Having opened three dual-branded ‘flagship’ merchant stores across the country this year (at its members, Newline Plumbing & Heating Supplies in Kingswinford, Gas & Plumb Bits in New Milton and Plumb Inn in Enfield), The IPG is working to evolve the role of the buying group. PBM speaks with Head of Marketing Nike Lovell to find out more.
So can you tell us a bit more about The IPG?
Founded in 2013 by Robin Beal, The IPG is a leading membership group supporting independent plumbing, heating and bathroom specialists across the UK. The group was formed to enable small independent stores not just to survive, but thrive and compete well against the larger players
In six years, the organisation has grown to encompass over 200 merchant member locations nationwide and has an impressive list of brands that it works with. Last year, members celebrated a combined annual turnover in excess of £400 million, a double digit year-on-year growth since June 2017.
Members of the group continue to expand, and the number of new stores, acquisitions and recruitment going ahead across The IPG members is really promising to see.
How does the company set itself apart from other buying groups?
We offer a solution to smaller UK merchant businesses — a way to pool resources and compete with the bigger players — to not only survive but thrive while maintaining the values and operating practices of a small individual business.
The IPG positions itself as a membership group, offering its network of members the chance to remain completely independent but benefit from access to knowledgeable and experienced staff alongside improved group purchasing terms from manufacturers and distributors in addition to a range of support services including marketing, website design and hosting, business tools and networking opportunities.
We constantly present new concepts to our members and vice versa, embracing ideas from our members throughout the year and at our regular Steering Group Meetings — what is right for them is right for us.
By adding ‘online’ to our member services, merchants now having the option to upgrade their web presence with a cost-effective, professional, mobile-friendly website to help increase sales and in-store footfall.
Ultimately, The IPG enables its members to spend more time focusing on what they do best which is providing a good local service.
As a relatively new buying group, how is the organisation planning to continue its growth?
We have expansion plans across all areas of our business, from supplier categories to marketing. We will continue to expand our supplier categories, concentrating on the quality of our trading partners, whilst looking to attract relevant new members to the group.
Our aim is to ensure that 100% of the plumbing market knows who we are.
Is The IPG moving towards becoming a customer facing brand, rather than the more ‘behind-the-scenes operation’ typical of other buying groups?
Yes, our aim is to raise the profile of The IPG brand and its members’ individual USPs, guiding our audience of plumbers, installers and DIYers into member stores.
Whilst we are well known amongst suppliers and members, we want to grow the awareness of The IPG within the trade community — talking directly to the end user and giving them compelling reasons to visit a member store.
So how are you making this move?
We have an exciting marketing strategy in place for 2020 and beyond, which includes social media engagement, advertising, PR, focus groups, promotional activity, digital enhancements, partnerships and much more…
“Whilst we are well known amongst suppliers and members, we want to grow the awareness of The IPG within the trade community — talking directly to the end user and giving them compelling reasons to visit a member store.”
Alongside the ‘dual branding’ of the new flagship stores, how involved is the IPG with its members’ growth?
The IPG framework offers members access to a truly multidisciplinary team of experts, working hard on their behalf. It leverages the purchasing power of all its members, negotiating with many leading industry suppliers to ensure they receive competitive process and terms, but also proving them with a ‘back office’ — supporting them with a marketing program focused on growing sales and gaining market share alongside cost-saving services including financial and IT support.
Ultimately, the IPG saves its members time, so they can concentrate on their business.
The IPG has developed several marketing campaigns this year, talking directly to the member’s customers — the plumber, installer and DIYer. Moreover, small businesses often struggle to create a CSR policy with a real impact, but as part of The IPG they now can.
These include fundraising campaigns working alongside its charity partner Missing People (#FINDEVERYCHILD) and — as members are small, family-run businesses — they instantly adopted a passion for Missing People’s mission.
Most recently, members got involved in our ‘Orbit the Moon’ campaign, whereby some of our member stores had a static bike in store over the course of a week and rallied together to cycle 10,921km (the circumference of the moon) collectively to raise vital funds for the charity.
Some 80,000 children are currently reported missing in the UK and, with over 200 member locations across the country, The IPG uses its geographic reach to make a difference to local communities. ‘The IPG Portal’ is an online platform that our trading partners use daily and through this app, members are alerted to missing children in their local area and are given access to posters that they can download and put up in store.
The Plumbers Knees campaign was another initiative which appealed to member’s customers. The campaign was implemented to shine a light on the growing issue around plumber’s health with IPG research showing 75% of plumbers have issues with their knees and 59% even fearing that they would need to retire early as a consequence.
To find out more about The IPG, go to https://www.the-ipg.co.uk/