Buy Better | Nick Oates – National Buying Group

We chat to Nick Oates, Managing Director at National Buying Group (NBG) about the benefits the Group brings to its Partners.

Tell us a bit about NBG and its history?

National Buying Group was formed in 2003 and is a LLP, a partnership of over 80 independent merchants from the building supplies market. Its focus is to buy better. This means negotiating competitive agreements with suppliers for our partners, for both parties’ joint mutual benefit.

Within the group we have several specialists from across the product sectors, which brings expertise, knowledge and volumes. All agreements are approved by one of eight category teams, which comprises the specialists and merchants where the product areas are important to them.

What is different about NBG and how you support members?

NBG is a united organisation that gives a voice to all partners, from which they can benefit and contribute to by having a say in decisions, strategy and negotiating agreements. NBG is democratic, one partner represents one vote.

We have an open and friendly culture which operates across strong regional communities to enable partners to actively help each other and share ideas, thereby supporting their businesses’ opportunities and challenges.

How has NBG adapted and changed with the challenges and opportunities presented amidst the COVID pandemic?

NBG was already set up to work remotely with all systems being cloud-based, so switching to home working was easily achieved. All communications and meetings quickly switched to online via Teams or Zoom, so in many ways we carried on as before. However, the focus was often information sharing to enable businesses to adapt to changing rules and regulations, which was then followed by stock shortages and price changes.

During the last 20 months everyone has remained incredibly busy. I’m very proud that we have stepped up and taken on the extra workload and responsibility to help our partners through some very tough periods.

As supply issues have increased, we have run allocation systems with suppliers, tracked volume shares and even sourced alternative suppliers where contracted supplier partners have struggled with the extra volumes. This has been very challenging for everyone so it’s important we work together jointly to find solutions that are also well communicated.

What does NBG look for in a supply partner?

NBG’s core focus is negotiating competitive buying deals that are profitable for all, and mutually beneficial to both our partners and our suppliers. Therefore, the first thing we need is a competitive agreement which ensures we can trade successfully across the market and make a sensible profit.

However, at NBG we also want a strong dynamic relationship focused on growing sales, with suppliers that are passionate about their products and solutions with innovative ideas and challenging questions.

Finally, we want suppliers with agreements underpinned by great service and support. This means products in stock and available, deliveries on time and in full, pricing product data provided promptly and accurately, clear and timely communication, reporting and rebate paid to time and proactive account management with an agreed sales plan. To be a really great supplier these basics need to be done well, consistently.

How does Keystone Group, particularlyKeystone Lintels and Keylite fulfil this remit?

It’s fair to say that Keystone is an excellent longstanding supplier to NBG, going all the way back to 2006. Keystone is a great brand that is always bringing new products to the market. The team also enjoy a good discussion and even the occasional drink at the bar, so a good spirit exists between us.

Keylite has recently been successful in gaining an NBG agreement after many years of perseverance – I’m sure they will do well as we work together to expand sales of roof windows.

How is NBG adapting to the digital challenge – what does the future of merchant trading look like to you?

Whilst COVID has been going on, at the same time we have implemented our pioneering PIM (Product Information Management) system. PIM centrally collects high quality, accurate and timely product and pricing information from suppliers before delivering it to partners. The system is the first of its kind in the independent builders’ merchant sector and we’re proud to bring this to the fore.

We have also been rolling out electronic transmission of invoices with our partners NMBS, using their infrastructure to remove paper and digitise invoicing.

Of course, there is much more to do, and we need suppliers to be open and responsive to new ideas; to increase their pace of change – for example to provide timely, good quality data and images; to digitise transactions for invoicing and ordering, which will be followed by electronic dispatch notes and stock look up.

What is your outlook for the remainder of the year into 2022?

My outlook for the remainder of 2021 is positive as we recover from the pandemic. Sales have been and will remain very strong for the rest of 2021 and into 2022. But let’s not forget that at some point, a slowdown will come. Investing now in new products, skilled resources and technology is key.

I also believe that there will be a significant change in product messaging in two ways. Firstly, the zero-carbon agenda will drive an increased focus on environmental credentials with a focus on lower energy use, reduced packaging, and more efficient logistics.

Secondly, any outcomes from the Building Safety Review, an output from Grenfell, will require an update to current guidance and regulations to ensure the right product is used in the right way at the right time.

Therefore, the rapid change of the last 20 months will continue with suppliers who have great relationships, brilliant service, leading products and competitive pricing; the ones NBG will work with successfully.

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