January 17, 2022

Henshaws Roofing & Building Supplies – A new lease of life

After chalking up over three decades of operation, Henshaws Roofing & Building Supplies in Manchester had a change in ownership in 2019 that not only gave the business a new lease of life, but also led to improvements that helped it deal with both the Covid-19 pandemic and the materials shortage.

Henshaws was originally formed by George and Kathryn Henshaw in 1985 in Greater Manchester as a roofing merchant. The business grew steadily thanks to its focus on customer service, moving location three times as it expanded over the years, becoming the well-respected company it is today.

When George’s thoughts turned towards retirement, he began to look at options for the future of the business, which is where Adrian Shelley, who had a background of working at a number of large PLCs, comes in. He takes up the story: “I had previously been at SIG for over 20 years occupying all manner of roles including divisional managing director and commercial director,” explains Mr Shelley. “Part of my responsibilities involved planning and executing acquisitions for the group and, ironically, Henshaws was one that slipped the net when we looked at purchasing the business several years ago.

“A couple of years later, I met George socially after I had left SIG and was working for an American owned large multi -national roofing manufacturing company. As he was approaching retirement he wanted to find a good home for the business, particularly as he was quite open in saying that he’d taken it as far as he could. I had a different background and skill set that I believed would enable me to progress Henshaws to the next stage in its development. Fortunately George agreed, and I ended up leaving the corporate world and buying the company at the start of 2019. Myself, as Managing Director, and my wife have been running it ever since.”

Even with the purchase of Henshaws done and dusted, Mr Shelley’s appetite for acquisitions wasn’t sated just yet, as when another well-established business became available, R&M Roofing and Building Supplies in Rochdale, he was again quick off the mark to get a deal over the line.

“With over 40 years of trading under its belt, R&M had been operating for even longer than Henshaws and became available after its founder Peter Bennett sadly passed away,” explains Mr Shelley. “As the family didn’t want to continue the business without Peter, they began looking for a like-minded organisation to take it on. They could have easily sold the business to several large nationals that were interested in the site, but thankfully they recognised that we shared the same family values. They were also particularly impressed with our intention to employ local people and support the surrounding community. We’ve since become a proactive supporter of various charity events including for the local hospice, while we’ve also looked to build links with the sizable Asian population within the town.”

The addition of R&M hasn’t been the only major development that Mr Shelley has overseen since he took on the business in 2019, with Henshaws becoming members of the Builders Merchants Federation (BMF) along with their existing membership of the h&b Buying Group. While the decision behind these respective memberships were made for a number of reasons, the emergence of both Covid-19 and the global materials shortage has meant that there were other unforeseen advantages too.

“Our membership of the BMF was particularly crucial when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, as they did an absolutely sterling job engaging with government. They then passed this information onto its members exceptionally well through daily bulletins and briefings. What’s more, the Covid-19 guidelines were continually revised, redesigned and edited, so we were always operating to the best and latest advice. At that time we only had one branch so it was relatively straightforward to implement the new practices, plus we have a large site so were able to create a one-way system with ‘collect only’ areas, while we also invested in all the necessary PPE such as masks, screens and gloves.

“In terms of the benefits of being an h&b member, primarily you join a buying group to gain access to better pricing, as the combined turnover of all its members is well over £1bn. However, with the recent shortage of building materials it helped immensely in this regard too. As a relatively small local building merchant it would have been very easy for some of the larger suppliers to cast us aside and instead focus on the nationals such as Travis or Jewson or the large independents. As part of h&b, we were able to maintain consistent and reliable supply, which was essential. In addition, I also have well established industry contacts and we continue to enjoy excellent support from our key manufacturers, such as Wienerberger.”

Thanks to these industry contacts and Mr Shelley’s extensive corporate experience, he has been able to introduce a new way of thinking into two very well established businesses, which in turn has taken them to the next level. Integral to this has been the expansion of its product offering.

“Expanding the range is crucial and, as we strive to have the best selection available, we are looking at some fairly innovative products. We didn’t stock EPDM rubber roofing products until I arrived, which have proven to be really successful, whilst we’re also focusing on the sustainability market.

“Whenever we add to our range there’s a high degree of natural progression, with any new additions being linked to the products that have come before it. We wouldn’t jump from roofing to boilers, for instance, as it would be too much of a leap, but we would move from roofing into roof trusses and then onto engineered timber structures. There has to be a logical path of product extension rather than dashing around with a scattergun approach. If you think of a building, whatever we sell and whatever it is fixed to, we will move to that product and whatever that product is fixed to we will move onto that. We don’t sell anything that we don’t know about. This ensures that we’re able to offer our customers a high degree of knowledge and insight into every product we stock.

“We have something like 200 years of experience within the company of roofing products, and with the addition of the new branch we have added significant specialist timber knowledge as well. We have recruited two guys from a national timber merchant and one from another builders’ merchant, so we’ve really enhanced our knowledge base in this area. Timber is our second biggest category after roofing, so beefing up our expertise in this area is increasingly important to our future prospects.”

“As well as adding to our range, we are also always looking at ways to improve our internal operation. As part of this approach, we have added new vehicles to the fleet, while we are also in the process of introducing a new IT solution called Counteract from Border Systems. The software has been specifically designed around the needs and requirements of builders’ merchants so we’re very excited about the impact it will have.”

Having successfully brought together two well established businesses, and with the ongoing support of both the BMF and h&b, Henshaws is now looking to keep pushing forward by making the most of the corporate acumen that Mr Shelley has brought to the table.

“Looking ahead to the next 12 months, first and foremost we want to retain all the excellent staff that we’ve inherited from Henshaws and R&M, in addition to those employees that we have since brought in to bolster the business,” concludes Mr Shelley. “We’re very ambitious and further acquisitions could potentially be on the cards, but in the meantime we’re committed to building on what we currently have. Expanding the product range in particular will be very important, especially regarding sustainability as this is an area we’ve identified as a source of huge growth potential. As a result, we’ll be looking to bring in additional people with technical knowledge and experience of this marketplace. We have invested strongly over the past year or so and we’re firmly committed to keeping that going.”

With a rich history already behind it, the fresh ideas and impetus that Mr Shelley has brought into Henshaws will help ensure that the company’s longer term prospects will continue in the same vein.