Delighted to be back in Irish ownership since 2021, Brooks are building on their reputation for timber excellence, while offering the full builders’ merchant experience. The Hardware Journal visited their flagship Bluebell branch and spoke with Branch Manager, Brendan Sammon.
2023 is off to a confident start for Brooks at Bluebell, the largest outlet in the Brooks Builders Merchant network of nine branches across Ireland.
Large is an understatement. The site, just off the M50, is mammoth. Over four acres and 100,000sq.ft. of high spec covered space, including an 8,500sq.ft. shop and trade counter, plus ample loading and parking facilities.
Brooks puts every inch to work as a full-service builder’s merchant, supplying building products, drainage and plumbing.
The space is particularly valuable for their specialist area, timber. For years, Brooks has been the destination for timber quality and choice.
This is obvious from the extensive range of plywood and composite boards, softwoods, redwoods and hardwoods available from stock.
2021 was a landmark year for Brooks. The 200+ year old company returned to Irish ownership in August; purchased by the Murdock Builders Merchants Group.
The Murdock family share a successful history in the sector. “They are very passionate about the business and bring a wealth of knowledge,” notes Brendan Sammon, Branch Manager at Bluebell.
“Their enthusiasm to see the Brooks business grow and fulfil its potential is evident from the level of investment since acquisition, and the support and encouragement provided to the management team.”
There has been significant investment in upgrading facilities, together with innovations and development in product range and services. Further growth is in the pipeline.
“Over the next few years Brooks plan to expand our branch network further via suitable greenfield opportunities, or acquisitions similar to our recent purchase of Kildare Builders Providers in 2022.” says Brendan.
Brooks serves builders, subcontractors, facilities management firms, joinery and offsite construction companies, and consumers, homeowners and DIYers.
“Trade customers primarily want competitive terms, product availability and fast collection or delivery. And recently, traceability of product and DOP documentation are more frequently required.”
“We go the extra mile by having a rapid response delivery system available at all times on-site.”
Homeowners seek advice on product suitability in areas like timber flooring and bathrooms. Heating and energy-saving enquires have increased as a result of soaring energy costs.
To stay ahead of diverse requirements, research into product trends, regulatory updates and supply chain changes, is a constant challenge.
Customers are a priceless research resource. “Their views on product performance or ease of use can lead us to change suppliers to find the best quality and value.”
In return, Brooks thanks them often. “Every month we host our ‘Third Thursday Thank You’ campaign, where we have red-hot offers on products targeted at our customers’ requirements.”
“We invite customers to join us for a complimentary breakfast while viewing supplier demonstrations.” This initiative is hugely successful; attendance levels are rising month-on-month.
Obstacles into Opportunities
When asked about Brooks’ response to the volatility and challenges of recent years, Brendan noted: “all business is challenging; hardware can be particularly difficult at times as we experience the peaks and valleys of the wider economy.”
The pandemic demonstrated both the business opportunities and the supply chain problems for hardware merchants. “Successful merchants like Brooks were able to weather the storm. We benefited from strong supply chain relationships and the agility to respond to rapid changes in consumer demand.”
The current energy crisis is a case in point, motivating customers to make insulation and energy saving choices. Brooks is ready with the products and the expert advice. For trade customers, Brooks helps the construction industry by providing a just-in-time solution, product advice and credit.
Of concern is the competition coming from open-seven-days big box and online retailers. To stay ahead, Brooks must innovate in products and services, build good relationships with customers and suppliers, prudently manage resources, and continually invest in staff.
In short, provide the customer service, expertise and buying experience more impersonal rivals can’t deliver.
“Opportunities will continue to arise for hardware merchants, but we must identify and harvest them through ongoing research.”
Brendan believes working in partnership with key suppliers remains the best way to achieve success and keep customers happy.
“This enables us to have the correct products to suit our customers when they need them, backed by good technical support.”
Brooks teams with leading brands such as GP Wood, Balcas Timber, Norbord, Irish Cement, Gyproc, Wavin, EJ, Ideal Heating, Sonas, Bostik, Sika, Rockwool, Isover and more.
Because suppliers regularly conduct staff training, the team is up to date on the latest product developments and can provide the best solutions and advice.
Innovation and Outlook
Efficiency and sustainability criteria have been spurring innovation, primarily in the areas of product development, renewable energy equipment, climate control and digital heating controls.
In addition, Brooks has expanded their drainage and civils line-up. While in the sheet materials category, the range of technical plywoods is bigger than ever.
In the last year, the building product range was extended to include Ibstock bricks, Keystone masonry support systems, Aco drainage systems and an extensive insulation offering.
Later this year will come new product developments in shuttering. Brendan sees the major “emerging trends to keep an eye on will be in energy conservation, as green policy throughout Europe grows demand at consumer and trade level.”
“Products aimed at carbon reduction, such as heat pumps, will gain an increased market share. Acoustic insulation products will also gain in popularity as consumers look to improve the acoustic performance of older dwellings.”
“The performance of the economy will influence demand in our sector, but am optimistic for the next few years, as Ireland has a growing population and strong employment.”
Brooks consider timber one of Earth’s most critical renewable resources. As their specialist area, sustainability is core to the business.
The company is committed to supporting the responsible management of the world’s forests by promoting the trade in timber and timber products from trusted sources.
In 2015, Brooks achieved the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC) Chain-of-Custody certification.
This process assures customers that the FSC certified products they purchase are coming from well-managed forests, and that every step in the chain has been certified to ensure they are made responsibly. And that workers’ rights under the ILO Conventions and Health & Safety regulations are respected.
Brooks also stocks PEFC Certified (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certifi cation schemes) products sourced from sustainable forests.
“We are fully audited twice yearly to maintain compliance with
both schemes. This gives customers confidence.”
But most importantly, helps the growing number of customers, mainly from the trade and government agencies, who must specify certified timber products to help meet the European Timber Regulation and fulfil the Green Building Initiative.
“Our people are critical to our success and what sets Brooks apart when it comes to expertise and service,” Brendan says. “So, we look after them well and promote career progression.”
In addition to regular training on product knowledge and customer skills, Brooks introduced a Management Development Programme in 2022 to offer career development opportunities and support future expansion plans. Incentive schemes motivate growth and business improvement.
“We are very fortunate to have low staff turnover. Many of our team have long service, a vital factor in customer relations.”
“For us, the main barrier to growth is the ability of our sector to continue to attract new people. It’s important to present what we do as a rewarding career choice.”
As Bluebell Branch Manager leading a very strong team, Brendan`s role is to ensure the branch meets its objectives.
This is achieved through leadership, communication and by encouraging solid team spirit, demonstrated through excellent customer relationships and care.
“Bluebell is a great place to work, where a ‘can do’ attitude is encouraged. It’s a good place to develop a career in builders merchanting.”
Brooks are members of Hardware Association Ireland (HAI), “who are extremely helpful with training programmes and for advice on regulations or best practice.”
“We also find HAI a valuable and authoritative resource for information on trends affecting our industry.”
The company are supporters of and participants in the Octabuild Builders Merchant Excellence Awards, “a great way to encourage innovation and development in the merchant sector.”
In 2022, Brooks garnered several nominations, with the Galway branch receiving the Excellence in Sustainable Business Award.
“Participation helps us raise our standards, promotes our profile as an innovative employer and helps attract suitable employment candidates,” states Brendan.
Each Brooks branch is encouraged to support events or sports in their area. Bluebell is spoiled for choice.
“In the last year we were proud sponsors of the Ballinteer Men’s Shed, The Robbie Keane Academy Cup and the Castleknock Hurling and Football Club.”
At group level, Brooks chose Focus Ireland as its charity partner because homelessness is a nationwide issue.
“We’ve supported their ‘Shine a Light’ campaign for the last five years, helping raise funds to support the most vulnerable people in our communities.”
Brooks’ standout qualities? “Delivering what we promise, always understand that your customer has a choice and continue to be important to your customer.”
- Listen to your customer
- Develop your staff
- Innovate and don’t get left behind