PBM April feature - Face to Face with Paul Duff, NBG

National Buying Group (NBG) is the UK’s premier buying group for independent merchants. With more than 100 independent Partners trading from more than 420 branches, NBG is a national network. Partners can use group buying power to improve profitability and create business opportunities, whilst providing an efficient route to market for Suppliers.

NBG works with Partners in eight categories, who all have specialist knowledge and significant spend in their product areas, to negotiate and manage deals competitively, fairly and while offering mutual benefits to Partners and Suppliers. Uniquely in this sector, NBG is a single, united force, driven by a ‘one person, one voice’ community and supported by a central team. This ensures NBG maintains an equal and democratic approach that works for all.

PBM speaks with Paul Duff, NBG’s Category Buyer for the Civils & Landscaping and Roofing & Insulation Category Management Teams.

How did you get into the industry and to your current position?

At 16, I had a passion for motorcycles, so rather than pursue A levels, I took an apprenticeship in mechanical engineering, where I learnt how motorcycles work and how to fix them. From there, I joined RS Components in a technical compliance role, which led me on to a buying role at Screwfix. My career has since taken me to Travis Perkins, Jewsons and Saint-Gobain. After a brief stint at FP McCann, I have joined NBG, where I really appreciate the agility of independent builders merchants to change direction and make decisions, which gives them an advantage over the nationals. It’s refreshing!

How do you feel the industry has changed in recent years?

My role is to support our Partners and look for new opportunities for Suppliers and Partners to work together. Looking at upcoming trends, we can see that increased online trading means that pricing is now very visible and our Partners are at different stages in their online offer. We’re currently working with Suppliers like Velux to help Partners improve their skills and knowledge and provide some tools to help them navigate this complicated online trading world.

What are the challenges facing the merchant sector in particular?

In 2019, while the national merchants plateaued, our Partners enjoyed significant growth, and many new Partners have joined NBG. I think this is because businesses need to be passionate about service and our Partners are entirely focussed on their customers and what they need. For example, in landscaping we have seen a huge increase in the demand for porcelain, and a decline in sandstone, so it’s important that we spot trends to help Partners meet these changing demands. We also need to work together to build the value of premium products and help prevent them becoming a commodity.

What has influenced you most in your career?

I was once told that if it’s on the page, it should be in stock. This has influenced me throughout my career and is the reason I focus on availability and delivery. Customers depend on merchants in order to do their jobs and meet the expectations of their clients, so in my experience, successful businesses use a customer first model.

What has been your biggest challenge so far?

Every role has its challenges, but at NBG my current challenge is to expand our civils offer further. This is a great opportunity for us to support our Partners more and add greater value, by using some of the knowledge and learnings that we have gained from our roofing specialists. By working collaboratively, and bringing our civils specialists together, I believe we will soon be making a big difference.

What has been the highlight of your career to date?

I am a keen cyclist, and a few years ago I was lucky enough to take part in several charity cycle rides, covering up to 60 miles across the Midlands. One memorable year, I completed the challenge on a very unusual eight-seater bike, together with four members of staff from Tarmac cement. It was certainly a quick way to get to know each other!

Where do you see yourself in five year’s time?

From a career point of view, I hope I’m still able to help NBG Partners develop their businesses and support Suppliers as they break into a national market. As a lifelong Leicester City fan and season ticket holder, I’m hoping that I’ll be in the King Power stadium watching them lift the Premiership trophy – again!