In 2017 Hampshire-based Unique Plumbing Supplies embarked on a five-year plan that included the proposed addition of a sixth site to its branch portfolio and the creation of a brand new head office. Construction Industry News recently caught up with Adam Kill, Operations Director, to see what impact the pandemic has had on achieving these objectives and to see how the business has responded to the market recovery.
“While we still only have five sites because the pandemic made adding a sixth one unfeasible, we did achieve our other main objective after constructing a purpose-built head office on a mezzanine at our Eastleigh branch two years ago,” explains Mr Kill. “This new facility has since given us the capability to expand further and allowed us to add to our marketing and buying departments. We’ve also incorporated a feeder system, so we can bulk buy products and have them delivered to our head office before redistributing them to our other branches.”
While Unique Plumbing Supplies has certainly not been alone in having its plans disrupted by Covid-19, throughout 2020 it worked hard to get to grips with the challenges that came its way.
“It was a very weird situation to start off with and we obviously had to introduce various Covid protocols, including a number of risk assessments, in order to ensure that all our staff and customers are kept safe,” outlines Mr Kill. “In the first lockdown we closed three of our five sites with only Eastleigh and Hedge End remaining open on minimal hours for about six weeks. During this period we furloughed most of our 27 staff with half a dozen remaining working.
“As the various lockdowns eased, we brought more people back and reopened the other branches. We’ve gradually become busier and the last three months in particular have been absolutely manic. We don’t carry out a great deal of site work, so our business is predominately built on the ‘one-man band’ sector, which is the area where it’s all coming back. The end users want to move on with the jobs they’ve put off, so we’ve had an excellent couple of months and all of our branches are performing really well.”
It has been quite a turnaround in terms of workload for Unique Plumbing Supplies but the company has been able to cope quite comfortably with the increased demands that have been placed on the business. “As all of our furloughed employees have returned to work, we’re back up to being full speed so we’ve managed the process with few problems,” highlights Mr Kill. “I must give thanks to our staff, who have been excellent in adapting to a very challenging situation. It was a scary and uncertain time but they’ve come through it brilliantly. Our customers have also been very supportive.”
In addition to its staff and customers, another tower of strength for Unique Plumbing Supplies has been IPG, the buying group it joined in April 2017. “They’ve been absolutely brilliant and we’ve grown with them ever since we became a member. We have a really strong relationship with them; they’re extremely helpful and their ideas are excellent. We’re even going to be dual branding with them very soon. All of the signage on our branches, and maybe even some of our van fleet, will eventually be dual branded with IPG.”
From its Hampshire base Unique Plumbing Supplies is able to cover surrounding areas such as Wiltshire and Dorset, as well as North London if the opportunity is right. With the marketplace having recovered so strongly, the company is looking forward with renewed confidence as it looks to get back on track with its objectives.
“We’re on the cusp of formulating our latest five-year plan as the previous one went out of the window because of Covid,” says Mr Kill. “We have been viewing properties in preparation of potentially opening a new branch and it’s definitely something we’re keen to finalise within the next 12 months.
“We’re also keen to continue growing with IPG on the back of the dual branding process. Having recently revamped our website, I’m in the middle of designing an app and have signed an agreement with IPG for an e-commerce website. We’ve also just moved our computer system over to cloud hosting, which has already added more resilience to our IT infrastructure, so we’ve really taken a major step forward from a technological point of view.”
After a difficult 2020, Unique Plumbing Supplies has clearly been putting the groundwork into making the most of the resurgence within the marketplace and is sure to reap the rewards going forward as a result.