The opening of Murdock Builder’s Merchants in Ballymount, in conjunction with the success of the group’s Balbriggan branch (now 10 years in business), further strengthens the group presence in Dublin. It’s also an expression of the group’s confidence in the medium- to long-term potential of builders merchanting in the capital. Stephen McDonnell, Sales Manager, at the new branch and Gary Craven, Group Sales Manager (ROI), spoke to The Hardware Journal recently to report on the setting up of the new branch and how it has fared in its opening seven months.
Gary and his team began scouting for sites in the Ballymount area in 2014 before identifying a suitable, two-acre site late that year. “The site has a lot of strengths. While it doesn’t look particularly large scale when you see it from the road, once you drive into the yard, the scope and scale of the premises become obvious. Ballymount is also an area where a lot of well-known building materials and building supply companies are located. All in all, it’s as close to an ideal site as you could expect.”
Investment and hard work
Physical work on the site began in May 2015 and included the development of storage facilities including a warehouse. “A great deal of investment and hard work went in to developing the site, including re-surfacing of the yard, new security fencing and a purpose-built shop and office area. The core structure was essentially a shell and required significant investment in steel, in roofing and in partitioning systems.”
While that infrastructural work was progressing through the summer, Gary and Stephen set about recruiting the team that would staff the new business. Gary comments: “We’re very proud of the workforce we have here at Ballymount, with a core of experienced people providing guidance and mentorship to a very talented and enthusiastic team. We have a highly experienced shop manager, and key staff have extensive experience and knowledge in building materials sales.”
Training of the new recruits included participation in an induction programme, devised and delivered by Murdock’s HR department. Training was intensive and, where appropriate, new recruits were given the opportunity to ‘shadow’ experienced Murdock employees in other branches, particularly in Balbriggan.
A learning year
By the beginning of last winter, all the crucial elements were in readiness for the new store to open, and on the first Monday of November, it opened its doors. Stephen explains:“This year is very much a learning year for us here at the Ballymount branch. We’re monitoring the performance carefully and will look to target our investment in people and equipment based on the results we achieve this year. We’ve been delighted with the reaction to date. While it’s early days, we would have to say that the amount of footfall so far has exceeded our expectations and we’ve opened a large number of new customer accounts. Obviously, we will have to see how the first full year works out, but, so far, it’s been very encouraging and all the indications are positive.”
The Ballymount store has been very proactive in marketing throughout 2016. Stephen continues: “We believe that word of mouth is one of the most effective ways of increasing awareness, but we have also invested in online promotion and we’ve advertised consistently with FM104 since November. We have a mobile van featuring a large mobile billboard displaying our name and location travelling around the area for two days a week. We’re also constantly looking at product promotion ideas. For instance, through the summer, we’re doing a special price offer where we’re selling paving slabs at €15 per square metre.” Ballymount also has two experienced sales representatives on the road, pro-actively seeking new business.
Interior emphasises flexibility
The store interior is instantly recognisable as a Murdock’s branch with high profile branding and signage. Stephen comments: “Our layout and design follows the Murdock format and we aim to provide a friendly atmosphere in the shop, with a good-humoured and professional approach.
“We have a very open floor design which is indicative of the flexible mindset of our entire team. Regardless of job title, everyone sees themselves as salespeople and there’s a genuine willingness to help customers and each other. When customers leave the store, we want them to be saying, ‘I’ll go back there’.”
He continues: “Everything has been designed to make the customer’s visit as convenient and fast as possible. We know that what the customer wants is to get in and get out as quickly as possible. Our yard team are crucial in achieving this. They are all highly-organised and 100% customer-orientated. We load the material on the customer’s vehicle before the customer goes to the trade counter to get the docket. While the material’s being loaded the customer has a chance to see associated products that may be required. The customer doesn’t pay for the goods until they’re all loaded.”
Typical of the store’s dedication to customer convenience is its investment in a dedicated fleet of three trucks: a 26-tonne, an 18-tonne and a 7-tonne, which aim to handle all delivery requirements, big or small.
In order to provide top class customer service, you have to have good people working in the business, Gary notes. “We’ve got a great team in place and we provide a strong platform of training support to help them to continually set new standards in customer service. Training is vital to ensure that the staff is fully informed on new product developments and regulatory issues. We have a range of training initiatives including monthly training for key sales staff. We liaise with suppliers to organise specific product-related training and we organise regular refresher programmes for experienced staff and introductory programmes for new staff.”
The Ballymount store has also looked to get involved in supporting local amenities and charity events. For example, Murdock staff, along with key customers, recently attended a fundraising business lunch for St Mary’s College, Rathmines, at the Shelbourne Hotel where guest speakers included Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy. Looking ahead to the next few years, both Gary and Stephen are optimistic, not just about the future of the Ballymount store, but also on the prospects for builders merchants and the construction industry as a whole. Gary adds: “There are a lot of positive developments out there in the market at the moment. We’re seeing evidence of larger scale contracts, and opportunities are opening up in relation to projects such as schools and health centres. There’s real potential for sustainable growth in the market but what would really give the sector some impetus would be some realistic assistance from Government to develop the social housing and first-time buyer sectors.”
BALBRIGGAN PAVES THE WAY
The Murdock name is already well-established in north county Dublin, through its Balbriggan store, which established the group name in the city and, ultimately, paved the way for the Ballymount initiative. Gary Craven recalls: “The Balbriggan store opened in May 2006 and, for a while, business was very straightforward, the orders were just pouring in. Of course, with the downturn, all that stopped abruptly. We realised that we would have to do things differently if we were going to survive. “We focused on customers in the small to medium-sized business segment of the market, the companies who were doing the bread and butter work. Another factor that was vital in helping us get through those years was the group commitment to providing top-quality customer service. It’s one of the key principles of our approach to the business and it stood us in good stead over the last 10 years.”