Octabuild’s partnership with builders merchant sector over 40 years

Octabuild and its members have been an important part of the builders’ merchant sector for nearly 40 years. Here its current Chairperson Declan Conlon discusses its ethos and plans for the coming year with The Hardware Journal.

Octabuild Chairperson Declan Conlon

What is Octabuild and what is its main function?

Octabuild was established in 1984 with the objective of promoting the benefits of high quality, Irish manufactured products for the building, construction and DIY sectors. Octabuild is unique among representative groups in the building and construction industry – its members have a solid manufacturing base in Ireland; operate to the highest technical and management quality standards; are market leaders in their business sectors and use builder’s merchants as their primary sales route to the end-user.

With almost 600 years combined manufacturing experience in Ireland, the eight Octabuild members – Dulux Paints, Etex Ireland, Glennon Brothers, Grant Engineering, Gyproc, Irish Cement, Kingspan Insulation and Wavin Ireland, make a considerable contribution to industry, providing significant employment and contributing substantially to the economic well-being of their local communities.

The combined product portfolio of the Octabuild members represents an impressive range of high quality, Irish manufactured brands, and each Octabuild company is committed to excellence in providing an efficient and reliable service to builders’ merchants.

How important are the Octabuild Awards?

The Octabuild Builders Merchant Excellence Awards are central to Octabuild’s purpose and are closely aligned with our core values including excellence, innovation, partnership and sustainability. The awards have evolved significantly over the course of the last 40 years, culminating in the move to the first all-island Awards in 2022. The catalyst for this change was the mothballing of the awards during 2020 and 2021 due to the restrictions imposed by Covid-19. After reflection and consultation, it was decided that the evolving integration of the builders’ merchants’ sector across the island, made the move to an all-island format inevitable.

Minister Michael McGrath speaking at the Octabuild Awards in 2022.

The format and types of awards were also amended in line with the overall changing business environment. The aim is to make the awards relevant to every builder’s merchant on the island, large or small, independent or part of a group.

The next Octabuild Awards will be held in 2024, and planning has already commenced. The board is currently undertaking a consultation exercise with merchants throughout the country, to add to the feedback already received after the last awards. I would appeal to merchants to engage with this exercise – the awards can only be improved if constructive feedback is received from merchants.

Finally, I want to reiterate that the Awards judging is totally independent. Our judging team has many years’ experience in the trade and are clear on the criteria and what they want to see. It is not a requirement that a merchant buys from all eight Octabuild companies, and it is not an impediment to winning.

What does its sponsorship of the HAI Certificate mean to Octabuild members?

Octabuild was delighted to sponsor the HAI Certificate in Hardware Retail and Merchanting for the second time in 2023. The Octabuild member companies have welcomed the opportunity to share their expertise and support the nurturing of talent in the builder’s merchant trade through this sponsorship. Octabuild has again agreed to sponsor the Certificate for 2023-2024.

Declan Conlon, Octabuild Chairperson with student award winners: Sarah
Day – Student of the Year and Tracy Walsh – High Achieving Student, both
from Morris DIY & Builders Providers, and Martin Markey, HAI CEO.

The training and development offered by the HAI Certificate as a whole, and the Product Knowledge modules, in particular, play a significant role in ensuring the future development and ultimate success of the industry. This is fundamental to Octabuild’s purpose, and we are delighted to be able to bring it to life through this partnership.

As we use merchants as our primary route to market, we are only successful if builders’ merchants are successful, and builders’ merchants can only be successful if they have knowledgeable and talented staff coming up through the business. I want to commend Hardware Association Ireland for organising the Certificate and to thank the tutors and mentors for their work in supporting the programme.

With no awards this year, what is Octabuild planning?

Octabuild hosted an online Webinar – Budget 2024: An economic forecast for the Irish Construction Industry on the 12th of October 2023. Octabuild was proud to present Jim Power and Chris Johns, renowned economic analysts and co-hosts of the engaging podcast “The Other Hand”. Jim and Chris outlined their analysis of the impact of the Budget on the sector, and shared some interesting perspectives on where we go from here.

On a personal note, what has your career path in the industry been like?

I have spent my entire working life to date in the sector, beginning my journey in 1995 with Glennon Brothers, having just graduated from the University of Limerick with a Business Studies degree. I became part of the Glennon Brothers growth journey from a single site in Longford when I joined, to six sites across Ireland and the UK by the time I left. Although I started in telesales, I was fortunate to gain wide ranging experience across the entire business. At one stage I was responsible for the telesales team, marketing and PR, production planning, as well as sales invoicing and reporting. I learned a lot over my 24 years in Glennon Brothers.

In October 2019 I joined Wavin as Sales Manager to oversee key accounts as well as a team of technical sales reps who cover the Republic of Ireland market. My position in Wavin places me in a customer facing role and it is one I am really enjoying. I am also grateful to Wavin for supporting my return to education, as I am currently in the middle of an MSc in Leadership through Ulster University.

I was honoured to take up the position of Octabuild Chairperson this year. I strongly believe in the values of Octabuild, in particular the partnership with builders’ merchants. I believe in partnership and the value of long-term mutually beneficial relationships, which is central to the Octabuild ethos, and I look forward to working with the merchant sector to deliver the benefits of partnership for us all. I believe that the shocks that have been experienced in the global economy over the last three years have re-emphasised the value of Irish-based manufacturing and I believe that the Octabuild values of excellence, innovation, and sustainability are as important as ever.