Conference 2013: Invest for the future, says Andy Williamson

Published:  24 June, 2013

IKO's managing director, Andy Williamson, opened the second day of the conference by explaining what his company, along with many other manufacturers, have been doing over the past few years to make sure that their businesses are Fit for the Future.

IKO's managing director, Andy Williamson, opened the second day of the conference by explaining what his company, along with many other manufacturers, have been doing over the past few years to make sure that their businesses are Fit for the Future.

"Five years ago the market became challenging," he said. "Our industry has had a major wake-up call and hit some very tough times, but it can't afford to panic. Manufacturers in particular have been squeezed between the rising price of raw materials, and customers who want to pay less for their products."

This need to cut prices has flowed through the whole supply chain, he said, with builders and tradespeople expecting their merchants to reduce their prices as well as merchants looking for better deals from suppliers.

But Mr Williamson was optimistic for the future. "Builders' merchants and suppliers need to weather the problem together," he said. "It might take time, but housebuilding and infrastructure will get better."

To ensure that IKO was ready for the tough times the industry has seen in recent years, the company has looked closely at ways to reduce wastage inside the business, as well as reducing lead times and improving its communication both internally between departments, as well as with its customers.

"We wanted to give our customers a better commitment," he said, "and to get that from our customers in return."

He urged other businesses to do the same, and that even the simplest changes - such as making sure electrical equipment was on standby when not in use, and that lights get turned off automatically at the end of the day and at weekends - can make a major contribution to cutting costs.

IKO has also invested in developing new products, and looked for new market sectors to get involved with, and is expanding into the pitched roofing market with a new artificial slate range. "It's encumbent on all of us to try new things," he said. "If you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got," he warned.

Introducing new products that bring added value to the market also mean higher price points, he said, which allows merchant customers to add and improve their own margins in turn.

Mr Williamson also highlighted how important it is to invest in your own staff. "It's amazing some of the ideas that come from the grass roots," he said.

IKO has introduced more apprenticeships to the company, along with a graduate scheme. "When sales got tough we didn't fire the sales team," he said. "Instead, we employed more sales people and technical engineers - you need people out there when things get tough."

The company has also invested heavily in its infrastructure, upgrading plant equipment and factories so that the company is ready for whatever comes next. "We've spent five years futureproofing our business," Mr Williamson concluded. "Investing heavily to make sure we're the first to be ready when the opportunities arrive."

For a full report on this year's BMF All-Industry Conference, don't forget to read the July/August issue of Builders' Merchants News.

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