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Do your homework

a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose.

It’s a particular bug-bear of mine (yes, I know, another one), the fact that too many people don’t really seem to know what a builders merchant is.

I get hugely annoyed when yet another press release lands in my inbox which has clearly been written to attract either the builder, the installer or the actual householder. I think people just see the word Builders in our title and forget to read the rest.

The mainstream media can be just as guilty – I remember being outraged once when I heard the FT refer to Geoff Cooper – former CEO of Travis Perkins as: “builder Geoff Cooper”.

The worst culprits though are the Government – civil servants behind the scenes and Ministers. At last month’s NMBS Conference, speaker Mike Rigby referred to a particularly fraught CPA lunch when the Minister charged with delivering the Green Deal clearly had no idea what Bill Acton was talking about when he asked how the initiative would help builders merchants. This particular Minister – probably Greg Barker, though I missed that lunch so I’m not sure – also riled his audience when he referred to ‘SMEs such as Travis Perkins and B&Q’.

If Travis Perkins, a business with 1,900 branches, 24,000 employees and a £2bn plus turnover, is a Small-to-Medium-sized Enterprise then what on earth is a four-branch independent turning over £15m – a market stall?

The trouble is visibility and Mike Rigby’s presentation also touched on this. Lots of people know the names of the big merchants as they see their lorries all over the place. They probably know the names of their local independent or regional merchant for the same reason.

However, unless they have a reason to use those companies, there’s a chance that they might not know exactly what it is that those companies do. There is, of course, the argument, that it’s not that important whether Joe Public knows what a builders merchant does or is for, so long as the builders know.

So it was extremely heartening to see Shed Simove’s presentation at the NMBS Conference. His presentation was not so much off-the-wall as halfway down the corridor in a different building, but he did understand what his audience did for a living.

He flagged up Keylite and Fakro as examples of companies who have challenged the dominance of a market-leading brand, for starters. He also highlighted Bence’s amazing trompe l’oeil on the side of their Cheltenham building to boost their landscaping and Parker’s great use of social media when they teamed up with Linda Lusardi at a local Homes, Gardens and Lifestyle show.

I shouldn’t be surprised, I suppose. Someone is paid to appear at a conference and does their homework to ensure that their presentation is relevant to that audience. Not exactly rocket science, but it’s a shame Ministers can’t be relied upon to do the same thing.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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