Builders' Merchants News

Terry Parker: sharing information and increasing influence.

2012 heralds big changes for BMF

Published:  06 April, 2012

Big changes from the Builders’ Merchants Federation will mean better service for its members. National chairman Terry Parker, board directors and supplier members explain why, when and how the Federation is moving forward.

A membership survey has pushed forward a number of far-reaching changes to the structure of the Builders’ Merchants Federation. The changes are necessary if the organisation is to meet the current demands and requirements of the market it serves.

The Federation confirmed new merchant subscription rates from 1 April 2012, which will see a large reduction in costs for most members.

Membership fees will fall by approximately 30% or more for many merchants, with no reduction in the services they most value. Other types of membership – for suppliers, distributors and service members are largely unchanged.

The BMF’s re-launch will see its headquarters moving from London to a central Midlands location, as well as renewed emphasis on the activities that are most valued by members, namely training, support services and government lobbying.

BMF is seeking a site in the area that lies between the M40 and M6 – Warwick, Leamington, Coventry. “We want to choose a location that will be easier for people coming up from the South,” said national chairman Terry Parker. This part of the country is also an area where the BMF has traditionally held its Members’ Day, he pointed out.

This strategy was not without its casualties. BMF managing director, Chris Pateman, opted to take voluntary redundancy and left BMF at the end of December 2011.

A new managing director was being sought as Builders’ Merchants News went to press.

In the short-term, Mr Parker said he would cover the role on a part-time basis until a new MD could be found with the assistance of BMF secretary Peter Matthews who has confirmed that he will continue to work for BMF for a period of time after the move to ensure continuity within the business.

Other staff members who might not be able to relocate would leave the Federation during 2012.

“Services may possibly be disrupted over the coming months, as we prepare for the move and the implementation of changes,” Mr Parker explained.

However, training will continue uninterrupted and John Stephenson has pledged to carry on selling courses. Members voted for BMF to continue its lobbying with the UK Government but to cease its involvement with the EU.

“Our members want us to work more closely with other organisations like the Construction Products Association and to share information to increase our influence, but to reduce or eliminate involvement with organisations who have little relevance to the industry,” Mr Parker commented.

“As a result, policy manager Brett Amphlett will be occupying an office in London near the old location and close to other organisations like the CPA and Westminster which is where he needs to be.

“We have listened to you, our members, and following a period of enquiry and reflection, the BMF board has put together a dynamic and robust roadmap strategy in order to take the Federation forward positively with immediate effect.”

All this, Mr Parker said, would create “a new BMF that is in good shape, has energy and commitment to members’ interests and is ready to address the issues of the day for the entire industry”.

In June 2011, new elections to the BMF’s board brought in two new members: Stewart Pierce from Parker Building Supplies and Stephen Thompstone of Grafton Merchanting. They joined Allan Bartlett of Keith Building Supplies, Neil Lawrence of Jewson, Paul Hetherington of Alumasc and honorary treasurer Stephen Vickers of Turnbull & Co.

“BMF had a strategy for change in place when we joined,” says Mr Pierce. “Within a week, the new board made the decision that we had to do something major – and fast – in order to arrest the decline in membership and put a halt to the apathy which had started to engulf the BMF. This was not helped by the demand on member companies to reduce their overheads, in view of the economic climate.”

Fortunately, members of the board gelled immediately, Mr Pierce says. “The new board produced not just a plan, but a complete strategy to take the BMF forward and make it fit for purpose in order to be at the forefront and lead the industry.”

The move to the West Midlands is part of the board’s core strategy. “This area is the centre of the universe as far as the merchant industry is concerned,” Mr Pierce observes. “Our thoughts were that as we redefine what the BMF stands for, its new location would provide a significant pool of talent from which to recruit as the organisation reinvents itself.

“The sale of BMF’s Soho Square premises, which is hoped will be finalised in February, will raise a

substantial amount of cash that can be judiciously invested into new premises.

“However, BMF will still maintain a London presence in view of its extensive lobbying activities.

“Our entire strategy hinges on dynamics,” Mr Pierce points out. “Mass membership is therefore vital. It gives higher visibility and prominence and provides true and full representation for the industry. The partnering with organisations such as NMBS and Unimer could provide the key in order to achieve this very important goal.

“Much has been put into place already. At the same time we have also continued to speak out on major issues affecting the industry, but time is needed in order to refine and develop specific areas of the business. The changes that continue to sweep through industry in general are being addressed. What we need is for all merchants to share and buy into our vision.

“The services we provide and stand for, together with the messages we will promote going forward, need to be trumpeted to the industry,” Mr Pierce stated.

There are also big alterations to the training offer, he explained. “With the new, outsourced training operation, BMF will no longer be forced to pay for that department’s downtime. That means it can channel its revenue stream into more courses as and when members required them.

“They need to be marketed and branded differently so that they appeal to a much wider section of the membership base,” Mr Pierce added.

Behind the scenes, the board is also working feverishly to renew the Federation’s contact with former long-term BMF members.

Stewart Pierce: mass membership is vital.

“The industry’s annual overseas conference is an event that has always historically been associated with BMF. I would hope to see the BMF playing a full and proper part of this event, going forward,” Mr Pierce stated.

Acheson & Glover is a new supplier member of the BMF. Commercial director Stuart Cook provides a fresh view of where he believes the Federation should be moving.

“There are far too many people lobbying on behalf of the construction industry – sometimes even associations one has never heard of. This dilutes the voice of the sector and there is only one message which everyone is trying to get across – that there should be more investment in construction,” he says.

“Everybody is coming at it from a different angle and I don’t think that the Government really knows what we are saying as an industry.”

The Government’s pipeline of projects, which it has put on the internet, is asking for the industry’s response. This, said Mr Cook, is probably because government is unsure of whom it should speak to as a single voice within the industry.

One umbrella organisation should act as the lobbying voice for construction, he stated “The BMF can be affiliated to that, rather than attempting to do the same job, in my opinion.”

Mr Cook is also concerned about the lack of clear objectives between what the BMF publishes on its website and what it is actually working on. “There do not appear to be any aligned goals; rather, BMF appears to be jumping in on anything that it can get involved in.

“The board should concentrate on ensuring that BMF removes any of the threats which its members may encounter in doing more business in the future. Two big threats, merchants tell me, are internet trading and the sheds muscling in on their business through the Green Deal.

“BMF should focus on telling members about the opportunities to grow their business and help them make the most of those opportunities. They would say, for example, that it has been finding out information on the Green Deal and lobbying Government. But merchants should be actively getting involved, selling and preparing for the Green Deal like Tesco, M&S and B&Q and not just lobbying as if action starts in October. It’s already started and it isn’t just a Green Deal market – it’s a Green Homes market. All merchants will lose out if they’re not in it. The BMF should be at the centre of this, driving it and not just lobbying.

“BMF must also focus on education and training in order to add value – particularly when it comes to the internet. For suppliers, it can be difficult to source good training for our sales team that is specific to our industry. BMF has some very good training packages and we would be very keen to participate. But, training is expensive and many of the courses are held in London.

“BMF should also tell its members about the support they can get through government grants. This should be actively marketed to members.

“As far as suppliers are concerned, we don’t feel we are getting a lot from our membership,” he commented. “The impression is BMF wants suppliers to fund its activities, but not to play an active role.

“In my view, the rise of the buying groups, which more actively engage in a dialogue with manufacturers, might undermine the very existence of the BMF. Many of the things I am advocating are already being undertaken by these groups,” he added.

In a recession, the temptation is always to cut services. “Everybody has to be careful not to cut back too much, or there will be nothing left that is worthwhile, “ Mr Cook stated.

There’s a new era of transparency and openness emanating from the BMF, said board director Paul Hetherington, the managing director of Alumasc Building Products: “The most important thing for me as a supplier member is to have a vibrant membership.

“The BMF must gain members and what we are all about is mass membership. We must get more members in order to become more meaningful as an organisation, moving forward.”

Mr Hetherington believes BMF has a number of ways to deliver this objective. “We started positively with the survey of what our members want. We received a slew of comments and suggestions which we are now acting on,” he added. Already changed are the “too high” subscription charges (see panel below).

“Training must also be maintained and strengthened,” he said. “Members also commented that the Soho Square premises had served their purpose and that London was not necessarily the correct location for BMF’s HQ. It was not an easy place to get to at certain peak times and it was felt that it gave everything a very London-centric view, when most BMF members were based outside the capital.”

BMF, Mr Hetherington continued, also needs a definitive identity and strategy. The move to the Midlands will reduce running costs. It will also make BMF more accessible to all merchants, he added.

The appointment of a new managing director is already under way to replace Chris Pateman, who decided not to relocate and chose to resign before the Christmas holidays.

“Chris has been a fantastic advocate for BMF and the person we are looking for must be of the right calibre,” Mr Hetherington stated.

Meanwhile, the drive is on to build a growing membership. “Once that starts to happen, all things are possible.”

A recruitment advertisement for the position of new MD has been sent out to all the merchant trade publications, and their e-newsletters.

A public relations consultancy has been appointed to enable BMF to be more transparent. “We need to be more meaningful and to reflect what our members want us to be and to do on their behalf. We have not always been able to get that right; now we have an opportunity to do this,” Mr Hetherington said.

There has already been very positive feedback about the new subscription fees. Also positive has been the importance members attach to the scope and scale of UK lobbying which BMF has been undertaking on their behalf.

“UK lobbying is crucial and the merchant’s route in the supply chain needs to be at the front and centre.

“Getting MPs together with merchants has been a powerful programme which BMF has been running all last year, with great success.”

This feature first appeared in the December/January 2012 issue of Builders' Merchants News.

Paul Hetherington: training must be streamlined.