Included in this article:

  • downloadable database of buyers
  • current state of the market
  • marketing to clients
  • journals & product directories
  • exhibitions and awards
  • list of buying group contacts

Our downloadable database includes details of named buyers/purchasers at over 280 of the UK's largest builders merchant chains (incudes specialists and distributors), which, combined, account for over 10,000 individual branches across the country. This was last updated in Summer 2021.

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Since the last update, there have been many changes in the sector including mergers, sales and buy-outs. Readers will have noticed many of these in the trade press, including notable reports such as:

This latest edition of our Builders’ Merchant Buyers Database reflects these and many other changes, including contact names, business cessations, address changes, etc. New entries have been introduced, where appropriate. The database covers only the industry's chains (defined as those with more than one branch), so local, single-branch firms, have, in general, been omitted. All the firms that appear in the latest Top 20 league table published by Professional Builders Merchant and the 30 Leading Lights table within Builders Merchant News have been included and indicated accordingly.

In addition to the contact name, the information for each entry also includes the number of branches for each firm, the primary activity (i.e. heavyside, lightside, timber, etc.), address, telephone number, website and email address (over 75% are name-specific to buyer, the remainder being generic - info@, etc.). We have also now included the social media links (where possible) for LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

The Market

Industry research indicates that, in recent years, consolidation in the sector has resulted in 5 major groups accounting for an estimated 75% of the market. Overall, the merchants offer an extensive range, dominated by traditional building products. Plumbing and drainage account for around 17%, and heating and ventilation for around 15%, with other product sectors commanding smaller shares. Buying groups (see below) continue to play an important role in the market, not least because it remains highly price-sensitive affected by product availability, raw material and fuel costs.

In February 2021, the 'Builders Merchant Building Index' (BMBI) published data for the previous year, and total merchant sales for 2020 finished -10.7.% below the figure for 2019. In terms of the individual product categories, only one, landscaping, saw an increase in sales (+5.4%). All other categories witnessed falls, led by Tools (-20.2%) with Plumbing, Heating & Electrical (-19.1%) just behind. Year-on-year falls were seen in other categories, including Kitchens and Bathrooms (-18.1%), Decorating (-16.5%), Ironmongery (-14.7%), Heavy Building Materials (-11.5%), and Timber and Joinery Products (-9.5%).

Of course, little store can be placed on the value of the 2020 sales data vs 2019 data because the explanation for the fall is the Covid-19 pandemic, which has so significantly distorted trade that the comparison has little meaning. Of perhaps more significance is the late 2020/early 2021 data, showing a robust rebound in the sector. The headlines for BMBI’s quarterly reports provide a very good snapshot on the current state of the sector:

Q3 2020: Builders Merchants Sales Confirm Strong V-Shaped Recovery

Q4 2020: Positive Trend Continues

Q1 2021: Extraordinary Recovery for Builders’ Merchants’ Sales

Q2 2021: Record June Delivers Record Breaking Sales for Merchants

The BMBI is a brand of the Builders Merchant Federation (BMF), launched and managed by MRA Marketing. It provides sales comparisons for the key individual product groups, such as Heavy Building Materials, Ironmongery, Plumbing, Heating & Electrical, Kitchens & Bathrooms, etc. Separate to this, the Builders Merchants Federation (BMF) publishes annual Merchant Industry Forecasts to help those involved in building materials supply to plan for the future. It is available free of charge to members and can be purchased by non-members.

In April 2021, the BMF and the Institute of Builders’ Merchants announced their intention to merge. The BMF is the main trade association representing builders’ merchants and their suppliers in the UK and Ireland. As of August 2021, membership comprised 760 merchant and supplier companies who, together, had combined sales of £39bn and employed over 207,000 people in the building materials industry.

Marketing to Clients

Needless to say, one of the greatest influences on the merchant sector’s product selection and purchasing choices is client demand, so generating interest amongst the trades which use merchants is highly important and it is worth a brief digression. In 2019, the construction marketing agency, CIB, surveyed over 800 building tradespeople about a range of topics.

These included where they buy materials, how they find out about new products, i.e. usage of trade magazines and websites, etc. National merchants and wholesalers were found to be the most common place for builders, plumbers, electricians and plasterers to buy materials: the full commentary on the results provides details and is a worthwhile read for those marketing to the sector. Interestingly, when it came to finding out about new products, the survey found that “…there is not one source that is significantly more important than others. Tradespeople get new product information from a mix of different sources with trade press, merchants’ staff, web research, social media and recommendations from friends or colleagues all scoring similarly.”

Whilst across all the trades surveyed some 44% said that they find out about new products from merchant staff, it was clear that trade publications also play a significant role.

Online product research and selection by tradespeople has been increasing over many years (the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated this). In 2020, international research firm L.E.K. Consulting published the results of its survey of UK contractors and trades people, which demonstrated that “….digital channels were already becoming ubiquitous for researching, comparing products and ordering across building product categories.” The commentary for the survey posits that “…..for product manufacturers, this is a significant development. No longer can they afford to rely on traditional relationships with builder’s merchants, specialist distributors and DIY stores. Now, ecommerce leaders, such as Screwfix and even Amazon, present real alternatives to physical stores….” The survey’s findings included:

  • 80% of building contractors and tradespeople regularly using smartphones for work, checking prices and availability, gathering product information and assessing product quality.
  • A key use of the technology is online research before placing an order.
  • For planned purchases of heavy materials, the most common research activities are gathering product information (69%) and comparing prices (54%)
  • Contractors and tradespeople are less likely to gather product information before planned purchases of light materials, given the frequent nature of purchases and familiar suppliers. However, they are more likely to compare prices online (around 65% do so for light materials).

The full results of the survey and L.E.K. Consulting’s commentary and analysis provides some valuable insights for product manufacturers and suppliers and suggests ‘Five steps to gain value from digital disruption’. Visit the L.E.K website here.

Journals, Product Directories & Other Media/Options

Key in-print (and digital) journals covering the sector include Builders’ Merchants News, Professional Builders Merchant, and Builders Merchants Journal, all of which include owners, directors and branch managers in their readerships. These are included in our downloadable index of 350+ UK construction industry journals, which, apart from identifying other relevant titles, includes media data such as circulation, readership profiles, sales contacts, etc. In order to support the PR activities of our clients, the index also includes named editorial contacts at each of the journals, which includes editorial-specific email addresses for each.

Builders’ Merchants News also publishes a weekly e-newsletter, which includes advertising options and an annual wall planner (also with advertising options), which is circulated to individual merchant branches across the UK. Builders Merchants Journal also provides an e-newsletter with advertising options.

A relatively recent option is BMN Presents, a bespoke video interview that is then embedded into the digital edition of the journal and distributed across other channels, providing the manufacturers with a new opportunity to introduce products to the sector. On the subject of new product introduction, it is also worth mentioning here that, for the roofing sub-sector, the journal Roofing Today provides a ‘Product Road Test’ service (details available in the media pack – email the Sales Department), whereby they introduce products to a series of key contractors, ask them to use them in projects and then ask a series of questions. The results are editorialised in a two-page spread in the journal.

In terms of product directories, our dedicated feature provides a comprehensive index, but it is worth highlighting the National Merchant Buying Society’s own Buyers’ Guide, which is used by merchant buyers and branch managers.

Exhibitions and Awards

There are over 280 construction exhibitions detailed in our UK Construction Exhibition Calendar, but it is worth highlighting the Jewson Live event which is held each December at the NEC (at the time of writing, the post pandemic edition has not been announced), the National Painting and Decorating Show, and also the National Merchant Buying Society's annual exhibition, which is a dedicated and key event in the independent merchant buyer's calendar. There are also the Professional Builder Tool Fair and Screwfix Live.

The sector also has a number of awards offering suppliers promotional opportunities through sponsorship, such as the Builders Merchants Awards and the BMJ Industry Awards. Our comprehensive list of industry awards ceremonies offering sponsorship opportunities can be viewed separately here.

Buying Groups

Independent builders’ merchants are often members of buying groups or consortiums, which offer them commercial advantages. The following are such groups:

Fegime UK
Email: via website
Web: http://fegime.co.uk/
Contact name: Alan Reynolds, Chief Executive Officer
No. Member Firms: Electrical wholesalers & distributors across UK (also Europe)

FORTIS Merchants Ltd
Email: via website
Web: https://www.fortismerchants.co.uk/
Contact name: Will O'Meara, Director of Operations
No. Member Firms: 41 member companies across the UK (approx 380 branches)

H&B Group
Tel: +44 (0) 1923 677724
Email: martin.mansfield@handbgroup.com
Web: https://www.handbgroup.com/
Contact name: Martin Mansfield, Development Group Manager
No. Member Firms: 80

The IPG – (Independent Plumbing Group)
Tel: +44 (0) 1903 771699
Email: Via website
Web: https://www.the-ipg.co.uk/suppliers/
Contact name: Nike Lovell, Head of Marketing

Independent Buying Consortium
Tel: +44 (0) 20 3195 7957
Email: sales@ibcbuyinggroup.com
Web: https://www.ibcbuyinggroup.com/suppliers-2-2/
Contact name: Paul Read, Managing Director

National Buying Group
Email: Via website
Web: https://www.nationalbuyinggroup.com/
Contact name: Nick Oates, Managing Director

National Merchant Buying Society
Tel: +44 (0) 116 253 0531
Email: andy.hextall@nmbs.co.uk
Web: https://www.nmbs.co.uk/
Contact name: Andy Hextall, Commercial Director
In 2021, NMBS announced the launch of its Product Information Management system (PIM) as part of its OnePlace B2B trading platform which allows suppliers to upload data for their whole product range in one central location. Merchants can then view this data on the platform to help research and choose which products to stock, as well as to fulfil their own customer orders. Details may be found here.

PHG Plumbing Heating Group
Tel: +44 (0) 1543 440000
Email: Via website
Web: https://www.phg.uk.com/
Contact name: David Pochin, Chairman

SMG (for flooring)
Tel: +44 (0) 118 932 3832
Email: info@smg-group.co.uk
Web: https://www.smg-group.co.uk/
Contact name: Not disclosed