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If you cut us, do we not bleed?

Sometimes life can be deceiving
I’ll tell you one thing, it’s always better when we’re together

Way back in the mists of time, before t’internet took over our lives, when ‘blog’ was just a funny-sounding word, I wrote an Editor’s Comment about the fact that Travis Perkins, then the country’s 3rd largest builders merchant, had resigned from its own industry organisation.

In it, I wrote how sad it was that the BMF, an organisation that should have been at the heart of the industry, had managed to go so far awry that it had lost a long-standing, up-standing member.

I also wrote how sad it was that a company the size and calibre of Travis Perkins felt that it was better to follow industry politics rather than support a) the merchanting sector as a whole and b) the huge number of its own staff who put a great deal of their own time into making the membership work.

So I was very happy to be able to report on Thursday morning that Travis Perkins – the general merchanting element, not the entire group – along with sister brands Keyline and Rudridge, have rejoined the BMF.

This is good news because, as an industry, we really are better together. The BMF now has 500 members – suppliers and merchants – and can really be said to represent the bulk of the distribution sector.

This isn’t a case of TP just wanting to belong. It’s a recognition that the world it operates in has changed and that there are clear, defined business benefits from being a part of such an organisation.

The BMF is a completely different animal from what it was when TP resigned. As, indeed, is Travis Perkins, now the largest builders and plumbers merchant group, thanks to a steady policy of clever acquisitions up to, during and after the recession.

This isn’t the end of the story though. Far from it. This has to be the beginning of things. A trade federation has to work for all of its members, the large and the small, the recent joiners and the loyalists. It has to recognise that the world we operate in has changed and it needs to move, not just with the times, but probably ahead of them. If the organisation doesn’t do what it needs to for TP – and any of the other members – then it’s quite likely to lose members again.

Having said that, this isn’t a one-way street. Back in the day, Travis Perkins played a big part in the BMF at grass roots level. Both parties need to be committed to making this work, otherwise what’s the point?

This isn’t a matter of nationals or independents. It’s much more important than that. This is about a huge part of the construction industry supply speaking with one voice and fighting its corner together.

There are threats out there to the sector that have nothing to do with being a national chain or an independent business. And with no representation for the sector on the refocused Construction Leadership Council, it looks like the Government is one of those threats.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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