In the February 2020 edition of PBM, all attention was on the latest ‘Top 20’ merchant league table.
At the time of writing, we’re just putting together the finishing touches to this year’s Top 20 merchant ‘league table’ and it only confirms what we knew to be another year of significant change in terms of the composition of the sector. Granted, there is broadly a familiar air to the overall make up of our chart, but some of the patterns of the last couple of years are now becoming even more apparent.
12 months ago, Huws Gray’s acquisition of Ridgeons made a huge impact, whilst Cairngorm Capital’s investment in Parker Building Supplies was merely its first step in a journey that has now seen Chandlers Building Supplies, Fairalls and Stamco come into the fold to create a major new player. Of course, equity funding is not new to the sector, and successful owners looking to ‘sell up’ in one form or another has always been a feature, with a steady stream of interested purchasers.
However, perhaps both the scale and relative speed of change — arguably not witnessed since a swathe of acquisitions by the national merchants some years ago — has certainly caused the wider industry to take notice.
Further change has been evident through a separate fund managed by Cairngorm which acquired Grant & Stone in November last year, for instance, while the specialist private investment firm’s portfolio reaches further into the sector through the National Timber Group — comprised of Arnold Laver, North Yorkshire Timber, Rembrand and Thornbridge.
In addition, the sale of Plumbase to Plumbing & Heating Investments Ltd (PHIL) saw the former Grafton business join the likes of HPS, GB Willbond and Plumbcity amongst its previously-acquired specialist merchant brands. Travis Perkins, meanwhile, may have paused plans to divest its plumbing & heating merchanting arm, but the business has just announced the sale of wholesale operation, Primaflow F&P and expects to have completed the demerger of Wickes in the second quarter of the year as it looks to reduce the ‘complexity’ of its business structure.
Of course, away from these ‘headline stories’, every merchant firm featured on our countdown has a story to tell — new branches, diversification in some areas, inward investment, greater plans to maximise the opportunities of online… The list goes on.
With the Brexit deadline of 31st January due to pass around the time this issue will land on your desks and set to finally formalise the UK’s departure from the EU, 2020 will be a year where the country begins its journey on a new path. The direction of travel for the merchant sector over the next 12 months will be just as interesting.
“The scale and relative speed of change — arguably not witnessed since a swathe of acquisitions by the national merchants some years ago — has certainly caused the wider industry to take notice.”
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