Aiming for number one5 February 2011
Meyer Timber.com has a clear vision of where it wants to be in the UK timber market
¦ MLM and WT Eden relaunched as Meyer Timber.com on January 1.
¦ The amalgamation followed the sister companies’ acquisition by industrial holdings business Hadleigh Partners.
¦ The new company is restructuring its logistics operation for greater efficiency and lower environmental impact.
¦ Its branch network is being restructured and developed.
¦ Meyer is adding a selected range of softwood to complement its core panel product business.
Drive through Birmingham heartlands on the M6 at night and you might spot a glowing green arc illuminating a white-walled building.
On closer inspection it turns out to be part of the striking new logo on the side of Meyer Timber.com’s headquarters. It’s a dynamic flourish and just one signal of the ambition of the business, freshly forged from the amalgamation of sister sheet materials importer/distributors Montague L Meyer (MLM) and William T Eden, to recapture its “rightful place in the UK timber industry”, as managing director Richard Lazenby puts it.
The catalyst for the integration of the two under a single brand was their acquisition last May by industrial holdings operation Hadleigh Partners from venture capital business Alchemy. It was not entirely a bolt from the blue, however. It had been, if not on the agenda, at least a topic of internal conversation for some time. It’s been a logical move, said Mr Lazenby, that makes sense on a range of levels.
While they’d been sister businesses from 1999, when MLM acquired Eden, their relationship was previously more one of sibling rivalry. Back office functions were handled centrally by the limited company MLM Distribution, but all “front-end commercial activity” was undertaken separately. MLM and Eden had their own branches, websites, stationery, delivery fleets and sales management structures.
“There was also an element of competition between them, so customers might be visited by reps from both, or get deliveries in differently liveried vehicles on the same day,” said Mr Lazenby. “One example of the resulting inefficiency was MLM Birmingham delivering to East Anglian and Lincolnshire customers and driving past Eden’s site in Snetterton.”
Making the continued separation of the two still less logical was the fact that their product portfolios and customer bases had become increasingly convergent.
“Ultimately there was little significantly differentiating the brands,” said Mr Lazenby.
Under Alchemy’s 12-year ownership these issues were discussed but not resolved. Mr Lazenby put that down to the inevitable endgame of a venture capital business. “They take a relatively short-term outlook on investments and aim towards an exit,” he said.
“After a certain point, given the length of their investment, it became clear they weren’t going to put further new money in,” added Mark Stokes, who was previously a group director reporting to Alchemy, and is now Hadleigh’s chief operating officer. “They were looking to get out and concentrated on the immediate value of the business.”
In fact, Alchemy first attempted to divest MLM Distribution Ltd in 2007 through a flotation on the Alternative Investment Market, but that was aborted when the banking crisis hit.
However, from then on, said Mr Stokes, an exit was clearly on the agenda. “There was also added impetus from the fact that Alchemy was focusing on hi-tech and financial services investments, so timber was increasingly non-core for them.”
Hadleigh, he added, has a different strategy.
“It’s a private company building a group of businesses in manufacturing, engineering and distribution. It’s not accountable to shareholders and has no set time frame to exit investments.”
“They’re more willing to invest in their acquisitions and explore commercial opportunities that may require a degree of entrepreneurial spirit,” said Mr Lazenby. “Some investors might have been concerned short term at the decision to go with a single brand. Hadleigh’s approach was to establish whether, longer term, it would be to the commercial benefit of the whole business.”
After buying the company, Hadleigh undertook a detailed review of operations, also inviting the management’s input on strategy. The central outcome of the process, of course, was the decision to unite the business under a single brand. But out of this also came a number of key management appointments – all internal promotions. These included three new regional managers, Howard Sidney Wilmot as commercial director for the whole business, and Mr Lazenby, who has been at Meyer in its various guises since 1983 and was previously purchasing director, as managing director.
Next, marketing companies were invited to pitch for the job of devising the new corporate identity. They were asked to present options for the trademark, from coming up with something relatively conservative, to “thinking the unthinkable”. The winner was selected because it was “contemporary, uncluttered”, gave an instant point of contact by adding the .com to Meyer Timber, and because the green arc, besides adding energy, conveyed the company’s more defined environmental strategy.
The period from Hadleigh’s takeover to the January 1 unveiling of the new corporate identity, said Mr Lazenby, was intensive – “we packed what seemed like five years’ work into months”. Critically, the process also included a “comprehensive communications exercise” for the 225-strong workforce across the company’s 12 sites.
“Some Eden staff were initially concerned at the loss of the brand,” said Mr Lazenby. “But during staff discussions, they recognised the real commercial benefits of this change – the fact that we’d have a single, focused brand, a much clearer market proposition and a more co-ordinated, efficient business.”
Meyer Timber estimates the investment on its initial rebranding and communications programme at £200,000. This includes applying the new trademark and livery to all buildings, delivery vehicles, including its sub-contractors’, plus the sales fleet which, as part of the company’s environmental drive, will also see the introduction of 40 new energy-efficient, low-emission cars.
The spend also covers the launch of the new website, which went live on January 1. Like the new logo, the design brief for this was to be clear, modern and visually striking.
“The rebranding also features just a few key words; ‘Choice, Service, Value, Knowledge’,” said Mr Lazenby. “We wanted to communicate our company ethos and strengths through simple, clear language.”
While it may have been hard work and a major investment, however, this initial round of activity only marks the start of Meyer’s relaunch and restructuring programme.
Under way now is the development of a “completely integrated national logistics operation”, a process made easier, said Mr Lazenby, by the company’s new regional structure; comprising the south-east, south-west, Birmingham/Midlands and North.
“Rebranding the commercial fleet under one Meyer Timber.com livery is only part of the story,” he said. “We’re also developing a co-ordinated network-wide delivery strategy, so customers generally receive goods from their nearest branch. This will improve efficiency and make a major contribution to achieving our aim of being a truly low carbon business.”
The company is putting its branch network under scrutiny too.
“We’ll fundamentally remain a depot-based distribution business, supported by a port-centric imported stock facility at Tilbury,” said Mr Lazenby. “However, we’re looking at all our depots to ensure we have the right facilities and make best use of them.”
The first result of this has been the transfer of most head office functions to Birmingham from Barking. There are also plans to relocate the old 18,000ft² Eden-branded depot in Frindsbury, Kent, to newly-acquired 45,000ft² Meyer Timber premises in nearby Strood and the transfer of the ex-Eden business in New Milton to the bigger and recently-refurbished former MLM Southampton docks branch is also under consideration.
Broader product range
As Mr Lazenby told TTJ immediately after Meyer Timber’s launch (TTJ January 22/29), it is also planning to broaden its product range. This will include the addition of more value-added sheet materials, such as speciality birch panels, and new board sizes and thicknesses.
“We’ll also add more trending items, such as random-matched character-veneered MDF, and other decorative lines, where we’ll invest in a wider landed stock range,” he said.
The company is additionally planning to introduce a “selected range” of softwood products, a market MLM exited in 2002.
“Most panel products end up attached to a piece of softwood, so we see opportunities for selling combined packages,” said Mr Lazenby. “Our medium-term aim is to become a convenient one-stop shop for a full range of timber products, with very much a customer-led inventory.”
He stressed, however, that Meyer Timber is not launching into bulk softwood. “Some customers have asked for reassurance on that, but we see softwood only as a complementary element to our core panels business, potentially accounting for about 4-5% of turnover.”
In another departure, the business intends to adopt a more prominent publicity profile, both in the wider market and the timber trade.
“In recent years we’ve tended to stay somewhat below the radar,” said Mr Lazenby. “That’s already changing.”
With all the developments feeding through, Meyer Timber is targeting annual growth of 5-7.5%, equating to £6-8m a year. It acknowledges this is ambitious in current market conditions but, after “very positive” responses to its rebrand and relaunch at recent customer presentations, it’s in bullish mood.
“There was previously, perhaps, a belief in some quarters that Meyer had not fulfilled its potential in recent years,” said Mr Lazenby. “We’re now changing that and making it clear we aim to be number one in our market.”