Morris’s Builders Providers & DIY in Waterford recently won the Octabuild Munster Large Business award. Seamus Reynolds, chief executive of Morris’s for the last 14 years, spoke to The Hardware Journal about the history of the business and the recent substantial investment in expanding the premises, which has ushered in a new phase in the store’s development, opening up new opportunities in store layout, product display and enhanced customer service, both to the trade and the DIY-ers.
Morris’s Builders Providers Ltd started trading in 1983 following the closure of the city’s
main builders merchants, Graves Ltd. Initially, 19 builders came together to acquire Samuel Morris timber imports and hardware business and, since the buyout, the business has been operating on the same city centre site. From 1983 to 2016, the company went from a 4,000sq. ft unit with a small yard to a 20,000sq. ft retail unit on approximately ﬁve acres. Within that time frame, Morris Builders Providers and DIY expanded its product range from timber and building materials to include plumbing, tools, paint, hardware, doors/ ﬂoors, gardening and, in recent years, kitchens and electrical appliances.
A destination store
The inclusion of these products afforded Morris Builders Providers the opportunity to become a destination store for the DIY customer as well as the trade person. “The objective was to establish Morris’s as a market leader and the largest independent builders merchant and DIY operation in the south east.”
This provided the company with a challenge to balance the different service needs of both the tradesman and DIY customers, Morris’s set out to achieve this by providing a sophisticated supermarket-type store layout and checkout operation that would be familiar to the DIY customer while, at the same time, maintaining and upgrading the traditional sales counter for the trade customer.
In 2016, Morris Builders providers and its current owners, three leading local business people, started a €3.5 million expansion/ renovation project. The result is a new 40,000 plus sq. ft retail unit which enabled the business to more effectively showcase its range of more than 30,000 products.
The renovation has transformed the store’s ability not only to display its products in store with greater scope and creativity, but also to streamline its services to the trade. Seamus provides examples of both: “Firstly, from the trade perspective, we now have a separate entrance to the trade yard through the Tramore Road Business Park for the customers arriving in vans or trucks. With our trade counter located adjacent to the yard, this has enabled us to greatly improve speed, efﬁciency and throughput. It means the trade customers arrive, get the materials they need and are on their way back to their site with the minimum delays. This improves efﬁciencies for the trade customer and for us as a business.
“Secondly, looking at the changes inside the premises, the extended retail space affords us the opportunity to set out, for example, full size kitchen and wardrobe displays without any space constraints. The extra space has allowed us to introduce new products to complement our existing ranges and enhances the customers’ comfort and ease in getting around the store while making their product selections.”
An important balance
Morris’s core business from the outset has been building-related but over the years it has positioned itself to maximise the repair, maintenance and improvement (RMI) market with its kitchens, bedroom, paint and Expert electrical departments. These days, the percentage breakdown of business between the trade and the DIY customers is approximately 60/40, Seamus says. “That’s an important balance and while there is still not enough conﬁdence for people to trade up in house size, this had given added impetus to the RMI sector which has performed well. Our paint department, for instance, has always been particularly strong thanks to a quality range and competitive pricing. The expansion in our retail space has allowed us to increase the size of our paint department by more than 20%. The additional space has also allowed us to enhance the DIY-er/home improver’s journey through the store with our kitchen and bathroom showrooms presenting our product ranges really impressively.”
The reconceived layout of the store was central to the expansion plan for the premises, according to Seamus. “The layout, not only of the store, but of the whole site, was one of the most critical factors at the design stage. Our goal was to create a customer experience with a logical ﬂow through the store and yard. When envisaging the layout, we decided to create several distinctive spaces and experiences within the store for our customers.
“For example, in the showroom spaces that have been created, the kitchen, electrical appliance, doors and ﬂoors, stoves and bathroom departments have all been positioned in a planned, cohesive manner to encourage crossover sales, for instance, between the ﬁtted-kitchen department and the electrical appliance department. Each department has also been planned to ensure the relevant accessories are in close proximity, such as ﬁreside buckets located close by the stoves department.”
He adds: “Similarly, the retail space that links to our trade and plumbing counter now houses our paint department as well as our hand/power tool and DIY sections, providing access to both the DIY customer and the trade customer. The entrance to the trade yard comes off the Tramore road to allow for quick and easy access for the builder and plumber, while the retail access is situated off the Cork road. The retail accessway leads in to a spacious car park.”
Attention to detail
Epitomising the attention to detail that has gone into this transformation of the store and its yard, Seamus says that the spaces in the car park are each 2.5m in width. This generous spacing, he says, has been deliberately allowed to facilitate easier loading of product into a customer’s car or van. “This investment wasn’t just about spending to expand our available space, it was about attention to detail and ensuring that optimum use is made of every metre of that additional space.”
The team at Morris’s, numbering 55, now have a key role to play in ensuring that the business optimises the many opportunities created by the redevelopment. “We pride ourselves on providing friendly and knowledgeable customer service. These qualities always form the focal point of our training. The depth of knowledge and expertise within our staff is strongly linked to the loyal, long-serving team members; 50% of our team have 10 years or more service with the company.”
The culture of friendly, knowledgable service is spread by the experienced staff leading by example and sharing their knowledge and merchanting ‘savvy’ with younger colleagues, Seamus says. “The knowledge that our team displays surprises even me sometimes! In our plumbing department, I’ve often seen plumbers consult with our department team to discuss how to handle particular problems. The team have more than 70 years’ experience between them, so they know what they’re talking about. We will be looking to the spacious layout, and the relaxed customer experience it provides, combined with the team’s knowledge and expertise, to help us drive the business forward over the next few years.”
Morris’s is also committed to the local community and actively engages with local sports and events. It is one of the sponsors at Waterford United Football Club and is involved with the Waterford Retail Group, this year sponsoring a competition for the best shop fronts in the area.
With the strong fundamentals of a knowledgeable staff, and a premises and yard designed for customer appeal, ease of use and efﬁcient throughput, Morris’s Builders Providers and DIY have put in place the efﬁciencies and expertise that every business will need in the uncertain times ahead, with Brexit looming and online giants re-shaping the wider retail environment.
A further complicating factor, Seamus notes, is the rate of economic recovery in the region.
“The southeast and Waterford region have experienced difﬁcult times and any future growth is likely to be slow. Our approach will be to confront the challenges ahead with the proven capabilities that our business can deliver – customer service, product knowledge, product range and availability. Equally important, will be maintaining our mix of trade and DIY customers.”
EVERY DAY, ANOTHER CHALLENGE
Seamus Reynolds shares his thoughts on the builders merchant’s life from winning awards to facing a new challenge every day.
On the Octabuild win: “Winning this award was wonderful and provided wider recognition for the hard work by the team in delivering a successful transition from an old, dated building and site to the current sleek and modern facility.”
Strong sellers for Morris’s? “Kitchens, electrical appliances, through our Expert electrical outlet, and paint are performing well for us. This ties in well with the ongoing repair-improvement market that continues to perform strongly.”
What do you do to unwind from the pressures of the business? “I enjoy cycling, a little golf and spending time with my family.” The best thing about the life of a builder’s merchant? “Every day presents a different challenge.”