The BMF Supplier & Service Forum, which took place on 14 April 2020, was the highest attended virtual forum hosted to date with 101 participants.

Richard Hill, Chairman of the BMF began proceedings with ‘A view from the Outside, In and the Inside, Out’.

Because of his position as Managing Director of ACO for 23 years and his move to the BMF 12 months ago, Hill is now in the perfect position to discuss the benefits from both ‘outside’ and ‘inside’ the BMF.

Hill opened by talking about the “huge UK construction industry”, which is worth £160 billion a year with 3.3 million in the workforce.

The BMF specifically has 760 members covering £38 billion of spend, around 25% of total expenditure in UK construction and 180,000 in the workforce, so Hill’s question was “who wants their company to be an island?”

From an ACO point of view, it joined the BMF to be a part of its customer’s community. One purpose of a trade association, said Hill, is to create a community with networking and to offer an opportunity to build your business. Once you have entered that community you have to engage.

The BMF offers more events and forums than ever before, and this gives members the opportunity to decide at what frequency and at what level they want to engage.

“ACO definitely got new customers with its engagement but it takes time and you have to have patience, and at some social events you have to have a lot of stamina,” Hill said. “Engagement works both ways though, and the BMF listens to its members to see what works best and to develop to create the best community for everyone.”

As the BMF listens it gives the opportunity for it to speak as ‘One Voice’ on behalf of its 760 members and to represent the sizable sector. Going forwards this ‘One Voice’ will be even more important. Construction is changing and investment will be required; engagement will add value to this.

“Your workforce is your biggest asset, they are the communicators of your business,” said Hill. “In order to get our businesses to face what is coming tomorrow, training is key. The BMF is an investment; it will pay dividends if you use it and pay an interest”

Following John Newcomb, CEO of the BMF, who gave an overview of the last 12 months, was Andy Mitchell, IT & Systems Manager at Inter-Line, whose talk was entitled ‘What makes a good supplier when it comes to product data and eCommerce?’

Inter-Line launched its new website in February 2019 following two failed attempts in 2012 and 2016 due a minimal amount of data and information being provided by the suppliers that was fed through via an interface.

“To find products, the website needs good data,” Mitchell said. “If it can’t be filtered it can’t be found. If it can’t be found, it can’t be bought.

“The more related data you can put about one product, the higher the chance that the customer can find it, and the higher the chance it will be bought. The more data that you get into your system, the more it assists the sale as good data creates more informed buying decisions.”

The top three reasons why people shop online are related to data:

  • Greater product range
  • More possibilities to compare
  • More product information

“Products can be imported into a PIM system which then helps to manage the products that are going on to the website,” said Mitchell. “Instead of everyone gathering the same data, a PIM is an application where we can share data. This is an area where we should all use a single standardised entity to save duplicity.”

Mitchell then highlighted what merchants like from suppliers:

  • Standardisation across the products attributes
  • Good quality product data in an accessible PIM system
  • Product attributes to be separated so that they can be filtered.
  • Great imagery, data sheets and how to videos
  • Merchandising options in branches
  • Staff education/product launch updates
  • Descriptions that are meaningful to users
  • One point of contact
  • Package waste, volumetrics and product performance data

Mitchell concluded: “We need better, more, reliable, linked, related data, all fed in to a single product information management that we can all have access to.”

David Berry, Managing Director of C & W Berry and Chairman of Fortis was the last speaker and gave a real in-depth overview about who Fortis is, its internal structure and its aims.

He then spoke about the Fortis ethos:

  • Run by the members for the members
  • Long term partnerships and strategic agreements
  • Solus supply/ commitment- deliver what is promise at the outset
  • Fees paid only cover the costs - agreement fees and conference fees - don’t generate profit - profit potential is in the terms of the agreement.
  • Protected agreements are available
  • 2020 Payment Strategy - to pay all suppliers on time in full and any rebate agreements or pricing agreements, however structured, would be honored. Working with suppliers in a positive, honorable way
  • Conferences - there will not be a conference in 2021 but hopefully one in 2022.

A changing market

The focus used to be on the national merchants, especially back in the 1990s, as the buying advantage that they had over the independent merchants was greater than the independent merchants’ net margin, which meant that if the national merchant could prevent you from competing, they would do it,” he said. “This is where merchant groups evolved from.

“This has now changed. The national merchants have the challenge of trying to find their new place in the market. Private Equity is a big issue in the market place but they will not be asked to join Fortis both now or in the future.”

The remit from the BMF was to talk about what Fortis want from suppliers but Berry believes it is better to say what Fortis doesn’t want from suppliers:

  • A “buying group” agreement
  • Allocations at less than annualised usage
  • Geographical saturation
  • Erosion of competitive position

However, Fortis does wants the following from suppliers.

  • Products
  • Strategic long term partnerships - guarantees of supply and price control - trust and respect
  • Sales opportunities and margin protection
  • Open relationships
  • Different dynamics for UK manufacture vs importer/distributor
  • Clear, simple, understandable agreements