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NMBS all-industry conference celebrates a future of opportunity for merchants and suppliers

07 Jul 2022

The NMBS Conference 2022 was held in June, in Sorrento, Italy where guests enjoyed a stunning Bay of Naples location while immersing themselves in a programme packed with insight, analysis and plenty of networking opportunities.

The enthusiasm was palpable for what is a major event for the industry – the first held this side of the pandemic – with more than 400 delegates and a fantastic line-up of expert speakers covering topical sector issues under the theme ‘The Future Matters’.

Sessions explored how the construction industry is changing, against a backdrop of new technology, data and digitalisation, with contributors from the world of economics, sport, leadership training, productivity and business growth. With the pandemic having forced much of the industry to embrace digital ways of working, delegates also heard how many merchants have introduced e-commerce platforms with suppliers ensuring as much information as possible is available online.

NMBS’s headline sponsor was Makita, with speaker sponsors including Marshalls and Worcester Bosch and social activities sponsored by Polypipe, VELUX and Knauf Insulation. Welcome drinks were sponsored by Marsh Industries and the welcome dinner was sponsored by SIG Plc. The gala dinner and drinks were sponsored by the Keystone Group, Metabo and HiKOKI.

With a focus on the future, the conference included a segment examining how the OnePlace platform drives growth and efficiency for merchants and suppliers.

Managing Director Chris Hayward told the conference:

“Our OnePlace ordering and PIM platform is already helping merchants and suppliers to develop and grow their online business channels. This shift to digital is expected to continue and companies across the supply chain will be looking at how to better integrate these options on a more permanent basis.”

David Smith, economics editor at the Sunday Times, talked through the pared-down economic forecasts for the UK, noting that after an unusually rapid bounce back from the COVID-19 recession, it now seems we will have the slowest growing economy in the G7 for some time. He added that businesses will continue to be strongly impacted by staff shortages and unpredictable cost fluctuations, predicting that after a period of rapidly rising inflation, the UK will settle down to a steady 3–4% inflation rate.

Economic growth was also addressed by another speaker, Professor Damian Hughes, renowned author of ‘Liquid Thinking’ and executive coach to some of the greatest leaders in sport. Damian spelled out a clear methodology for merchants and suppliers to build high performance cultures which could thrive regardless of the economic challenges to come.

Meanwhile Sophie Devonshire, chief executive of the Marketing Society, discussed how organisations can speed up success by slowing down. Taking time to think, encouraging empathy, and carefully self-managing energy were part of her recipe for success.

A series of talks explored the digital future of the merchant sector. George Brickwood, omnichannel director for UK and Ireland at Schneider Electric and former head of e-business at Wolseley, explained how digitally-enabled businesses were able to grow 2.5 times faster than traditional business models, and how good product data is a fundamental enabler to digitalisation, making products easier to find, easier to choose and easier to buy.

Tom Diplock, partner at LEK Consulting, showed how rapidly competitors like Amazon are moving into the merchants group sector, illustrating how the future for merchants is a hybrid one – bringing new channels alongside traditional trade counters to complement the customer service required by builders and tradespeople.

He said:

“Moving to a hybrid business model needs to be a collaborative process throughout the supply chain. Merchants need to drive it, but manufacturers need to come to the party with good product data.”

Tom also highlighted that merchants should maintain their “branch as a service” model to continue to provide value over and above what is available through large online retailers such as Amazon.

Andy Hextall, commercial director at NMBS, provided a OnePlace update which highlighted that OnePlace can be embedded within merchants’ own systems, so if an item isn’t available in a merchant’s product file the integration with OnePlace allows access to a wider range of products. This extends the product range for merchants and creates greater exposure for suppliers.

Talks by industry tech leaders Andy Scothern, from ECI/eCommonSense, Gary Brookshaw, from Intact and James Mitchell, from Kerridge further demonstrated the importance of technology within the construction industry with Gary and James showing how their ERP systems have OnePlace integrated within them and how the systems worked seamlessly to create an efficient and user-friendly ordering experience, as well as allowing merchants an easy way to source products they don’t traditionally stock.

Day one closed with a sustainability challenge laid down by Giles Bradford, head of sustainability at Bradfords Building Supplies, who asked how merchants will get the sector to move from being about building supplies to “sustainable living solutions”.

He said, “Construction, including merchants, has the opportunity to solve at least 40% of the carbon problem facing us today”, and highlighted the importance of collaboration in meeting this challenge.

The keynote speech came from Matthew Syed, British table tennis number one for almost a decade, three-time winner of the men’s singles at the Commonwealth Championships and a competitor at the Barcelona and Sydney Olympics. He has since become a world best-selling author, a Times columnist and coach to international business leaders, sportspeople, government ministers and celebrities.

Matthew gave many examples of the benefits of a ‘growth mindset’, showing how leaders set the tone and behaviours that others will instinctively follow, and illustrated the characteristics of the most successful CEOs: typically people who are better at constant self-evaluation, look to grow themselves and invest in their team’s development, and reach out to diverse voices to plug gaps in their own knowledge and experience. He also emphasised the many benefits of increasing diversity, equality and inclusion in business.

Also making a return this year was the popular ‘Meet the Merchant’ networking session, enabling delegates to connect and do business.

Commenting at the event’s close NMBS Managing Director Chris Hayward said:

“This year’s event has been a much-needed opportunity for the industry to come together after all the challenges of the past few years. It has been wonderful to see so many friends and colleagues here in Sorrento and to take a look ahead to the significant opportunities facing merchants, suppliers and NMBS itself in the coming years.

“It has also been valuable to hear the insight and analysis of our excellent speakers and to think about some of the wider ideas that can help organisations and individuals in our industry to rise to the new challenges we will face as we move forward into an age of digitalisation and new ways of doing business.”

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