Essential reading for retailers and suppliers in the home improvement market

Lockdown closes builder's merchants

Published: 24 March 2020 - Alex Fordham

The Prime Minister’s announcement last night, that the UK would severely restrict the reason for people to be outside their homes, was the catalyst for a number of merchant companies deciding to close their doors temporarily.

Last week independent merchant Covers announced that it would only be dealing with cash or credit card payments rather than credit account payments, citing the great pressure on the credit control function of staff illness, self-isolation and unexpected childcare with the closure of schools.

This morning Huws Gray Ridgeons’ chief executive Terry Owen told customers that the group – the UK’s 5th largest – would be closing all branches of Huws Gray, Ridgeons, ATC, RFP, Plumbstock, Qualplas and AC Roof Trusses branches with immediate effect.  “We have kept all our branches open and fully functioning as long as possible, and we would love nothing more than to be able to continue to operate normally,” he said in a statement. “However we do not live in ‘normal’ times at present, and after a careful assessment of all our options involving trade and retail customers alike, as well as our employees and suppliers, we feel that we must do the right thing for the greater good.

“We have not taken such a decision lightly, but we do believe that in emergency situations, we need to do our bit as individuals, as a company and as a construction community to protect each other. We remain committed to our customers and to our employees, but our commitment extends far further than purely economic arrangements. The health and welfare of our customers, work colleagues and suppliers are fundamental factors in all our decision-making and your protection remains our highest priority.

“In the 30 years of our existence, a combination of fantastic staff and loyal customers, has enabled us to cope successfully with more than one period of global uncertainty and financial crisis. However, the COVID-19 crisis is far more serious, and importantly, far more dangerous than any that we have faced previously as individuals and as companies.

“As this is a rapidly changing situation, we don’t know for how long our branches will be closed. However, we will continue to follow the advice of our Governments as well as Public Health England and Public Health Wales.”

Other merchants closing temporarily are Travis Perkins and Graham Plumbers Merchants, whose managing director David Kirby said: “We have taken the decision to close all UK distribution branches, warehouses and offices. This closure will be in effect for 24 hours on Tuesday 24th March while we seek urgent clarification from the UK Government about how we can operate our business within the Government guidelines. We want to play our part in helping the country overcome this crisis. We have been doing this by taking steps in all businesses to protect our people from the risk of the virus. We also do this by helping our customers provide essential maintenance of homes and public buildings, helping self-employed customers stay in business and by providing essential livelihoods for all our colleagues.”

At Graham’s sister company Jewson, managing director Mike Newnham also said that all branches would be closed for 24 hours today, while the group seeks clarification from the Government about how the business can operate whilst remaining within Government guidelines. He said: “We want to play our part in helping the country overcome this crisis. We have been doing this by taking steps to protect our people from the risk of the virus. We also do this by helping our customers provide essential maintenance of homes and public buildings, helping self-employed customers stay in business and by providing essential livelihoods for all our colleagues. This is a very difficult decision. Above all safety, wellbeing and health has to come first.”

Joinery specialist Howdens has closed all its branches in the UK and on the Continent. Elliotts has closed its Living Spaces kitchen and bathroom showrooms and its branches to customers, however, it is remaining open to deal with deliveries. Wolseley is also closing its trade counters, but remaining open to deal with collections, urging customers to observe social distancing guidelines.

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