July 20, 2024

Lords Builders Merchants – Continual progression brings award success

From having just a couple of sites in 1985, Lords Builders Merchant has evolved over the past three decades into an award-winning company with a 17-strong store estate and saw its parent-company, Lords Group Trading, list on the AIM Stock Exchange in 2021. This impressive success has been achieved thanks to an enduring focus on quality service that has enabled the business to build a leading reputation across London and the Home Counties.

“Our first two sites were established in Edmonton in 1982 and Gerrards Cross in 1985 by Neil and Rajen Patel,” explains Darren Price, Managing Director. “A third site was added in Westbourne Grove by 1987, the year Rajen’s brother Shanker joined the business. The Lords estate has gradually expanded ever since, representing 17 of the 51 branches within the wider group. Shanker still leads the business as CEO, and despite being floated on the AIM in 2021, we remain a family operation with core values at our heart.”

This traditional business approach is reflected by Lords’ emphasis on customer service, which was recently underlined by the company’s success at the Builder Merchants Awards 2023, where it carried away Best Merchant of the Year within the 6-20 branches category.

“It was fantastic to win the award, which has come on the back of the strong growth we have achieved in the past four to five years,” outlines Jess Harris, Marketing Director. “Despite the rapid expansion we’ve been making, we’ve never lost sight of the three Ps that are fundamental to our business: our people, our plant and our premises. The ongoing investment we have made in all three areas has been crucial in achieving the high service levels and extensive product range we have become known for, while at the same time helping us to upscale the operation very, very quickly.”

The fact that Lords completely understands the important role its people play in its success, justifying the investment it makes in its employees, was also recognised at the Builders Merchants Awards after the manager of its Beaconsfield site, Reina Reeves, was named Branch Manager of the Year.

“Reina really is a shining star and her recognition is well deserved,” adds Jess. “It’s also fantastic that a female branch manager has been rewarded for her achievements. We’re extremely proud of her, particularly as she did such an amazing job keeping the Beaconsfield site open and profitable during a challenging 18-month rebuild process. Throughout a difficult transition period she kept all her team together and motivated, enabling the branch to substantially grow its local customer base.”

“The awards are great peer validation,” says Darren. “We’re quietly confident that we’re taking the right approach, but to have this recognised by our peers is very gratifying. As a business and as a brand, we’ve come from pretty humble beginnings, tending to fly slightly below the radar. These awards therefore expose Lords to a much wider audience and potential customer base.”

While award recognition is always a sign that a company is on the right tracks, the fact that next year will see Lords celebrating its 40th anniversary is an even greater indicator that it is doing something correctly. So what’s been the secret to this longevity?

“It’s really simple,” outlines Darren. “It’s consistency, it’s continuity, and it’s about being true to ourselves as a business and what we believe in. We might be a PLC but fundamentally we are still a family business.

“The focus we put on our three Ps, particularly our people, is what has led to our success. It’s no coincidence that we’ve managed to double in size over the past four or five years but have still retained our identity, our culture and our ethos. This is what keeps us driving forward.”

“It is also worth mentioning our suppliers, because they’ve always been a key reason behind our growth,” highlights Jess. “We see our link with suppliers as a two-way street and we really nurture our relationships with them.

“Looking at the whole stakeholder ecosystem, whether it’s our colleagues, our customers or our suppliers, it’s all about making sure everyone’s getting what they need out of the relationship. This was particularly evident during the pandemic, when we endeavored to be there for our customers so they could keep their businesses going, but at the same time making sure our people and everyone we worked with remained safe. It was ‘all hands on deck’ certainly, but we got through it.”

The commitment to its customers is borne out by Lords’ unwavering desire to keep improving its service and its range of products. In the past five years there’s been a process of increasing its offer and consequently it now has a strong bathroom showroom, as well as a comprehensive plumbing and heating range. It has also significantly strengthened its timber offer, having added milling facilities to its armoury, and a specialist roofing supplier with the acquisition of Advance Roofing.

“Broadening our product base has been a key element of our overall strategy,” says Jess. “We’re achieving this through a combination of working with suppliers and acquiring the expertise and specialism necessary to take us to the next level, both in our branches and online.”

As well as looking to work with its external partners, Lords is also highly proactive in developing its own people via ongoing training. “We sit across many platforms from a learning and development perspective,” says Darren. “We have formal training for all our staff relating to supplier products, as well as commercial-based in-house training, and we’re currently going through an apprenticeship drive. This isn’t just aimed at school leavers, but also targets our existing colleague base in relation to specific job roles. For example, forklift drivers that want to become lorry drivers or managers who’d like to take on additional senior leadership training, can all do so within an apprenticeship-type framework.”

Reina Reeves, Branch Manager of the Year

Lords has also strengthened its HR provision, having appointed a group-level HR Director in the past year and added a number of people to the department. “We’re particularly keen to make further inroads from a diversity perspective and encourage our female staff to reach their potential with us,” says Jess. “Reina is a perfect example, with her well-earned award. Another of our highly performing merchants comes from a hairdressing background. It might not seem like your typical route into merchanting, but she’s brilliant at talking to people, understands customer service and is happy to be on her feet all day, so she’s ticked all the major boxes. It’s all about widening the traditional pool of people that the merchanting sector would target for employment and breaking down barriers to entry.

“While recruiting the right people is vital, it’s equally important that we look after our existing staff. We therefore make sure they have high quality environments to work in and have everything they need to perform their roles to the optimum standard. It’s all about getting the basics right.

“In the last three months we’ve introduced an internal comms platform called Workvivo, which is best described as a cross between Facebook and LinkedIn. Colleagues can share what’s happening across the group and provide insight on a range of topics. We have 300 employees across our 17 sites, with just under 1,000 staff within the overall group, so good communication links are vital.

“We’re also keen advocates of giving back to the community by committing to donating £200k a year to the Lords Foundation, which distributes grants to local charitable causes. Over 2,500 community members have benefited since its creation two years ago. That’s not only great for the local community, but also helps our colleagues feel connected to where they work. We all enjoy coming into our branches a bit more if it is part of something worthwhile. Each branch is encouraged to have a local charity partner, so there’s a meaningful relationship that can be built on.”

With its ongoing investment in its people and its processes, not to mention its dedication to fostering ever-stronger relationships with its suppliers, it’s clear that Lords is doing all it can to sustain its success. What it has less control over is the wider marketplace and the performance of the economy generally.

“The market did constrict somewhat in the second half of last year and we’re seeing a similar pattern into the first quarter of 2024,” says Darren. “It’s not necessarily as tough as it might have been and we have continued to grow, but that’s not really an indication of the market, it’s more a reflection of our performance and our resilience.

“Our biggest opportunity is market share. We are 1% of the construction materials sector in the UK, so we’ve got 99% to go at. From a day-to-day trading point of view, that is the message going out into the business.

“Strategically, we have a number of initiatives set for launch in the coming years that will drive continued expansion. Historically our growth has been acquisitive and that ambition to develop the business through the right acquisition opportunities remains. However, there’s also an opportunity for us to grow by opening new branches, either on greenfield or brownfield locations. Any new sites will be based around our existing branch network and the need to strategically plug geographical gaps.”

As it builds on an award-winning 2023, there can be no doubt that Lords is keen to keep forging ahead with its growth plans, even in the face of an uncertain market climate. “First and foremost, our objective is to navigate our way through the tricky trading conditions by maintaining our strategic plan,” concludes Darren. “It hasn’t gone unnoticed that some of the larger national operators have been forced to make significant redundancies and close branches, whereas we’re actively looking to add to our site network and build our business. We have clear financial budgets and growth targets in place and are well on track to achieving these goals.”

Given the progress it has made over the past four decades, coupled with the ongoing investment that Lords is making in every facet of its business, this confidence certainly looks well founded and further award recognition cannot be ruled out.