NBG’s Brand of the Year award winner OX Tools and one of its most successful NBG stockists, Frank Key have struck up a great partnership since OX became an NBG supplier in 2011. We talk to OX’s National Sales Manager, Jason Elkins and Frank Key MD James Norton to find out how this works for both parties.

James Norton describes the Frank Key Group as “the youngest 110 year old you’ll ever meet!” Started in Mansfield in 1907 as a classic merchant of the time, selling sand and a few add on items, the company grew and prospered throughout the 20th century, moving to Nottingham in 1935 and to its current site in 1953. Though it’s fair to say that the Nottingham depot we see today is unrecognisable from those early days when it consisted on a couple of terraced houses and a small yard with a handful of staff working there. The Sansom family fully acquired the company following the death of Mr Frank Key, and growth accelerated soon after current Chairman Robert Sansom, joined the company in the 1970’s. Over time the company added some of the products and services that continue to thrive to this day including tool hire, deliveries, timber sales, and bathrooms.

Group Managing Director James Norton arrived in the business in 2005, shortly after the company continued to grow helped through acquiring businesses such as Parker Severn Builders Merchants Ltd in 2008, Sinbad Tools Ltd in 2012, The Building Centre (Sheffield) Ltd in 2013 and Charles Watson (Ironmongers) Ltd, Banson Tool Hire Ltd and Clower & Son (Builders Merchants) Ltd in 2015. The group now has five merchant branches, a landscaping centre, two ironmongery counters, fourteen hire depots and 220 staff. “We were founder members of NBG and we are very proud of that,” says James. “A lot of our growth since then has come through NBG and getting the right deals. For an independent merchant like us I think our NBG membership is the best way to compete at the right levels of profitability.”

The partnership between Frank Key and OX Tools is no exception to that rule. OX Group started out as manufacturers of diamond tools 26 years ago. In 2011 they joined forces with a company in Australia to launch OX globally. Now with operatioms in sixteen countries, OX has grown its business considerably by sellingdirect from the manufacturer to merchants, offering stockists savings over other distributors. The company has ten salesmen on the road in the UK and provides merchants with training, promotional and POS support. “We never sell direct to the end user – our whole business model is built around only supplying merchants,” says Jason. “Of course we offer our stockist customers support on site and are very focused on suppliying the products that we know those end users want.”

OX’s business growth with NBG merchants has been impressive in the 6 years since they set up their deal with the group: some accounts show 30-40% growth. “We got involved with NBG because we believe they offer the best compliance of the buying groups. Business with its members has gone from strength to strength, certainly outstripping other buying groups,” says Jason. “We believe we’ve achieved that with quality products at a reasonable price, strongly branded and well-presented.” A bright blue OX display is certainly striking and can transform a small outlet. The range covers all the trades so is a brand that has a broad appeal across all merchant customer sectors, and constant innovation means the range is always fresh. OX has some very loyal end users who buy regularly from the range. One has even demonstrated his devotion to the brand with an OX tattoo!

Frank Key is one of OX’s top customers in NBG and the range has demonstrated impressive growth with the merchant in recent years. “Essentially OX is easy to do business with,” says James. “We can buy from one place so that means one account to administer which saves us money and time. Plus things services like sale or return, free displays, a no-hassle guarantee on products, and free carriage on orders over £100 and you can see why they are a doddle to do business with.”

Another advantage of this successful NBG merchant-supplier relationship is the excellent relationships that the two companies have developed at all levels of the two organisations. “Membership of NBG simply gets us a seat at the top table with suppliers and that filters down through the whole set up,” says James. “We are fully committed to NBG – for instance, our Operations Director, Russell Ostrowsky-Weston, sits on the NBG Tools Category Management Team and that provides the business with so much valuable information and insight into what is an important sector for us.”

Like all good business partnerships, the one between OX Group and frank Key is built on open communication, trust and great service; facilitated in no small part by their NBG commitment.