Neil Tidmarsh, Director at National Buying Group Partner Kingsley Bathroom Plumbing & Heating Centre and member of the NBG Plumbing and Heating Category Management Team, discusses the key issues facing merchants in today's plumbing and heating sector.

Q How would you describe the state of the plumbing (and heating) market at the moment?

A Plumbers on the whole are a resilient bunch. We’ve found that when new build housing slows due to adverse weather, economy or local authority policies and red tape, domestic repairs and home improvements come to the forth.

Q What innovations are driving the market right now?

A The advent of Boiler Plus has raised the bar regarding driving efficiency forward to more than 92% with Gas boilers. The drive for ever more efficient ways to heat our homes has seen some quite frankly, ‘interesting’ ideas, sometimes without a shred of practicality. However, it has continued to ensure that Plumbers and Heating Engineers must remain current, professional and whilst honing their skills, learn new tricks.

We have seen Air and Ground Source Heat Pumps become less of a niche market and more commonplace, whilst we have also seen wet underfloor heating become a standard option rather than an elite choice.

In short, the market is strong, buoyant and ever-changing

“We still hear customers asking the counter staff how they can get from a four-inch underground to an inch and a half waste pipe, but we’re now also hearing customers ask how they can control a three-zone heating system via the internet.”

Q What do you see as the greatest opportunity for plumbers’ merchants today?

A We believe that merchants should be leading the charge in bringing innovative products to the market place — renewable energy options, more efficient cylinders and smart heating controls for example.

We still hear customers asking the counter staff how they can get from a four-inch underground to an inch and a half waste pipe, but we’re now also hearing customers ask how they can control a three-zone heating system via the internet.

Q What do you think independent plumbers’ merchants can specifically offer to their customers?

A The independent merchants are closer to the shop floor — often the owner will spend time on the trade counter at some point during the week meaning that ‘it’ matters. A true independent merchant does not answer to shareholders they answer to their customers and we feel that the independent channels are continuing to organically expand which is starting to create a critical mass that has already ‘turned the heads’ of established International brands.

In many cases this means, for the first time, independent merchants are having direct dialogue and competitive propositions to offer their customers on products that were historically only for the ‘nationals’.

Q What’s been the best innovation your business has benefitted from in the last five years?

A NBG Hub without doubt. The National Buying Group intranet is equivalent to having a small army of staff within our business! Deals are negotiated and agreed by the principals of our businesses usually on a bi-annual basis, once the paperwork is confirmed, that’s pretty much it.

The deal is monitored, updated, chased and to a certain extent managed automatically. All rebates are calculated centrally, chased and paid. All information is collated in one place. All contacts are listed for all manufacturers and suppliers. All appointments and meeting minutes are posted. We are notified of all updated price lists and the latest offers and deals. There are areas for questions and queries.

In summary, it’s the one-stop go-to location — long gone are the days of unanswered emails and chasing your tail.

Q What would you say is the biggest benefit that NBG membership can offer an independent merchant?

A Running an independent business can be a lonely role. Your closest neighbour is most likely a competitor. Since being part of the National Buying Group — along with the obvious benefits that come from buying together — the comradeship and wealth of experience has been a huge benefit.

We now have access and have forged friendships with some very successful and knowledgeable entrepreneurs that do what we do.

They have stood in our shoes; they have made mistakes, they have learned and are happy and willing to help others avoid doing the same.

Our business has benefitted and still benefits from these friendships and hopefully we have been and will continue to be, in some small way, an assistance to others.

Read about this story in PBM