Builders merchants up against DIY and webstores

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The self-employed in construction are a conservative bunch, but their relationship with their usual wholesale building materials supplier is coming under increased pressure from DIY builders stores, as the latest ABN AMRO report Bouwmaterialenhandel: de opkomst van omnichannel (‘Building supplies trade: the rise of the omni-channel’) finds.

The Bouwkennis survey into the purchasing, ordering and market orientation behaviour of the self-employed in construction, commissioned by ABN AMRO, found that this group, although still loyal to their suppliers, are beginning to show a tendency to move away from them, as DIY stores are increasingly also offering a professional service and a ‘bit of a chat’, while webstores are sought out for their convenience. Wholesalers would be well-advised to invest in an omni-channel strategy to keep these customers onboard.

Online sales of building supplies: massive potential

Today, about half of all buildings supplies are delivered on site after ordering via the web (13%) or by phone (36%). Electricians/fitters lead the pack, ordering nearly 40 per cent of their supplies via webstores, while plasterers and painters only do 2-3 per cent of their supply shopping online. The fax machine, previously the construction industry’s favourite order method, has fallen almost completely by the wayside, while the share of online ordering has steadily climbed in the past couple of years. Webstores hold out massive potential for further growth, as nearly half of buildings supplies are not bought in a real-time visit to a wholesalers or DIY builders store.

From wholesale builders merchants to DIY builders stores

In the past, self-employed builders or handymen used to go to their regular wholesale suppliers if they decided to visit a shop for their needs. These days, though, the traditional wholesale role is being increasingly elbowed out by DIY builders stores and newcomers to online retail, who offer not just professional buildings supplies and tools, but also the right shopping experience and advice. In the 2014 Bouwkennis ZZP & Klus Monitor, 29 per cent of respondents cite ‘a friendly chat’ as the key reason to go to a bricks-and-mortar store, while one-quarter want to actually see products before buying them and 18 per cent feel it’s quicker to buy products themselves. 

Creating opportunities: omni-channel strategy

Annemijn Fokkelman, ABN AMRO’s Sector Banker for Building and Construction, has noticed that building supplies wholesalers are increasingly facing competition from DIY builders stores and newcomers to online retail. Like wholesalers, such DIY stores offer special services to professionals as well as extended opening hours, fast-track pick-up counters and loyalty cards for self-employed professionals in construction. “Wholesalers should really aim for an omni-channel strategy,” she says. “I see opportunities for builders merchants that manage to offer a good mix of online and offline purchasing and points of contact. After all, consumers are getting used to choosing where, when and how to order products, and they bring that experience onto the workfloor. Traditional builders merchants should take a leaf out of the book of DIY builders stores and online retail newcomers when it comes to investing in the bricks-and-mortar and online shopping experience.”


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