Comment from guest bloggers
June 14 2010
Sticking with the specialists
Specialist manufacturers are under continuing pressure to expand their product ranges, especially when pigeonholed under the general building products banner, as merchants increasingly look to consolidate supply orders. Debi Bailey looks into the reasons why merchants are going down the generalist route when it comes to ordering product lines, but argues that a better option is available.
With thousands of product lines in store, it is no surprise merchants need to manage their supply orders. However this cost cutting and seemingly more efficient process can have an effect on the quality of products builders’ merchants offer the trade. And those that have been unwittingly put under the general building products remit are suffering the most.
A handful of product ranges should always be considered specialist – including tile adhesives, grouts and sealants. These require a range of specifications for different surfaces and materials to successfully complete a professional project. As such, builders’ merchants need to maintain a good ratio between ‘specialist manufacturer’ stocked ranges and generalist ranges. At the moment we are seeing low quality, low price point adhesives, grouts and sealants supplied from generalist manufacturers getting increasingly more shelf space.
That suggests that some merchants are limiting their options, choosing the generalist manufacturers who supply a full range of building products over specialists who stick to one or two key areas.
This may appear to benefit the merchant’s bottom line, but actually limits end-user choice and puts continuing pressure on specialists to expand their product ranges. It is these specialist manufacturers, Dunlop included, which risk being overlooked by merchants who are unable to consolidate supply orders as efficiently as they can with generalist manufacturers. All suppliers rely on the supplier-merchant-contractor route to market, so it seems right that it should be a fair playing field.
But much more than this, there are many benefits to sticking to your expert field – as the good old saying, ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ suggests. Specialists are by definition exceptional in their product sector, benefiting both the merchant and trade. With several hundred products ranging across different sectors, it is impossible to have the same level of expertise and technical support on each and every product manufactured. So no matter how much it seems value for money by choosing lower price point products, it is also important to consider the after-sales support that medium-high price point products provide.
From a manufacturing prospective, it is easy to produce tile adhesives, grouts and sealants, but there is much to be said about producing a product that will successfully tile a specific surface while at the same time being easy to use and specify. Without the expert research and development, generalist supplied options are often no better than the typical alternatives found in DIY retail outlets. Tradesmen don’t want that. They want trade brand recognition as well as choice, quality and technical support from tile adhesives ranges.
We also need to dispel the myth that tradesmen will buy whatever their merchant stocks, especially when it comes to specialist products. We know from experience that they want to see trade recognised brands which they trust and use to complete a professional job. If they can’t find a specialist product in their local merchant, they will go to another outlet. So to be taken seriously, merchants need to supply specialist products which range across different price points.
The Cemco buying group is an excellent example and has taken specialist products, such as Dunlop Adhesives, and put them alongside generalist products successfully. Cemco member Graham Ballinger of Builders Supply Stores (Coventry) explained: “Over the last 18 months the Dunlop product range has come on leaps and bounds. By directly involving us, we jointly offer bespoke POS, competitions and product offers for our nationwide stores, confidently knowing they engage with our key target customers. It is now a brand in its own right with the much needed qualities of a specialist manufacturer attached.”
To provide the best deal for merchants and their customers alike, it is important for specialist manufacturers to stick to what they know best by having a selective product range where quality and marketing, sales and technical support can truly stand them apart from the rest of general building product ranges.
Debi Bailey is Brand Manager for Dunlop Adhesives.
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