Catherine Hoaken, 2011's Achiever of the Year with Awards host Lawrence Dallaglio and sponsor, IKO's Andy Williamson.

AWARDS: Merchants celebrate 10 years of achievement

Published:  23 January, 2012

UK: Winning merchants look back over the years and comment on where the market is heading. 

The Builders' Merchants Awards for Excellence was born in March 2002, establishing one central event that would be the stage on which the merchant industry's talented individuals, well managed companies and suppliers could be recognised and honoured.

Ashmead Building Supplies

"The merchant industry has continued to consolidate over the last 10 years and the marketplace is now dominated by large international companies," said Tony Swain, managing director of Ashmead Building Supplies. 

"The remaining independents have become much stronger and seem to be bucking the present gloomy economic trends.

"The resilience of independents has been helped by the growth of buying groups such as h&b, CBA, and NBG which have helped them to buy competitively and punch above their weight. The buying society, NMBS, also deserves a mention in this context, and also for doggedly fighting the independents corner.

"The importance of the web and electronic communication and trading has grown massively in the last 10 years and this is changing the way everyone does business.

"Health and safety and human resources have become much more high profile, bureaucratic, and time-consuming.

"The whole industry has become more professional, but also much more competitive.

"In the last 10 years Ashmead has travelled from the 19th Century to the 21st Century.

"Ten years ago, our branches were undeveloped – one an old engineering works, one an unsurfaced yard with a portable cabin. Today, they are state-of-the-art, with modern buildings and surfaced yards.

"Ten years ago, our computer just processed accounts, and we only got half a dozen emails a day. Now we have point-of-sale, a web presence, more emails than we can point a stick at, and will soon be moving to cloud computing.

"Ten years ago, our biggest product line was clay pipes, now it is a tie between timber and aggregates, with not a clay pipe in sight.

"In the last 10 years we have recruited a great new generation of staff members who bring their many skills to our business and ensure that we shall continue to develop and grow whatever the state of the industry and the economy.

"Ten years ago, we had not won any awards. Since then, two real highlights have been winning the Independent Merchant of the Year award at the 2006 Awards for Excellence, and our staff member Catherine Hoaken winning the Achiever of the Year at this year's Builders' Merchants Awards for Excellence."

George Bence & Sons

George Bence & Sons' managing director Paul Bence, said: "The construction industry has endured a challenging economic environment over the past decade as a whole which has seen a recent downward spiral.

"Merchants have had to be more creative, alert and proactive to changes in the marketplace. Our company have used plans and initiative to enable a greater market share in a shrinking marketplace focusing on a high level of customer service, competitive pricing, and quality product and maintaining that all important margin.

"As a regional independent company, George Bence & Sons has been courageous enough to win a number of Awards for Excellence in recent years. This is due to the hard work of our employees. The Builders' Merchants Awards for Excellence certainly bring a 'feel-good' factor to the staff and is something from which local marketing opportunities can be exploited."

Coomers

"The last 10 years has seen dramatic changes at Coomers. We have invested heavily in upgrading our branches and have extended our product ranges significantly," said Grev Coomer, the merchant's managing director.  

"Manual processes have been replaced with automated processes and we have used the modern technologies available to increase efficiency and to improve the flow of information around the business.

"The industry has also changed a lot in that 10-year period. New legislation and new products have been introduced. 

"Thanks to the internet and smartphones, the information available to our customers is now much greater. What hasn't changed is what our customers expect from us – quality products, strong stocks and a high level of service from knowledgeable staff."

Grafton Group

Leo Martin, chief operating officer, Grafton Group plc, commented: "Rather like many of the Grafton businesses, the Awards for Excellence have evolved strongly over the last 10 years. 

"We've been taking an active part almost since their inception because I feel it's important to recognise and reward excellence in the industry, as we do as an organisation with our own awards schemes. 

"The Builders' Merchants Awards for Excellence are an opportunity to celebrate what we do well and to discuss the latest ideas to inspire others. 

"We have been fortunate enough to win many awards over the years – it's a reflection of the success of our businesses and the hard work of our staff. 

"Winning the trophy is a great confidence boost to everyone and, because the awards are independent, it is recognition of greater value. 

"Our ethos is to encourage innovation and enterprise and this is also what the awards are ultimately looking for. Apart from anything else, it's a great time to come together as an industry, because we can, and must, all learn from one another."

LBS

Best Marketing award 2011 goes to George Bence & Sons: Paul Bence is shown with Lawrence Dallaglio and Darren Pack of sponsor, Finnforest.

LBS managing director Mark Davies said: "In 2001, we were called Llandeilo Building Supplies, had a total of six branches, and were quickly becoming the place to go to for building supplies in South West Wales.

"Ten years on, the name has been changed to LBS Builder's Merchants, and there are now 14 branches flourishing under the LBS name, including specialist civils and roofing businesses.

"A comment was made by one of our account managers following a managers meeting that took place recently – when he started at the company, managers' meetings consisted of at the most five people, the latest meeting hosted 29.

"Ten years ago, before the time of company mobile phones, our sales reps had to carry around a ready stock of 10p coins, so they could use the nearest phone box to contact the branches.

"The reps all had to ensure they knew the locations of phone boxes in their area. I doubt that in 2011 anyone could confidently state where their local phone box is!

"LBS is very proud of our logo and how it is displayed on our colourful red bulk bags – we have ready stocks filled with aggregates and sand at each branch, ready to be delivered neatly to our customers.

"Back in 2001, delivery was a very different matter. We offloaded deliveries of sand and aggregates directly onto the ground and then our customers would be brushing the roads to recover as much as they could!

"In 2001, Swedish researchers helped to boost productivity of their workers during the day by introducing stress-busting 'laughing instructors' on underground trains.

"This is something we at LBS still excel at 10 years later – our staff are always laughing and ready to share a joke with each other and our customers – and this has never changed!

"Our staff value each and every one of our customers, they are part of the extended LBS family, and as a result LBS have excellent and honest relationships with each and every one of our customers.

"The next 10 years will bring new and exciting challenges to LBS.

"We may be facing new competition from the DIY sheds, and suppliers who sell to customers directly, but there are also lots of opportunities, where our staff's product expertise will be invaluable, and through expanding our range of goods and services.

"This is where LBS and our outstanding levels of customer service will prosper, just as it has over the last ten years, by delivering what we promise each and every time.

"Oil was around £20 a barrel during the whole of December 2001 – if only this were the case today!"

PTS

Ian Church, managing director of PTS, said: "The last 10 years have been momentous for PTS and we're proud to have been named the National Merchant of the Year twice at the Builders' Merchants Awards for Excellence.

"This time has not just seen award wins, but huge growth at PTS with our branch network doubling to reach over 300 nationwide trade counters.

"Changes in government legislation have shaped buying trends and the market in general over the last decade.

"In April 2005, the requirement to install high efficiency boilers was introduced and changed the type of product being bought at the trade counter and installed in homes overnight.

"Building standards were also revised to ensure energy requirements were met in the form of the Code for Sustainable Homes. This was one of the key drivers behind PTS' push to get installers thinking about renewable energy products.

"Energy efficiency continues to be a hot topic with Government grants such as the Feed-in-Tariff bringing its own set of strengths and challenges to the heating and plumbing industry.

"Renewables have grown to become an important part of PTS' service offering.

"The PTS Renewable Energy Branch, which opened in 2009 at Aylesford, Kent, was a real turning point in what we could offer as a leading merchant. The main objective of the branch is to provide installers with a ready and waiting information source where a dedicated point of contact can help them find out about the reality of installing these products and the benefits they can truly bring to homeowners. 

"The branch offers a facility for training and now has support from a number of Renewable Specialist branches which offer a unique distribution solution to improve lead times.

"Spares has also been a critical part of the business throughout the recession where repair and maintenance has remained important.

"Launched in 2006, PTS spares now has 175 nationwide outlets with 1200 products stocked as standard.

"In September 2011, PTS launched a unique piece of software for the identification of spare parts called MiSPARES and now also has a dedicated call centre for exclusive use by its customers.

"The next 10 years will undoubtedly have the same ever changing landscape with just as many exciting prospects for installers and the industry.

"Winning the Best National Merchant of the Year and being nominated for Best Heating and Plumbing Merchant (environmental focus) at the 2011 Awards is a great honour and will be a fantastic way of celebrating another successful year for PTS."

(A 10-page look at the Awards is published in the January edition of Builders' Merchants News.)

Ian Church of PTS is shown with Awards host Lawrence Dallaglio and Jon Morrish of category sponsor, Hanson.

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