todayFebruary 15, 2022
During his 30-plus years of working in the construction sector it is safe to say that Jeff Smith, Managing Director of Scotland’s Keith Builders Merchants Ltd (KBM), has pretty much seen it all, particularly as he now has experience of tackling the challenges associated with a global pandemic. That he’s been nominated as one of the BMF’s Top 100 Merchant Influencers will therefore come as no surprise to anyone, although he was caught slightly unaware by the news himself.
“It was certainly unexpected and I’ve never been described as an influencer before, other than perhaps being a ‘bad influence’!” says Jeff. “I knew that the BMF were promoting the initiative but didn’t pay too much attention until I was invited via email to get involved and attend a presentation. I know the majority of the other nominees, particularly as several are in the same buying group, and I’m definitely amongst good company. You can’t be in the building trade for over 30 years and not get to know everybody. There’s no hiding place!
“To get nominated I’ve obviously been doing something right in order to make friends and influence people somewhere down the line, which can only be a good thing.”
This has certainly been the case, as over the past three decades Jeff has helped develop KBM from a single branch with just ten employees into a two-branch operation supported by 50 employees, backed all the while by a loyal customer base.
“During this time I’ve seen many significant changes, both across the wider marketplace and within KBM,” highlights Jeff. “We have grown considerably to the point where we’re reaching saturation point in the North-East of Scotland. Of course Covid has caused issues and led to the introduction of various changes and processes that have taken some getting used to. Social media and websites are always touted as `the way forward’ and while they have an important role to play, thankfully it remains a very personal face-to-face industry, which is where our strengths continue to lie. People buy from people.
“We also continue to enjoy many benefits from the link with the BMF, particularly in the training and education of our employees, while we’ve fully embraced the networking opportunities they’re able to offer. We attend their events and support them the best we can.”
For KBM, staff and customer safety is always paramount and never more so than from 23 December 2020 when lockdown was enforced in Scotland. The company closed completely for a few weeks before opening on a very restricted basis with its premises closed to customers and orders being taken to be either delivered on its own vehicles or laid outside its yard for customers to collect at preset times. At all times both staff and customers were kept fully informed of the new opening times and processes for safe collection and/or delivery.
“The guidance the BMF provided on Covid was particularly useful during lockdown and Jon Newcomb and his team were continually on the phone giving us regular updates as the situation changed on an almost daily basis. As a small independent merchant it would have been much more difficult to get through this period without this level of support. They always say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and this has proven to be the case thankfully! It was a real eye-opener though.”
Aside from lockdown, another challenge KBM had to contend with recently was the national supply chain issue, although this thankfully didn’t prove to be as problematic as it could have been, as Jeff outlines: “We were fortunate that the materials shortage did not affect us too much due to the strong trading partnerships we have developed with manufacturers and distributors over a number of years. Being part of the National Buying Group (NBG), which is the premier buying group for independent merchants offering unbeatable national coverage for suppliers, was the main reason for this. This meant we had pre-agreed agreements for continuous supply of stock that put us in a very strong position.”
“The market is no longer faced with the extremely high levels of demand for products, such as timber and sheet materials, therefore the monthly price increases on these have eased slightly. We will pass these savings to our customers as soon as they become available to us.”
Prior to the Covid pandemic, around 99% of KBM’s business was purely trade, but lockdown brought a surge in demand for the likes of decking and fencing as the home improvement market took off. “Even though the trade business is back, which is great, our continued growth will be based on retaining the DIY and home improvement customers. It’s a completely different market and we’re working hard to cater for its needs and requirements. We’ve also built a good customer base with landscapers and even started selling premade summerhouses and garden sheds. We`ll be looking to build on this in 2022 and are already promoting summerhouses on our website www.kbmshop.co.uk.”
Having so successfully rolled with the punches that the pandemic has swung at it, KBM has plenty to look forward to in the year ahead, although Jeff is refusing to get too carried away, even with the prospect of being named a BMF Top 100 Influencer potentially on the horizon.
“In the short term we simply need to manage our expectations for 2022,” concludes Jeff. “The huge demand for materials is no longer present, so we`ll be more efficient by managing stock and offering our customers the absolute best trading experience they can hope for. It’s maybe old fashioned but that`s how we`ve always operated, so we will continue to forge strong trading relationships with our customers and work hard to ensure their every expectation is met.”
This is certainly a formula that has worked well for KBM in the past and is sure to again in 2022 and beyond.
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