Builders' Merchants News
Merchant profile: Good people create good business
Published:  09 May, 2017

Milford Building Supplies is taking its people-centred business into the digital age with new developments online and through social media. BMN finds out more.

Situated in Leeds, which has a local economy valued at around £21bn, Milford Building Supplies says its on-going development is centred around connecting with people.

“Suppliers, employees and customers: people are at all three points of the good business triangle. Our focus, dating back to our foundation almost 40 years ago, is on connecting and engaging with each of these groups to make business successful for everyone,” said chief executive officer Ken Coad.

Emerging from a family quarrying business, Milford Building Supplies came into being at the hand of current chairman John Middleton-Walker, who still plays a role in the business. The company now employs some 45 staff across two sites in the city.

“The stability of that family connection gives employees a positive view of Milford’s long-term future,” said Mr Coad. “Our approach to business is people-centred. Our employees, their fascination and enjoyment of their work, and their accumulated knowledge, make the biggest difference to our continuing development.”

Milford runs Employee of the Month and Employee of the Year schemes. Staff nominate and vote for the company’s annual local charity, and also help with fundraising.

“We also like them to enjoy work. We aim to have some fun through the year, like taking part in the BMF Master Merchant competition. It makes us all feel part of the industry’s community,” Mr Coad affirmed.

The management team at Milford has remained constant over many years, adding to the company’s feeling of stability. “The directors’ personal commitment to the business gives our staff confidence and encourages them to do their best. We have constantly re-invested in Milford, each time consolidating the gain before moving forward. Our YouTube video shows the building of our latest shed for storing plasterboard and insulation. We’ve also developed retail areas separately from our trade counters, and our trade customers recognise we’re still providing an undiluted level of service,” added Mr Coad.

A number of staff have been with the company for more than 20 years, which Mr Coad believes helps to create valuable, trusted relationships with customers and a solid basis for the business. “We have a very high footfall at both branches but our aim is always to offer personal service,” he said.

Training and diversity

The company is also looking to the future, starting to train its latest apprentice, and is interested in the BMF’s attempts to attract new young talent into the trade.

Mr Coad added: “The BMF has changed a lot over the years and its progress is encouraging companies like ours to use more of their facilities and programmes.”

Mr Coad also foresees a future where many more women are involved in merchanting: “We need a diverse staff base to service different types of customers. We currently have women present on our trade counter, in transport and on the admin side dealing with both suppliers and customers. We’re definitely looking to increase the proportion of women on our staff in all areas of the business.”

Strong on training, Milford currently has two employees undergoing the BMF Diploma, and others utilising BMF courses. Suppliers, too, are part of the training mix, and Milford holds monthly supplier training days that are open to employees from all parts of the business. “It’s important for everyone to have access to information,” said Mr Coad. “We all carry a piece of the good business puzzle. We pick up different levels of knowledge from suppliers then apply that knowledge as a team to better our business.”

The company also firmly believes that digital communication is essential to modern businesses.

“The website brings new customers to us and is available 24/7. We often find customers will come in with a picture of something they’ve printed off the internet in order to ask us questions and check on products and it helps that our whole range is online. We want to attract more retail trade as well as builders, so we’ve optimised the website for mobiles and tablets,” said Mr Coad.

“We use social media to tell the human story of our company. No business can stand still and we very much need to be present on social media. We want people to understand the personality of Milford Building Supplies, so we put our charity work, ideas and offers on Twitter and Facebook. It’s early days for us on social media, but it’s a useful means of widening our reputation for professional knowledge and local service.”

As to the future, Milford’s 2017 goal is to open a new plumbing and heating section in its branches, and the company has joined the BMF’s Plumbing & Heating Forum.

The company has also taken out a long lease on land adjacent to its site for potential development and has invested in new transport.

“If other opportunities for expansion present themselves we’ll certainly look at them,” Mr Coad concluded. “Right now, what matters to each and every one of us at Milford is a continued focus on serving the trade. It’s what’s stands us in good stead today and for the future.”