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Virtual Roundtable Success with Builders Merchants News

Last November, we hosted a virtual round table debate in partnership with leading industry title Builders’ Merchants News to explore the ongoing issues and hot topics in the merchant sector today. 

The event was attended by a select group of industry experts and senior leaders, including our Vice President of Sales, Ian Hansell, and Trade Sales Director, Gareth Griffiths – in addition to our special guest, John Newcomb, CEO of the Builders Merchants Federation

With an informative and thought-provoking debate, the event was a huge success. Here are some key takeaways…

Coping with coronavirus 

The COVID-19 pandemic brought many challenges to the merchant sector, but the round table discussion highlighted just how well the industry has evolved and adapted in unprecedented times. 

Andrew Harrison, CEO for the Plumbing and Heating Division of Travis Perkins, said: “Merchants have been keeping the population warm, dry and safe with a roof over their heads, while battling a virus which at the time we knew nothing about. The whole industry deserves a gong, and we should all be very proud.”

And John Newcomb expressed the same positivity: “Considering where we were in April when the market was down just under 80% it is quite an incredible turnaround. We have ridden this crisis very well as a sector.”

Embracing technology

The merchant sector has always been a face-to-face industry that centres around building relationships, but the pandemic urged the industry to find new ways of working. Adopting new technologies and video conferencing has helped the merchant sector get back on its feet.


Some suggested that the rise in technology has in fact benefitted the sector in some ways, with Gareth Griffiths, Trade Sales Director at Bristan, stating: “The use of technology has improved the way our field sales team has worked together and their relationships with our internal departments.”

It was clear, however, that the face-to-face element of merchanting remains important. Griffiths went on to say: “Video conferencing will help us but it is not the entire answer. Ninety five per cent of the calls made by my teams since they came back to work are made on the phone so the challenge is how we maintain the relationships with our merchant customers without necessarily being able to see them face-to-face.”

Looking ahead

While the sector still has many challenges to face, every attendee at the round table left with a sense of hope and optimism for the future of the merchant industry. 

Newcomb said: “Resilient is a great word to describe this sector and we have proved we have the ability to bounce back as we did during the last recession.”

Paul Bullivant, Commercial Director at Howarth Timber & Building Supplies, believes it’s about being positive and proactive: “You have had to be positive to have survived over the past seven months from a business perspective and we have to continue to be positive, bold and keep moving forward even if it is inch by inch. We must not be scared to try things and not automatically revert to how we were operating before.”

There was also a general consensus that the merchant sector can learn from the pandemic and embrace new practices going forward. Griffiths said: “Let’s take the best of what the new world can give us and combine it with the best of what we have been doing traditionally. The reality lies somewhere between the two.”

To watch the full debate, visit here.

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