During their recent National Sales Conference our head of Building Products, Mark Goldsmith, took the opportunity to meet with Acheson & Glover's Commercial Director, Stephen Acheson. Stephen has fronted the restructure of the company’s sales department, so there was plenty to talk about. We felt Stephen’s views would resonate with the wider building products market.
Mark: Much has been reported on the trials and tribulations of Brexit and it has affected every building product manufacturer within Great Britain to a varying degree. I am interested to know what, if any, opportunities this has presented to Acheson & Glover over the past six months and for the future?
Stephen: I don’t think that there have been any particular opportunities that have arisen for us as a result of Brexit - yet. Clearly, it’s going to be a long, drawn-out process and it will take some time before we can really get a feel for what it will mean for us. However, I do believe that Brexit at least has the potential to exacerbate what is already an acute skills shortage in our industry. Any agreement that curtails the free movement of labour from EU states will surely mean a smaller pool of available labour.
For AG, that should open up opportunities for products that can help reduce the need for skilled labour, speed up programmes and reduce cost. Many of our products already do that. For example, we have a wide range of retaining wall products that are built without the need for any mortar. Many of our paving products can be installed mechanically. We have a number of product development projects now started that are again designed to make our products faster, safer and less expensive to construct.
Mark: And how has this affected trading with southern Irish companies?
Stephen: For now, there has been no impact on trading with Southern Irish companies. Our sales there are continuing to grow,with the market there having recovered from the severe recession. Regardless of what kind of Brexit deal is finally reached, our company will continue to sell into the Republic. We’ve been selling there since we started in 1960 - 13 years before the UK even joined the EEC. However, I would strongly hope that any Brexit deal allows the border between the two countries to remain as open as possible.
Mark: As leader of the newly combined precast and landscaping sales divisions of Acheson & Glover, what key steps have you taken to ensure a smooth transition of sales forces?
Stephen: Good, frequent and clear communication has been crucial. Our sales people are spread over the whole of the UK and that can make communication more challenging. We have a strong team of managers, however, and we have been able to spend plenty of time with our colleagues in the field to make sure that any issues or obstacles have been dealt with.
We have invested in a new CRM solution that can work for all sales team members, regardless of which products they sell. For the first time, this now allows our people to see all contacts that have been made with all customers. It also allows us to more closely monitor any chances to cross-sell our products. For example, if we secure an order for precast and flooring we can now more easily ensure that we forward that lead through to our paving sales specialists.
Mark: You are probably well placed to say where you see the movers and shakers within the UK market over the coming year or so, given that Acheson & Glover sell both into the commercial and residential markets. Where do you see growth and opportunity coming from?
Stephen: We are quite fortunate, in that our broad product range means that we are diversified with our sales being spread across virtually all sub-sectors. I think it’s fairly clear that many in our industry are hopeful that infrastructure spending will increase, while private house building is also expected to remain fairly robust. From our own customer contacts, we don’t see anything at present that would contradict this.
From an AG perspective, our UK market share for many of our products is still relatively small compared with some of our largest competitors. We, therefore, should still have plenty of scope to grow, regardless of market conditions.
Mark: Acheson & Glover are known for having a stable and engaged workforce. Therefore, I'm intrigued to understand how you keep a balanced, harmonious and focused workforce when you're managing a number of sites. With quarries throughout Northern Ireland, and a strong presence in the UK, how do you ensure your message translates to remote teams and how you keep them motivated?
Stephen: Nothing beats face-to-face communication. I personally spend a large proportion of my time travelling to our sites and meeting with our people. We’re still a family business at heart and our management team need be approachable.
We frequently update our workforce on how business is performing. We send our monthly bulletins to all employees that highlight major wins and key growth areas. We also conduct bi-annual roadshows, where senior managers will meet with all employees to provide a more in-depth look at how our business is performing.
We’re also finding that social media can help keep people informed. We’re very active on various channels including LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. These can be an excellent way to reinforce our key messages and to share good news stories.
STEPHEN ACHESON, COMMERCIAL DIRECTOR - ACHESON AND GLOVER