general assumption early on that ‘the government will never let if fail, there is too much at stake. If Carillion go bust we are all in a lot of trouble’ – and what a lot of trouble it is. The ramifications are wide reaching and still unknown for the 43,000 employees and thousands of businesses who dealt with the giant. The domino effect is the wider issue of the failure and how this is going to reach businesses who, for some, never knew they were in somehow connected to the chain back to Carillion.  

Those who had credit insurance were either forewarned of this over a period of time, credit limits reduced then cancelled, or for those insured with Atradius were warned but kept cover running right until the Friday before the announcement. For these businesses they will at least see the claims payments come through from the credit limits held or in respect of binding contract cover. The latter being where cover has been withdrawn but cover remains in place to complete any binding works. Cover for retentions and advice on Retention of Title is all provided by the insurers who straight away were issuing advice to policy holders on how best to deal with any claims and mitigate the loss for both parties.  

The claim payments in many cases far outweigh the premiums paid and for many SME businesses the insurance at this point could be a lifeline. Thank goodness they had cover. Yes, for those who have had a disproportionate claim payment to the premium paid, will likely see an increase in premium next year but that won’t be forever. A good few years of claims free and a good broker to shop around will enable the premiums to remain at acceptable levels. The construction industry has been classed high risk for many years and the history of high profile insolvencies show this to be justified. In my opinion credit insurance for every company in this volatile sector is imperative. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but, as the saying goes, better to be safe than sorry.

For more information about BMF Credit Insurance Plus please click here

Richard Ellithorne, BMF Membership Services Director talks about the recent Carillion collapse and credit insurance issues.

A momentous year 

by John Newcomb, CEO of the BMF
23 January 2018

John Newcomb, BMF CEO
2018 represents a monumental milestone in the BMF’s history as we celebrate three landmark anniversaries: 110 years as a Trade Body; 40 years as the Builders’ Merchants Federation; and 5 years since we relocated the business from London to our current premises in Coventry.  

To celebrate these landmarks we will be arranging three very special events during our anniversary year.  In the Spring, we will be holding our first Parliamentary Reception at the House of Commons.  In the Autumn, we will be organising our first Young Merchants’ Conference.  Finally, in late November we will be holding a special Anniversary Members’ Dinner in the Midlands.  Details of all three major events will be announced in the coming weeks, and we do hope you will join us at one of them.  

While our anniversaries provide an opportunity to reflect on our heritage, the BMF’s focus is firmly on the future.  We begin the year working on two major initiatives – establishing the BMF in Ireland, and launching the first trade apprenticeship designed for the merchant industry by people currently working within it.  
Announced at the end of last year, our partnership with Allied Merchants Buying Association, the fastest growing merchant buying group in Ireland, gives the BMF an excellent foundation on which to build. Expanding into the Irish merchant community will undoubtedly strengthen the BMF. Our new Irish members are keen to create a dialogue with like-minded merchants and potential suppliers, opening another market for our supplier members.  

In another first, the BMF, working alongside the Electrical Distributors Association, jointly championed the Trade Supplier Level 2 Apprenticeship Standard.  To be launched later this month and offered to builders’ merchants through BMF Apprenticeships Plus, it set to become the sector’s primary Level 2 qualification.  It is also the first Apprenticeship designed to meet our industry’s specific needs, and I would like to thank all those who gave their time and energy to ensure it delivers the skills and knowledge needed by our new recruits.    

As a trade body for 110 years, the BMF has seen great changes both in the industry and in our own organisation.  One thing that has remained the same is our support for the industry and, our members, who are at the heart of everything we do as an organisation. 

I wish you all health, happiness and every success in 2018.      

This article appeared in the January 2018 edition of BMN
A momentous year. 2018 represents a monumental milestone in the BMF’s history as we celebrate three landmark anniversaries: 110 years as a Trade Body; 40 years as the Builders’ Merchants Federation; and 5 years since we relocated the business from

Apprenticeships blaze a new trail  

by James Spillane, BMF Training and Development Manager
16 January 2018
BMF Apprenticeships

The BMF starts the year on a high note, with the launch of a brand new, industry specific Trade Supplier Apprenticeship Standard that is set to become the sector’s primary Level 2 qualification.  

This is the first apprenticeship to be designed by the industry, for the industry.  It was developed as part of the government’s Trailblazer initiative, which encourages groups of employers to work together to create apprenticeships for their own sector. This will ensure that people have up-to-date workplace skills that are fully relevant to their business. In this case, the employers were mainly drawn from members of the BMF and the Electrical Distributors Association, who require similar workplace skills.   

Trade Supplier Apprentices may work on the trade counter, or specialise in other roles in the merchant trade, including sales, purchasing account management, logistics and administration. 

Some fifteen training providers have been signed up to deliver the new apprenticeship across the UK. It will be offered to builders’, timber and plumbing merchants through BMF Apprenticeships Plus, the BMF’s Apprenticeship Training Agency. It will also be eligible for funding under the new Levy system.  

John Henry, Director of BMF Apprenticeships Plus said: “This employer-led qualification will give young people entering the industry an excellent grounding in merchanting and will raise the bar in terms of skills and knowledge at an early point in their careers.  Having been in close communication with many businesses it is clear that the merchanting sector has been waiting for this new apprenticeship and I am confident of a significant take up by employers wishing to recruit and train new entrants and existing colleagues.”  

To find out more about the Trade Supplier Level 2 Apprenticeship standard please contact me at or on 02456 854980.    

Championing skills and service

The BMF actively promotes merchanting as an excellent career choice for young people, but we recognise that our sector is often overlooked in this digital age. Which is why we were delighted to support the Travis Perkins Apprenticeship Skills to Service Challenge last November.  

For three days, the company took over the F1 pits at Silverstone, used by both the British F1 and MotoGP Grands Prix, to put 135 of their apprentices through a series of practical business simulations that tested their technical knowledge, customer handling ability and sales skills.  

Louise Powell, Head of Education & Learning at Travis Perkins plc explained: “Holding ‘customer world’ practical simulations helps our apprentices to increase their knowledge and skills in a safe and controlled environment.  Having the chance to hold this exercise at the Silverstone F1 pits was a unique opportunity, that gave our apprentices the perfect setting – that champions precision, attention to detail and efficiency – to learn in.”  

John Stephenson, BMF Regional Manager, who advised Travis Perkins and presented the winners’ prizes said: “This was a great event that generated a lot of interest across local and social media. Not only is it a fantastic way for apprentices to demonstrate their skills and develop team working, it also showcases the breadth of career opportunities available within our industry.” 

The BMF would like to hear about other innovative training initiatives planned for 2018. Please contact me at or on 02456 854980. 

This article appeared in the January 2018 edition of Professional Builders' Merchant (PBM)

Apprenticeships blaze a new trail. The BMF starts the year on a high note, with the launch of a brand new, industry specific Trade Supplier Apprenticeship Standard that is set to become the sector’s primary Level 2 qualification.

Be prepared for transport changes

BMF Transport Plus4 January 2018

That’s the message of the latest transport update from Bob Sands, transport and compliance manager for Prompt Services, who provide BMF’s Transport Plus service.

Transport managers and O-Licence holders should be aware that DVSA traffic examiners are going to be given new powers to issue on-the-spot fines for any drivers’ hours offences committed in the previous 28 days.   

While the date for the introduction of this new directive is still to be announced, since 1 November 2017, traffic examiners have been able to issue fines for up to 5 drivers’ hours offences in a single check. It means they could be fined up to £1,500 in a single check.  

The impact of the new rules will be more pronounced when the power to punish historic offences comes into force. If stopped, drivers may be issued with a fixed penalty fine for offences in the previous 28 days, up to a maximum of five offences.  

The new rules are designed to improve safety and will primarily impact those who don’t take sufficient rest breaks, and endanger others.  According to RoSPA, driving while tired may be responsible for 1 in 5 of all accidents, and about 40% of sleep-related accidents involve commercial vehicles.     

Driver CPC – training countdown

The Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) qualification lasts for five years and requires drivers to undertake 35 hours of periodic training during that time if it is to be renewed. Many drivers, particularly those who entered the scheme with ‘acquired rights’, now have less than two years to do this as the full training block must be completed by 9 September 2019.   

If they have not already done so, transport managers should put plans in place to ensure their drivers have sufficient time to complete their CPC training without a last minute rush.     

Prepare for Clean Air

Anyone driving in London should be aware of the T-Charge Zone, which came into force on 23 October 2017.  Vehicles that do not meet the Euro 4/IV emission standard, or above, must pay the £10 daily charge if they enter the Zone between 07:00 and 18:00 Monday to Friday.  The T-Charge is additional to the existing Congestion Charge.  

Transport for London (TfL) has also brought forward plans for a new Ultra Low Emission Zone. This will now come into force on 8 April 2019 and will operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week within the same area as the current Congestion Charging Zone.  The emission standard for this zone will be tougher for diesel cars and vans and for HGVs, which will have to meet Euro 6/VI as a minimum.  Non-compliant cars and vans will pay a £12.50 charge – on top of the T-Charge and Congestion Charge – while lorries exceeding 3,500kg GVW will have to pay £100 a day.  

Changes are also planned in other cities as the Government has not brought air pollution to within legal limits and has lost court cases over diesel emissions. Clean Air  Zones (CAZ) are proposed with Leeds, Derby, Nottingham, Birmingham and Southampton the first in line.  Ministers have decided to make charging the option of last resort, and the local councils have until April 2018 to devise their plan.  The CAZs are due to come into force by the end of 2019, but how they will be implemented, which vehicles are affected and Zone boundaries remain unclear.  

While the BMF supports moves on clean air it is concerned that controlling access to cities, or setting entry charges will hamper the deliveries to customers. The BMF has called on ministers to support merchants by providing incentives to modernise vehicles.  In particular, it wants to see a diesel scrappage scheme to help SMEs replace older lorries, trucks and vans.  

Direct Vison Standard

Finally, as part of a consultation process, TfL has released interim direct vision star ratings as part of the development of its proposed Direct Vision Standard (DVS). This will categorise HGVs depending on the level of a driver's direct vision from a cab, giving them a zero to five- star rating.

If approved the proposals will require all HGVs over 12 tonnes to hold a safety permit to enter or operate in London from 2020. Those rated 'one star' and above would automatically be granted a permit, while those rated 'zero star' (lowest) would have to include specific recognised safety systems, such as sensors, visual warnings and comprehensive driver training, before a permit is granted.  Be warned, however, only those vehicles rated 'three-star' and above, or which have comprehensive safety systems, are likely to be able to operate in London from 2024.

If you would like to book a FREE transport health check, or to find out more about how BMF Transport Plus could benefit your business, please contact Prompt Training at or 01773 850428, quoting your BMF membership number.  

This article first appeared in the December 2017 issue of BMJ

Click here to find out more about joining the BMF  or email Oz Bham, Membership Manager at

Be prepared for transport changes That’s the message of the latest transport update from Bob Sands, transport and compliance manager for Prompt Services, who provide BMF’s Transport Plus service.

Local service

by James Spillane, BMF Training & Development Manager
21 December 2017

Worcester Bosch - BMF Regional Centre of ExcellenceNetworking has always been at the heart of the BMF and one of the reasons it is so popular is the huge amount of informal learning that can be gleaned from colleagues in the wider industry.  These interactions can take place at regional meetings, social events, specialist Forums as well as designated training days.  

The BMF is making it even easier for local groups to come together for meetings and training events, using facilities much closer to their normal place of work.  Over the past year we have been working with members to create a network of regional hubs for local groups.  Our ultimate aim is to have at least two Regional Centres of Excellence (RCoE) in each of our twelve regions.  With seventeen up and running, we are on course to achieve that goal.  

Our RCoEs are increasingly being used for regional training days, and to host regular seminars for groups of students studying for the BMF Diploma in Merchanting.  Encon in Chorley, one of the first RCoE to open back in October 2016, hosts an established,15-strong Diploma group, while new groups just embarking on their Diploma courses will meet at Norbord in Stirling, Ridgeons in Cambridge, Worcester Bosch in Worcester, RGB in Tiverton and Kellaway in Bristol.   

The various centres will also host day courses for small groups.  We have already run training on sales, customer service, maximising margin, the yard foreman’s toolkit and the new General Data Protection Regulations which come into effect in May 2018.  In fact, members can request any of our courses to be run at these centres.  The best way to do so is via their regional manager, or direct to BMF Training Manager, James Spillane. 

Our sector-related Forums provide more opportunities for like-minded groups to come together, discuss common issues, learn from each other and to forge relationships. The BMF’s Decorating Forum, which met for the first time this year, was held at the Dulux Academy in Slough, the first BMF RCoE in the South East region.   

We are extremely fortunate that our members are assisting in our RCoE programme by giving us the use of their own state of the art training and meeting facilities. The Dulux Academy is a just one example. It opened in 2016 as the first academy for painters and decorators and can accommodate over 4,000 trainees each year.   

Our latest RCoE at Worcester Bosch is the result of another huge, £3.5m, investment in industry training that will also benefit BMF members.  Twenty-five people attended the first BMF regional meeting held here in October, and training courses are already lined up for the new year.  As well as the regular meetings of the West Midlands Diploma Group, Worcester Bosch is hosting a course for supplier members, “Selling into Merchants”.  

Our RCoE’s are just the place for small group meetings and training sessions.  By bringing training closer to home, and removing the time and cost of travel as a barrier, we want to encourage as many people as possible to get involved and develop their skills.  

BMF training ranges from formal Apprenticeships and, with leading British universities, sector-specific Diplomas, Degrees and a Masters Degrees in Merchant Leadership and Strategy, to on-line product knowledge and other specialist skills training. To find out more click here  at BMF RCoE’s or any aspect of BMF training, please email me at or call 02476 854980.

To view the locations of all the BMF Regional Centres of Excellence click here  

This article appeared in the December 2017 edition of Professional Builders’ Merchant (PBM)
Local service. James Spillane, BMF Training & Development Manager says networking has always been at the heart of the BMF and one of the reasons it is so popular is the huge amount of informal learning that can be gleaned from colleagues in the wid

Why built environment brands need to focus less on business and more on people  

20 December 2017
By Dianne Lucas FCIM, CMDi Managing Director

Dianne Lucas“Customer centricity” is a popular phrase many B2B marketers use to reassure themselves that they’re putting their target audience first. It’s supposed to be a way of ensuring a more positive experience with an audience that will hopefully drive more business, loyalty and profits.  

But here’s the thing: while marketers – and the companies who employ them – still think of their audiences in terms of “businesses” they’re failing to focus on the most important part: the people behind them. Because “businesses don’t make decisions; people do.”  

The business being marketed to is not a faceless company to which you sell your product or service. It’s a key person, or key people, in that company. Often, the person running it.  

B2B is DOA  

Most B2B communications are dead on arrival, because they fail to enliven or connect with the people who actually receive them. Lest we forget, over 70% of global B2B customers are either “indifferent or actively disengaged with their suppliers”, according to a Gallup poll. And 86% of buyers reported seeing “little, if any, real difference” between B2B suppliers and “did not value the difference” enough to pay for it in a Google/CEB poll.  

But, by analysing the complexity of actual B2B customer decision-making, P2P-focused companies are cultivating deep and in-depth knowledge of what their “customers” really want. They’re turning customer-centric intention into actions that deliver real value.  

It’s probably one of the most important, and overdue, shifts in marketing. And it’s already proving its worth. Successful “business-to-business” marketing is moving to a “people-to-people” way of thinking: B2B to P2P. A small change in terms that’s making a big change to results.  

P2P-focussed companies aren’t just customer-centric, they’re people-focussed. They don’t look solely to serve the functional needs of businesses, they build meaningful relationships to understand and connect better with the real people they serve. And in doing so, they stay ahead as the wants and needs of those people change.  

P2P marketingP2P works  

BrightTalk research has shown that using a customer persona when creating a B2B email campaign can double the open rate and increase click-through by 5x. That’s because, at the heart of P2P marketing, is the creation of a deep and real understanding of who the offer is being targeted to. It’s that old issue of knowing your audience. B2B brands have simply generalised – or worse, guessed – what they think construction professionals think of their building product or service for too long.  

But those business brands that are delivering clear and tangible and targeted customer value are winning, while others are wondering where their money’s going. And this success all starts with a clearly defined understanding of the buyer persona.  

Persona grata  

Developing an effective buyer persona has been described as being “like putting yourself in the shoes of your highest-rated potential customers.” You essentially create a mental place-holder for real people in real situations.  

Personas help companies visualize and understand the ideal customer they’re attempting to attract and allows them to relate to them in an authentic and engaging way. Only by having a deep understanding of a target audience can effective and lasting customer acquisition and retention be achieved.  

Get personal, get effective  

True P2P marketing is about going deeper than ever before to get closer to customers and importantly to equip the sales force to understand them better and be armed with everything need to engage on a one-to-one level.  

For instance, making sure your most expensive marketing tool (your salesforce) is not only included in the marketing mix but well equipped. They need insightful and incisive info which enables them to put whatever product or service into context for the customer – especially for new product launches or new contact introductions.  

CMDi’s long experience working within the sector shows that organisations that put their offer into the context of the customers life are the most successful. And those that equip sales people with the right messaging and tools to do that are the ones who increase share faster. Customers are simply too busy to have to think about it and work it out for themselves.” Find out more about CMDi’s P2P strategies here

To help improve P2P and develop a more tailored understanding of members the BMF are working closely with built environment brand specialists CMDi as well as digital construction marketing specialists Pauley Creative.
Why built environment brands need to focus less on business and more on people. Dianne Lucas, CMDi Managing Director talks about the advantages of persona marketing and the need to create a more detailed understanding of your customers

How to overcome the top three IT challenges for merchants

Richard Ellithorneby Richard Ellithorne, BMF Membership Services Director
13 December 2017

The BMF has launched BMF IT Solutions Plus to help its members to utilise digital technology to enhance their service and improve productivity.

Working in partnership with Phoenix Software, the new service offers enterprise IT at SME prices and addresses the top three IT challenges identified in a recent BMF survey. The main issues reported in the survey were keeping up to date with current IT software versions and retaining compatibility, the provision of 24/7 access and mobility, and renewing old hardware.

BMF IT Solutions Plus is a cloud-based service that provides user companies with access to the latest technology andsoftware, eliminates the risks associated with managing site-based IT infrastructure and provides 24/7 support. The service is designed to improve productivity across the business, enabling teams to collaborate wherever they are.Software can be accessed 24/7 via PC, Mac,tablet or phone, with built in security toprotect sensitive data.

One of the most comprehensive ways of addressing all three challenges identified by merchants is to consider moving to Microsoft Cloud. To introduce our new IT Solutions Plus service, our partners, Phoenix Software, are offering BMF members a free, no obligation, Cloud Assessment to review how it may help their business.
BMF IT Solutions Plus
To find out more about how the BMF IT Solutions Plus service visit our Membership Services page or to arrange for a Cloud Assessment by contacting Phoenix Software on 01904 562200 or email
BMF Membership Services Director Richard Ellithorne talks about how merchants can overcome the top three IT challenges

Merchant GDPR Compliance will be more driven by supply chains than the ISO  

Andy Flinn11 December 2017
Andy Flinn of RDS Global talks about the forthcoming GDPR Compliance Law:

As we approach the legal deadline (May 2018) for all builders merchants to comply with the law regarding data protection, many of us may feel overwhelmed by the legal speak around GDPR compliance.  

Smaller businesses can feel blinded by the volume of information now being pushed from all angles, mostly from the legal and professional services seminars, and may sideline or ignore this issue in the belief that smaller businesses will duck under the radar of the Information Commissioners Office (ICO)  police. 

This may be true for a while, but as the months pass, non-compliance will be highlighted by the supply chain well before the ICO gets its hands on your organisation  

The GDPR law is specific, not an option and will be enforced by the ICO on an increasingly rigorous basis. Larger customer organisations are now well prepared and have plans to be certified compliant by the deadline. The supply chain, eventually reaches YOU.  

Customers and suppliers will insist on your certified compliance to continue to do business with you. Remain non-compliant, and you will lose those customers. It is this pressure and requirement that will drive the take up of GDPR compliance, leaving the ICO to monitor and take action where the supply chain highlights. The ICO are now being funded, and are taking on inspectors and other staff.  

However, going forwards, the ICO is gearing to become a self-financing organisation, which means that they will need to impose fines in order to fund themselves. This is bad news for businesses who will become targets for the ICO.  

Many articles stop at this point, getting across the general issues of GDPR compliance, and focusing on the big picture only. We thought it was high time we now got specific, and help you by illustrating just some of the specific points that you must consider to become compliant.   

Data management starts with the identification of what data you hold. This takes the form of multiple databases, your contact software, email software, and any ad hoc tools that have sprung up over the years that you use for marketing. This takes many forms, and at board level you may not even be aware of the existence of this data, driven by your teams, helpful today, but not compliant tomorrow.  

Then there is the matter of hard copy, paper based records. These are included in the GDPR, so long forgotten documents fall into the remit of the ICO and GDPR framework. Do you understand where these are held, and who has access to them?  

Access to data records is critical, as “sufficient controls” must exist to protect the data subject. Do you have controls over the place where data is stored, and who has access to it? Storage of data on people’s local PCs has previously been highlighted as a security problem, but GDPR places a board level responsibility, to ensure this is controlled/audited by you.  

Moving to the relationship with your suppliers and customers. Do you understand their compliance, the legal relationship to control the sharing of data, and your control over this process?  

GDPR compliance is not an option, it becomes law in May 2018. Your business must comply to avoid the well-publicised fines and penalties.  

This is NOT just an IT issue, it is a board room director-led matter, then will either promote and drive business, or in the case of non-compliance, will drag your business down, lose you customers and reduce your profits.  

Don’t delay. Establishing an early audit is the first step. This will provide you with the facts about your business, and help you decide next actions. Doing nothing is not an option if you want to do business in 2018.    

For more information about the BMF’s new Cyber Security service, helping members to reinforce information security and to comply with new data protection laws which come into force in May 2018, click here or contact Richard Ellithorne for more information at

This article appeared in the winter 2017 edition of One Voice
Merchant GDPR Compliance more driven by supply chains than the ISO. Andy Flinn of RDS Global talks about the forthcoming GDPR Compliance Law.

No content found

No content found

No content found

No content found

No content found

No content found

No content found

No content found