Builders' merchants sell trade goods in bulk to the construction industry, and retail goods to the general public. They deal with customers and suppliers, keep finance and stock records, and handle building materials.
As a Builders' Merchant, you will supply building craftspeople (such as Plumbers, Builders, Landscape Gardeners and Electricians) with the items that they need to do their jobs. You also sell these products to members of the public.
You differ from the large superstores that cater for do-it-yourself (DIY) enthusiasts in the range of your stock and the product knowledge of your staff. Most specialise in particular types of supplies such as timber, electrical or bathrooms.
The trade is divided into two areas. The 'heavy side' covers things like sand, cement, roofing products, timber, concrete blocks, bricks and ballast, and the 'light side' provides plumbing, bathroom and kitchen fittings, power tools and decorating equipment, for example.
Working as a Builders' Merchant involves all the tasks done in general distribution. One major aspect of the work is ordering stock, both in bulk and for individual customers.
In large organisations, this is computerised and goods are automatically re-ordered when they fall below a certain level. In smaller firms, stock has to be counted manually and the related paperwork is also done by hand.
In either case, there is a great deal of clerical work and dealing with office equipment and office procedures. Also, there are often long discussions with suppliers about the right type and amount of stock needed. This side of the job will also involve doing some work in the warehouse, checking in items, storing and distributing them.
Builders' Merchants have a lot of contact with customers. You deal with telephone enquiries and assist people face to face. Much of this involves giving advice on which goods to buy, such as the best type of tap to install or the correct kind of wood for a particular purpose. You also advise on which tools and fittings to use.
Most Builders' Merchants have access to a product database or website so that you can look up prices, technical specifications and health and safety information for customers. You might have to work out quantity and pricing estimates for large orders.
Having advised the customer, you then have to complete the selling process. This can vary from taking a few pence for a couple of nails, to handling credit cards for purchases costing thousands of pounds.
Apart from operating a till, you will need to complete detailed receipts and invoices and often calculate value added tax (VAT). You often need to organise and check deliveries to the customer or to a building site, for example.
In addition to these duties, staff occasionally help out in the yard, making up orders and loading or unloading products.
Being able to read, write and speak Welsh may be an advantage when you’re looking for work in Wales.
Personal Qualities and Skills
To become a Builders' Merchant, you should have:
- A confident, professional approach when dealing with suppliers and customers. Many customers are experienced tradespeople expecting expert assistance.
- a good standard of written and spoken English
- a working knowledge of IT (in particular the internet and databases)
- a good standard of numeracy; you'll have to make calculations, estimate both cost and quantity of goods and cope with large amounts of money
- the stamina to spend a long time standing and walking around and to do some lifting
Depending on the sort of products being sold, the work might not be suitable if you have allergies to dust or have chest complaints.
Pay and Opportunities
The pay rates given below are approximate.
- Starting: £23,000
- With experience: £25,500
Hours of work
Staff usually work 40 hours a week, usually including Saturdays, with time off in the week in lieu. Early starts are common.
Where could I work?
Employers are local and national builders' merchant companies.
Opportunities for Builders' Merchants occur in towns and cities throughout the UK, where you are often based on industrial estates.
Where are vacancies advertised?
Vacancies are advertised in local newspapers, on job boards and large employers' websites, on Find a Job and at Jobcentre Plus.
GreenJobs is a job board aimed at people interested in green careers:
Entry Routes and Training
You can enter this career by applying directly for vacancies with Builders' Merchant companies. Some knowledge of the construction and building trade would be useful.
Intermediate Level Apprenticeships and Advanced Level Apprenticeships might be available in your area. Take a look at our information article
New entrants train in the workplace under the supervision of experienced staff.
If you would like some training, you could take the level 2 certificate in warehousing and storage. This course has a range of units, which include:
- picking goods in logistics operations
- wrapping and packing goods in logistics operations
- placing goods in storage in logistics operations
- maintaining the cleanliness of equipment in logistics operations
- keeping work areas clean in logistics operations
- moving and/or handling goods
- using equipment to move goods
- using a forklift side loader
- using an industrial forklift truck
- using a hoist
- using a compact crane
- keeping stock at required levels
- checking stock levels and stock records
Other courses could be available in your area.
Most of the training takes place on-the-job, but there might be opportunities to attend short courses, such as sales, product knowledge, management and IT.
Some product training can be done online through the Builders Merchants Federation (BMF).
Previous experience working in the building trade, or by working as a Warehouse Assistant or Builders' Yard Assistant would be really useful for this career. If you have skills in retail sales, customer service and handling cash, this could also be really helpful for this career.
Experienced staff might be able to progress into management positions after completing the BMF management training courses or diploma in merchanting. The BMF foundation degree in merchanting can be taken after the diploma. This is run in partnership with the University of the West of England, and involves a work-based learning project.
The BMF also offers management qualifications endorsed by the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM).
Birmingham City University offers a foundation degree in builders' merchanting for Managers and Assistant Managers at Jewson.
A good general education is required. Most employers prefer applicants to have GCSEs in English and maths. Some might ask for 5 GCSEs at grade C/4 or above.
Other work-related qualifications, such as a BTEC level 2 qualification, might be accepted for entry.
It is illegal for any organisation to set age limits for entry to employment, education or training, unless they can show there is a real need to have these limits.
Some entrants have developed skills through working in the building trade, or by working as a warehouse assistant or builders' yard assistant. Some have skills in retail sales, customer service and handling cash.
Intermediate Level Apprenticeships and Advanced Level Apprenticeships might be available in your area.
- 21% of people in occupations such as builders' merchant work part-time.
- 9% have flexible hours.
- 5% of employees work on a temporary basis.
Apprenticeships: Get In. Go Far
National Apprenticeship Service (NAS)
Tel: 0800 015 0400
Skills Development Scotland - Modern Apprenticeships
Tel: 0800 9178000
Skills for the construction industry
Address: Bircham Newton, Kings Lynn, Norfolk PE31 6RH
Northern Ireland Enquiries
Address: Nutts Corner Training Centre, 17 Dundrod Road, Crumlin, County Antrim BT29 4SR
Tel: 028 9082 5466
Construction Employers Federation (CEF)
Address: 143 Malone Road, Belfast BT9 6SU
Tel: 028 9087 7143
Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS)
Address: Bircham Newton, Kings Lynn, Norfolk PE31 6RH
Tel: 0844 5768777
Tel: 0344 994 4010
Builders Merchants Federation (BMF)
Address: 15 Soho Square, London W1D 3HL
Tel: 020 7439 1753
Careers Wales - Welsh Apprenticeships
Tel: 0800 028 4844