Merchant profile: Building a strong future

Published:  25 May, 2017

Expansion and rapid growth is setting Kellaway Building Supplies in good stead for 2017. BMN visited the headquarters in Bristol to find out more.

Bristol-based Kellaway Building Supplies enjoyed 14% growth in 2016, with an annualised merchant turnover reaching £36m. Despite this success, the company is not resting on its laurels. Already in 2017 the business has opened new branches and has been named as a Builders Merchant Federation (BMF) Regional Centre of Excellence, with plans in place to further expand the number of trading branches this year.

Kellaway’s most recent acquisition and relocation of the branch in Worcester is a significant geographical change for the company, which has always had its roots firmly in the south west of England.

“This is a bit of a move for us,” explained Alex Priddle, Kellaway’s group marketing manager. “We started in Bristol and have been focused around Bath, Swindon, Stonehouse and Bridgewater, so it’s outside our normal heartland.”

Kellaway purchased Premier Timber & Builders’ Merchant, in Worcester, in late 2016, and in the months since, has been busy relocating the site to new premises, as the old site had long been earmarked for development by the owners. The new site is on the same trading estate, just 500 yards away from Premier’s former home.

“Premier has a strong name in the area and a loyal following of customers, so we are hoping that we can retain and build on that. We have significantly extended the range of stock held at the branch and we are confident that will have a positive effect on the customer experience,” said Mr Priddle. “There’s a lot of merchants in Worcester, so it’s quite a competitive market, which brings its own challenges; especially when trying to retain existing loyalty while introducing customers to the benefits of trading with a regional, independent merchant.”

Despite Worcester being a step outside its normal area, Kellaway is confident that its brand will be a strong contender in the county, especially since all Premier’s existing staff stayed with Kellaway after the acquisition, something Mr Priddle believes really helps to build continuity.

Kellaway has a history of making acquisitions of new branches where the staff remain with the business. Marlborough Building Supplies, which Kellaway bought in January 2017, is another example of an acquisition where the staff have remained with the company. “It’s a really strong business and a very exciting purchase for us,” explained Mr Priddle.

As with its purchase of Premier, rather than immediately rebranding the business as Kellaway, Marlborough is instead undergoing a gradual change, with the site being co-branded as both business’ for the time being.

“It was a conscious decision for us; they both had strong brand loyalty with their existing customers and we didn’t want to be this business that’s come in and changed everything. We want to build awareness of Kellaway in the area alongside the existing company,” he said.

The company also has plans in place to add a Kellaway branch to its recently purchased site in Weston-Super-Mare, following approval of planning permission. Kellaway hopes to be opening the branch to customers towards the end of the summer.

Renew and refresh

Not content just to expand into new areas and new branches, Kellaway is also keeping a close eye on its existing branches, and continually refreshing them when opportunities arise. The company has planning permission to knock down and rebuild a purpose built branch in Bath, on a site that was previously Slate and Stone, before being acquired by Kellaway in 2012.

Meanwhile, Kellaway’s existing Ashton branch is being relocated this year, and moved to a new site that is currently being renovated nearby. An old Mercedes-Benz showroom, the new site is significantly larger and will give Kellaway an impressive shop space, greater warehousing and overall a stronger offering in the South of Bristol.

Mr Priddle said: “The road itself is a bit more commercial but the surrounding area is very retail-focused. It will be good for us to further engage with this market.”

For Kellaway, the new Ashton site is also an opportunity to establish a large shop area, offering a much greater range of products to trade customers and enhancing displays, while appealing to homeowners with a retail offering.

While the merchant isn’t looking to move away from its focus on the trade market, the opportunity to expand into a more consumer offering is a bonus.

“We saw a really big uplift in retail footfall when two large DIY stores closed in the Horfield area, so it’s a good benefit for us. It’s nice to be able to attack those different markets as well as staying with what we know and what we’re good at in the trade.

“For a lot of our trade customers, this new site will be easier for them to get to as well as giving them access to a greater range of stock and an improved customer experience; all of this gives us a really strong presence in the south of our home city,” Mr Priddle explained.

Highlighting excellence

As well as its focus on new branches, Kellaway’s head office in Bristol has recently enjoyed an expansion of its own. Previously a tenant in the building, Kellaway purchased the building at the start of 2016, giving the business and its head office team much more space to grow and help them to support the increasing number of branches.

As a result, more rooms and meeting areas have been created, with the training facilities being recognised and becoming a BMF Regional Centre of Excellence in February 2017.

“We work closely with the BMF, attending their diplomas and management courses, and so when they approached us with the idea we jumped at the chance,” explained Mr Priddle. “Our values are to be the merchant of choice for suppliers, customers and our employees, and this only serves to reinforce that.

“It’s more than just a nice plaque, the BMF is a national association saying that they think we are suitable to be involved in this, and that’s something to really celebrate and hang our hat on.”

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