PBM reports back from the 2019 NBG Conference

PBM reports back from the 2019 NBG Conference

Taking place at Glasgow’s Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in late November 2019, the recent NBG Conference saw a record number of delegates come together for intensive networking and a sizeable exhibition. With a theme as ‘Maximise Sales’, the event focused on developing partnerships whilst looking to further develop of the role of the buying group for the mutual benefit of merchant partners and suppliers alike. PBM reports.

A clear theme ran through PBM’s conversations with NBG partners, suppliers, Category Management Team members, negotiators and the buying group’s Executive Board over the course of an intensive two days in Glasgow. To paraphrase, there was a universal belief across the ‘NBG clan’ that “we know we offer cracking deals that work for both partners and suppliers — but what else can we do…?”

Or, in the words of Managing Director Nick Oates to outline the conference theme: “Once the deal is done, our aim is simply to maximise sales,” and this has seen the group expand its strategy “to not only facilitate great buying deals, but also look at the merchant industry as a whole and identify other ways” in which it can support its members.

Accordingly, and aiming to demonstrate an understanding of the impact on the merchant sector of the broader changing dynamics affecting society as a whole, the NBG Conference was geared to looking forward. For example, the threat of online disruptors and a more empowered and knowledgeable customer base facilitated by the ‘rise of the smartphone’ was the subject of a memorable presentation delivered at the Supplier Summit element of the event by self-styled ‘Retail Futurist’, Howard Saunders.

The NBG Exhibition featured over 150 supplier stands

Whilst his focus was skewed towards the threats facing the High Street, Howard described a picture that will be achingly familiar to many in the merchant sector. He argued that, in an era of disruption, the traditional rules of commerce are being ripped up but those in prime place to capitalise are local experts — the ‘artisan stores’ — who can offer a service that can exceed customer expectations.

With smartphones ensuring comprehensive information is at their fingertips alongside an expectation of getting exactly what they want, and almost immediately, customers know they are ‘at the centre of the universe’. The businesses that succeed in future, noted Howard, will be the ones that can communicate most effectively; to engage with them and make them feel important.

“Adopt, adapt, improve” was the three-word summary outlined to PBM in a conversation with Executive Board members, Chairman David Szymanski and Martyn Rees, MD of County Building Supplies. A huge amount of work is said to have taken place behind the scenes in recent years to ensure the strategy set by the Executive Board remains fully in step with the membership base of merchant partners (and suppliers). Underpinning this is a tight structure of eight Category Management Teams and central support staff, including an expanding team of qualified buyers / negotiators.

This is further reinforced by a strong regional presence, a legacy of NBG’s inception from the merger of three separate buying groups — the Scottish Independent Merchants Buying Association (SIMBA), the Chandor Consortium (South of England) and Prospero Consortium (North and Central England, and Wales.

With an entirely democratic ethos, trust and transparency is paramount. Facilitating this, continual communication throughout the organisation is essential and the role played by the NBG Hub continues to be frequently cited as a ‘transformational’ tool for the group. A central portal, the Hub has evolved to provide “consistent, clear and timely communication to all partners. It automatically manages and processes rebates, and saves time by reducing queries and ensuring effective data control.”

It also offers a “promotions and new products solution, providing ease of access to all offers, encouraging partner buy-in and take up.”

Martyn Rees, Executive Board Member and MD of County Building Supplies, received a special award in recognition of his 50 years in merchanting at the Gala Dinner.

Product Information Modelling

Fuelled by the success of the Hub, making the best use of ‘data’ and ‘the power of information’ is the cornerstone of NBG’s next project. As outlined to delegates by Rex Nye, ineffective data management processes can cause significant problems — with the wrong descriptions, incorrect images and inaccurate pricing.

Drawing on the experiences of fact-finding visits to merchant groups in Holland and the Czech Republic, the NBG is developing a new Product Information Modelling system. ‘PIM’ is being created to produce a bespoke, centrally-managed live product and pricing library, providing an efficient and user-friendly way to manage product data that will enable Partners and Suppliers alike to “sell more with less hassle”.

The buying group maintains there is a unique ‘NBG way’, as evidenced by the Welcome Evening ‘Fringe Fest’ which featured stand-up comedy and branded beer.

The data will have the capacity to be used to populate partners’ websites, whilst PIM will also have benefits in terms of reducing invoicing and ordering errors and provide additional ‘background’ information — for example, on technical specifications, standards and marketing — that will enhance sales.

PIM is the latest example of the ‘true partnership’ and ‘two-way street’ approach the buying group says it adopts with its suppliers. A further common theme of the event — and one that can be applied across the industry as a whole — is that while the merchants are asking more of their suppliers, for example with showroom support and training, they recognise they also have to do more in return to ‘push’ the brands to their own customers.

The partner / supplier relationship is constantly evaluated in a number of ways to ensure the process remains mutually beneficial. Nick Oates explained: “Following the success of last year’s Industry Barometer and the launch of Merchants of Change, we wanted to conduct further research that would not just highlight the conference theme of Maximise Sales but help us understand how we can support partners and suppliers to do so, and inspire some action.”

Details from the new survey are available on the PBM website, whilst Nick added: “We hope the results will continue to help partners and suppliers develop mutually beneficial partnerships. If we build strong relationships, we build strong brands.”

For more information on the National Buying Group, visit https://professionalbuildersmerchant.co.uk/?s=NBG

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