Builders Merchant/Assistant

The Job and What's Involved

Builders' merchants/assistants sell building materials and goods in bulk to the construction industry and in smaller quantities to self-employed tradespeople such as plumbers and carpenters. They also sell goods at retail prices to the general public. They deal with customers and suppliers, finance and stock records, and handle building materials.

They may work for:

Specialist builders' merchants which cater mainly for the building trade, selling large quantities of materials and specialist products and delivering to building sites.

DIY stores which sell direct to construction tradespeople and also to the general public.

DIY stores which sell mainly to the general public.

Builders' merchants and DIY stores hold a wide variety of stock such as:

  • Timber, bricks, blocks and sand and cement.
  • Painting and decorating materials and equipment.
  • Plumbing and heating materials and equipment.
  • Electrical supplies and insulating materials.
  • Tools and ironmongery.
  • Kitchen and bathroom units.
  • Garden furniture, plants and equipment.

Sales staff need to know what all these items can be used for, and where they are to be found in the store or the yard. They also have to give customers advice on what they may need for particular jobs.

They may also be involved in:

  • Filling in invoices for customers who have accounts.
  • Processing payments from other customers, using either cash or credit cards.
  • Hiring out tools and equipment.
  • Dealing with telephone enquiries and orders.
  • Arranging deliveries.
  • Stock control, including order processing routines and checking stock levels.

In some companies, there may be specialist roles such as bathroom and kitchen designers, telephonists, order administrators, lift truck drivers, or trade experts giving advice to DIY customers - for example, on plumbing or joinery.

Hours of work depend on the type of outlet. Many builders' merchants who supply to the building trade open Monday to Friday, perhaps 7.30am to 5pm. They usually open early so that customers can buy goods to use during the day. They may also open on Saturday mornings.

Large DIY outlets are open seven days a week, often Monday to Saturday, 8am to 6pm, and 10am to 4pm on Sundays. Here, employees work shifts, with days off during the week. Part-time work is usually possible.

DIY outlets are normally large, modern, spacious and air-conditioned, but smaller outlets like stores, warehouses and yards may be cramped and cold.

Staff in DIY stores and builders' merchants may have to stand for long periods of time and the work may involve lifting or carrying heavy items (with appropriate aids, such as fork-lift trucks).

Some staff may have to wear uniforms or overalls, and they may need heavy protective footwear.

Starting salaries may be around £11,000 a year. Staff may be paid overtime for working shifts and weekends. Some employers reward staff with bonus payments based on sales or profitability.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are over 3,500 builders' merchants and DIY stores throughout the UK. They depend largely on the construction industry, with fewer jobs being available in times of recession when building work slows down. However, such times encourage more people to tackle jobs in the home themselves, so DIY stores tend to prosper.

The larger DIY stores are usually situated in out-of-town retail centres. The larger builders' merchants are normally found just outside city or town centres.

There has been a decline in the number of smaller general builders' merchants, but there are still many specialist firms such as plumbers' merchants and timber merchants. A growing specialist area is the sale of reclaimed building materials such as roof tiles, slates, bricks, staircases and window frames.

There are more builders' merchants in the south of England than elsewhere.

Larger employers tend to recruit workers regularly, and they generally have their own websites, which may allow potential applicants to search for jobs in their local area. Jobs may also be advertised in the local press.

Education and Training

There are no minimum entry qualifications, personality and skills are considered to be generally more important. However, some employers may prefer applicants with GCSE's/S grades, particularly in English and maths.

Introductory qualifications in retailing or construction may also be useful. These include:

  • GCSE in Construction and the Built Environment.
  • Edexcel Introductory Certificate in Business, Retail and Administration.
  • BTEC First Diploma in Retail.
  • BTEC Introductory Diploma in Construction.

The Builders Merchants Federation (BMF) runs an Apprenticeship programme leading to NVQ's/SVQ's at Levels 2 and 3, along with key skills.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Entrants are usually given on-the-job training. In larger stores, there are likely to be formal in-house training schemes.

NVQ's/SVQ's are available in:

  • Distributive Operations at Level 1.
  • Distribution, Warehousing and Storage Operations at Levels 2 and 3.
  • Retail Skills at Levels 1 and 2.
  • Retail at Level 3.

Experienced staff can improve their product knowledge by taking the City & Guilds 6117 Award, Construction Materials Distribution, through an open learning programme run by the BMF. The BMF also runs a variety of short courses covering topics such as sales, health and safety, and security, and offers a Diploma in Merchanting, which is a self-study course in nine modules, aimed at managers in builders' merchants.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Builders' merchants/assistants need:

  • Good communication skills to advise customers clearly and accurately.
  • To be friendly and helpful.
  • Basic numeracy skills for measurements, calculations and handling cash.
  • To be reasonably good at written English to deal with the paperwork.
  • To be punctual, reliable and honest.
  • Stamina and a good level of physical fitness.
  • A neat and tidy appearance.

Your Long Term Prospects

Working for a larger company usually offers more secure job prospects and greater opportunities to progress to supervisory and management positions.

People working for smaller companies may need to change employer to gain promotion.

Get Further Information

Builders Merchants Federation (BMF),
15 Soho Square, London W1D 3HL
Tel: 020 7439 1753
Website: www.bmf.org.uk

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