The hardware facility at Finisklin Road on the outskirts of Sligo, Brooks Timber & Building Supplies, has been an integral part of the business life of the town and the North West for over a century. Branch Manager, Karl Kelly, spoke to The Hardware Journal about how the store is currently performing and about plans to develop the premises over the next five years, as well as sharing some insights on regional trends in the hardware industry.
Brooks Timber & Building Supplies has a rich hardware heritage, operating as Hanley’s for 100 years, before becoming a Brooks store in 1969. It has always been noted for its timber product and imported shiploads of timber into Sligo up until as recently as the late 1990s. While proud of its unique history, the team in place at Brooks today is very much focused on the future, according to Karl.
The Sligo store is now seven months into a five-year plan, Karl says. “The plan includes the widening of our product range and focusing on our stock management to ensure that we have the appropriate lines to meet the requirements of our customers including builders, trade and home and DIY customers.”
As part of the plan, the store and the yard are undergoing significant redesign. “The first phase of the new design focused on the yard. As part of our overall commitment to continuously refining our health and safety measures, we have implemented a one-way system for vehicles using the yard. This has streamlined the way in which the yard is used and, as well as being safer, is also more efficient.”
In addition, the yard infrastructure was enhanced and expanded with a view to ensuring that all product is under cover. “It is essential that we have the capability to store and properly protect an expanded range of products, particularly our timbers.”
And the ultimate objective for 2020? “Our aim is to be an ultra-efficient regional sales hub for Brooks and to be a leader in supplying to builders, the trade and the home improvement customer.”
A REGIONAL SALES HUB
The Brooks premises at Finisklin Road is on a large site, with three acres of yard, of which two acres are under roof. “With the substantial store capacity we have here, a convenient location, close to the town and easy accessibility from the N4, N15 and N16, the business has developed into a very effective regional hub for a wide catchment area, extending throughout the province and beyond. The amount of space we have allows us to be flexible as to the sizes and quantities of the deliveries we make. We can be responsive to our customers’ needs, whether the customer is in Sligo, Donegal or Westmeath.
“We have the capability to make bigger deliveries and have three trucks on the road every day. We are continuing to develop this side of the business, enhancing delivery practices and extending the range of products we offer. With the facilities we have here, there is a lot of potential to expand these services and to continue to develop the location as a hardware hub.”
Casual footfall is split 60/40 between the home/DIY purchaser and the building and joinery trade customer respectively. In terms of overall volume, the lion’s share of the business comes from the building and joinery trade customers and a significant proportion of business is done with merchants. “From here in Sligo, we make regular deliveries to many merchants, some on a weekly basis. All in all, we supply merchants up to 10 counties.
“We also have a team of sales representatives who are travelling around the wider North West region. They help us to stay in touch with our customers, to be fully aware of changing patterns of demand and to respond quickly to customers’ needs.
A STRONG TEAM
Karl, who was appointed Branch Manager last year, has worked for more than 20 years in
the building industry and joined Brooks a year and a half ago. “I’m delighted to be working with a strong team, made up of individuals with a diverse mix of product knowledge and a depth of experience that’s vital in the day-to-day running of the business. It’s even more important in the context of the challenges of implementing a five year strategy in a consistent and effective way.”
“As part of the team, we have an excellent admin back office here who work to targets and objectives. And, if there’s any support needed from Brooks head office, it’s always ready and available.”
The Brooks brand has invested heavily in training and earning credentials in training. “Our experts in timber and experts in renewables give training courses to customers and architects in all our branches throughout the year.”
Regular internal training is a key factor in ensuring the team is delivering the best quality of customer service: “We benefit from both in-house training with Brooks and regular updates and briefings from suppliers to ensure we have the latest product information. Our training initiatives also place a big emphasis on health and safety issues. Given the scale of deliveries we carry out and the large loads we deal with, that’s vital.”
Quality timber product has always been synonymous with the store, so it’s no surprise to learn from Karl that it is one of their current best-selling product categories. “Timber has always been a strong performer for us and it’s doing well at the moment.”
Brooks Sligo has built on its timber heritage by developing and expanding its range of imported and national timbers. “Over the last few years, most timber purchases have been heavily influenced by pricing, but I’ve noticed that recently people are willing to spend a little bit more to get the better quality product.
“We see a lot of potential to expand this business and other product lines alongside it. Slating, for instance, is also moving well at the moment – both natural and fibre cement slates are in demand. Cost-saving products that offer sustainable energy solutions are also popular and we work alongside our specialist insulation experts who have offices in all branches nationwide offering a full Part L solution to both trade and end users.”
POSITIVE ECONOMIC SIGNALS
The overall economy in the North West has seen a tentative recovery and, in conjunction with this, there has been an improvement in performance within the hardware industry, Karl says. “Overall, we’ve seen an increase in footfall and sales in 2015. It’s been a steady improvement rather than a dramatic one but, given the industry’s experience over the last few years, a consistent positive trend is very welcome. There’s a noticeable increase in the stability of growth month-on-month.
“Of course, customers are still very price-sensitive and very much focused on value. I would have to say that, while there is a recovery, it’s still very fragile. Looking ahead to 2016, I can see the steady, solid growth continuing on the basis that we continue to buy and promote our products well.” He notes: “In terms of areas that are showing some uplift, the self-build sector has come back to an extent. In addition, renovation work has
resulted in fairly steady business for us, and the HRI scheme has had an impact. Our business with merchants has also seen a real strengthening. That said, there’s a long way to go. Capital spend, which is a real driver for the construction sector, is still below par.”
The Brooks team consistently look to promote the store in imaginative ways. One of its most successful recent initiatives was a series of three breakfast mornings held in September, October and November. “For these mornings, which were part of a nationwide group initiative across the seven branches, we invited our suppliers to come in to the store to showcase their products and services to our trade customers.
“An added attraction was that Brooks teamed up with Opel to offer any trade customer who attended the mornings the chance to take part in a draw for an Opel Vivaro van. Suppliers who took part also offered incentives to encourage people to come along. For example, we had a fuel supplier providing special offers on diesel.”
He adds: “We got a strong turnout from trade customers for all three mornings. From our point of view, the success of the events was topped off when the winner of the nationwide draw for the van turned out to be a local man and one of our customers, Adrian McPadden of McPadden Construction.”
Brooks Hanley in Sligo prioritises community involvement, supporting a range of local sports clubs, vital amenities and services, such as the North West Hospice, and important local cultural events, such as the Fleadh Cheoil, which was hosted in the town last year. Karl also gets directly involved in assisting local initiatives through his role as Chair of the Tidy Towns Committee and his membership of the Sligo Chamber of Commerce. “Brooks in Sligo understands the value of supporting all kinds of local initiatives. It’s a way of giving back to the community and it also helps encourage the development of the area.”