The latest viewpoint from the magazine
July 04 2012
Back, for good
PBM’s Paul Davies reflects on the recent NMBS Conference, the first industry event on such a scale in four years.
Following a four year hiatus, merchants and suppliers once again ventured off to (relatively) far-flung climes, free from the day-to-day business pressures to take a step back and talk over the threats and opportunities that exist within the building materials supply sector, sharing concerns and ideas with peers and colleagues.
And it felt good to be back. With many familiar faces in attendance, Conference was buoyed by a number of delegates experiencing such an event for the first time, adding an important new perspective to proceedings. Arguably, the long break also served to strengthen the event; this too afforded fresh perspective on what had worked — and what hadn’t — at previous meetings to deliver a large-scale industry function with genuine purpose.
Drawing on the London Olympics and a theme of striving for success, Roger Black was a perfect choice as Conference host as he introduced a very well-structured agenda which had a logical and resolute flow to it. Beginning with an outline of the current economic outlook, the business programme moved through a series of presentations focusing on the market opportunities that exist in relation to sustainable building in general and the Green Deal in particular.
Each took a different approach to the subject — giving the outlook from Government, consumer, trade and merchant standpoints — to stimulate debate, whilst latter sessions predominantly featured speakers from outside the industry to give broader view on strategic business thinking and online opportunities. Day two provided more detailed analysis of the topics and introduced new themes with a rolling series of breakout sessions, rounding off the business programme with a generous ‘Meet the Merchant’ session.
As ever, the event facilitated numerous ‘informal’ networking opportunities for further discussion and relationship building, and the emerging consensus suggested that NMBS had delivered a very well-received forum.
There are always detractors, of course, and Conference can simply never succeed in ‘being all things to all people’. Personally, for instance, I would like to see more sessions led by merchants who can share their own experiences, just as Ridgeons’ Dave Jordan did here. Whilst revealing a couple of hidden gems, renewables installer Chris Hopkins’ presentation didn’t quite live up to its billing — “What your customer wants” could have been a fantastic insight into responding more precisely to the changing demands at the trade counter.
Yet where the event truly succeeded was in being particularly thought provoking. Just as you can’t hope to please everyone, Conference cannot be expected to provide universal answers. Every business is different, so the solutions won’t be the same and NMBS 2012 didn’t shy away from posing challenging questions for individual delegates to consider how best they could apply them to their own organisations.
In the aftermath of the credit crunch, business has to be fought for like never before. Conference threw down the gauntlet by showcasing a number of opportunities to be had, but the onus was on the delegates to change their way of thinking to achieve results — by going in new directions with the Green Deal or sustainability, through applying new methodologies to trading (IT efficiencies and online, or even as an advice centre for consumers) or simply by positioning yourself slightly differently to sell the trade solutions and services, and not just products.
Drawing the strands together, whilst the Green Deal (or no deal…) was the pre-eminent focus, the real theme was a requirement to develop a more proactive approach rather than just waiting and reacting in the same old ways. In short, challenging people that the post-recessionary market is rather different to what preceded it — by recognising this change and adapting, the new opportunities for growth are there for the taking.
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