Keyline outlines extent of Covid challenge

Keyline outlines extent of Covid challenge

Further easing of the lockdown has included actively encouraging the construction sector to return to work, with the merchant sector having to adapt their working practices to the challenges of Covid-19. PBM speaks with Keyline Civils Specialist and a number of its branch managers to find out how the firm has adjusted.

With a set of methods in place including the use of social distancing, PPE equipment and the rearrangement of facilities, retailers from supermarkets to garden centres have had to learn quickly how to make their environments safe for both colleagues and customers going forward. And this has been equally true for the merchant sector.

In turn, this has meant both customers and staff have had to be flexible and accommodating. Clearly all contractors will have to change their working relationship with their merchant in order to maintain a level of business. Going forward, certain universal principles will now have to apply — practices that Keyline Civils Specialist, along with other merchants that are currently open for business, have already adapted to.

Keyline is one of the few merchants that has remained open since the start of the lockdown. Currently, 46 of its branches continue to remain open and operational to support essential services and trade account customers. With the need to maintain public utilities, gas, water and electricity, in addition to the maintenance of road, rail networks and the reinstatement of HS2, it was necessary for the firm to quickly create a new set of guidelines and practices to comply with social distancing for both customers and colleagues.

These measures include:

  • The continued closure of branch trade counter and office areas to customers and visitors at all times, with all trade occurring in the yard.
  • The use of a call-and-collect service with prearranged time slots available, and access to site only being granted to those with a prearranged time.  
  • Once inside the yard, social distancing is observed at all times and customers have the option to load materials themselves or have a staff member do so on their behalf.
  • Alternatively, a contact-free delivery service is offered — although next day delivery cannot currently be guaranteed.
  • Finally, the need for a signature of receipt has been suspended with staff now taking photos as proof of delivery and yard colleagues signing on behalf of the customer. The delivery note is also emailed to the email address provided at point of order.

Speaking from his yard in Portsmouth, Branch Manager Alex Hairsnape commented: “We are currently operating on a ‘one in / one out’ system and while effective it doesn’t always run smoothly. Mostly, customers arrive at their allocated time but others turn up early, some late, or others turn up without an appointment at all. Whatever the circumstance, we try and manage it.”

Andy Goodings, Keyline’s Branch Manager in Reading, said: “At the start there was frustration, as all customers were trying to provide for essential services and were in desperate need of materials. Despite this, generally customers have understood as they know they will be getting their materials as fast as possible.

“The process from how we worked before, to how we work now has changed daily, including safe distancing and reduced staffing levels. We’ve had to manage our customer’s expectations as we go and they are now really conscious of how busy we are and appreciate the ongoing situation.”

The managers stressed that it is important that customers understand this new way of working as the days of quickly stopping at the yard to pick up materials, as and when needed, are now over — for the time being at least. Although, as Leeds Branch Manager Richard Tinson pointed out: “If it’s an emergency, we are still flexible. If they have to collect something, we ask them to bear with us and in the main people understand.”

For those that order straight to site, the managers stated that generally companies have learned to book ahead and in bulk, and anticipate that deliveries may be slower than before due to the number of orders.

Having been open since the start of lockdown and with the last few weeks to learn from, Richard feels in a good position to service his customers in comparison with others. He explained: “While this process has been testing, it hasn’t been too hard to adapt as the process has been gradual over the last eight weeks.

“We have evolved as the changes have happened; but for those that are just about to reopen, I think it will be difficult for them to quickly understand the extended lead times and the new rules and regulations. For those branches that have been open throughout, we have adapted to the new normal and tested out future processes for other merchants.”

The latest figures published by Build UK indicate that its contractor members continue to reopen their sites, with 86% of infrastructure and construction sites in England and Wales now open. The numbers are continuing to rise steadily yet swiftly, indicating that the demand on merchants is only set to increase.

However, with many suppliers only recently returning to manufacturing, it is anticipated that the supply chain will take some time to replenish. Andy Goodings said: “Getting supplies is easing gradually. The products we had difficulty sourcing at the start are slowly coming back into stock with other manufacturers notifying us on what they will be doing to boost supplies over the coming weeks. There will be a rush for materials as everyone goes back to work and now that the Government is encouraging it, we must be prepared.”

Richard Tinson added that there are lessons to be learnt from the pandemic: “I hope the industry takes note and learns to plan ahead. Site managers will have to change how they operate. They are used to being serviced so well by the merchants, with next day service; but for now, they will have to plan ahead and understand that we are all doing what we can.

“Everyone will have to adapt and it is important that all merchant branches, serving whatever sector, help to spread that message to their customers.”

To view an informative video which explains Keyline’s approach to safety protocols for collection, go to

Related posts