Conference 2013: Back your people and be flexible, says Simon Blaxill

Published:  24 June, 2013

Simon Blaxill has been managing director of independent builders' merchant Kent Blaxill since 1989. One of East Anglia's top businesses, Kent Blaxill itself has been trading for 175 years, and now operates across Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk.

Simon Blaxill has been managing director of independent builders' merchant Kent Blaxill since 1989. One of East Anglia's top businesses, Kent Blaxill itself has been trading for 175 years, and now operates across Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk.

"A large amount of our business is in decorating and glass," said Mr Blaxill, "as well as plumbing, heating and building materials." Mr Blaxill said this kind of variety of product base is good for a business during a recession as it means the business is spread across a number of sectors, though he acknowledged that unless a company is careful, this could also lead to a lack of focus.

Addressing some of the market challenges that are facing the smaller builders' merchant, Mr Blaxill said that the long duration of this recession has changed the dynamics of the market.

"The big just get bigger," he said. "While independent merchants do have the buying groups, we can't ignore that the biggest can still buy best."

He also highlighted retail and online direct sales as a key challenge facing the market.

"So what about the opportunities?" he asked. "Independent merchants can be closer to our customers, offering the type of service that can itself lead to sales opportunities and new ideas. Smaller businesses can be more agile, and develop niche strengths that add real value for our customers."

When getting their own business 'fit for the future', Kent Blaxill examined Global Stone - a smaller business that is owned by but run entirely separately to Kent Blaxill. After a thorough examination of that business, Kent Blaxill was able to identify several key things that they could also apply to the larger merchant business.

The first, Mr Blaxill said, was empowerment. "Managers stand and fall by their decisions," he said. "If you have the right people, you have to back them."

Mr Blaxill continued that you also have to set standards for the business as a whole, and for the staff, creating set shared values that should challenge and inspire the company after carrying out specific - and effective - online research to get feedback from its customers. "You have to challenge yourselves," he warned. "There's no room for complacency."

Having a constant, accurate measure of sales, profit and loss was also key, and Mr Blaxill believes that every company should always know exactly what it makes.

After looking at the company, Kent Blaxill saw improvements that they could make to their business, and went on to employ a business manager dedicated to the decorative part of the company. It also identified benefits that a central distribution strategy could bring for both the business itself, and for its customers.

With a view to the online and digital market, the company has developed an online sales portal which it believes complements the main Kent Blaxill branches, rather than threatening them.

Kent Blaxill has also invested in staff recently, giving more control to individual branch managers and introducing customer care training, which resulted in staff having an increased desire to be more involved with the business.

These, Mr Blaxill said, were all ingredients that every merchant business should look at to find ways to make their businesses more flexible as the industry gears up for what lies ahead.

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.

Sign Up

For the Builders' Merchants News enewsletter.

In the spotlight

Recruitment

Builders Merchants Vacancies – UK Wide

We have vacancies all over the UK for those who work within the Building Supplies sector.

Guest Blog by Michael Barnett
A Bright future predicted for housing construction

One of the major talking points in the wake of the Brexit decision has been around the country’s current housing shortage with a YouGov poll from this year revealing that first time house buyers are now 38-years-old, on average.

Events Diary