There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered. Nelson Mandela
The cliché goes that a week is a long time in politics, so it ought to follow that a year is a very long time in merchanting. Not so it seems. I’ve returned from 13 months on maternity leave to find that many, many things about the industry are exactly as I left them.
The top merchants are still in the same ranking in terms of turnover, independents are still fighting their corner against the bigger players with varying degrees of success and the independent buying groups are still developing fast to help their members.
Some things have changed of course: Travis Perkins have added a seventh specialist notch to their business belt with the acquisition of Tile Giant and then Tile It All, as well as taking a further step into the online world with the purchase of Toolstation. Wolseley have finished their quite splendid Sustainable Building Center, Grafton restructured their UK operations to achieve closer integration and it was very heartening to see that two of the largest merchants, Jewson and PTS, decided to rejoin the Builders Merchants Federation. Saint Gobain bought Gibbs and Dandy but pulled the UK plug on Platform, although things there have been slightly overshadowed by the news of Jewson’s slight internal difficulties.
On the buying group front, it was nice to see that both Unimer and NMBS are continuing to achieve successful results for their members, while NBG and Cemco are clearly on course to make some major waves in their bid to do the best for their members. Bradfords and MKM caused a raised eyebrow or two with their decision to leave CBA and Cemco and set up LIMA and the merger of WBM and H&B shows that the changes in this sector are by no means over.
I was sorry to have to say goodbye to Chris Harris when he sold his family business to Travis Perkins, but understand his reasons completely. On the other hand, it’s lovely to hear about other independents continuing to develop: Robert Price with their insulation and dry-lining centre, Ridgeons and RGB with their new branches, Huws Gray with their purchase of Chesworth, JT Dove with their new division, LBS with their latest branch and countless others which I don’t have room to name.
Of course, one thing that has changed in a year is the state of the market, but that’s for another comment.
It’s good to be back.