Mica, the UK’s co-operative group of independent hardware, DIY and garden retailers has today announced a proposed merged with the British Independent Retailers Association (BIRA), the UK’s largest independent trade retailer association.
The proposal was unanimously passed by Mica’s board of directors and is now subject to approval by the organisation’s members, who will vote at an EGM on August 13. If ratified by Mica members, the deal will see BIRA invest in the group, becoming a major shareholder and the co-operative will join the association as a new division.
Members and suppliers have been notified about the proposed merger over the past two days and Mica CEO Michael Ball told DIY Week the feedback from members so far has been, “overwhelmingly positive”.
Explaining what the move will mean going forward, Michael Ball said: “Mica will become part of the BIRA family in a similar way to BAGMA(British Agricultural & Garden Machinery Association) has. Mica DIY Ltd will continue to trade but as a subsidiary company of BIRA…The business will continue to be run separately but in close partnership with the other divisions of BIRA.”
In terms of benefits to members, Mr Ball explained: “All of our current members will immediately become BIRA members and, in turn, have access to the wide range of services provided by the organisation.” He added that the two businesses will work closely together and that “BIRA will be seeking to bring more members into MICA as a premium membership. The organisation will, of course, get a return on that as an investor.”
Mica boasts more than 50 hardware, DIY and garden member stores across the UK with a longstanding reputation for fierce independence and excellence excellent local service. Its members work together to market their businesses, buy together at group terms, share retail support and digital development.
Mica chairman David Morris of Morris Mica Hardware, Alcester added: “The proposal put forward has the full support of the Mica board, which is made up of retailers from across the UK. Joining forces with BIRA offers us the opportunity to further develop one of the main reasons I joined Mica in the first place, greater strength in numbers by independent retailers working together.”
The seeds of the deal were first sewn when BIRA - interested in offering marketing communication to its members - approached Mica about a possible joint venture. “We started having conversations and it gradually expanded into something where it became clear that a merger was the only sensible option,” explained Mr Ball.
He was also keen to allay any concerns members may have about losing the essence of Mica by joining a larger organisation. “One of the reasons BIRA want to invest is because it sees the value in what Mica is doing and its co-operative way of working,” he said. “We were all keen to find a way to protect Mica’s co-operative status. That is why it has taken so long... It has been a very well-considered deal.”
Mr Ball said: “While we had an excellent year in 2018 achieving growth and great returns to the membership, these remain challenging times for the high street. Our members understand the strength of working together and, in BIRA, we have a partner organisation with the same vision – to ensure the high street continues to thrive in the long term.”
He told DIY Week the two businesses had long held similar ethea, with Mica first established by two former directors at the British Hardware Federation - which is also part of BIRA - David Braun and Belinda Barnard. They set up the company with assistance from Mica South Africa and adapted the concept to the British market. “At the time, I believe, the BHF didn’t want to do consumer marketing but now BIRA does, so in some ways we have come full circle and come back together”, he said.
BIRA CEO Andrew Goodacre commented: “This is an exciting time for BIRA and Mica employees, members and suppliers, as this new partnership, if approved, will further increase our influence in the corridors of Westminster.
“Mica also brings a new skillset, 20 years of consumer marketing experience to the table, and through the combined group we will have the largest Hardware & DIY buying group available for independent store owners. We expect both BIRA and Mica members to benefit from wider access to more suppliers and preferential rates, more good news for taking the fight to the retail giants.”
After a transition period, Mica will relocate from its current office in Staffordshire, to BIRA’s offices in Birmingham. The added 46-mile distance means, Mr Ball said, “it is quite possible that there will be some members of staff who decide not to move with us… It will be sad if that is the case, as we are a close-knit team and our members know people and faces well.”
However, he maintains it is an important and positive move for the company, concluding: “Mica’s continued co-operative status within BIRA will ensure the group retains its identity and heritage, it’s a real win-win for members, suppliers and consumers.”