PBM reveals UK merchant sector Top 20

PBM reveals UK merchant sector Top 20

PBM presents its annual ‘league table’ countdown of the UK merchant sector’s largest businesses throughout 2016 (based on turnover figures) and details the activities behind the numbers.

In general terms, the UK merchanting sector can reflect on a strong performance in 2016. Looking forward, the fallout from the Brexit vote and any subsequent impact on the construction sector underpin many of the comments we received. Many respondents also cited the ‘flat’ performance of the plumbing and heating sector, however whilst some of the national groups are rationalising and restructuring their offering, a number of independents are successfully expanding this side of their businesses.

1: Travis Perkins plc

2016 turnover = £4.7bn (2015 = £4.56bn)

1,460 branches (1,427 in 2015)

In its Q3 Trading Update (the most recent information available), CEO John Carter commented: “General Merchanting delivered a solid result in the third quarter alongside very strong performances in our Consumer and Contracts businesses where we materially outperformed our markets. Our Plumbing & Heating results were disappointing and whilst market conditions have worsened, we are not satisfied with our performance and will commence reviewing these operations.”

Accordingly, the business plans to close over 30 branches, however its “operational focus remains on improving all of our customer propositions, optimising our networks, intensifying our use of space and exploiting the scale advantage we have created.”

NB: Estimated figures, which also exclude TP’s Consumer Division which encompasses Wickes and Toolstation.


2: Saint-Gobain Building Distribution

£2.6bn (£2.5bn)

1,000 branches (1,000)

2016 activity: Opening of Priority Plumbing and acquisition of Benchmark Building Supplies, the latter of which joins the organisation’s Local Merchant Group. SGBD also expanded its Graham network of plumbers’ merchants with a number of new sites co-located with Jewson branches and has further invested in a series of specialist kitchen and bathroom showrooms within Jewson.


3: Wolseley UK

£1.996bn (£1.967bn)

737 branches (758)

The business is embarking on a plan to bring Plumb Center, Parts Center and Drain Center closer together, “co-locating” the brands to enable customers to purchase products from a single site.

NB: Figures show year end to 31st July 206.


4: Grafton

£1.7bn (£1.66bn)

528 branches (518)

Buildbase and Plumbase “continued to experience pricing pressure in a competitive trading environment”, however its Selco division again enjoyed significant expansion — the seven branches opened in 2016 take it to a total of 47 outlets, with further sites planned for 2017.

NB: estimated figures


5: MKM

£300m (£260m)

46 branches (42)

New branches were opened in Bishop Auckland, Honiton, Galashiels and Sharston. MKM has plans to “ramp up” its new branch opening programme, with 8-10 new outlets planned for 2017. The strategy will be to maintain and grow market share within their geographical areas, with a focus on key product sectors, increasing customer numbers, plus, margin and cash management.


6: Bradfords

£169.4m (£168m)

49 branches (48)

NB: Figures relate to data for year-end 30th April, 2016


7: Ridgeons

£160m (£146m)

40 branches (31)

Ridgeons opened three new Anglia Tool Centre outlets and six new PlumbStock branches. In 2017, it looks forward to “continued revenue growth from our existing sites, plus additional site openings and acquisitions.”


8: Huws Gray

£146m (£122m)

57 branches (45)

Acquisitions of Shropshire Building Supplies, Simmons of Stafford and the S T Group.


9: EH Smith

£122m (£124m)

12 branches (12)

2016 activity: Continued investment in renovating branches to be more collection friendly. Opened a new architectural sales office in Bromsgrove, Birmingham.

2017 comment: “We’re opening a new EH Smith branch in Castle Bromwich, Birmingham in Spring 2017. We continue to concentrate on increasing sales volumes and margins, expanding core products and services, and maintaining a tight control over costs.


10: Haldane Shiells Group

£91.3m (£89m)

16 (16)

2016 saw the launch of Plumbmaster — the specialist Plumbing & Heating division, which now has eleven branches throughout Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man. The group is “approaching 2017 on a positive note, budgeting a double digit growth with the addition of at least one new branch, a new business unit for Plumbmaster and a renewed focus on the digital side of the business.”


11: Lawsons

£88.5m (£81.2m)

17 branches (16)

Record profit was achieved in the year ended 30th June 2016 as a result of growth throughout the business and the investments made during the last five years. Sales increased by 10% reflecting an enlarged product offering, the successful refurbishment of branches as well as investments in staff and training programmes. Profit before tax grew by 29% in the year to June 2016 through which staff also benefitted from our highest profit share award.

Lawsons continues to invest in expanding the branch network opening the Merton depot in August 2016 and purchasing sites in South West London and West London during the year. The site in West London will expand a current branch while the South West London acquisition will strengthen Lawsons’ presence in the area. The company continues to look for further acquisition opportunities.


12: Elliotts

£74.3m (£69.7m)

14 (14)

Recently launched its ‘Elliotts Living Spaces’ brand to better service the KBB market. Continued investment in existing branches to Increase our geographical coverage.


13: Covers

£72.3m (£70.2m)

14 (14)


14: Nicholls & Clarke

£70m (£70m)

21 branches (21)

With a new store location in Stevenage, N&C said it also has plans to open a new showroom and launch a new training facility for its N&C Nicobond brand which will focus on tiling adhesives and solutions and its complete wet room solution systems.


15: Sydenhams

£67.6m (£62.4m)

29 branches (29)

Acquisition of Guernsey Building Supplies in August.


16: Grant & Stone

£64.7 (£60.6m)

24 (21)

Three new branches were added in 2016 (one heavyside and two lightside) and the business continues to be “looking at expanding and opening new branches in new areas”.


17: Joseph Parr Group

£61.5m (£54.5m)

11 branches (11)

Moving forward, the Group has plans to expand the yard in its Port Sunlight depot and to expand the covered storage in both Oldham and Stoke-on-Trent.


18: MP Moran

£60m (£59.9m)

5 branches (5)

Comments: “A new 66,000 sq.ft warehouse expansion to our Watford depot will improve distribution for our London stores and help to accommodate a larger product profile. We are planning to launch our new ecommerce website in 2017 which will be a modern clean cut design and integrate seamlessly with our Bistrack ERP. It will give our current customers the additional convenience to place their orders online out of shop hours and also to focus on reaching out to new London and nationwide trade and retail customers.

“(There will be) further improvements to our stores and showrooms to ensure we are as good as we can be in terms of store layout and products and their positions within our stores to ensure the best customer experiences at all times. We will continue to invest, improve and develop our transport fleet, having achieved FORS Gold in 2016 it is our aim to maintain this standard as well as improve our fuel and CO2 efficiencies for 2017.”


18= Parker Building Supplies

£60m (£56m)

26 branches (23)

Parkers described the opening of a new heavyside branch which also serves as a dedicated Training Academy for staff and customers. With more plumbing outlets, the merchant additionally unveiled ‘Project Home’ — bringing a number of its showroom facilities together as ‘one-stop home improvement centres’.


20 RGB

£58m (£52.6m)

19 branches (17)

Comments: “We were delighted to open our standalone re-branded showroom offering ‘The Room Works’ in May with support from Exeter City Football Club and Exeter Chiefs. Following that, a dedicated plumbing and heating branch was opened in Wellington and a mixed merchant offering in Torquay during the summer.

“In the Autumn we moved to a new, enhanced premises in Okehampton to both enhance the plumbing and heating offering in the market town where we are already represented, as well as to introduce a comprehensive building, timber and decorating stock.”


The likes of HPS, James Burrell, Crossling and the rapidly-expanding LBS will undoubtedly be challenging for a place on our countdown next year. A final caveat is that Howarth Timber & Building Supplies and Builder Depot should arguably each secure a place on our listing, however, we have been unable to obtain fully accurate and up-to-date information in all of our required categories and so have elected to refrain from including them this year.


Industry affiliations

BMF (20) — All

NMBS (16) — All except TP, SGBD, Wolseley UK & Grafton

Fortis (9) — Ridgeons, EH Smith, Haldane Shiells, Lawsons, Elliotts, Covers, Sydenhams, MP Moran, RGB

PHG (3) — MKM, Ridgeons, RGB

LIMA (2) — MKM, Bradfords

NBG (2) — Grant & Stone, Parker Building Supplies

H+B (1) — Joseph Parr Group


Source: Figures are compiled via forecasted information supplied by each company, latest published account data and PBM estimates. Every effort is made to ensure the data presented is accurate but PBM cannot be held liable for any errors or omissions.

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