IKO PLC has worked with and sold to builders’ merchants for more than 100 years. Our offer remains constant: reliable products designed to meet current needs, and dependable support for our customers, whether merchant, contractor, architect or end-client. However, the industry we serve is changing.
Currently the construction industry faces a skills shortage which threatens to slow growth. The last recession lasted five years and hit construction hard, with an estimated 300,000 tradesmen leaving to find work elsewhere or retire. Most didn’t come back when construction improved, even when firms started recruiting. Those who did stay in the industry are aging. This has created a growing gap: not enough young people are coming through with sufficient expertise and experience to replace them. General builders, bricklayers, carpenters and specialist contractors have all been affected – and merchants too.
As a result of the skills shortage, more general builders (who may not have the experience and training of a specialist) are being asked to tackle projects which may be more ambitious than they are used to. In roofing, for example, different projects (flat or pitched, new build or RMI, domestic or commercial) require very different products and skillsets. Using a gas torch requires specialist training but there are many modern cold applied alternatives that can do just as good a job as Torch-On products for most projects. Product performance can also vary enormously between premium and commodity options. Merchants have to match products to projects and the skills and preferences of the person doing the job: you need a comprehensive range and the knowledge to advise accordingly.
IKO offers four main types of support to help merchants and their customers. Branch staff are given regular training by their local IKO Business Manager, who can also be called upon for more in-depth advice if a customer requires on-the-spot information. Our end-user brochures, ‘step-by-step’ installation guides and videos point builders and contractors towards the correct solution. Meanwhile our training centres or ‘Academies’ help roofers and contractors around the country. And finally, our in-house technical support team at our Appley Bridge HQ provides advice for merchants and specifiers (including CPDs), to help bring in business throughout the supply chain.
It’s not just about training and support, however. You need to offer a comprehensive range so you can adapt to skills, type of project and weather. Our merchant ranges make it simple for builders and contractors to select everything they need to complete a job. This includes built-up flat roofing systems, PIR insulation boards, pitched roof systems, roofing shingles, waterproofing liquids and compounds. Each range has distinctive, complementary packaging, making it easier to organise stocked lines, and easier for customers to find the products that work together.
Our newest products focus on making it simpler, quicker, easier and safer to complete a project with or without specialist skills. We aim to make installation as easy and ‘fool-proof’ as possible. For example, our new IKO easyseal Self-Adhesive System is ideal for domestic flat roofs and larger projects. It’s a BBA-approved built-up felt system with a 20-year life expectancy. But only basic skills and tools are required as it consists of three self-adhesive components with variations to suit contractors and DIYers: a 16m or 8m Underlay, 8m or 6m Top Sheet and a 15m Vapour Control Layer (VCL). Clean and easy to handle, the backing for each layer simply strips away and can be installed quickly. It’s flame-free so there’s no need for hot bitumen or gas torches. The Top Sheet is now available in a black mineral finish (IKO easyseal Pro Cap Sheet) as well as green (IKO easyseal Top Sheet), giving contractors and clients more choice.
The IKO easyseal VCL and new IKO easyseal Universal Underlay offer an additional benefit: they can also be used with torch-on roofing systems, isolating combustible substrates to reduce the risk of fire when using a gas torch, providing further options for contractors.
Ultimately, our support for merchants and stockists helps them to sell more, at better margins. Chris Coggins, Buyer at Robert Price, the largest independent builders’ merchant in South Wales, comments: ‘We recently undertook a broad approach training programme with IKO, covering a wide range of branches and staff and a wealth of their products. It gave our sales staff confidence – good product knowledge is crucial. Obviously, we can’t know everything about IKO’s full range – we stock thousands of products and it would be impossible to have encyclopaedic knowledge of all of them. However, it’s reassuring that IKO is there to back us up and answer any customer queries that we can’t. We’ve found IKO’s training and support a great help to our business.’