Formally established in October 2019 following a series of mergers and acquisitions, the Independent Builders Merchant Group (IBMG) required an ERP solution that would allow it to consolidate across its network of 39 branches, but crucially allow its businesses to continue to operate independently.
With four customer-facing brands already under its umbrella — Chandlers, Parker Building Supplies, Fairalls and Stamco Timber — finding a platform that would deliver both consistency and growth was deemed to be essential. Furthermore, the business needed a platform where it could “easily add new brands or new branches to existing brands.”
The IBMG philosophy of being ‘your favourite local merchant who can get you what you want’ was said to underpin its thought process in choosing and implementing the ERP system. The group’s four distinct brands each deliver a bespoke service to their customers — however, having access to a single, central platform was “imperative to ensure consistency and efficiency of reporting across the group”.
As one of the largest independent builders’ merchant groups in the south east, choosing the business system that would deliver the right balance of flexibility and consistency was no easy feat. Paul Barry, IBMG’s Chief Financial Officer, said: “Before moving to K8, the brands maintained their own support functions for transactional processing in a head office-type environment. We wanted to consolidate all of this onto a single platform, with all of the business benefits that this can bring.
“Through the implementation of K8, we have been able to support multi-branch operations, while facilitating the rationalisation and organisation of a central team to support the common areas of our business. This is not to reduce headcount explicitly, but is designed to ensure we share out the best of our different brands throughout the entire group. We’ve got fantastic people across our business and we want to bring them together under that family umbrella so we can tap into that expertise and knowledge to the benefit of all.”
The ability to maintain a wide variety of customer pricing options was a key feature IBMG sought from its new ERP system. Whether it relates to terms, profiling or discounts, the flexibility around these options has been “really important to enable each brand to maintain its local relationships and independence”.
Frank Murtagh, Project Leader at IBMG, commented: “One of our guiding principles was to avoid any modifications, and we achieved this by adopting new processes and configuring the system. Users have adapted very quickly to the new platform; Chandlers, for example, which has 16 branches, had very few issues in adopting the new system in a simultaneous go-live.”
The implementation of K8 was initiated during the first national lockdown, which brought a number of new challenges for both IBMG and KCS as there was no on-site training or ‘hand holding’ through the process — all whilst a number of essential branches remained open. Having a functional ERP in place was essential, as was ensuring disruption was kept to an absolute minimum.
The implementation was successfully phased in ‘by brand’, despite the upheaval brought about by the pandemic. Paul reflected: “Our counters were able to operate and continue operating all day. Fundamentally, the most important thing for us was to make sure our customers were served as normal, and in all cases, we’ve been able to do that. It’s a credit to the commitment of our team.”
Mark Routen, Head of IT at IBMG, continued: “Now we are using K8 across the group, everybody is able to use the same platform, no matter what the brand or branch location. This gives us a powerful lever in terms of resourcing and addressing needs across the business as our customers move or change their buying approaches. It has given us that level of flexibility that a single ERP should, without a long, drawn-out and cumbersome implementation.”
IBMG needs to be able to access consistent information at both a branch and management level. The group designed a K8 dashboard that provides branch managers with a complete overview of their operations and business KPIs, with drill down into data from a single home screen, including sales, orders placed and general activity throughout the business.
Paul said: “The implementation of this innovative dashboard has been a real win for many of the branch managers — the quality of information they can retrieve for decision making has improved dramatically.”
One of the challenges IBMG faced was being able to consolidate legacy data that had previously been stored in three separate ERP platforms. The group is now benefiting from bringing this information together within a single database.
Anna James, Head of Marketing at IBMG, revealed: “You can’t underestimate the power of consistency of management information. When you’ve been working across different systems and suddenly you’re working with just one, it means that no matter where the data is coming from, it represents a single source of truth and makes it so much easier for us to be able to do comparable analysis.”
IBMG is currently launching several transactional websites and is using the range of K8 digital APIs to integrate their web partner’s platform. Anna said: “We want our customers to enjoy a seamless experience when they buy from us online. It’s been a big project to get these websites up and running and K8 seamlessly integrated into these portals is the clever bit. Moving to a modern ERP with digital services has facilitated the launch of these sites and allows us to really make the most of our ecommerce offering.”
With more steps on IBMG’s digital journey to come, and although still in the initial stages of using its new ERP software, the group says it has already witnessed a positive impact across all areas of its business. Even considering the difficult trading conditions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, IBMG is said to be on course to achieve record-breaking sales and profits in 2021.