National Buying Group (NBG) has released its latest Partner survey, reflecting sentiment around readiness to reopen showrooms and welcome Supplier representatives back to their sites.

The survey – which has been conducted quarterly since the first national lockdown – has shown a positive uplift in the number of Partners opening their showrooms and branches to the public and conducting business with Suppliers on site.

Overall, 94% of respondents indicated their branches are now fully open, with 3% remaining closed on Saturdays mainly due to a conscious change in business operating hours. This is a significant change since the last survey in November, when only 86% were fully open and 12% were closed on Saturdays.

There was also a small rise in the number of Partners who had fully opened their showrooms, from 48% last year to 57% now.

NBG Managing Director, Nick Oates, said: “It is fantastic to see so many of our Partners now in a position where they are confident to fully reopen their branches and showrooms. Through the NBG community all of our Partners have been able to share their experiences, advice, and best practice, ensuring the independent merchant sector was able to weather the pandemic.”

When conducting business, just over half (52%) are already allowing manufacturers’ representatives on site, with an additional 21% expected to allow visits by /June, and 10% looking at July. 11% were looking further into the future, with plans to allow these visits again from the third quarter of 2021.

The survey also showed that 93% of respondents’ staff have returned to the office full time, with 4% splitting their work between a branch and their home, while 3% remain working from home full time. This is also representative of Partners’ intentions from July when restrictions are expected to have eased.

The picture is significantly more optimistic than the last survey, with Partners keen to improve efficiency and adjusting the way they operate. Whilst the majority of Partners prefer to run training or account reviews with key contacts in person, there is a strong preference for agreement launches and new product launches to take place virtually.

Nick Oates continued: “This has been an exceedingly difficult year for all of our Partners and Suppliers and while we’re seeing a huge amount of renewed optimism from many, there is still an understandable and very sensible note of caution. We’ve come a long way over the last year and it is in all of our interests to ensure that we maintain this momentum by continuing to follow government guidelines and taking a sensible approach to reopening.”

“The continued growth of the group is another promising step as the independent merchant sector begins to recover. Our collaborative approach and ever-growing range of diverse product deals will hopefully help Partners and Suppliers as they continue to grow.”