At The IPG conference, Installer spoke to Robin Beal – founder of The IPG – about why more and more installers are shopping at their local, independent merchants:
The IPG has a network of over 200 plumbing, heating, and bathroom stores nationwide, and works with leading suppliers and manufacturers in the industry to support its members in offering the best service to tradespeople. Robin started The IPG in 2013 after recognising a gap in the market.
“I was working in the industry and I noticed just how many independent merchants and bathroom showrooms there were around the UK. It was, and is, a really healthy market,” he explained.
“If you think of supermarkets, there’s only a handful of big names, they’ve got huge brand recognition so for independent shops, it’s tough because that market is so dominated by the big players.
“That’s not the case in our industry. Yes, there are nationals and household names, but there is a thriving independent scene.
“Where the nationals can have a leg up on independents is for things like buying power, marketing, digital offerings and being able to try new things. I’d say around 50% of our members are family-owned stores which have a raft of advantages. However, as a business owner, you can get caught up running that business. It’s hard work, it’s long hours, is there time to find out about new products that you can stock, invest in a website or e-commerce, or market their business which a national can?
“That’s where the idea for The IPG came up. We could be the hub that helps them with that work. We can improve our buying power which means more savings for the customer, build their website, set them up with online trading, help get their name out there, whatever they need.
“So I asked a few of my contacts if they thought it was a good idea, and luckily they agreed. I discussed it with my family, left my job and took the plunge. It was daunting because we didn’t really have an offering on day one, but we signed up our first two merchants very quickly. For them, the risk was worth the reward and it’s just grown and grown into what you see today.”
The benefits of using an independent merchant
In today’s society, there can be a sentiment for shopping independent, with consumers wanting to support their local high street shops, butchers, grocers and more. An Uberall survey into buying habits found that 71% of shoppers are willing to shop locally. For installers, there is a business case for doing so, not just sentiment, as Robin explains.
“There are definitely some misconceptions and myths that we’re looking to bust,” he said. “Probably the biggest one is around price. Plumbers and heating engineers can think that their independent merchant is more expensive than the nationals, and that is not the case. Through the terms we can help them secure by buying as part of a larger group, and the relationships we have with manufacturers and suppliers, independent merchant are passing those savings onto the tradespeople.
“The other big advantage is the service. It’s all about reputation, it’s their name above the door, so they will do everything they can to provide the best service to installers. We’ve heard so many stories of people opening on Christmas day, staying late to fulfil orders, and being as flexible as possible to help customers. If it’s Friday at 6pm and the merchant is still busy, they won’t close. They’ll keep it open to fulfil what their customers need. A lot of the time, the installers will know the owner and the staff, they’ll have their phone number or have them on WhatsApp, and if there’s an emergency, they have a direct line to the product they need.
“There’s a lot of similarities between independent merchant owners and heating, plumbing and electrical engineers. They’re small businesses, they’re known in the community, they often have their name above the door. They understand each other, it’s business owners talking to business owners, and that is a valuable partnership to have.”
Look for the logo
The IPG has launched a campaign to highlight the benefits for installers shopping at their local merchants. All installers have to do is look for The IPG logo on the signage, or on the website.
“I would definitely encourage installers to check out their local independent branches. They may be using them already without realising that they’re an IPG member, or what The IPG is, but for us, that logo is a stamp of approval. You know going into that merchant that you’re going to get great service, competitive prices, and meet some fantastic people.”