How does a builder’s merchant prepare for a future increasingly shaped by technology while delivering an enhanced customer experience throughout its branches?
Patrick Atkinson, CEO at Chadwicks Group, talks to ICIM about the company’s rebrand and what the process involves.
In September this year, Grafton Merchanting ROI decided to rebrand to Chadwicks Group. The move, which is part of a €5 million investment programme in the business, will see all Heiton Buckley branches moving to the Chadwicks brand while destination brands like Heiton Steel, Davies, Panelling Centre and Telfords will retain their current brand name. The Group is also investing in its branches across the country as part of an ongoing refurbishment programme. The new-look Chadwicks branches will house the latest styles and top brands on the market. New shelving, flooring, signage, counters and layout have all been installed, allowing customers to have a more hands-on experience with products. It’s a bold move for the Group and one that signals its intention to provide customers with the best possible experience as the construction industry continues to evolve.
Although 2019 has been a good year for Chadwicks Group, a dip in business over the past couple of months is, says CEO Patrick Atkinson, likely to continue until the end of the year. “This is mainly down to two factors. Firstly, a lack of consumer confidence due to uncertainty as to how Brexit will impact our economy. That uncertainty has led to people holding back on buying houses and starting new RMI projects. Larger investment in commercial projects has also been delayed in some instances. Secondly, affordability has been a key issue this year and last year. First time buyers have struggled to afford houses being built due to Central Bank credit restrictions. The mix of houses to apartments is changing so affordability should rectify itself in 2020 as lower priced units come to the market. Land prices are also coming down so the cost to the builder will reduce. The fundamentals in relation to the underlying demand for houses and the mortgage approval rates are strong indicators that there is a way to go before supply reaches the demand for housing units in the Republic.”
The rebrand to Chadwicks Group has been a huge undertaking this year. Essentially comprising two rebrand projects, it’s a significant marker in the company’s history. “The first part of the rebrand is about moving the bulk of our builder’s merchants outlets to the Chadwicks brand. This project has started and will continue branch by branch during 2020. It will allow us to have an undisputable national brand with a local presence and relevance.” The second part of the process is the rebrand from GMROI to Chadwicks Group. “The aim of this is to try and make it easier for customers and suppliers to identify who we are. With Chadwicks as our main trading brand and having the same group name, we can communicate with one voice to our customers and key stakeholders.”
The company has moved from four computer systems to one, allowing customers to use the Group’s credit terms across every branch, including the destinations brands. “That also allows us to proceed with our digital agenda. We’ve already moved to e-invoicing which has been hugely successful and welcomed by our customers. Moving to other digital initiatives has also begun.” The Group is currently trialling ePODs (proof of delivery) and DOP (declaration of performance) and other projects are underway to further enhance its digital offering. “We’ll only do it if our customers perceive there’s a value in it. These initiatives are customer driven, not technology driven and with every initiative we identify what problem we are solving to make it easier for our customers to run their businesses.”
Although it sounds like change is occurring at a fast pace at Chadwicks, it’s actually very manageable says Patrick. “Most of what is or will be available in relation to the building materials world is already part of everyone’s life as they purchase online, track orders etc so it’s not new to the world but it is new to how we have traditionally done business in the construction industry. The sector has been massively supportive and has absorbed every change much quicker than we had anticipated.”
Future challenges affecting the Group and indeed the industry in general include Brexit and the uncertainty it has created. “It has affected people’s confidence in the market in the short term. Hopefully this will be resolved over the coming months and we can understand what the new order looks like and the impact it will have on our economy. It does look like some sensible deal will be accommodated and there will be a bedding in period before tariffs etc get imposed. A hard Brexit would certainly be the worst possible situation for everyone.” Aside from Brexit, the Group is prepared for whatever the future may hold, even if that’s another downturn. “We are quite positive for the future. The underlying demographics are strong and the demand for house building and commercial developments are also strong as DFI remains positive. However, we as a country are a small open economy dependent on our neighbours and trading partners for our economic success. After the last downturn our business has become even more efficient as we are conscious of a certain degree of peaks and troughs due to economic conditions and therefore do not add unnecessary costs.”
CHADWICKS GROUP – CELEBRATING OVER 200 YEARS OF THE IRISH HOME
According to a new report by Chadwicks Group, hardwood floors, Belfast sinks and marble work tops remain as desirable today as they were when they were first launched. The report was launched to celebrate the Group’s heritage and the role it has played in helping create the homes and communities we live in today. It reveals that while the 1970s may be making a comeback on the catwalks, one in four say the era that gave us avocado bathroom suites, wooden kitchens and lots of orange is the least stylish period for Irish homes. The glitz and glam of the 1980s comes a close second with almost one in five saying that the kitchens, bathrooms and design of the 80s are better best forgotten. When it comes to choosing an era, most of us like to live in the present with just over two thirds (68%) saying their preference is to keep their home up to date with the latest trends and style.
The 1990s introduced the world to home improvement programmes and it seems that since then, we’ve had a love affair with home decoration and renovation. Over a third of those questioned (39%) plan to renovate their home over the next 18 months and over three quarters (78%) decorate their home at least every five years.
The earliest wallpaper dates back to 200 BC in China but painting walls has been popular since ancient Roman times. However, it wasn’t until the mid 19th Century that interior paint could be bought pre-mixed in tins. The research found that paint is much more popular in Irish homes than wallpaper, with 92% of those questioned choosing paint as their preference. When it comes to colour, it seems that much like our bathroom suites, we like to remain neutral with the most popular colours being white, cream, grey, eggshell and greige.
Over 200 years ago, indoor plumbing would have been considered a luxury, but nowadays Irish homes love their bathrooms. According to the research almost a third (32%) of Irish homes now have three bathrooms while over half (51%) have up to two bathrooms. When it comes to fixtures and fittings, Chadwicks sells a staggering 20,000 bathrooms taps each year. Chrome is the most popular choice of tap, but trendsetters should look out for black taps which are set to be a new trend in the coming year.
Denise Maguire Editor of Irish Construction Industry Magazine