Chris Hiscock, operations director of the Sydenhams Group.

Exploring synergies with IBMF

Published:  22 October, 2010

New products, proactive representatives, market trends and training were just some of the topics raised by industry professionals at this year’s Independent Builders’ Merchants Forum (IBMF) in Warwickshire last month.

The IBMF, now in its seventh year, is organised by brick manufacturer Ibstock. The event brings independent builders’ merchants from across the UK together to discuss industry issues and share concerns to change the future of the sector for the better.

The last 18 months have been some of the most challenging the industry has ever faced, so unsurprisingly, the emerging green shoots in the sector were at the top of everyone’s agenda. This year’s event examined ideas about how brick manufacturers and independent merchants could work toget-her to increase profit and ensure a brighter future for all.

John Richards, sales and marketing director of Ibstock, commented: “With a record number of delegates, this year’s conference has been our most successful to-date. The two days were devoted to debate and like everyone who attended we will be using what we have learned to develop and improve our business activities and the service we deliver.”

For the second year running, a key topic deemed significant by the delegates was training. It was widely agreed that for independent merchants, training is an essential tool that helps them give better end-user advice and ultimately sell more products. Training programmes such as those offered by Ibstock were widely applauded for ensuring that independent merchants have all the information they need to confidently and efficiently sell.

An area which stood out as being in need of more training was special shapes. Everyone agreed that lightweight sample libraries and displays would be a great tool to maximise knowledge, and therefore selling capabilities, of specials. Ibstock pledged to provide extra support for this.

One of the highlights of the event was a presentation by Andy Batterham, design and innovation manager at Ibstock, who introduced two new products, SUDS pavers and BrickShield to delegates, giving them an exclusive insight into how they work and how they benefit the merchant.

Since October 2008, the use of SUDS surface finishes has become a legal requirement for many driveways joining the public highway. Mr Batterham explained that Ibstock has launched a new range of stock brick pavers for drives and patios that are SUDS compliant, allowing run-off of excess water during heavy rain.

Claimed to be the only clay stock paver of its kind, they are designed to be bedded on a suitable permeable aggregate substrate and the joints filled with 2.5-6mm gravel. This design makes them water permeable and compliant with new legislation.

The second innovation was BrickShield, which Ibstock co-developed with Rockwool. This insulated external wall cladding system allows solid wall constructions to be insulated, while still maintaining the traditional brick finish characteristic of Britain’s built environment.

The new system has been designed for the renovation and thermal insulation of both domestic and commercial existing buildings. It combines an attractive brick slip from Ibstock with a highly durable insulation board from Rockwool to give the appearance of traditional brick, while delivering U-values as low as 0.25 W/m2K or better and eliminating cold bridging.

Martyn Rees, managing director at County Building Supplies, commented: “As a lot of our customers’ businesses rely heavily on government projects, so any cut-backs play a big part in trade and significantly affect us across the industry.

“However, I am still positive about the future of the industry and certainly think that the outlook is brighter. I predict a 20% increase in ex-depot sales in 2010 compared to 2009.

“This was my first year at the IBMF and it was very worthwhile. As well as having interesting, lively content, Ibstock answered our questions and gave a genuine insight into how it will improve processes based on our suggestions. I will definitely be attending next year.”

Lauren Haines, director at Elliott Brothers, commented: “Coming out of a recession is always tough but the beginning of this year has been particularly difficult due to the weather. It is important that as things pick up, manufacturers work hard to ensure there isn’t then a shortage, which could slow things down again.

“I think this is the fourth or fifth time I have been to the IBMF and I have to say it is still as useful and relevant as ever. The Ibstock team put a lot of effort into the day. I particularly find their talks on market trends and the state of the industry extremely beneficial as they explain things in a way that makes sense to everyone.”

Chris Hiscock, operations director at Sydenhams, commented: “I feel that it will be 2012 before things really pick up. This year will continue to bump along on somewhat of a knife edge and factors including the weather, the World Cup and the financial dilemma played their part.

“I feel that training staff to be know-ledgeable is still a fundamental part of growth and success for independent merchants. I try to take advantage of training as much as possible as it gives me and my staff a real advantage over our competitors.

“It has been another really enjoyable and useful day and I am already looking forward to next year’s event.

“I find this to be a worthwhile exercise and year on year it is always great to see Ibstock taking on board our comments and really doing something about them to assist both the independent merchants and themselves by laying foundations for the future to build on.”

Martyn Rees, managing director of County Building Supplies.

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