Navigating the coronavirus pandemic has been challenging for the entire merchant industry, and independent merchants are no exception.
Supplier shutdowns, product shortages and social distancing measures mean businesses having to quickly get used to completely new ways of working, with many relying on partnerships and support from others within the industry in order to continue trading.
For independent merchant Rhino Building & DIY Supplies, that support came from the IBC Buying Group, who Rhino Operations Director Zoe Gabriele says went above and beyond to help them be able to provide a service to their customers during this difficult time.
Rhino Building & DIY Supplies is based in Acle, Norwich, and offers a wide range of building and decorating aggregates, blocks, lintels, drainage equipment, drylining and plasterboards, as well as kitchen, bathroom, paint and decorating products.
Rhino started as a business in 2012, before coming under new ownership in 2016. The merchant joined IBC as a Member six years ago and has always worked closely with Mark Walker, the IBC Divisional Account Manager for the area.
Zoe explains: “Working with IBC has been like having an extension to our workforce – another buyer going out and talking to suppliers on our behalf. It means we can gain access to the best deals with suppliers that we may not otherwise have found.”
Unlike many buying groups, IBC has a full-time team of account managers, marketing team, product managers and support staff on hand to support its Members, giving independent merchants time to concentrate on running and growing their businesses.
Operating during coronavirus
The coronavirus outbreak prompted Rhino to change its business operations so that it could protect its staff and customers during the nationwide lockdown, while still continuing to operate and provide product to its base of small-to-medium trades and retail customers.
Zoe says: “The health and safety of our employees, customers and suppliers is of paramount importance to us and we gave this absolute priority in how we set up to continue to move forward.”
During the first weeks of the lockdown some of Rhino’s 11-strong team were furloughed, while three other members of staff worked remotely from home as the business closed the branch and yard, operating a delivery-only service.
A collection service is also now available for pre-arranged collections.
“We have operated a strict social distancing policy and handwashing regime, and during deliveries there has been no direct contact with customers. We also made the decision not to leave delivery notes; instead, if customers want paperwork this is emailed to them directly,” Zoe says.
As well as having to implement the now familiar social distancing measures, like many other merchants Rhino has also had to deal with product shortages in recent weeks.
“As the lockdown progressed, many suppliers struggled to deliver at all, and this caused us some stock issues. IBC was instrumental in recommending and sourcing alternative supplier partners so that we could replenish our stocks quickly and efficiently.”
Thanks to IBC and the Rhino team’s own hard work, the company has been able to continue meeting its customers’ needs.
“We have received so many great reviews and recommendations for the way we have conducted our business during the pandemic,” Zoe continues, “and I have to say a heartfelt thank you to IBC for all their efforts, I am totally appreciative of everything they’ve done.”
As the lockdown eases Rhino is beginning to look to the future, and to the key services that help it stand out in a highly competitive market.
Zoe believes that providing the personal touch and a reliable service is vital for any successful merchant, and Rhino prides itself on being flexible and responsive to its customers’ needs.
“If our customers need a product that we do not stock, we will make the effort to source it for them, and we understand the importance of getting materials when they need them. Having that access to more suppliers and a wider variety of stock is a large part of why we place so much value on being an IBC Member.”
Zoe concludes: “In this constantly evolving world it will be those merchants who are capable of adapting to the new regime that will be able to move forward and create good strong and stable businesses.
“The industry in which we operate seems to come together when challenged and we remain positive that we will keep Britain building. Rhino Building & DIY Supplies is in a good place to be able to make the most of the coming opportunities, with a fantastic team, a strong network of suppliers and a robust support network to do it with – and that includes IBC Buying Group.”