Press | Published on 11th Aug 2016

Merchants are a pivotal part of the supply chain

It’s an interesting time for the heating and plumbing industry. The current political turmoil leaves us all with more questions than we have answers. Not to mention the lack of policy to help us meet our legally-binding carbon reduction targets.

Although we might not have the robust policy infrastructure that is required for the UK to truly become energy efficient, there’s no denying it, whether you are in the industry or not you know that things need to change. People think we’re mistaken when we say this, but the root of the issue is that we’ve enjoyed really cheap energy and we haven’t tried hard enough to prevent it leaking out the doors, the windows and the roof. Similarly we have become complacent about our rooms being over-heated, in some cases leaving domestic heating on all day, in all rooms, at all times, whilst leaving the windows open.

It’s only in the last six or seven years that we’ve seen fuel prices soaring, and with them the need to make our homes more efficient, and our bills more manageable. In the UK we have the oldest and most inefficient building stock in Europe. If we were to start again from scratch, all our buildings would be very well insulated, powered by highly efficient, possibly renewable heating systems with a full set of controls, and would probably have a heat recovery system too.

But that is not the situation we are in, so it’s up to us, to educate people about the measures they can take to make their homes more efficient, and save money on their bills. Merchants have a fundamental role to play in that.

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. 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 DECC.

Member 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.

So why is Installer engagement so key?

For the average homeowner or landlord, their local installer is the best person to talk to for all things plumbing and heating. They’re the trusted voice in the community, and the people on the front lines.

Installers can talk to their customers about; ways to make homes more efficient like controls, insulation, upgrading an old inefficient boiler, or switching to a renewable heating system.

We need to help them get the key messages across to homeowners, because changing people’s mind is the real prize, and behavioural change will give us our biggest rewards.

If you say: ‘here’s £300, are you going to buy a new flat screen TV or are you going to insulate your loft?’ you don’t have to be a genius to work out which one most people are going to choose. Unless you can show them that every year they can buy a new flat screen TV with the money they’re saving on energy bills –installers are best placed to deliver this message.

They are our industry foot soldiers, the ‘people in the know’, and their opinions, interests and unique perspectives on the daily challenges they face are invaluable. We – as an industry must provide them with the knowledge and information they need.

Working together

As an industry we’re all working hard to help promote sustainability, which is why being an active member of a trade association, such as the Heating and Hotwater Industry Council (HHIC) is crucial. There’s strength in numbers, and it takes merchants, installers, manufacturers, business leaders and politicians to make a difference, so we all need to be aiming at the same goal.