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Interview with Nick Snazell, Market Insight and Strategy Director for STARK Building Materials.

Interview with Nick Snazell, Market Insight and Strategy Director for STARK Building Materials.

Ahead of the exclusive launch of Barbour ABI’s 2024 Home Improvement Report at InstallerSHOW, we speak to Nick Snazell, Market Insight and Strategy Director for STARK Building Materials. Nick is responsible for monitoring and analysing the construction and building materials market – as well as the wider economy and housing market – and will be speaking at the launch event.

Could you start by introducing us to STARK Group and its brands?
STARK started out as a timber yard in Denmark at the end of the 19th century and now owns a number of merchant brands across Europe and, most recently, the UK.

Perhaps our best-known brand in the UK is the builders merchant Jewson, alongside Frazer, Minster and other brands that form part of the STARK UK family. We serve over 200,000 customers in the UK, making Stark one of the UK’s largest distributors of building and construction materials.

What new customer trends are you seeing at the moment?
As a supplier of more general building materials, trends don’t tend to have as much impact as they would for more specialist merchants. Whilst we are always in tune with changing trends and regulations in the construction industry, the demand for core materials – bricks, timber and the like – changes much less than demand for more specialist materials such as boilers or electricals.

That said, as a result of a slowing housing market and increased cost of living, the industry has definitely noticed a decline in activity related to house building and home improvement.

Are there any other factors you have observed affecting the home improvement market?
Fundamentally, there have been 15 to 20% fewer housing transactions in the last two years. People are most likely to put in a planning application to carry out home improvement works in the first few years of ownership; so if fewer houses are changing hands, fewer applications are put in and the market naturally shrinks. This ties into the cost-of-living crisis, but it also reflects consumer confidence. If an individual feels insecure about their financial circumstances, they are less likely to move home or invest in improving their home.

How do you see the home improvement market changing in the next few years and what would you like to see?
Of course, I’d like to see the home improvement market expand. Whilst the wealthiest will always be able to afford to alter and improve their homes, government subsidies linked to wider policies often have the biggest impact on whether property owners choose to invest – previous insulation programmes or the Boiler Upgrade Scheme, for example.

It would be great to see clear and consistent policy around retrofitting and energy performance in the next few years with a longer-term plan, especially policy that encourages and benefits the whole spectrum of homeowners in the UK.

What impact do you see the Future Homes Standard (FHS) having for your customers and installers?
I think one of the biggest challenges will be training. There is currently a skills shortage for the jobs needed to make the FHS a reality. Installers need to make sure they have the relevant qualifications to deliver what is needed.

In terms of the wider market, we are already seeing the FHS have a significant impact. Whilst some installers may not be ready, companies in the wider supply chain are priming themselves for the shift towards green technologies. We are seeing roofing companies buying up solar companies in anticipation of increased demand and other merchants expanding their portfolios and buying HVAC specific businesses. These different strands combine to show an evolving landscape across the industry.

Jewson has recently opened its Branch of the Future in Bridgwater. How is this intended to benefit installers?
A lot of research went into finding out what products, services and facilities our customers really need and value most. As a result, this new branch includes drive-in loading bays, extra delivery vehicles and extended opening hours.

At this refurbished branch we have implemented some very practical changes, like making sure all our treated timber can be stored without risk of it getting wet; but we have also made some changes to improve customer experience. For example, we now have increased stock and range, including tool hire, along with food and drink facilities, charging points and meeting rooms for customers to use.

The opening of the refurbished store coincides with a total rebrand and it is the first step in our journey to become the nation’s most trusted merchant.

Nick will be appearing on the panel for the exclusive launch of the 2024 Home Improvement Report with Brian Green from Barbour ABI and Anna Scothern from NHIC at this year’s InstallerSHOW.

Register for your free ticket here.

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