As we come out of recession it’s more important than ever to have a merchant only policy. Simon Turner, sales director at Wrekin Products, talks to Professional Builders Merchant about how it benefits both merchants and manufacturers
Merchant only policy
When Wrekin Products started manufacturing manhole covers over 30 years ago it made a decision to only sell through merchants. When we first made this decision we could not have predicted how important it would become. Over the last recession we’ve seen the effects of some real underhand moves from manufacturers taking business from merchants to deal direct for short term margin gain with little or no regard for the long term.
The prolonged recession has brought with it many side effects. The Builder’s Merchant market has seen big changes. There have been mergers and acquisitions as well companies leaving the market. Most companies have been affected over the last few years.
As these changes happened, key personnel moved and long term relationships broke down. There was a high level of temptation for manufacturers to deal direct with developers and major contractors to protect their position in the market. The strong relationships merchants have with clients can be undermined when suppliers take products away and do deals direct, often supplying bulk themselves and handing smaller, awkward deliveries back to the merchant trade.
As manufacturers we took an opposing view. We looked at ways to support merchant customers more. As the construction sector was squeezed, pressure was on to cut costs. As a manufacturer and supplier we’ve been busy bringing in new innovative products to help save costs during the construction stage and over the whole of the product’s life.
An example of how Wrekin Products tackled this head on is the way it reacted to the growing problem of metal thieves targeting manhole covers. Working closely with councils as well as merchants meant we were able to create a fast temporary fix to ensure roads were opened quickly, as well as a long term answer with anti-theft covers.
This is exactly what happened when Jon Worrall from Bradfords Building Supplies in Dorchester called Wrekin Products in to help one of its long term customers, Dorset County Council. They knew the extent of the theft problem the local authority was facing, so they introduced Wrekin Products’ technical sales manager Barry Turner to offer a practical answer. In Jon’s words: “Barry did a cracking job demonstrating to the Council how using Wrekin Products Tri-Way anti-theft gully grate in conjunction with Multigrate temporary grates can provide a cost effective solution to the theft problem.”
And it’s these relationships that work for both merchant and manufacturer. But if the trust isn’t there the opportunities don’t come up. Wrekin Products has a merchant only policy. Jon explains the importance of this to merchants: “Because Wrekin Products only sell through builders’ merchants this gave me the confidence to call them in. We are now talking to other customers about Tri-Way, Multigrate and some of its other innovative products.”
It works the other way too. Where Wrekin Products talks directly to major contractors, developers and specifiers, the final order is placed through a merchant partner. This often means the whole transaction is performed with the stock going direct to site on behalf of the merchant. Working together gives Wrekin Products opportunities to design product solutions for companies. Unite, the best selling high performance manhole cover giving far lower whole-of-life costs, was originally developed with Thames Water and is now specified across the UK and supplied through builders’ merchants. Wrekin Products’ relationship with major utilities such as Thames Water and Yorkshire Water also bring benefits to the merchants.
Armon Williams at Huws Gray agrees: “The merchant only policy allows us to work closely with Wrekin Products. The support from them is very, very good. They are a key supplier and always available to help.”
There are also practical reasons to maintain a merchant only policy that can’t be ignored. It gives us national distribution, local stocking and we benefit from the strong relationships merchants have with their customers. We believe the strength of our relationship with builders’ merchants is core to the business and will continue to support our distributors in winning more business with end users.