Merchants need to get back to basics in order to carve a niche for themselves in the future, according to speakers at the BMF Autumn Conference last weekend.
The conference, which took place at the Marriott Hotel in York, addressed the future of merchanting as well as the impact of the VAT and Corporation Tax changes and minimising the risk of facing an employment tribunal.
Builder Mick Quickfall, owner of M J QuickFall Builders in Grimsby, was one of the speakers to advocate a more simplified approach from merchants. With 40 years experience as a builder, Quickfall has seen the market change significantly, but said that some requirements for builders had not changed.
“We have gone through the ‘one-stop shop’ and we’ve now got the ‘all stop shop’, with us being informed that stock cannot be held due to market conditions that the products cannot be delivered until the day after tomorrow,” he said. “The strength of our merchants is the heavyside aspect of it, and I wonder whether they shouldn’t go down the yard rather than the supermarket approach.”
Quickfall said that in this still depressed market, now was the right time for the industry to get back to basics. He said that he wanted merchants to provide a strong, efficient service while also providing an educational and product information role.
“If you were providing a seminar service at a cost that provided my staff with a good solid knowledge of the products and systems that they were installing, I would be prepared to pay for that,” he said.
His view was echoed in the panel session and in Chris Pateman’s talk on the current state of the market and its future. As well as agreeing about the back to basics approach, Pateman also discussed the growing competition from not only the sheds but also the utility companies, who are muscling in on the energy efficiency market, and supermarkets like Tesco.
The solution could be a finance package for these upgrades that Pateman believes that only merchants could really provide – a specific, one-off account that covered all requirements for a renovation.
This reflected Pateman’s identification of RMI as the best prospect for the industry, but he said that the industry cannot be complacent.
“We’ve got to pull this RMI business through, and if we can’t do something to build that up, we’re in for a bloody bleak 2011,” he said.
It was not all doom and gloom at the conference however – delegates donated £176 between them to the Rainy Day Trust and took part in a quiz put together by the BMJ team on the Friday night, and conference chair Peter Worthington made light of the topics with his summaries.
“Well, Mick, you’ve finished a job on time,” he said at the end of Quickfall’s seminar. “Has that ever happened to you before?”
For full coverage of the event, see the December issue of BMJ.