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Clicks or bricks?

Clicks or bricks

It seems like hardly a day goes by without s story about a UK retailer in trouble. High street staples like Debenhams and Laura Ashley look wobbly and face the possibility of following what are literally high street names like Mothercare, Pound Land and Maplins down the slippery slope to closure.

So is that trend being reflected in the building products market? It would seem not as bricks and mortar still seems to beat clicks when it comes to buying, well,  bricks and mortar. Independent builders merchants in particular are expanding and opening new branches and the way that private equity firms are eyeing the sector – and investing in it – would seem to suggest that these physical businesses still have plenty to offer.

Take Screwfix. Yes they have a great web site. Yes they are the kings of click and collect. Yet the rise and rise of the Screwfix brand, once based entirely on catalogue and web sales, has been constructed firmly on its ever expanding network of branches from Inverness to Penzance, and from Enniskillen to Lowestoft.

Perhaps rather unusually for a woman, I love visiting builders merchants. I’ve visited two just this week, in London and Essex. Two very different businesses but with a very similar ethos. A similar way of relating to customers – on a personal level, often over years, decades. In both businesses I was greeted personally, helped with what I needed and left happy. The sort of service that’s become rather a rarity in other parts of the retail sector. That personal relationship, built on trust and understanding of each other’s business, can only really be established face-to-face, between actual human beings with real knowledge and expertise to share.

One of the very real ways that very real physical businesses can and do beat online purchasing is delivery times. If a plumber needs a fitting for a burst pipe, he needs to go and get it. Now. Not wait for even next day delivery. How many builders merchants have had calls for customers who are literally standing in a hole, needing a pipe or whatever, and needing it pronto. Small to medium sized builders tend to be very “just in time” about buying building products and yes, that is a polite way of saying they’re a bit disorganised! Builders merchants, who usually hold many many thousands of lines of stock, win hands down here. Same day delivery to site is the norm in the trade – something that can only be achieved if there’s a truly local depot with stock on the ground.

That’s not to say that the online world isn’t important in the building products trade, especially as millennials start to build up purchasing power in the sector and want to buy in more “modern” ways. Every merchant now knows that his customers will have compared prices of key commodities like cement online before they get out of the van. And that they also use Click and Collect from companies like Screwfix for buying sundries, forgotten items and last minute items when traditional merchants are closed. Merchants need to start getting on board the online train to supplement and complement their bricks and mortar businesses. The sector has, it’s fair to say, been a slow adopter of technology in general but the trend for comparing, sourcing and shopping online is firmly established now and will only go one way. Merchants must – and are – finding ways of making bricks and physical depots work alongside clicks and online growth.

helencurry@foundationpr.co.uk

Waste Not Want Not

waste
The construction industry produces three times more packaging waste than all UK households combined

Unless you’ve had had your head buried in the sand in recent years, you can’t have failed to notice that plastic is the new bogeyman. And single-use plastic is the biggest monster of all. Thousands of tonnes are reaching the earth’s oceans. Even more going to landfill. And the uncomfortable truth is that the construction industry is one of the biggest culprits in perpetuating the problem.

The construction industry has a plastic problem. A 50,000 tonne per annum problem with plastic packaging alone. It’s fair to say that the sector has not been the quickest on the uptake with the reduce, reuse, recycle agenda. In fact, the launch of Considerate Constructors Scheme (CCS) “Spotlight on … plastics and packaging” campaign last year threw up some shocking statistics:

  • 23% of plastic produced in the UK is consumed by the construction industry
  • 25% of construction packaging waste by weight is plastic
  • 3x more packaging waste is produced by construction than all UK households combined
  • 25% of skips that leave site during the construction phase are filled with disposable packaging, including cardboard, timber and plastic

As a permanent building material, plastic is often unbeatable. But in it’s single-use form – the type that gets discarded – it becomes a problem. 25% of plastic waste in construction is in packaging but substantial amounts come from unused materials caused by over ordering, over-specification, and throwing away damaged items caused in transport, storage or handling.

As the issue becomes more ingrained in public consciousness – and who hasn’t been nagged about plastics at home by eco-savvy teens and children? – then the construction industry will come under increasing pressure to drive better practice through the supply chain.

It is possible to reduce the amount of plastic going to landfill. In Germany for instance, construction generates 201.8 million tonnes of waste in construction and demolition, with around 90% of that recycled. Around 80% of the plastic waste in Germany is recycled, compared to less than 40% in the UK.

Reduce: suppliers can deliver in larger packs, cutting the volume of packaging per item. Some manufacturers are developing reusable crates and pallet take-back schemes.

Reuse: merchants and contractors are beginning to ask suppliers to take packaging away to reuse for the next delivery.

Recycle: Of course with a complex problem like this, the answers are never simple. For example, many companies trying to reduce the amount of plastic they send to waste are stymied by issues like the co-mingling of different types of plastic: it is nigh on almost impossible to identify the type of plastic involved as there is so little labelling. Using a licensed Waste Management Contractor to dispose of packaging can drastically increase the amount recycled.

It seems high time that the construction industry made as much effort to reduce single use plastics at work as they are at home

BRAND NEW

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When I started Foundation 20 years ago, I was a (relatively) fresh-faced 30-something. I’d never heard of social media. Or Brexit. And my life ran on dial-up, whose chirpy tone was my daily ear worm. I named my company Foundation – building industry, solid, the basis for everything, geddit? – and had my corporate ID designed.

Unbeknownst to me, it looked just like the Facebook logo, before Facebook was even a twinkle in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye. In fact Facebook took an interest in me in around 2010 when its algorithms picked up my logo and they contacted me to ask me to stop using their logo. I responded asking them to stop using mine. But added that I would settle for a billion dollars. Strangely, I never heard from them again.

Now twenty years later I am the same. But different. As is Foundation. Still specialising in b2b PR for the building industry, but no more sticking photos onto press releases and posting them out. Still working with some of the biggest brands in the sector, but often using social media which has perhaps been the biggest revolution in my time in the PR business.

Our 20th anniversary seemed to be the right time to look again at our corporate ID which has only been tweaked and updated in that time. Like a lot of marketing sector companies we’ve been guilty in the past of being so busy looking after our clients’ brands that we have neglected our own.

Today we are launching the results. A fresher, fizzier new logo which forms the basis for our new ID. While still based on the F theme, it brings us forward in leaps and bounds and reflects the new invigoration and focus in the business this year.

We hope you like it. Look out for it being rolled out across all our platforms in the coming days and weeks.

Want to talk to architects? Head for Twitter

I remember that the first PR agency boss I ever worked for said that architects were among the three most sold-to professions in the UK – have a guess who he reckoned the other two are…more on that later.

If your business relies on talking to architects then nowadays you have to talk to them where they are hanging out – and that’s Twitter.

Many construction products companies I talk to are sceptical. “Isn’t twitter just full of footballers and pop stars?” they say. But that’s simply not the case. It’s not all about David Beckham and Taylor Swift. Twitter is the place to engage with architects in a positive and proactive way.

Architects have always been a tricky group to target and nobody is arguing that the more established ways of interacting with them should be abandoned. But in the same way that the traditional paper catalogue has largely been superseded by digital versions and web sites, it’s vital to move with the times and interact on social media.

Nowadays architects are all over social media – like a rash. Predominantly Twitter but Instagram is also popular. Su Butcher, perhaps one of the leading experts on social media in the construction industry, often quotes research which says that 44% of architects are using Twitter for work. Not, as Su points out AT work to check the latest on the Kardashians’ love lives, but FOR work. (Incidentally, if you are on Twitter yourself, you could do worse than follow Su @SuButcher).

44% of architects are using Twitter for work. Not, AT work, but FOR work.

Think of it this way. Twitter is only a different platform for doing things that you are already doing in your business. It is brilliant for:

  • Building your brand and getting it in front of the right people (PR)
  • Searching for and engaging with potential customers (prospecting)
  • Engaging with existing contacts (customer service)
  • Driving traffic to your businesses and its web sites (marketing)

So don’t dismiss Twitter if your business relies on talking to architects. It’s here to stay. Embrace it.

And for those of you interested in the other two highly marketed professions…my old boss said it was doctors and farmers but I’m not sure how much science there was behind that assertion!

To find out how you can get started on twitter and engage with architects and other key target markets, give me a call on 07932332331

Helen Curry, Director, Foundation PR

No brickies. And no bricks. How Brexit might affect building materials supplies

Brexit Materials Shortages Oct 18

There is much talk about how Brexit will affect the building and construction labour market this week. But less is being said about the potential shortage of building materials, an equally concerning prospect.

Last week Teresa May pledged at the Tory Conference to make it nigh on impossible for “unskilled” foreign workers to enter the UK. Even leaving aside the fact that these “unskilled workers” are vital o the UK construction industry – low skill does not necessarily equal low value to a project – and that recruiting and training British replacements will not be an overnight task, it ignores the fact that these “unskilled” workers may have no materials to actually build in April next year.

Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the industry knows that a woefully small amount of building materials are manufactured in the UK. In fact, over the period from Quarter 1 1984 to Quarter 2 2017, construction materials imports have increased, on average per quarter by 3.8%. That’s per quarter. The EU is by far our biggest source of building material imports. A study from the Department for Business Skills and Innovation estimated that 64% of building materials are imported from the EU. And according to a government report published this year, more than £10 billion of construction materials came from the EU last year – more than three times what we import from China.

Even if supply doesn’t stop completely, things will surely get more expensive.

So, should the tap be turned off, even temporarily, where will these materials come from? Some materials are already in short supply. Blocks, roofing materials and insulation materials are already scarce. And ask some of the major brick suppliers about a delivery and you will get much sucking of teeth and shaking of heads.

Even if supply doesn’t stop completely, things will surely get more expensive. A weaker pound will lead to the rising costs for imports and, given the way Brexit negotiations have been going so far, the UK could lose tariff-free access to the single market, as well as facing the imposition of duties and limits on quantities.

So maybe it’s a good thing that we won’t have any brickies on UK construction sites next year. Because there is every chance they won’t have any bricks to lay.

 

 

 

 

WHAT NOT TO POST ON LINKEDIN Or WHY I DON’T CARE WHETHER YOUR KIDS CAN DANCE

LinkedIn Guilty by Association

Now those of you that have met with me in the real world know that I like a joke. I like a chat. I’m interested in how your kids are doing. I love to see a picture of your dog.

So that’s the preface, to explain that I’m not a miserable grinch. Honest.

But now I’m about  to get grinchier (that is definitely a word). This is LinkedIn folks. Not Facebook. Not Instagram. It’s not even Twitter.

So why has my LinkedIn feed this morning included a video of someone’s child doing the latest teenage dance craze, a warning not to leave dogs in parked cars, and a picture of someone’s new baby niece?

As a social media professional this is an object lesson in tailoring your social media content to suit not just your audience, but the platform too. By all means, be social and sociable on LinkedIn. Nobody wants you to be a boring bot. But when you post anything on social media, keep in mind what your objective is. To win business? Raise your professional profile? Or to let us know your kid can dance?

And you can be guilty by association. One thing that most people forget about LinkedIn is that when you like or comment on a low value post, you then share that post across your own network with your name at the top endorsing it.

And you can be guilty by association. One thing that most people forget about LinkedIn is that when you like or comment on a low value post, you then share that post across your own network with your name at the top endorsing it.

So even if you don’t post content like this on LinkedIn, by liking or commenting on it you then share this across your own network. It’s not like Facebook, where a like is just that, a like. On LinkedIn it appears on your boss’s feed with your name at the top. It appears on your potential client’s feed, with your name on top. Future employers be unlikely to be impressed by your mate’s baby niece. So, is a picture of a dancing child the professional image you hoped to portray? No, I thought not.

In fact, I know plenty of professional people who actively unfollow / remove their connection with people who clog up their LinkedIn feed with this kind of post, simply by liking or commenting on inane posts.

So, before you hit post, like or comment, think: “is this something I would be happy to share in a job interview?” If the answer is “no” or “not sure” then think again.

By the way, I have more guidance on what not to post on LinkedIn here 

HARD TIMES FOR DOOR HARDWARE?

Hard Times for Door HardwareHow confident are you about the short-term future growth of the UK Architectural Ironmongery trade? Not very it would seem. I carried out a straw poll on twitter asking just that

If you buy, sell or distribute Architectural Ironmongery in the UK, how confident are you about market growth in the next twelve months?

I have a lot of door and window hardware manufacturers, distributors and users of AI products in my follower list and the answer came back loud and clear:

  • Confident: 14%
  • Not sure: 29%
  • Unconfident: 57%

That makes quite worrying reading for those of us working in the sector.

According to AMA Research’s most recent survey (much more in depth and scientific than mine of course!) published early this year, “the market for door and window fittings saw moderate growth of around 3% in 2017. This is lower than in 2016, in line with slowing growth rates for the construction market as a whole.” You can read more about the report’s results and buy a copy of it here 

This seems to be in line with general consumer confidence. Speaking in June 2018, Joe Staton, Client Strategy Director at market research specialists GfK, says, “Consumers are yet again feeling less upbeat as is evident from the two-point drop in the Overall Index Score this month. We are reporting falls across all key measures. Scores on personal finance are down but there is a more marked deterioration in our levels of optimism about the general state of the economy, with the verdicts on the past year and the coming year each tumbling four points.” Of course, Brexit and the uncertainty around it are a major driver of that pessimism and a long hard winter certainly didn’t do the construction industry any favours.

Certainly, when I chat off the record with hardware manufacturers and distributors, market strength seems to be patchy. In answer to the ubiquitous “How’s business?” question the answers tend to be of the “up and down”, “unpredictable” and “steady but not spectacular” type. Outside the capital there is clearly less buoyancy in hardware sales – I would hazard a guess that London accounts for the majority of any growth that is out there. Low cost suppliers continue to drive prices down and the sector remains both fragmented and competitive.

Perhaps the pessimism is misplaced though. AMA’s findings show that “for 2018 and beyond, forecasts indicate marginal but positive growth, based on improving housing and construction markets – though growth will be constrained by price pressure and strong competition.” So not enough to set the world on fire but growth nonetheless.

The main drivers in the UK construction industry at the moment are major  civils projects but with not too many door handles required for Crossrail or HS2 that is unlikely to make much of an impact in architectural ironmongery sales. The main hopes must lie with stronger house building, a continuation of RMI buoyancy and an increased emphasis on fire safety and security and the role that correctly specified door hardware can play in these scenarios.

The Chores That Needn’t Be A Chore Or Make Time To Wipe Your Light bulbs

The Good Housekeeping Institute has helpfully issued a schedule of the household tasks you should be doing daily, weekly, monthly and bi- and annually. You can find it here if you’re interested in knowing how often you should be wiping your light bulbs. (Who even knew that wiping light bulbs was even a Thing!) With this blog post I’m aiming to do the same with your social media activity – but with less light bulb wiping.

social media chores that needent be a chore

You’re a busy person right? Plenty (and more!) to do every day. So, the last thing you need is to be spending your valuable time running a social media campaign! It’s a chore you could do without! But it needn’t be a chore if you get yourself a strategy and a daily / weekly / monthly plan to help you run an efficient campaign that gets results.

As with most time saving schemes, the key to achieving efficiency is planning. After all, as a good friend of mine who runs an extensive sales team always says to me “PPP Helen! Piss poor planning leads to Piss Poor Performance! With careful planning, running an effective social media campaign shouldn’t take long – 15 minutes a day with other slightly more substantial chunks of time on a weekly and monthly basis to fine-tune strategy, generate content, and manage your accounts – providing there is a solid and workable social media strategy to underpin it.

This is a very basic check list I’ve developed for simple campaigns and for the sake of clarity I’m going to start by saying what I think you should be doing monthly – because that largely involves planning which is where it all starts.

Monthly

  • Think about your objectives for the month: what is it you want to achieve, what’s going on in your business that’s going to impact what / how / when you do online.
  • Set your goals: one of the joys of social media is how easy and straightforward it can be to measure and audit the results of your efforts so set your goals and your measurement criteria now
  • New ideas – any creative schemes you’d like to try out this month?
  • Plan ahead. Now for me this includes planning, creating, and scheduling content. This takes time. And will obviously need to be supplemented as the month goes on. But the base lines can all be set in advance. Trust me, this will cut out 99% of the stress and worry as the month progresses: no more “what the hell shall I say today?” panics.

Weekly

  • Check your performance – what’s worked, what hasn’t?
  • Engage with influencers: you have a list of all the people who you believe are influential in your sector right?
  • Engage with friends, colleagues and partners: they are the people who are most likely to boost your campaign too
  • Check in on groups, hang-outs etc – see what your sector and your customers are talking about
  • If you are running ads, update / tweak / refresh them

Daily

  • Check your notifications and reply to anyone who needs a reply
  • Monitor who has mentioned you and engage with them as necessary
  • Be nosy: have a look at what others are doing and saying on social media – competitors, partners, colleagues, friends, customers (Warning! Be disciplined as this is where time can slip away from you as you fall down social media wormholes!).
  • Schedule your content for the next day (the ones you haven’t already done in your monthly tasks)
  • Spot any good content that you can share
  • Build your connections / followers / likes etc . Remember that follow for follow is still a great way to create engagement and boost your reach
  • Scan social media for keywords and phrases that are relevant to your sector
  • Make a note of what your learned today to build it into next month’s campaign

Of course, the most time-effective way to run an effective social media campaign is to use a switched-on freelancer or agency who understands the industry to do the grunt work for you. Then again I would say that wouldn’t I?

 

Will Brexit invalidate your CE Mark?

This blog post is about Brexit. But don’t roll your eyes and scroll on by. Because if you buy, sell or distribute any CE Marked products, it directly affects you.

Do you sell CE Marked products? Are the CE Marks based on testing by a UK test houses? If so, you may have a shock coming because, on Brexit day – now just over a year away on 19 March 2019 – those CE Marks will become invalid as UK-based certified test bodies lose their EU Notified Body status.

Yes, you read that right. Any CE Mark based on UK-based testing and certification will become invalid next March.

The European Commission’s announcement to this effect in January seems to have gone largely unnoticed in the building industry, but it has importantly and costly ramifications across almost every sector in the construction industry – from floors to roofs, from insulation to windows. It will no longer to be legal to place on the market in the EU or the UK any product that is legally required to carry a CE Mark under the Construction Products Regulation, if they’ve been tested and certified in the UK.

This announcement raises a number of issues for the manufacturers and distributors of many CE Marked building products. Will products carrying a UK-accredited CE Mark need to be re-tested, possibly at considerable, potentially crippling, additional cost? Or will it be possible to transfer the certificate from the UK Notified Body to an EU-27 Notified Body which would then take over the responsibility for that certificate.

How will this affect the legal status of life-critical products such as fire doors and other fire suppression systems? It raises the bizarre situation whereby UK manufacturers will be forced to send their products abroad to be tested and certified, to sell them as CE Marked product in the UK, where they were produced.

This is potentially an opening negotiating stance by the European Commission. But manufactures and distributors cannot afford to take that risk and find themselves with products next March which they are unable to sell. They need a Plan B. Plan Brexit.

You can read more here

 

True Romance or Big Business?

Whether you’re an incurable romantic, or a total sceptic, Valentine’s Day is almost inescapable on social and other media. Like Hallowe’en and Easter, the day of love seems to have been taken over by commerce, with Brits spending  £1.5 billion in 2017 on cards, gifts, and trips to celebrate. So, are you a Valentine fan? A last-minute garage flowers cynic? Or a full-on bah humbug Valentine Scrooge?

Valentines