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Addressing the retrofit challenge


18 June 2021

Addressing the retrofit challengeIn 2019, the UK became the first major economy to pass net zero emissions law, requiring the UK to bring greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) estimates that the built environment contributes around 40% of the UK’s total carbon footprint and with a current housing stock of around 29 million homes, the energy performance of the UK’s existing housing stock must be improved if we are to achieve our long-term emissions reductions target.

The private housing stock also has the highest concentration of buildings deemed below the Decent Homes Standard and are more likely to be rated below the EPC target Band C. Older homes were prevalent amongst  this group, with 34% of homes built before 1919 classed as non-decent.  These were estimated in the 2017 English Housing Survey to need an average investment of £10,000 to bring them up to the standard. This compared with just 2% of homes built after 1990 classed as non-decent.

Repairing, maintaining and improving (RMI) the existing housing stock therefore presents one of the most significant barriers to decarbonising the UK’s built environment, and without doing so, the net zero target will remain out of reach.  This monumental task will require significant Government intervention, private sector investment and, most importantly, long-term political will and cross-party commitment.

Historically, a lack of confidence in long-term policy direction has impeded the built environment sector’s ability to invest in low carbon technologies and skills, thereby weakening the resilience of the construction supply chain. This has been exacerbated by stop-start policy and eroded consumer and industry trust following to the failure of past initiatives such as the Green Deal and most recently, the Green Homes Grant.

From a policy perspective there is no single silver bullet solution that will help to prepare the built environment for a low-carbon, digital- economy. A concerted effort is required - one that will involve multiple policies and careful coordination to ensure that the individual initiatives within the mix complement each other rather than create conflict or confusion.

This is why the Construction Leadership Council’s (CLC) Domestic Repair, Maintenance and Improvement working group has published its National Retrofit Strategy – a twenty-year blueprint which sets out  how the construction industry can work with the Government to retrofit the UK’s existing homes.

The strategy has been modelled over a programme period from 2021 to 2024, and cycles through four phases – firstly underpinning capability, then educating households and training industry, before an intensive period of work, and then a ramp down of pace to focus on hard-to-treat properties and the phased redeployment of resources to other sectors.

The strategy calls on the Government to invest an initial £5.3 billion over the next four years to stimulate the retrofit market, which will have positive effects not only on the environment but also  on job creation, healthier homes and a reduction in consumer spending.

Over 50 organisations in the built environment have already backed the strategy and I encourage others to join the cause.
 
Addressing the retrofit challenge
The Construction Leadership Council’s (CLC) Domestic Repair, Maintenance and Improvement working group has published its National Retrofit Strategy – a twenty-year blueprint which sets out how the construction industry can work with the Government t

Concern for an Employee - How to approach


12 March 2021

Concern for an Employee - How to approachIf an employer is concerned about the mental health of an employee because he/she has observed changes in behaviour, appearance, standard of work, or communication patterns, it is highly advised that the employer arrange a private & confidential meeting with the employee (by video-call or in person) as soon as possible. 

Step 1: Select the method of contact and/or venue

Ensure it is private and confidential (no one is able to overhear your conversation). 

Step 2: Invite the employee to have a Chat

Ask the employee to meet with you regarding a private matter you wish to discuss. Choose a convenient day and allow 30 mins+. 

Prior to meeting it is a good idea to write down a list of any changes you have observed which have concerned you (be specific where you can). 

Step 3: Sensitively and positively approach the subject

A good conversation starter is, “I wanted to take this time to find out how you are doing? I’ve noticed you don’t seem your usual self.  Is everything ok?” 

Avoid using medical language such as “depressed or depression; anxiety disorder, phobias or OCD” unless the employee discloses that he/she has been diagnosed by their doctor. 

Also avoid common language which can be unintentionally derogatory such as “mental, manic or crazy” as an example. In addition, do not mention what others have said about them, unless it is something their direct line manager has reported or observed.

Do mention some of the changes you have ‘observed’  such as "you look tired/upset/worried/distracted…” , “you are unusually quiet/silent/withdrawn”, “I’ve noticed you aren’t answering your phone or responding to calls/emails”, etc. 

Step 4: Reassure them that you care

Whether the employee discloses they have a problem/are struggling or not, it is important that you reassure them that you are a caring employer. Let him/her know that you will always be available to listen and support.

If an employee does open up about a personal or work challenge or an issue that is causing him/her distress, it is important that you listen without interruption. 

Step 5: Ask what support he/she needs from you at this time?

Find out what type and level of support he/she needs from you to manage effectively. 

If the employee mentions work-related stress -you must identify the causes of distress for this employee: is it do to workload, environment, job role ambiguity, relational issues, etc.? You must consider the HSE stress management standard guidelines. For more on this visit: https://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/standards/index.htm.  It is your duty to document and evidence how you are approaching this. 

If an employee discloses they have a diagnosed mental health issue you may need to consider making work-adjustments to ensure the employee can perform their role despite their mental health illness, see: https://www.acas.org.uk/supporting-mental-health-workplace 

If an employee has a personal issue that is impacting him/her at work, then it is advisable to make reasonable adjustments (e.g. flexible working hours for agreed period of time, shorter work week, time off for doctor appointments, etc.) to support the employee during the difficult phase and prevent mental health problems from developing.

You do not need to agree any work adjustments right then and there…you may want to get legal advice first. So advise the employee that you will consider their requests and will get back to them ASAP (you can say that you need some time to consider the best support you can offer).

Do offer options available to the employee that may help, such as access to:
Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) if there is one set-up
Wellness Chat with a Counsellor -My company Uplift are the only ones to provide this service. It costs only £40 per call. Contact jaimie@upliftmentalhealth.co.uk to find out more. (Prevention and/or early intervention).
Mind Helpline - 0300 123 3393; info@mind.org.uk, text 86463 . This is a dedicated helpline for anyone concerned about their mental health. 
Mental Health Foundation information sheets on various mental health topics free of charge - https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk

Step 6: Document & Review

It is advisable to document your meeting listing the main issue (work/personal/both), the actions taken (employee to visit GP, you to make enquiries as to adjustments, etc.), what information/support you have offered and when you have agreed to reconvene.  

Step 7: Schedule a follow-up meeting


Support for Employer

ACAS offer free advice to employers relating to mental health problems or any other employment related issue.  You can contact them on: 0300 123 1100 

I also recommend their link on managing mental ill health at work: https://archive.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=6064#Spot%20the%20signs%20of%20mental%20ill%20health 
 
Concern for an Employee - How to approach
If an employer is concerned about the mental health of an employee because he/she has observed changes in behaviour, appearance, standard of work, or communication patterns, it is highly advised that the employer arrange a private & confidential meet

BMF backs CLC’s CO2nstruct Zero industry change programme


9 March 2021

The BMF is supporting CO2nstruct Zero, the Construction Leadership Council’s (CLC) response to the Prime Minister’s 10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, published in November 2020, which set out a path to Net Zero by 2050. 

CO2nstruct Zero is the CLC’s cross industry change programme to drive carbon out of all parts of the construction supply chain by 2050. From manufacturing and design to construction and operation of assets, the programme sets out how the industry can together meet the Net Zero challenge. It uses the Climate Change Committee’s 6th Carbon budget to establish the priorities that frame the action plan and how we will collectively measure and hold ourselves to account.

The BMF has announced the launch of its own Sustainability Forum to raise awareness amongst members and will be supporting the CO2nstruct Zero message at three milestone events this year – the BMF Members’ Day Conference in September, where there will be a dedicated section on the drive to net zero; the BMF Parliamentary Reception in October, with the headline theme, Building a Sustainable Britain; and at the BMF All Industry Conference in November, where one of four themed workshops will be devoted to sustainability.  

BMF members will be encouraged to become Business Champions sharing their approach to delivering on the nine priority areas encompassed within CO2nstruct Zero. The priority areas include:

- Accelerating the shift to zero emission vehicles

- Working with Government to deliver retrofitting to improve the energy efficiency of existing housing stock

- Scaling up industry capability to deliver low carbon heat solutions in buildings, supporting heat pump deployment, trials of hydrogen heating systems and heat networks

- Supporting the development of innovative low carbon materials (in particular concrete and steel) as well as advancing low carbon solutions for manufacturing processes and distribution

- Maximising use of modern methods of construction and improved onsite logistics, reducing waste and transport to sites.

BMF CEO, John Newcomb said: “Over the past 12 months the construction industry demonstrated what can be achieved when it combined its effort as a single force to tackle Covid-19. In the lead up to the COP26 Climate Change Conference in November, the industry has another great opportunity to work together and make real progress in the Race for Zero. As manufacturers and merchants, BMF members are in the vanguard of the supply chain and have a vital role to play in championing and delivering the changes necessary for success.”
 
The BMF is supporting CO2nstruct Zero, the CLC's response to the Prime Minister’s 10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, published in November 2020, which set out a path to Net Zero by 2050.

Roadmap to Recovery: How the construction industry can bounce back from Coronavirus uncertainty


by Michael Parry, Director GCS Associates - Specialist Recruitment to the Construction Supply Chain (www.gcsassociates.com )

7 October 2020


The impacts of the Coronavirus crisis have been profound and wide-ranging, but almost nowhere have the economic repercussions been felt more keenly than in the UK’s vitally important construction industry. Since the initial introduction of lockdown measures in March 2020, right through the ensuing slowdown and phased reopening of activities, the sector has gone above and beyond the call of duty to offer its expertise and skills in the service of the national interest - whilst all the while having to mitigate against its own losses, and advocate for the assistance needed to ensure its own survival.

In the early days of the crisis, the Office of National Statistics reported that construction activity had fallen by 5.9% across the entire sector by the close of March. In April, the Federation of Master Builders reported that 68% of their members had been forced to wind down activity, with an estimated 91% of their projects affected across the country. Meanwhile, the Builder’s Merchants Federation (BMF) reported a decline of 6.7% in sales between Q4 2019 and Q1 2020. All told, the Construction Products Association estimates that construction output will fall by 25% in 2020, with private housing and commercial construction accounting for a significant majority of the work disrupted.

This has had a significant impact on financial forecasting for the sector. Arcadis, for example, has significantly downgraded its tender price forecast, publishing a revised growth estimate of 0%, and suggesting that housebuilding and commercial development will not return to growth until 2022 at the earliest.

Despite the starkness of these predictions, it is vital that the sector begins to implement strategies to enable a recovery to take place sooner rather than later. The health of the national economy is contingent on the health of the construction sector - according to the Construction Leadership Council (CLC), construction accounted for £413bn of the nation’s GDP (8.6%) in 2018. In that year alone, this was four times greater than the output of the aerospace and automotive industries put together. As Building editor Chloe McCulloch explains, ‘getting Britain building again is going to be one of the ways Boris Johnson’s administration moves an economy that is set to shrink at an alarming rate to one that starts to grow again.’

In light of this, the results of a recent Building survey which indicated that as many as 80% of construction firms have not yet finalised their post-Covid recovery plans make for stark reading. As the CLC has identified, failure to introduce a robust blueprint for the rehabilitation of the industry could have catastrophic results, risking a lapse into ‘a longer term recession, which erodes capability and skills, and leaves a smaller, weaker sector as a legacy.’

The importance of putting into place a clear and comprehensive set of guidelines to enable a post-Covid bounce-back is therefore paramount. The CLC itself has recently published its own Roadmap To Recovery document,  which lays out a three part plan for safely and effectively reactivating the construction ecosystem. 

The first three months comprises the Restart stage, which aims for work to resume on as many sites as possi-ble in accordance with Government guidelines, maximise employment in the sector, and resolve contractual disputes arising from the lockdown wherever possible. This is followed by the nine-month Reset stage, which will look to resolve supply chain issues and invest in new working procedures to maximise production going forward. Finally, the year-long Reinvent stage aims to extract positive outcomes from the Coronavirus disrup-tion wherever possible, by using it as a catalyst for long-term innovation; leveraging digital, online, and manu-facturing technologies to deliver low-carbon, sustainable, and better quality outcomes and outputs across the industry.

The effort has to begin with the restarting of construction activities simply because this is the most effective way to kickstart broader economic activity in the sector. It will allow for resumed cash flow in the industry - but to achieve this, clear and comprehensive guidelines must be in place to ensure that all work is consistent with the strictures laid down by the government. Many of the key construction trade bodies have already offered strong leadership in this regard; as early as April, Osborne had issued a free industry ‘Stop, Think!’ briefing that focussed entirely on how to introduce Covid-compliant on-site protocols,  and the BMF have since produced Branch Operating Guidelines  to assist builders’ merchants in their efforts to reopen safely.

In addition, the adequate provision of on-site test, track and trace services will naturally be crucial to ensuring that workers can return to projects with confidence, and The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) has already called on the Government to set up testing stations  on major construction sites around the UK so that any possible outbreaks are tracked and traced as quickly as possible. As the CIOB points out, such an approach would also do a great deal to ‘help improve… trust in the sector,’ as it would enable the wider public to ‘be sure that construction is doing everything it can to keep the virus under control.

The CLC also recommends a phased movement away from reliance on HMRC’s Job Retention Scheme (JRS), together with the development of distance learning tools to ensure that apprentices can continue their studies during the time that they are unable to train in the workplace.

Both these measures will help to ensure that the construction industry workforce can be mobilised and brought back into work as swiftly as possible for a speedy recovery.

Whilst getting personnel back onto sites is clearly essential, it is equally important that steps are taken to regenerate, secure and protect the supply chain. Simon Rawlinson, head of strategic research at Arcadis,  has highlighted ‘the resilience of supply chains’ as a major risk to business recovery. In addition to measures designed to stimulate demand and create a robust pipeline across infrastructure, it is crucial that contractual disputes are avoided wherever possible to minimise disruption. To this end, the CLC’s Reset Stage recommends that both public and private sector clients commit to following their guidance on responsible contractual behaviour,  and consider adoption of the Conflict Avoidance Pledge  to avoid disputes and, where needed, to seek adjudication through the most cost-effective process.

The CLC’s Reset Stage also incorporates a number of financial proposals to help compensate for the loss of productivity in early-to-mid 2020. It proposes delaying the implementation of the reverse VAT charge until 1st October 2021. It also suggests extending the physical completion date deadline for house purchases that qualify for support under the Help to Buy scheme, to help prop up the housing market, and calls for the government to commit £4bn of the non-ACM Building Safety Fund to the 2017 Housing Guarantees programme to support social housing, build-to-rent and SME housing delivery.

Ultimately however, the effectiveness of any roadmap for recovery will be judged on how successfully it sets up the construction industry to thrive in a post-Covid world. Investment must be made into the research and development of digital technologies that will allow operators to function in this new landscape.

For example, Jonas Biörck, an associate partner at McKinsey’s,  has shown how the Covid crisis could exacerbate pre-existing problems in the labour market. ‘The industry faced a shortage of skilled labor before the crisis,’ he explains. ‘With the prospect of rolling physical-distancing measures and restrictions on cross-border movement of labour, skilled labour shortages will become even more acute. The case for digital tools that are proven to increase productivity, such as 4D simulation, digital workflow management, real-time progress tracking, and advanced schedule optimization, will become even stronger.’

Now is a time for boldly reimagining processes and procedures - shifting to remote ways of working where possible, whilst simultaneously developing tools to safeguard customer relationships. The CLC recommends that organisations commit to adopting and embedding emerging innovations from the Construction Innovation Hub. It also advocates a renewed focus on energy efficiency requirements, and a concerted push towards achieving a net zero and climate change resilient construction economy by 2050 by embedding these targets in planned new infrastructure and housing developments.

Finally, there is consensus across the industry that the manner in which the construction industry has pulled together to serve the national interest at this turbulent time demonstrates how successfully organisations can cooperate, and how effective this coordinated activity can be. It is believed that a more collaborative attitude across the sector will pay dividends going forward.

Disruptive and costly though this crisis has undeniably been for the construction industry, the message of the BMF and the CLC is that opportunities will emerge from it if only we can prepare ourselves to take advantage of them. To do so, a robust roadmap needs to be in place - one that will allow the construction industry to return to work with confidence, and begin the vital journey towards restimulating growth in the sector.
The impacts of the Coronavirus crisis have been profound and wide-ranging, but almost nowhere have the economic repercussions been felt more keenly than in the UK’s vitally important construction industry.

Counting the cost of discounting

14 April 2020
By BMF Training

Maximising MarginsMaximising Margin
is one of the most popular courses delivered by the BMF. Even the taster session for the course at our Members’ Conference last year was packed to the rafters, with many senior managers in attendance. The subject clearly sparked their interest, but left some wondering if it could be made even better? The answer is a resounding YES. Follow-up discussions have led to the introduction of our new Margin Development Programme designed for the whole sales team.

The original stand-alone course was usually attended by just one or two staff members. The results they could achieve were, therefore, limited if the sales and negotiating culture within the branch, and indeed the business, remained unchanged.  If the rest of the staff, including management, continued with bad habits and applied discount as usual, it could prove quite difficult for the trained team member to achieve more than limited improvement.

However, the Margin Development Programme is designed to involve all customer facing staff – from director to trade counter and telephone sales.  It is far more likely to ensure that a change of culture within the business takes place and that the required changes in behaviour in the workplace are driven home across the board. 

The programme has already resulted in tangible and measurable margin increases for the initial users. As one said: “The tutor’s experience and knowledge came through on the course. The BMF has created an essential driver to delivering both sales and margin enhancement within the merchant business, resulting in both continuous improvement and cultural change.”

The new programme can be tailored to suit individual needs, but includes essential elements to understand:

- The difference between mark-up and margin and why this is so important when pricing
- The amount of net profit that sales ultimately generate
- Customer “key drivers”
- Market reputation and differentiation
- Reasons to hold firm on pricing (and when to provide a discount)
- The Perception of Value
- Character Type Recognition
- Negotiating Styles
- The true cost of discounting

Of course, commitment and hard work will be required to ensure that improvements are maintained, but the Margin Development Programme provides support before, during and after the training element phase to help set targets, design incentive schemes, track and monitor progress, avoid common pitfalls and measure statistical success.

To find out more about the Margin Development Programme click here or please contact paige.godsell@bmf.org.uk or phone 02476 854980.

BMF training ranges from formal Apprenticeships and sector-specific Diplomas and a Foundation Degree in Merchant Management, to on-line product knowledge and other specialist skills training.


This article first appeared in the March 2020 edition of Professional Builders’ Merchant (PBM)
Maximising Margin is one of the most popular courses delivered by the BMF. Even the taster session for the course at our Members’ Conference last year was packed to the rafters, with many senior managers in attendance.

Is your trade counter digital or traditional?

7 April 2020
The BMF’s new service partner, Paymentsense, explains the pros and cons of digital receipts.

PaymentsenseA growing number of bricks and mortar retail stores are using email receipts, more commonly known as e-receipts, as an alternative to paper receipts. But what are the benefits, and would they translate to trade counter sales?

An e-receipt is a digital receipt that is sent to the customer electronically via an email address, instead of – or sometimes as well as – offering them a traditional paper copy.

They have a number of advantages:

- Firstly, they are environmentally friendly. Less paper is better when it comes to practicing sustainability and receipt paper is one of the easiest things to cut out of day to day operations. 

- They are also cost efficient.  Although it is best practice to keep till rolls to offer customers a hard copy receipt should they wish, as the building trade becomes digital-first, you will need a lot fewer per month.

- And they’re convenient. Most builders have a smartphone and can access emails on the move.  Instead of worrying about their clogging wallets or pockets with till receipts, proof of purchase is safely stored and easily accessed for their records, or should they need a refund. All of which makes life easier for your customers as well as your staff – a win-win.

If you follow the rules, e-receipts are also the perfect marketing opportunity.

Email marketing is probably the cheapest and quickest way to keep customers engaged with your brand, and a crucial channel for retaining loyal customers. When taking an email address for their receipt, you have the option to ask for their consent to opt into e-marketing. Be sure to ask them what type of offers they would like to receive so you can send tailored promotions and updates based on previous purchases.  One of the key stats of e-marketing is that personalised emails have six times higher transaction rates.

While the benefits of digital receipts outweigh the cons, there are things to be aware of to protect your business and your customers before you go paperless.

The General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) governs how businesses manage, store and handle their customers’ personal data – this can be anything from their email address to their name, gender or age.  Companies that fail to comply with GDPR can be prosecuted with hefty fines.  

As mentioned above, when asking a customer for their email to send their receipt, you must make sure to tell them they will not receive any marketing emails unless they opt in for them. If they do opt in, don’t bombard them with emails.  Only send information that is of real value, and timely. You must also allow customers to unsubscribe from your email list with the click of a button. Using platforms such as Mailchimp makes this simple.

Cyber security is another important consideration.  Examples of data breaches, including stolen passwords and/or bank details, across major organisations have made customers rightly concerned about what companies are doing to protect their private information.  Make sure you are storing emails in a safe system and keep on top of updates, credentials and user-permissions.

Security aside, there are some more practical drawbacks of implementing e-receipts at the trade counter. If the queue is out the door and customers are waiting to be served, you don’t want to increase their waiting time by asking for and manually keying in email addresses on your EPoS. One way of remedying this, which the clothing company Uniqlo has mastered, is to have tablets on the end of tils to allow customers to input their email address while the counter staff process their transaction. 

Overall digital receipts are a great way to improve your business’ sustainability, that also gives you the opportunity to remarket target customers with relevant and meaningful content. Many of today’s tradesmen are definitely “digital-savvy” but always be prepared to give hard copy receipts to more traditional customers.

Paymentsense help small businesses take cards at ease, without worrying about high transaction fees, payment settlements or integration. They even connect seamlessly with your EPoS, so you’ll never make a keying-in mistake again! 

For more information on how this can benefit your business get in touch on 020 3985 0185 or visit https://www.paymentsense.com/uk/partners/bmf/


For more information about all our BMF Plus Services click here

This article first appeared in the March 2020 edition of Builders Merchants’ Journal (BMJ).
A growing number of bricks and mortar retail stores are using email receipts, more commonly known as e-receipts, as an alternative to paper receipts. But what are the benefits, and would they translate to trade counter sales?

Practical steps to protect your business and help save lives



By eCommonSense
TJ O'Mahony social distancing 31 March 2020

Many builders' merchants are leading the fight to carry on trading and protect their staff and customers during this coronavirus pandemic. Digital expert and eCommonSense founder Andy Scothern has collected some of the best practical steps that merchants are taking around the UK and Ireland today.

As the coronavirus crisis escalates, many builders’ merchants are rightly worried about the future and how it will affect their business going forward. They should be, as merely closing down for the next 3 or 4 weeks will not be sufficient to remove the risks associated with the crisis.

An article by MIT Technology Review suggests that Covid-19 will be to builders’ merchants what the 9/11 terrorist attack was to airports, which led to wholesale and profound changes in the way they operate. The encouraging thing is that after the initial shock of those changes, we adapted and airports work just fine now.

If you are in any doubt about how to operate, the BMF are regularly publishing up to date government guidance on their website.

While there remain many unknowns, one thing is absolutely clear: If you are solely reliant on a face-to-face branch business model and don’t have a fit-for-purpose digital operation, you will be exposed if branches are forced to close.

We have seen many merchants rushing forward their digital launches ready for this eventuality, and online sales are hitting unprecedented levels. Also, the new consumer behaviour of ordering online is likely to become ingrained, so even after the pandemic crisis is over, this side of the business is likely to remain strong. 

However, even if your online operation is not where you would like it to be, there are plenty of practical steps that you can take to keep trading in your branches while keeping both your staff and customers safe.

As the MD of a company that produces websites for builders’ merchants and a regular attendee of BMF events, I spend a lot of my time talking to our clients to see how we can support them. This means that I get a good overview of what is happening out there.

In the last few days, I have heard of some great examples on some of the steps that merchants have taken. The matter is so important that I wanted to share these practical examples. None of them are difficult to implement in your branches; many of them will be necessary in the post-crisis world.

The first thing to state is that the safety of your staff and customers must come first. That means that you have to take steps to protect them. If you can’t, then you cannot remain open at this time of national crisis. If you can, then issue the appropriate PPE to staff members.

The risks can be managed if you get all of the following measures in place:


1. As with many things in life, common sense coupled with washing hands, cleaning regularly touched surfaces e.g. door handles and card machines and social distancing are a great place to start.

2. Reducing contact risk by keeping customers out of your branches is likely the best course of action and even better if you can do deliveries only and keep customers out of your yard too. If you do deliveries, call ahead and make sure customers know to keep away from your delivery drivers and remove the need to sign paperwork for the time being.

3. Promote your eCommerce website and phone number with posters, social media, email, statement stuffers. Use any communication channel you have available to you to make them aware that they don't need to order in person. Remote ordering remains the safest way for builders to order materials at this time. We have been offering a free marketing toolkit during this period to all of our clients to make sure that builders are aware of this option. If your online operation is not as advanced as you would like it to be, then bolster your phone sales lines in the short-term.

4. For collected orders, take payments online or over the phone and encourage customers to stay in their vehicles by telling them to call ahead or allocate collection time slots to them. They can then stay in their vehicles while they are loaded. 

If you do allow customers inside your branches:


5. Put up a notice at the entrance asking that only the people who need to be inside your branches are there. You don’t want people bringing children into branches as per the HSE directive which states: “Where practicable and in so far as is possible, parents are encouraged to limit bringing their children with them when visiting essential retail outlets.”

6. Put someone on the door to regulate entry and to ask what products customers need. Then direct them to minimise the amount of time spent wandering around the branch. They can also enforce the ban on groups gathering and over-crowding as well as making masks available at the door for customers to use.

7. Make sure that customers are aware of what is acceptable and what is not. Put up posters informing them of the rules during this time. Most people will understand the importance of following them but those that don’t should be ejected from the store. 

8. Implement a one-way system marked on the floors of the aisles with arrows that will prevent people from passing each other where there is a significant chance of close contact. Put up signs saying ‘no passing’ in aisles.

9. Install sanitiser stations and direct people to it immediately on entering the store and by the payment terminals, as keypads are likely to be a hotspot for virus transfer. Better still if they can use contactless payment.

10. Provide clear advice to customers on where they should stand when ordering in your branches. This can be a simple matter of marking out the floor with tape along with clear instructions such as ‘wait here’ and ‘order here’. When marking out, keep in mind the 2-metre distancing rule.

11. Install Perspex screens at order desks to protect your staff and customers. Your frontline staff will be at greatest risk, as they are likely to come into contact with the greatest number of people during the day. This simple and cheap solution will offer them greater protection. 

12. Communicate the steps that you are taking to all of your staff - this will give them the confidence that you are taking their health and safety seriously. Making sure that everyone is kept informed during times of crisis is critical to achieving the best outcomes. 

13. Keep your back-office staff safe. Your business needs the back office to remain viable, and there are steps you can take to minimise the risk of everyone being off ill at the same time. Split your teams up so that this risk is minimised.

All of these practical steps are relatively quick and easy to implement - it is not overstating it to say that they won’t just save your business; they could help to save lives.

I have a friend who is a senior NHS consultant and is involved in the set-up of the 2000-bed intensive care hospital in the Excel centre. He told me that they don't just need hospital equipment; they also need building materials. If all the merchants close their doors, the NHS will struggle to get what they need, resulting in a situation where lives may be lost due to the industry seeking to remove risk instead of doing what it does so well, which is to manage risk sensibly. The message being that there’s justification for staying open if you can do so safely, which is in line with the current government guidelines and advice published by the BMF.

Another case I heard about yesterday came from a builder who has an unfinished job where the homeowner has no kitchen or boiler. If their local merchant were to close, that homeowner (one among many with incomplete projects) will have no cooking or heating facilities for at least an additional 3 weeks. That creates a tangible risk to the welfare to that family. I’m sure the arguments will rage both ways and there’s some validity in both.   

The interesting thing about all these social distancing restrictions is that they have a negative impact on the convenience of the in-branch experience and since 'convenience is the new loyalty', it won’t be long before customers take their business to the nearest online merchant.

One thing to bear in mind is that experts believe that Covid-19 may be around for as long the next 18 months, so there seems to be little doubt that, like the airports with their enhanced security, merchants branch operations are going to have to adapt and do so quickly.

Whether you choose to stay open or close, every merchant can help with the crisis by participating in the initiative being spearheaded by the BMF to provide any spare PPE equipment to the NHS: Contact your local BMF manager for details.


Periodic bouts of social distancing keep the pandemic in checkHere’s how the experts think the epidemic will pay out in a graph, which means that even after this initial lock down, it’s certainly possible that there may be more to come.


It is clear that this is not going to end anytime soon. Anyone thinking that this will be something that we get through and everything will return to how it was before is mistaken.

All builders’ merchants need to be rethinking their business model now and making fundamental changes that will remain long after the crisis ends. History shows that as consumer behaviour changes, it rarely reverts back to where it was beforehand.

Any merchants that don’t start planning now for the new future will be severely disadvantaged both during the crisis and, importantly, once we come out the other side.

So don’t think the traditional business model will still work in this brave new world – it is time to prepare for change now as the future is already staring you in the face.
Many builders' merchants are leading the fight to carry on trading and protect their staff and customers during this coronavirus pandemic. Digital expert and eCommonSense founder Andy Scothern has collected some of the best practical steps that merch

New beginnings

by BMF CEO John Newcomb
24 March 2020

John NewcombAfter six years, we are saying farewell to Peter Hindle MBE who stands down as BMF Chairman at the end of March.

Speaking personally, it was a privilege to work alongside Peter. As a relative newcomer myself, I quickly learned a huge amount about the builders’ merchants’ industry from him. As Chairman, he helped to guide the BMF through a period of significant change and transformation, that ultimately enabled us to create an award-winning trade body that now supports and represents the entire building materials supply chain. The whole BMF team would like to express our sincere thanks to Peter and wish him every health and happiness in future.

Richard Hill, who takes over as Chair on 1 April, has been an active participant in the building materials supply industry for nearly three decades. As well as being an enthusiastic supporter of the BMF, Richard is a member of the Worshipful Company of Builders Merchants currently serving on the Court and will become Master in 2022.

Much of his career has been with ACO, where he is now Vice-Chairman of ACO Technologies plc and a Senior Manager of the global ACO Group. He is also President of the Plastic Pipes Group of the British Plastics Federation and Non-Executive Chair of the Built Environment Trust. 

I am looking forward to an equally successful working relationship with Richard, helping the BMF to meet both current and future challenges, to maintain its position of influence and work to support the full spectrum of our membership.

Housing issues


On the subject of “new beginnings”, the BMF welcomed Chris Pincher MP who has taken on the housing portfolio at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. Mr Pincher comes to domestic policy from the Foreign Office where he was Minister for Europe and the Americas. The diplomatic skills he brings from that role will be put to good use in persuading local authorities to significantly increase the rate of much-needed new house building throughout England.

He will undoubtedly have an unenviable in-tray, but we would like him to focus on two major issues that affect BMF members - narrowing the gap between housing demand and supply, and the decarbonisation of heating and electrification of homes.

The Future Homes Standard consultation, which closed last month, sought views on reducing carbon emissions from new homes built after 2025 by changing Part L and Part F of the Building Regulations. The main proposal is to end gas boiler connections in 6 years’ time in favour of heat pumps, heat networks and direct electric heating. In our response, we acknowledged the logic of heat pumps and heat networks as long as they remained affordable, but highlighted other potential options: hydrogen to replace burning natural gas and direct electric heating from renewable sources will suit different circumstances. And, as our members have pointed out, the first priority is to get the basic structure and fabric of the building right first to confront the performance gap. Irrespective of how stringent standards are, if they are not being met, emissions will continue.

In addition, a major White Paper is due on accelerating planning permission. The Conservatives have a target to build 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s. If this is to be achieved there must be unrelenting political determination to simplify and speed up planning approvals to increase housing completions. The whole thrust must be implementation to enable BMF members to invest confidently in the people and materials and products needed.

These are just two of the key messages within the renewed Get Britain Building campaign, which the BMF is supporting alongside the Federation of Master Builders and the Building Alliance. The campaign is urging the government to get behind SME builders and UK manufacturers and distributors of construction products as it ramps up investment in critical infrastructure, public and commercial buildings and housing.

To find out more, and to add your support, visit http://www.getbritainbuilding.co.uk/


This article first appeared in the March 2020 edition of Builders’ Merchants News (BMN)
BMF CEO John Newcomb bids a fond farewell to BMF Chairman Peter Hindle MBE and introduces Richard Hill as new Chairman, as well as highlighting key issues facing the industry in 2020.

How to keep your business healthy as Coronavirus strikes

By eCommonSense
17 March 2020


CoronavirusThe current global pandemic is challenging the way that businesses operate and testing whether they have robust continuity plans. Digital expert and eCommonSense founder Andy Scothern explains what steps builders merchants can take to minimise the adverse effects on their business.  

As the Coronavirus crisis escalates, many builders merchants are rightly worried about how it will affect their business as the government imposes increasingly draconian measures.

Since builders generally work in small groups and outdoors, they should be in a lower risk profile; we could assume that many of them will continue to work. If they are working, they will still need to buy products from merchants and with the right precautions in place they can.


But that does not mean that merchants can sit back and relax.


Given the many unknowns surrounding coronavirus, builders merchants need to evaluate their readiness to deal with the fallout on operations, supply chain and employee well-being.

You need to ensure that your business can continue to operate with minimal staff and put business continuity plans in place during the crisis, which some are predicting may go on for as long as a year.

One of the emerging trends is how consumer behaviour has shifted, as more people purchase goods on websites. eCommerce experts predict that online sales will double by the end of the crisis. The desire to buy online is likely to be mirrored by many builders, as they look to minimise the risk of coming into contact with the virus.

When traditional channels and operations are impacted by the outbreak, the value of digital channels becomes immediately apparent and potentially urgent.

A logistics specialist has warned retailers to plan now for 40% of retail sales to be made online at the peak of the Covid-19 outbreak, which is double the current 20% of all retail sales. Due to the length of the crisis, this behaviour is likely to become ingrained in people's behaviour just as the 1988 postal strike virtually created the fax machine market overnight. 

So what should you be doing now? 


The first thing is to get ahead of the crisis by preparing a list of the kind of issues that might strike and developing mitigating and contingency measures.

Your people are your most valuable assets, and you need to keep them safe, informed and prepared. You will need to outline what your approach is to meetings, customer contact, remote working, sick pay and basic hygiene. You will need to model scenarios about critical operations and how you would reassign staff if necessary to keep the business going.

If all of your administration teams work in the same place, then the risk that one person inadvertently infecting everyone increases considerably. While you may be able to cope with a few people off sick, that will be challenged to breaking point if the majority are off at the same time.

So considering where your critical staff will work from should form a key plank in your continuity planning. If your administration team can work from home and dial in through a virtual private network, then all the better. 

If the jump in online sales in other sectors is anything to go by, then your website will see an increase in traffic, so you need to make sure it can cope.

You should make sure that your customers know that this channel is available for anyone wanting to use it. Additionally, you will need to look at processes around delivery to make sure that drivers are kept safe, and the amount of contact is minimal.

If your online operation is not as advanced as you would like it to be, then you may want to bolster your call centre operations in the short-term. My prediction is that delivered orders may increase significantly, which means that your fleet will also need to be running at maximum efficiency.

Finally, although it may sound odd today; prepare now for the next crisis. Covid-19 is not a one-off challenge, as it's just the latest of a long line of crises to deal with, from BSE and Foot & Mouth disease to SARS. We should expect additional phases to the current epidemic and other epidemics in the future. The research shows that the effectiveness of organisations to respond to crises indicates that prior preparation is the best strategy.

One thing that is certain even in the early days of this crisis is that you need to prepare for a changed world. In essence, business and society will never be the same again, as it was after the postal strike. Fax machines became ubiquitous, and 30 years later are only just being retired.

You need to make sure that your business also changes to be ready for the new world.

STANDFIRST: The current global pandemic is challenging the way that businesses operate and testing whether they have robust continuity plans. Digital expert and eCommonSense founder Andy Scothern explains what steps builders merchants can take to min

Building value for our members

10 March 2020
Christine Wall, BMF Marketing Manager, announces the launch of BMF’s Project Excellence


Project Excellence materials for membersFor years, the BMF has been the backbone of the building industry by offering unrivalled support to builders’ merchants and related businesses across the UK. Now, we’re excited to make our vital support for members even more accessible and actionable with the launch of Project Excellence.

The result of 18 months of research and strategic development, Project Excellence is now about to be rolled out, making our member communications even more personalised and relevant by addressing their unique needs with exactly the right solutions to support their journey to excellence.

Specialist support

Working closely with sector experts CMDi, we developed our ‘Building Excellence’ strategy. Project Excellence is a vital cornerstone of this, delivering robust segmentation that will deepen engagement with, and build value for, BMF membership.

John Newcomb, BMF CEO, says “Project Excellence represents considerable investment by the BMF in a cutting-edge approach to member engagement through a combination of research, strategy, communications and CRM implementation.”

Excellence built on research

First, BMF data was used to identify different merchant engagement patterns. Next, over 10% of all merchants were asked about the needs of their business. From this research, six merchant member types were identified, with service packages created to match their specific needs.

CMDi’s Managing Director, Dianne Lucas says “We’re proud to have been a part of the team that has developed this transformational approach to member closeness for the BMF. It supports the BMF’s commitment to building excellence for each individual member and for the sector.”

No more ‘one size fits all’ membership

Different BMF members need different support. Plumbing & Heating merchants need uniquely tailored services focused on supporting their specific category. Unengaged merchants who don’t have time to wade through everything need only core services. And even engaged members need help identifying what we can do to drive their business (or sector) forward, while national brands need personal management support for their more complex needs.

Communications

Our new communication packages are tailored to each of our six membership group types. Information about how BMF membership can grow their business is clearer, more relevant, and more efficiently delivered. Rich content is supported by motivational quotes from BMF members and business leaders, all built on the truth that the more you use your BMF membership the better it gets. Materials for Plumbing & Heating merchants will be available first, followed by communications specific to other groups.

Managing a more personal approach

CRM tools have been developed to ensure regional managers are better able to individualise the services BMF provides and each Regional Manager will be proactively working with members to help them build excellence into every aspect of their business.

As BMF CEO John Newcomb observed, “The result will be a more robust BMF, based on member closeness, and a future-proofed building materials supply sector comprised of excellent merchants.”


This article first appeared in the Spring 2020 edition of One Voice

For years, the BMF has been the backbone of the building industry by offering unrivalled support to builders’ merchants and related businesses across the UK. Now, we’re excited to make our vital support for members even more accessible and actionable

Diversity in the workplace – the benefits and the challenges

3 March 2020
Charlie McHugh, Head of Client Insight at Halborns Limited, the BMF’s exclusive law and HR partner, takes a closer look.

BMF Intelligent Employment PlusTake a glimpse at almost any merchant’s website and you’ll notice things like ‘family values’, ‘integrity’, ‘trusted’, ‘reliable’ - all words you’d associate with the fantastic industry we’re a part of. One word however, is often conspicuous in its absence – diversity.

Not just the well-documented gender disparity (women make up just 15.65% of employees in our sector)1, but rather diversity across the full spectrum of characteristics (age, race, sexuality, disability etc.). Whilst diversity statistics on these issues are hard to come by, it is nevertheless very clear that middle-aged white men are still over-represented in our sector.


You may well ask, ‘why does this matter?’

The answer is that it matters because improving the diversity of your workforce will pay dividends for your business, whilst not doing so could expose you to some potentially sticky legal issues. Here are some examples:

Diversity improves problem-solving
– a group of people from a wide range of backgrounds solve problems faster than groups with the same or similar backgrounds.2 If your business culture promotes creativity, you’re more likely to come out the other side of challenges sooner, with a better solution to boot!

Diversity improves reputation
– not just because diverse recruiting looks good…but because it better connects your business to the wider community in which you operate. A more diverse workforce can draw on wider experiences to better understand the needs of your customers and deliver a higher standard of service. You never know, it might also help you tap into a more diverse customer base as well…

Here’s the kicker…diversity improves your bottom line – you read that right! More diverse businesses are more profitable.3 They’re able to fish in wider pools to attract, hire and retain top talent (reducing costs from employee churn), utilise that talent to drive more innovative strategies and make better business decisions. In fact, they’ll make better decisions 87% of the time.4

How can things get a little tricky? In a word, banter. It’s something that will crop up in our advice to BMF members on an almost daily basis. We’ve seen everything from the daft, the stupid and the downright racist. Outside of our own experience, comments like “baby farmer” directed at an employee returning from maternity leave, recently resulted in a successful sex discrimination claim.5 It’s worth also remembering that compensation for discrimination claims is unlimited, making potential awards hugely costly should an issue reach tribunal. 2018/19 saw awards of over £30,000 and £20,000 for race and sex discrimination respectively.6

Diversity and inclusion play their part here. It’s only natural that male-dominated teams will be laden with male-dominated banter. But what someone might be able to say ‘as a laugh’ to their white, middle-aged, male colleague, could quite easily meet the relatively low bar for a harassment claim by creating an intimidating or offensive environment for someone who doesn’t fit that description.

We’ll all have our own examples of things we’ve seen in the workplace that were offensive or discriminatory, but which have been brushed aside with ‘it’s only banter’. By way of illustration, 59% of people have overheard the word ‘gay’ used as an insult at work.7 Around 3% of the UK population identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or other (LGBT+)8. When you consider members of the BMF employ over 130,000 people, those statistics would suggest that at least 3,000 employees within the sector identify as LGBT+. If that was you and you heard words like ‘gay’ being thrown around as an insult or ‘banter’, would you feel part of a tolerant, inclusive and diverse team?

Whilst sexuality is just one example of the nine characteristics protected by the Equality Act, it does highlight the ease at which groups with similar backgrounds can show a lack of understanding of the sensitivities of minority groups. While some of this might be generational, an industry actively trying to engage more young people can’t fall back on this excuse and needs to be acutely aware of what the younger generation now deem appropriate. You might think ‘love’, ‘darling’ or ‘sweetheart’ is a term of endearment, but to a young, enthusiastic female new-starter in your business, this could be patronising and a repeated reminder that the industry is still primarily a male stomping ground.


So what can you be doing? Here’s a few ideas:

Equal opportunities – a great policy doesn’t need to be long or complex. It can be straight-talking and succinct while still setting out your commitment to an inclusive workplace. The aim is to raise awareness of the culture and environment you want to build and make sure everyone is on the same page should a conflict arise. You’ll need to apply your policy consistently and deal with any breaches under your disciplinary procedure.

Better Banter – appropriate training will increase understanding and sensitivity within your teams about what is and isn’t acceptable, the risks of discrimination and harassment claims and the potential liability that follows if a claim does arise. Regular training (and keeping a record of it, along with how you’ve communicated your policy within the business) can demonstrate to a tribunal that you’ve taken ‘all reasonable steps’ to prevent discrimination and that any potential claim should be the responsibility of the individual in question and not your business. If you’re interested in Better Banter training, click here to view our upcoming courses.

Reporting lines – an anonymous helpline is a great solution to encourage employees to raise concerns about inappropriate behaviour or language in the workplace. If it’s happening, you need to know about it. Whilst a dedicated helpline might be more appropriate for bigger businesses, smaller teams can nominate an ‘inclusion ambassador’ or someone in the business to be the go-to person should concerns need to be raised.

Support – securing straight-talking, commercial advice at the outset of any challenge involving discrimination or harassment is hugely important. It allows you to act quickly, manage risk and reach an outcome that is right for your business. It’ll help you minimise reputational damage, reduce time and resources spent on the issue, and the costs associated with defending a claim. If you don’t have something in place already, the BMF Intelligent Employment Plus service might be your answer.

The road to a more diverse sector is undoubtedly a long and challenging one. There will be front runners, and those lagging behind the pack. But the journey’s end shouldn’t be simply ticking a box to improve the look of the next corporate report. It should be because we want to improve and grow our businesses, to maximise the opportunities available to those we employ, and to improve the service to our customers.

For more information on how BMF Intelligent Employment Plus can work for your business, get in touch at info@halborns.com or call 0115 718 0333.

You can also view the latest information about our Diversity in Merchanting Round Table click here

 

1 BMF Remuneration Survey 2019
2 Harvard Business Review, 2017 –
Teams solve problems faster when they’re more cognitively diverse 
3 McKinsey & Company, 2012 –
Is there a payoff from top team diversity?
4 Forbes, 2017 –
New research: diversity + inclusion = better decision making at work
5
Miss L Hayman v Pall-Ex Ltd and Others 2601913/16
6
Government tribunal statistics April-June 2019
7
LGBT+ Survey: construction’s slow progress laid bare
8
Office for National Statistics – Sexual Orientation UK dataset

 

This article first appeared in the February 2020 edition of Builders' Merchants Journal (BMJ)

Charlie McHugh, Head of Client Insight at Halborns Limited, the BMF’s exclusive law and HR partner, takes a closer look at the benefits and challenges of diversity in the workplace.

Meet the BMF trainers

25 February 2020

BMF trainingOne of the reasons that BMF training is so highly rated by the industry is the nature of the trainers that create and deliver its programmes.  We decided to find out what makes them tick, and why they love working with builders merchants. 

Jason Routley, in common with a number of BMF trainers, is equally at home delivering bespoke programmes or leading one of the many courses listed in the BMF Training Prospectus, be they leadership or management skills, sales techniques or customer service. He is particularly engaged with training in our sector because he has spent time on both sides of the trade counter himself.

Says Jason: “I often mention to delegates that training and developing staff across the builders merchants sector is a bit like ‘playing at home’, and that’s one of the main reasons I enjoy it so much.  I spent many years working in the merchant sector, starting out in the yard, then the trade counter, moving on to telephone sales, a sales representative role and then into branch management before taking a different turn. I fulfilled a long-standing desire to work for myself by setting up a busy building business which I managed for nine years before moving into training and development.

“The benefit of working on both sides of the trade counter has helped me no end when designing and delivering training and provides invaluable credibility in the training room.  Many delegates comment on how it was good to have a trainer that understands their job role and the challenges they face in the real world. I’m grateful that my previous experiences allow me to make a positive difference to the people I meet now as a trainer.”

John Allison is another trainer with an in-depth knowledge of the construction industry.  Earlier in his career he had responsibility for managing distribution branches and has used these skills and the knowledge gained over his career to become a highly effective CIPD qualified leadership and development professional. 

Says John: “Understanding the market and challenges contractor customers face makes me appreciate the difficult job builders’ merchants do to provide a high level of customer service.  This coupled with many years managing branches and sales teams provides a wealth of practical experience to draw on when training customer-facing staff. The purchase experience provided by builders’ merchants is what differentiates them and ensures their customers keep coming back. I particularly enjoy helping them to equip their staff to provide the levels of service required to keep the ahead of the competition.”

Richard Green, who specialises in management training is the mainstay of the BMF Diploma in Management.  He has worked with a great variety of industries and sectors but is particularly drawn to those working in the merchant industry.

Says Richard: “I find that in the merchant industry above all others there is a huge potential in so many staff to become managers of the highest quality.  Whether graduates or those who left school with few qualifications, I have been delighted to have worked with so many who have gone on to excel in and to enjoy their management role.

“I like to think that I have helped them develop into that role by emphasising that managers must manage for today (not an imagined time when ‘things were better’ or how we would like them to be), a modern management approach that especially recognises the importance of intelligent reasoning and joined-up thinking.  This approach has led to powerful training sessions where delegates have challenged their understanding of ‘management’ and learned to develop an all-round confident, thoughtful and self-aware management style.”


BMF training ranges from formal Apprenticeships and sector-specific Diplomas and a Foundation Degree in Merchant Management, to on-line product knowledge and other specialist skills training. To find out more about any aspect of BMF training, please contact paige.godsell@bmf.org.uk or phone 02476 854980.

This article first appeared in the February 2020 edition of Professional Builders Merchant (PBM)
​One of the reasons that BMF training is so highly rated by the industry is the nature of the trainers that create and deliver its programmes. We decided to find out what makes them tick, and why they love working with builders merchants. ​

Supporting our industry

18 February 2020
By BMF CEO John Newcomb


John NewcombThe BMF’s annual membership survey provides us with feedback on which of our services members most value, as well as areas where they would like more support.  

While it came as no surprise to see the BMF’s networking opportunities at the top of the list of acknowledged benefits – with many requesting more Product Forums and Regional meetings - this was closely followed by a number of other areas where we have expanded the services offered in recent years, for example the provision of accurate market data. In this area, our established monthly Builders Merchants Building Index and the recently launched Builders Merchants Industry Forecast Report together offer the most comprehensive analysis of merchant market performance and projected sales forecast available today and are viewed as essential reading.

Legislation and lobbying activities also featured strongly. Members value the BMF’s role in keeping them up to date with details of upcoming changes to legislation and building regulations that will affect them, as well as increasing the BMF’s political representation with Government in tandem with our growing member voice. The BMF has placed greater emphasis on policy work in recent years and 2020 will see our third annual Parliamentary Reception at the House of Commons on 19 May, where the focus will be on Building a Sustainable Britain.

The BMF is also supporting the next phase of the Get Britain Building Campaign, alongside the Building Alliance and the Federation of Master Builders. With greater stability within Government and our exit from the European Union now certain, the latest Campaign will launch later this month.

The campaign is extremely pertinent to our members. We asked them how they viewed the future. While some concerns were expressed, notably around skills shortages and low-cost competitors, their overall sentiment was positive with members keen to embrace emerging technologies and committed to retaining their relevance to tomorrow’s customers and provide excellent customer service. They are in an exceptional position to do so. 80% of the materials used to build new homes in the UK are manufactured here. No other industry can rival this.  By supporting the building materials supply and the wider construction industry, the Government will reap the benefit from the huge economic multiplier that results.

With the speaker programme currently under development, I’m sure the BMF Members' Annual Conference in September will be discussing this further under the overall theme of Sustaining Excellence. With both a new venue, the De Vere Beaumont Estate in Windsor, and a new headline sponsor, Marshalls and Stonemarket, I am looking forward to welcoming members to this flagship event.

Our drive to Get Britain Building, does not mean we are turning our back on Europe.  Far from it. In October, the BMF will be hosting the 2020 Ufemat Conference in London – and as the current President of Ufemat I am delighted to bring the event to the UK.  Taking the theme Europe European Unity in a Digital Age, it will bring together professionals from every sector of the building materials supply chain and from every corner of Europe and provide a unique opportunity for members to broaden their networks and share ideas and best practice to take back to their own markets.

It’s going to be a busy and productive year!

This article first appeared in the February 2020 edition of Builders Merchants News
BMF CEO John Newcomb talks about the busy and productive year ahead for the BMF and the industry.

Mental health top of the agenda at Young Merchants gathering

11 February 2020
Builders Merchants News Deputy Editor Nicolas Chinardet joined the BMF Young Merchant group for its winter meeting, highlighting the importance of mental health awareness.

BMF Young Merchants meetingThe lower level of a gleaming showroom in London is probably not the place where you would expect to hear heartfelt admissions of suicidal thoughts. It was however in just such a place, on 5 December, that members of the BMF Young Merchants group came together and heard the story of mental health campaigner Jonny Benjamin. 

The event was taking place at the Ideal Standard Design and Specification Centre, now the BMF’s 30th Regional Centre of Excellence. The centre is located in Clerkenwell, a creative area of London, on the doorstep of about 8,000 architects. 

Earlier in the morning, about 50 members of the group had gathered in the basement of the showroom, which houses a small auditorium. They were welcomed first by Glenn Paddison, Chair of the group, and then by Dave Laretta, Channel Sales Manager at Ideal Standard.

Laretta introduced the company to the delegates, explaining its 200-year-old history, its position as the leading ceramic manufacturer in the UK, with its £180 million turnover (in the UK), and its 9,500 employees worldwide. The company’s factory in Armitage, Staffordshire, produces 75,000 pieces of ceramic a week and serves the three brands of the company: Ideal Standard, Armitage Shanks, and Sottini.

Laretta was followed at the pulpit by designer and ceramist Robin Levien of Levien Studio, who has been working with Ideal Standard for 35 years. Presenting some of the highlights of his work with the company, he shared his insight into the ways he thinks the industry has changed over those years.

For example, the highly popular 1980’s Studio collection included 15 items, while the equivalent 2012 Concept range was made up of 100.

Technology is having an impact. Levien’s studio has just invested in a 3D printer for the creation of its prototypes, abandoning the Styrofoam models it has used until now. 

Fashion has changed too, as well as people’s preoccupations and needs; from the rise of multi-generational homes, to the increase in the number of obese people, a stronger focus on gender equality, or concerns about space efficiency in homes. Designers have to find new solutions to those problems and adapt the products they work on in consequence.

Next to take up the microphone were representatives of Pimlico Plumbers, Ashley Mullins, grandson of the founder of the company, and John Pierce, its General Manager.

Pierce gave an overview of the company’s history, highlighting the rapid growth it has experienced in the past few years. After some humble beginnings in 1979, Pimlico Plumbers, which limits itself to the confines of the M25, has a turnover of £45 million, with an ambition of reaching £100 million within the next three years. There are now over 400 members of staff and about 75 apprentices. 

While there are currently only four female engineers, 15 of the apprentices are woman; a reflection of the company’s commitment to improve gender balance, which is partly driven by a demand from customers. 

After a break for lunch, which members put to good networking use, the day took a more sombre tone. 

Benjamin, who made the headlines a few years ago when he launched a media campaign to find the man who had prevented him from jumping off Waterloo Bridge, shared his life story, telling of his constant struggle with mental health issues since a very young age. 

Benjamin also highlighted the campaigning work he is engaged in around the world to help raise awareness of mental health and to get the issue included into the curriculum. 

The presentation prompted Paddison to tell the group about his younger sister, who has made several attempts at taking her own life. He thanked Benjamin for his help on the matter, after the pair met at the BMF Conference in Dubrovnik in July, and announced a fundraising initiative for the group, inviting members to join him in an ascension of Kilimanjaro in September 2020. 

Following this, John Newcomb, CEO of the BMF, remarked on how younger generations are becoming more comfortable with discussing mental health, regretting that his generation still needs to be convinced of the importance of the issue. The BMF offers a number of training opportunities on the subject, but Newcomb urged attendants to be evangelists for the cause, to “go back and talk to management”. 

Finally, the participants divided into small groups to discuss issues relevant to the workings of the organisation (age restrictions on membership, outreach to young people, European connections). 

The day concluded with a dinner and more networking and socialising.

This article first appeared in the January 2020 edition of Builders Merchants News
For more information about the BMF Young Merchants click here
For support and useful contacts regarding mental health click here

BMN Deputy Editor Nicolas Chinardet joined the BMF Young Merchant group for its winter meeting, highlighting the importance of mental health awareness.

ETIM: helping members to digitalise their businesses

By Dave Bate, ETIM Project Manager
4 February 2020


ETIMThe BMF has announced an exciting new initiative for 2020, endorsed by NMBS, which will help members seeking to digitalise their businesses. The BMF has partnered with the Electrical Distributors’ Association (EDA) to develop and implement the ETIM open source data model for the standardisation and classification of product data in the UK.

What is ETIM?

•It is the international data model for the standardisation and classification of technical product data.
•It is a logical, unambiguous classification or taxonomy which is both manufacturer and system independent.
•It is designed to facilitate the smooth transfer of product data through the supply chain, without any re-working or re-keying
•The data is ready to be used on a website, printed catalogue or BIM product data template.
•The ETIM model includes the most important technical characteristics required for a buyer or specifier to find and select the correct product.

Benefits

One of the key benefits of ETIM is that it removes ambiguity and ensures that all users of the product data are using the same terms to describe the same attributes and values. It streamlines the transfer of information, removes inefficiency in the supply chain and facilitates the transition to online trading. 

ETIM is a tried and tested model that has been adopted by manufacturers and wholesalers in 20 countries across Europe and by the USA and Canada.  Initially designed for the electro-technical market, ETIM has expanded to include general building materials and heating, ventilation and plumbing products. It has now developed further to include a 3-D modelling version to provide digitalised data for BIM applications.

ETIM was adopted by the EDA in 2017 as a ‘must’ for the digitalisation of the UK electrical installation supply chain. The BMF will now start work to bring ETIM to the Building Materials and HVAC & Sanitary sectors.

BMF CEO John Newcomb said: “A straw-poll of our merchant members found that 53% have difficulty in obtaining product data from their suppliers in an easily usable format, and 94% would value readily available and accurate product data.

“With a growing number already doing business online and 65% planning to launch or increase sales from online platforms during the next two years the need for high quality, consistent and updatable digital data is set to escalate. Supporting the introduction of ETIM within our sector fits well with the BMF’s mission to help members build excellence within their business.”

The BMF will begin the process of implementation from January 2020. David Bate, who performed a similar role for the EDA, has been appointed BMF’s ETIM-UK Project Manager. He will lead a number of ETIM Standardisation Working Groups, drawing together expertise from BMF members involved in different product areas, and drive the UK roll-out of the ETIM Classification model for building materials and HVAC through the UK supply chain, comprising manufacturers, merchants, specifiers, contractors and installers.


For further information on ETIM or to be involved in one of the working groups, please contact Dave Bate, BMF's ETIM Project Manager at dave.bate@bmf.org.uk.

Click here to watch the video introducing the ETIM data model.

The BMF has announced an exciting new initiative for 2020, endorsed by NMBS, which will help members seeking to digitalise their businesses. The BMF has partnered with the Electrical Distributors’ Association (EDA) to develop and implement the ETIM o

Focused Improver or Active Influencer?

by Nick Howarth (Howarth Timber) and Steve Boyer (Marsh Industries)
28 January 20220

BMF TrainingThe BMF is on a mission to help its members build excellence within their business. But what does that mean, and what difference can BMF membership really make to merchant and supplier members? We asked the winners of the BMF Training Company of the Year, (Howarth Timber & Building Supplies) and the BMF Supplier of the Year Awards (Marsh Industries).


Howarth Timber & Building Supplies has used BMF training since they became members some 20 years ago and have increased their use over the last 10 years as more management courses were brought on stream.

Said Managing Director, Nick Howarth: “Our biggest training focus is merchant management, with a number of our people working through the BMF Diploma and Foundation Degree. We value both the industry specialisation underpinning the courses and the knowledge and expertise of the trainers. The content of the courses is closely related to all aspects of our industry, which is a great introduction for younger managers.

“As a company, we use a mix of training delivery methods. For new starters we also use BMF Building Blocks and Campus product modules within the Howarth Online Academy, and have used BMF classroom courses for sales executives and to advise on security and combat shrinkage.”

While training is Howarth’s number one BMF benefit, Nick also values the BMF’s State of Trade data, and Howarth are equally keen to get involved and give back. Howarth personnel attend and present at BMF Timber and Finance Forums, and currently Chair BMF’s Yorkshire Region. Howarth has also worked with the BMF’s policy team to promote the industry’s views to MPs and support wider industry aims. 

Said Nick: “We are more than happy to take part and contribute to BMF activities and lobbying.  Ultimately, what’s good for the industry is also good for Howarth.”


As a supplier, Marsh Industries is also more than happy to take part. In fact, their Managing Director, Steve Boyer can’t think of a single BMF platform that his business has not used.

Marsh has showcased and launched products through the BMF One Voice magazine, attends the annual Members’ Conference and biennial All Industry Conference, and takes part in the specialist Civils & Drainage Forum. Steve also regularly attends the Marketing Forum, which he describes as “four hours of information and connecting”, adding “I may have been in the industry since 1980, but I always learn something new at BMF meetings.” 

While Steve credits the BMF with far more than the networking opportunities it provides, he gives an excellent example of the time that can save. “Being able to talk to the lead buyer of one of the country’s major buying groups at BMF Members’ Annual Conference saved me a separate round trip of several hundred miles for a 40-minute meeting.”

As the owner of a family business, Steve has 20:20 vision on the importance of the BMF to his company’s growth and development. When they joined in 2011, his industry was dominated by eight international companies. Today, Marsh is the UK market leader in off-mains drainage systems and one of just two companies in its field with a firm foothold with UK merchants.  Steve is the first to acknowledge that you get out what you put in. “Going to BMF events is about taking action. It’s not a day out, it’s time to be used. My advice is to break the ice and engage. In my experience people are always happy to engage back with you – there’s no better opportunity.”

The BMF is currently surveying each members’ needs to identify what is most useful to them and offer tailored solutions. Through this process they have identified a number of different clusters with similar needs. While Howarth sits within the Active Influencer group and Marsh Industries is a Focused Improver, the BMF’s priority is to engage less active members – the Unignited Advancers and Aspiring Progressors – and help them to get full benefit from their membership.

BMF Membership Services Director, Richard Ellithorne believes that staff development is a good place to start. “BMF’s Training is a definitely one of our key strengths and one of the first places we would encourage members to engage with us,” Richard explained.

Regional meetings are another great starting point, with lots of current information being shared and the opportunity to find out what services others value, and the BMF is making it easier for all members to attend.

Richard said: “In the past it may not have been easy to release staff to attend an event many miles away, but with meetings, forums and training sessions increasingly held at one of 31 Regional Centres of Excellence around the UK and Ireland, we are making it easier to access the essential services that help our members to prosper.”

To find out more about the BMF’s broad range of services, visit www.bmf.org.uk or contact richard.ellithorne@bmf.org.uk or on 02476 854984.


This article first appeared in the December 2019 edition of Builders’ Merchants Journal (BMJ)
The BMF is on a mission to help its members build excellence within their business. But what difference can BMF membership really make to merchant and supplier members? We asked the winners of the BMF Training Company of the Year, (Howarth Timber & B

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