A Valued Partner

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-By John Boley

Network Builders Pty Ltd is a building industry buying group that has been servicing the domestic construction industry since May 2006. This operation is instrumental in realising competitive “group generated” deals and supplier support for its members.

Based in Brisbane and servicing South East Queensland, Network Builders leverages the purchasing power of its membership base to create market-competitive group deals on materials and trade provisions. The group members benefit from being part of a larger entity while dealing personally with the Group’s supply partners and contractors.

Members can use a comprehensive 500-page web-based price guide that itemises up-to-the-minute supplier packages. This provision complements regular interaction from the Network sales team as well as a qualified and proven sub-contractor trade provision.

Additionally, group members are able to utilise a plan distribution and quoting service. Members are encouraged to submit their job plans, which are in turn distributed to the affiliated suppliers and the process is driven by the Network staff to ensure that the relevant quotes arrive back on the builder’s desk in a designated timely manner. This service realises a huge saving in time and money for the builder.

As the majority of members of the group are small to medium size builders constructing mid to high-end architectural projects, Network Builders is mindful to align itself with suppliers who are focused on quality, service and communication as well as offering a highly competitive price.

We talked to Robert Pinn, who with fellow director John Foster sets up and administers Network Builders. First, we asked, is there a minimum amount that a builder member has to spend with supply partners?

“No, there is no minimum membership requirement. We obviously do our research into the members we invite into the group. We expect the builders who join us to support the Supplier deals as we have seen in the past that builders who allow us to work with them have seen their businesses grow over time. We probably don’t suit the larger project builders – they have their own purchasing departments and estimators in their own right. Network Builders uses the Group turnover to become the negotiating arm for its members.”

But you do investigate the background of a company applying to join?

“We do take an interest in the quality of membership, most definitely. We certainly research our membership, including a BSA search, and we ask for credit references when a builder is applying for membership. It is our long term aim to have a stable of quality builders who operate ethically.”

There are currently 116 supplier partners in the list on your website. Is that a complete listing?

“Yes, on the website is the full list of supply partners. It’s very wide ranging. We want to try to provide a one-stop shop so members can source all their requirements in today’s industry. The list includes all major material and trade providers as well as ancillary products such as insurances and even a vehicle broker. We want to be considered the builder’s first point of contact if they require any form of assistance or provision.”

Is there some exclusivity for the supplier partners?

“It is the aim of the group to add value to everyone involved in this – including suppliers, to give them the best opportunity to win business from members. Having more than one supplier in a category limits that value. But in saying that, there are some categories where we have multiple suppliers and generally that is geographically driven.”

How does the deal work with suppliers and pricing?

“We rely on the suppliers to provide a group volume-based price. The Supply Partners pay Network Builders a small rebate based on the Group purchases from their brand. The Suppliers gain the services of an extra two representatives in the marketplace as we frequently give them feedback – we meet with our builders on a regular basis, sit down with them and discuss supplier offers, collate the feedback and provide it to those suppliers so we are all on the same page and moving forward.”

Network Builders is a commercial organisation, not a voluntary trade body run by the members?

“Correct. This is not driven by a board of members; John and I are the sole Directors of the company and we make the decisions based on member feedback and requirements as well as Supplier competitiveness – if our builders are not purchasing from our suppliers, we don’t feed our families! We feel we have a pretty good understanding of our marketplace. We decide who we will bring on as a Supply partner; we usually sign off on a 12-month agreement and we get a feeling during that period of time how that Supplier operates and how they service the Group. If the Supplier is servicing the Group with the right package, the relationship becomes long term, which is what we are all aiming for.”

You describe Network Builders as “˜comprehensive and different’ – so what makes it different?

“”˜Different’ is in relation to our competitors in the marketplace – we pride ourselves on personalised service. We provide accurate and up-to-date information and as a service provider, John & I are always accessible. The members also enjoy the fact that they can go online and know what they are currently paying for materials – and that differentiates us from our competitors.”

From the perspective of both the builder and the supplier, a buying group such as Network Builders works best in a difficult marketplace, doesn’t it?

“Most definitely, we act as a catalyst for our members to get competitive rates.  Also, in a depressed marketplace the Suppliers see Network Builders as a long term loyal customer base; we are a direct channel to market for them. Also, in a trying marketplace we tend to be a resource for project opportunities for our members – we get a number of hits on our website from the public looking to be introduced to builders. We are in a position to link an appropriate builder to the project opportunity in question – that all helps the cause.”

From your viewpoint, how is the market sentiment in your part of Australia?

“South East Queensland is certainly a depressed market and has been for some two or more years now. We find that the renovation market is performing slightly better than the new home sector. Our members’ market is very much geared towards top-end residential, with a sprinkling of members doing the likes of commercial BER schools projects and commercial fit-out work. New relationships have been formed with the likes of Catholic Education and some of the larger Commercial Contractors, and some of our members have won the opportunity to subcontract to this sector. But it definitely remains a difficult market, a bit mixed.

One thing we see is that those builders that have chosen to go outside their comfort zone and explore other opportunities (for instance a smaller renovation and extension builder that opts to go into commercial fit-out work), have done well. Network Builders prides itself on being associated with good business people who are continually looking for new opportunities, thus providing opportunities to our Supplier base.

It’s pretty much like any other business, I guess. There are some guys out there who have 18 months’ work on their books and others who are currently searching for work.”

Is there any significant turnover, or “˜churn’ among your supplier partners?

“No, in fact many of our Supply Partners have been with us since our inception. We look for long term relationships based on continual feedback and partnering of the business. If there is a need to change a Supplier due to market competitiveness or service, it will be addressed. I’m sure that our members prefer us to work with our existing supplier base to continually improve their individual packages and relationships, thus creating loyalty for all.”

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March 28, 2020, 7:08 PM AEDT