Getting the BMF strategy right

20 November 2018
by Peter Hindle MBE, BMF Chairman

Peter Hindle MBEAs the merchant industry association, we want to ensure we get maximum engagement from our members. However, to get that we need to know exactly who they are and what they require from us. The BMF has been working very hard over the past five years to ensure that it is fully representative of the whole merchant industry. We now have a full range of members from national groups right down to single branch independents as members but there is still further to go.  

We do now talk to the industry and to government with one voice, however, that doesn’t mean that we have to be speaking with the same voice to all our members. One of the things that has become apparent is that the value our members get from their membership is very different depending where they sit in the industry.  

As an association we offer a huge amount of extremely good services to all our members but not all of them will need every service.  

So, a major part of our ongoing strategy for the next five years will be deeper segmentation of the membership. We want to know which segments our members fall into so that we can tailor the offering to them accordingly,  

That’s the first question we are working on, what exactly are the segments within our membership? We could end up with a list that includes specialists, plumbers’ merchants independents, manufacturers, manufacturers that distribute: the BMF covers a wide variety of businesses within the parameters of the building materials supply chain. Yes, of course, there will be some generic offerings, such as our youth recruitment programme, which crosses all the segments but there will be much more some specific stuff. Even within the independent sector there are completely different types of builders’ merchants.  

A smaller independent merchant’s needs for example might be based around what the BMF can do to help them with GDPR, with health and safety, with a racking inspection or help with transport and employment. Smaller merchants tend not to have the infrastructure to deal with these areas, so these are areas where the BMF can add real value for them. Larger national companies are more likely to be set up to do a lot of what we can offer for themselves, the Health and Safety or HR services, for example. What these larger members are looking for from their trade association might be more to do with the lobbying work that we do with government.  

Once we understand that deeper segmentation, it will allow us to start to tailor everything that we do around some of those segments.  

We will also be looking at increasing what we offer to suppliers who, after all make up 35% of our memberships. This might be offering sales courses or other training that at the moment is more focussed on the merchant membership. We know that we need to pay attention to our supplier members as much as our merchant members and also we need to ensure our service members are happy too.  

Manufacturers want to join the BMF because of the networking opportunities but that’s only a part of it and we will be able to offer them real value if we target their needs more specifically. We’ve been talking a lot about Brexit and VAT on imported goods etc. and those are some big subjects that will have a serious effect on the businesses of our suppliers, which will in turn affect how they do business with our merchant members.  

The segmentation will form the biggest part of our new strategy going forward and underpinning that will be our commitment to expanding excellence with people which will bring it all to life. We are very committed to giving those working in the merchant industry proper, portable, marketable accreditation. Our training offer is very successful, and our aim is to build opportunities for everyone in this supply chain to carve out careers, allowing them to move from yard sales to outside sales or into management, wherever they have the drive and capacity to end up.  

If you do training, you have to be the best at it; we don’t want to play around with it, we want to be offering market-leading opportunities to build the future of the industry.  

A big part of the training success has been the ability to be more local to our members; our regional centres of excellence have been instrumental in this. They are going from strength to strength and we now have 21 with further two or three about to open. And they are all being used regularly and have really helped to open up the BMF benefits to the membership.  

The real major drive for us is going to be around building greater engagement with the BMF, especially from the merchant membership.   

Segmentation is going to be key to the success of the BMF moving forward as, if you want to get more people more engaged, you have to make sure you’re giving them what they want from you and we will find that out by this segmentation process.  

Training and youth recruitment will continue to be a major focus for us. In fact, the youth recruitment programme will be a key part for every segment, as that’s an issue which affects all our members, large and small.  

This article appeared in the November 2018 edition of Builders Merchants Journal (BMJ)