The BMF is celebrating a number of milestone anniversaries this year. PBM reflects on the history and development of the merchant sector’s representative body.
This year, the BMF is celebrating two major historical milestones and a third more recent, landmark in its history. As demonstrated by the commemorative logo it has been using this year, its heritage stretches back to 2nd April 1908 with the formation of the Builders Merchants Alliance — the first trade organisation to have the words ‘builders merchants’ in its title.
A name change to the Builders Suppliers Credit Association followed in 1936, whilst other trade bodies emerged in the ensuing years — the British Federation of Plumbers Merchants in 1938, and the predominantly northern-based Building Industry Distributors in 1942. The BFPM and BID came together with the BSCA (which remained operational as a specialist subsidiary for some time) to create the National Federation of Builders and Plumbers Merchants in 1961.
Fast forward a few more years to 1978, and the NFBPM made the decision to change its name to the Builders Merchants Federation.
As well as the 40th anniversary of its inception as the BMF and 110 years as a trade body, it is also five years since the organisation relocated from its former base in London’s Soho Square (initially purchased in 1975) to its current, more centrally-located and modern headquarters in Coventry.
Today’s BMF describes itself as being “the only organisation that represents and protects the interests of builders merchants, plumbing, heating, roofing, decorative and timber merchants and their suppliers” with a statement on its website continuing: “We are the authoritative voice for the building materials distribution sector, conveying the views and issues that face merchants and suppliers, to the widest possible audience.”
In terms of the scale of its representation, as of July 2018, total membership stands at 650 merchant and supplier companies who together have combined sales of £29.5bn and employ over 114,000 people in the building materials industry. BMF’s 344 merchant members operate in over 5,614 branches across the UK and Ireland, encompassing most of the sector’s biggest names in addition to many smaller independents.
As summarised on its website, BMF members enjoy the following five core benefits:
- Training and development;
- Business support;
- Access to market data;
- Networking opportunities;
- Political representation.
To do this, the BMF works closely with “allied industry groups and regulatory bodies such as trading standards and planning departments, to ensure that issues affecting member merchants and suppliers are tackled promptly and effectively”. Importantly, it maintains an active lobbying presence with local and central government in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, aiming to reflect its tagline of ‘One Industry, One Voice’ in representing the concerns of the building materials supply sector.
It says it remains “totally dedicated to the interests of our members, providing training and professional and knowledgeable support through services such as Credit Insurance Plus, Cyber Insurance Plus, Intelligent Employment Plus, Insurance Plus, Safety Plus, and Transport Plus, as well as organising key events where members can meet and exchange ideas with fellow merchants, suppliers, and leading industry figures.”
A further important service is the Builders Merchant Building Index (BMBI). Instigated in 2014, this provides an analyses sales-out data from over 80% of generalist builders’ merchant sales throughout Great Britain to provide an accurate barometer of trends and activity within the sector. The monthly, quarterly and annual reports are reinforced by the views and opinions of a panel of industry experts, whilst the data is broken down into key categories to provide a comprehensive understanding of market headwinds.
A recent initiative has been the establishment of a series of BMF Regional Centres of Excellence. Hosted at member premises (both merchants and suppliers), the concept is designed to facilitate better access to BMF training and events. The latest Centre is situated at Geberit’s recently opened headquarters in Warwick, serving members in and around the West Midlands, and becomes the 20th location in the growing network.
Indicative of the function these centres play, forthcoming meetings already booked at the Warwick facility include the Plumbing & Heating Forum on 6 November, the West Midlands regional meeting on 21 November and a three day Leadership Skills for Supervisors course on 4-6 December.
Training and youth development is also fundamental to the BMF’s role within the sector. Amongst a raft of services, it is worth making specific mention of its drive to promote the merchanting industry as a means to a fulfilling and rewarding career path via platforms such as Builders Merchants Careers website www.merchant-recruitment.co.uk
Earlier in the year, as part of its Youth Recruitment Campaign for 2018, the BMF Apprenticeship Plus team was active during Apprenticeship Week at numerous events to promote the merchant industry as a career choice for school and college leavers. The Apprenticeship Plus team is targeting 110 new apprenticeships to begin during 2018 and, since launching its own Apprenticeship Training Agency (ATA) last year, the BMF has already supported over 60 builders’ merchants by helping them access funds from the Government’s latest apprenticeship levy and/or to recruit new apprentices.
To mark its milestone year, the BMF had planned a number of special events. Senior politicians such as Vince Cable and Sajid Javid addressed guests from the sector at a Parliamentary Reception at the House of Commons in April, whilst the BMF will be holding its first Young Merchants’ Conference in October. In November, a special Anniversary Dinner for 200 members will take place at the Belfry.
Reflecting the organisation’s philosophy of working “to ensure that merchants survive and thrive in an increasingly competitive and fast-developing market”, BMF CEO John Newcomb commented earlier in the year: “While much has changed over the years, the BMF’s support for the industry and our members remains as strong as ever. We look forward to working, and celebrating, with as many members as possible throughout this milestone year.”
For more information, visit www.bmf.org.uk.