Blog | Published on 3rd Apr 2017

Does the traditional plumbing and heating Merchant have a future? Stewart Clements, Director, HHIC talks about the role of the merchant in the future of the heating and plumbing industry

Ok, so before I get started let me just clarify that the answer is unquestionably yes. Merchants are and will continue to be a crucial part of the industry. Why?

Well, there are approximately 122,000 registered gas engineers operating in the UK, and let’s not forget the builders, plumbers and other tradespeople all of whom often start the day by visiting their local builders merchants to purchase the materials needed for the day ahead.

Merchants are the route to market for most domestic heating and associated products and occupy a key position within the supply chain, linking manufacturers, installers and ultimately homeowners, these relationships cannot be underestimated.

Merchants also play a vital role in keeping installers up to date with policy, regulation, legislation and indeed technological developments. In turn those installers then carry messages into UK homes. Last year some 1.6 million new gas boilers were fitted. If we really want to drive down UK emissions and energy bills ensuring that merchants and in turn installers have the tools and knowledge they need is essential.

Recognising this, the Heating and Hotwater Industry Council, HHIC has been reviewing how it can further support its Merchants Group. We have subsequently made some changes to the Group that will not only help the Merchants themselves but their customers, the installers too.

The Group is currently chaired by Tim Pollard, Head of Sustainability at Wolseley UK Limited.

“Any business that stands still in this rapidly changing world will find life increasingly difficult, as technology and customer demands continue to advance at pace and service expectations change. The fundamental principle of making products available in the right place, at the right time, and at the right price seems straightforward enough until you understand that the modern market demands a choice of literally hundreds of thousands of products.

Our role is much broader than simply providing the product when customers need it. It’s about providing the right, trusted expertise and informing customer choices, while helping them with all the latest industry developments, and also supporting installers in services such as design and administration.

 We work closely with our supply partners to illustrate the practical implications of changing regulations and what they mean for business operations. We also provide online tools to ensure our customers can fulfil their obligations in a more time efficient way.

 And, of course, we try to lead by example in the minimisation of waste, ethical purchasing policies and the practical use of technology. This includes an 8,000 panel PV array on our distribution centre roof covering a roof area of 13,113m2 with a rated output of over 2,000 kW.

 We are continually evolving our product and service offer to become the first-choice specialist merchant for trade customers, with the best branch network supported by super-efficient logistics and leading business technology services.”

Tim brings with him a wealth of experience and will support us to drive a robust agenda, particularly in our discussions with Government departments such as BEIS.

Members of our merchants group also recognise the role they play and want to support their customers. HHIC are delighted to see members going that one step further to make sustainability happen. Over recent years there have been various projects and initiatives designed to educate and encourage installers to ‘go green’ taking place up and down the UK. Merchants are certainly getting creative in providing installers with help, to both understand and profit from new opportunities and technologies. They have come out of their traditional role, to ensure that they provide the necessary support in an ever changing environment. That’s not to say that the traditional values of a merchant don’t still hold value, they do. The relationship built on these simple customer focused principles can define the success of the plumbing and heating installer.

For more information about the Merchants working group contact me; stewart@hhic.org.uk