Do builders merchants sell as well as take orders? - by Mark Oliver

Mark Oliver

Good salespeople do more than simply ‘sell’. Someone who listens to what a customer wants and then advises them on the best product solution is far more effective.

Merchants are in the business of selling and there is more opportunity for merchants to act as a consultant, delving a little deeper into what customers need rather than simply selling what the customer asks for. This raises the question, to what extent are merchant counter staff involved in selling versus simply taking orders?

Here’s an example: A customer walks into a merchant and asks: “What prices can you give me for ten square metres of 7.3N concrete blocks, 19 sheets of foam insulation, three bags of cement, one bag of lime and nine bags of sand?” How does the staff member on the trade counter respond?

  1. Tells him the prices and says he can have delivery on the day after tomorrow if he wants first trip out.
  2. Asks if he needs any wall ties, mortar additives or other items and when he needs delivery.
  3. Asks if he’s sure he needs 7.3N as a 3.6N could be strong enough to do the job and would be more cost effective.
  4. Asks what he’s building and then recommends different fabric solutions that meet the customer’s thermal and acoustic performance requirements.

Option one is really order taking and the others different levels of selling, with option four requiring both good knowledge and selling skills in the counter staff. Some might ask why merchants should bother doing more than option one.  Do customers ever need or want to know more than they ask? On the other hand does a customer need a salesperson if it is option one that he wants? Thanks to the internet, customers increasingly no longer need a salesperson to learn about a company's offering, and even less so to place an order.

The Part L Building Regulation amendments that came into effect in October 2010 involve some reasonably significant changes to build methods, as well as the fabric. Large builders are not currently building many plots to these regulations because they have land banks with registrations dating back to the 2006 and even earlier building regulations.  When they do come to build to 2010 regulations their technical departments will already have the fabric solutions worked out.

Contrast this with the needs of the smaller and medium sized builders, who don’t tend to have large land-banks or in-house technical expertise. It’s these builders who are building to 2010 regulations now and it’s these builders who will visit merchants, possibly not knowing the best fabric solutions for a given project.

Stocking a wide variety of products places merchants in a unique position to offer advice and whole ‘solutions’ to these customers, much like a recipe. And, as we have seen grocery retailers like Waitrose use recipes and “meals for two” packages to sell us solutions for a meal rather than the components, merchants could do a similar thing for home extensions.

In a home extension, the wall solution’s ‘recipe’ would be the specification. A merchant could offer the package: “Here’s the Celcon Block, the right Celotex insulation and British Gypsum plasterboard. If you put them together in this format, following this ‘recipe’, you’ll get a wall with a U-value of, 0.20W/m2K. Or, this other solution will give a U-value of 0.15 W/m2K which can be used to build a house to Code 4 without renewables. Or, here’s another solution for the 0.28 W/m2K needed in extensions and so on.

I was really pleased, earlier this year at Ecobuild, to see some of the first guides produced by merchants setting out standard building solutions including construction details. In other words, instructions on how to assemble specific products from different suppliers into whole “solutions”. These solutions then comply with Building Regulations and other standards such as the Code for Sustainable Homes.

This all hinges on merchants and counter staff having the skills and mindset to engage in helping customers define the problem they are trying to solve and assemble a complete solutions, as well as having good knowledge of products and standards. At H+H UK we offer different ways to do this, from E-learning and downloadable details to face-to-face meetings with our experts. Granted, this requires an investment but when it leads to higher sales and even more satisfied customers it must be worth it.

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