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NMBS Conference 2024: Fostering unity and innovation in the merchanting sector

 26 Jun 2024

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The NMBS Conference 2024 was held from 6-9 June 2024 at the City of Dreams Hotel in Limassol, Cyprus. Over 420 delegates from more than 130 companies made up of independent merchants and suppliers gathered to immerse themselves in a packed program of insight, analysis, and networking.

The speaker programme explored the role of collaboration in propelling our sector forward, particularly off the back of a difficult 2023 and an uncertain 2024 for construction.

The “One Industry” theme of the NMBS Conference 2024 was chosen to address the significant challenges currently facing the building materials sector. The theme aimed to unify merchants and suppliers in developing collaborative solutions and ensuring a resilient and innovative future for the sector.

The headline sponsor of the event was Makita, with speaker sponsors including Marshalls and Worcester Bosch and social activities sponsored by Genuit Group, VELUX and Knauf Insulation. The welcome dinner and drinks were sponsored by SIG and Marsh Industries. The gala dinner and drinks were sponsored by the Keystone Group, Metabo and HiKOKI, along with the bar area being sponsored by Breedon

Chris Hayward CEO of NMBS welcomed delegates to the conference and highlighted the theme ‘One Industry’ as central to navigating challenges in the building materials sector. He outlined the focus of the conference as discussing industry trends, digitalisation, and strategies to support independent merchants.

Andy Hextall, commercial director of NMBS, kicked off the speaker programme by discussing the challenges and opportunities facing the sector. He emphasised NMBS’ support for the industry through initiatives like product data standardisation, the Construction Inclusion Coalition, and apprenticeship schemes. Andy also highlighted NMBS’ digitalisation with a focus on straight-through ordering for OnePlace and the proactive steps NMBS have taken to become cyber-ready.

Professor Noble Francis, economics director of the CPA, provided an insightful analysis of the current state of the industry and forecasts for the coming year. His presentation provided delegates with a valuable understanding of the economic landscape, setting the stage for informed discussions throughout the conference.

Steve Collinge, managing director of the Insight Retail Group, followed with a compelling talk on trends and opportunities in the building materials sector. He identified the green shoots of recovery and emphasised the importance of range expansion for merchants, online marketplaces which can create another sales channel. His message to the audience was not to sit back and to take action now.

Glenn Paddison, commercial director at h&b Buying Group, presented the “retrofit revolution,” discussing the significant opportunities tied to the government’s net-zero 2050 pledge. He highlighted how merchants can support trade with retrofit products for the 24 million UK homes needing retrofits, to improve energy efficiency. Paddison showcased the immense potential for both merchants and suppliers, and the opportunities that await in this expanding market.

David Young, CEO of Bradfords, outlined strategies for merchants to sustain growth and stay relevant in a changing market. He focused on pursuing sustainable community building and national retrofit support, adapting to regulatory changes and competition, and enhancing staff retention via equity, diversity, mental health support, apprenticeships, and sector training. Young also advocated for data standardisation using the Builders Merchant Federation (BMF) product template to boost operational efficiency and provide a holistic approach for merchants to thrive during changing market conditions.

Dean Hayward and Charlie Smith of NMBS focused on developing future talent in the industry. They addressed key aspects, such as promoting and recruiting apprentices, dispelling apprenticeship myths, and highlighting the mutual benefits for both employers and employees. They emphasised the importance of upskilling teams and integrating the next generation into businesses through apprenticeship programmes and offering practical insights to encourage greater industry involvement and support.

Professor Alan Timothy, CEO of Bubo AI, illustrated how artificial intelligence (AI) has become integral to our daily lives and business operations. AI is transforming everything from transportation and entertainment preferences to financial transactions and healthcare diagnostics. This evolution, driven by enhanced computing capabilities, abundant data, and advanced algorithms, has empowered applications such as fraud detection and personalised customer interactions. As AI progresses, it is crucial to grasp its capabilities and consider its ethical impact to maximise advantages across the industry.

Charlie Blakemore, CEO of Intercity Technology Ltd, highlighted that building materials and the construction sector must recognise cyber security as a critical aspect for business, in the same way we do health and safety, akin to wearing personal protective equipment on-site. Businesses must shift their culture to incorporate robust cyber risk management. Emphasising visibility of risks and board-level engagement, along with educating the workforce, can significantly enhance defence against sophisticated cyber threats like ransomware.

To round off day one, keynote speaker Paul McVeigh presented the psychology of performance, leadership, and teams. He shared his personal story and emphasised the three pillars of change: opposition, curiosity, and acceptance. His insights aimed to help attendees engage teams to consciously improve their mental performance, help leaders elevate their belief in different possibilities, and cultivate an elite performance environment.

Day two started with the popular ‘Meet the Merchant’ networking session, enabling delegates to connect and do business. The session saw over 250 meetings held between merchants and suppliers, in a speed dating format. The meeting’s were 10 minutes long with the suppliers moving round the room to engage with the members over the morning.

Adrian Webster rounded off the conference by bringing his talk on Everyday People Being Extraordinary and making a difference together by focusing on Tiny Noticeable Things® (TNTs).He shared real-life experiences that highlighted their profound effects. TNTs are the small, unexpected actions we take to show others we care, costing little but creating lasting impressions and revolutionising customer experience. He highlighted how these actions can turn a four-star experience into a five-star one, distinguish a manager from a leader, and transform a workplace into a great place to work.

Conference host Keelan Leyser brought the event to a spectacular conclusion, wowing the crowd with his magic and engaging the audience with his dynamic performance. His captivating presence and interactive approach ensured that the attendees remained thoroughly entertained, perfectly wrapping up the two days filled with insightful content and meaningful discussions. Leyser’s finale left a lasting impression, highlighting the success of the conference and how together as One Industry, our collective efforts can help us achieve more.

Chris Hayward CEO of NMBS commented: ‘It has been fantastic to reconnect with so many friends and colleagues in Cyprus and to explore the significant opportunities awaiting merchants, suppliers, and NMBS in the coming years. This conference has given us all the opportunity to think differently and acknowledge the power gained from collaboration’.

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