11/08/2020

Dear All

COVID SECURITY

Firstly, I would like to thank everyone for their sustained efforts to maintain a COVID secure environment at Williams. Compliance with face-coverings, hygiene and social distancing, whilst not perfect, has been significantly better than in many other businesses. As time goes by there is always the temptation to allow standards to slip, but I am sure that everyone will maintain their vigilance and keep up the great work.

FINANCIAL UPDATE

The business sustained severe financial losses in April and May  which were of course completely unbudgeted. June was somewhat better, and July was almost back to normal. However, there is a risk that the strong sales performance in July was simply a temporary catching up with pent up demand from the lockdown period. August has started a little more subdued than I would have hoped. It is possible that this is just a reaction to the very hot weather, but also perhaps the result of householders tightening up on spending.

The reduction in stock, a fantastic performance by our credit team, pressure on suppliers to settle overdue rebate, and the overall improved sales situation has improved our cash position to the point where we now have enough cash ringfenced to meet 3 months payroll and other essential overheads in case of a “second spike” causing another lock-down. I do not anticipate this happening –  as a business we are far better prepared now than we were in March – but nonetheless, I am sure that we will all sleep better at night with that safety net in place.

HOLIDAY PLANS & SELF QUARANTINE

After such a difficult start to the year, it is no surprise that lots of colleagues want to escape for a well earned break. However, with the government imposing self-isolation on those returning from some countries, it is worth thinking through the potential implications of that trip. We have based the following on ACAS guidelines, and whilst we will try to be as accommodating as we can, I think the most helpful thing we can do is to be as clear as possible about the potential outcomes.

  • If you go on holiday to a destination which the government designates as requiring quarantine, you may not return to work after your return for the period required by the government regulations.
  • During this quarantine period you will not be entitled to pay, company sick pay, statutory sick pay or furlough pay.
  • If you have enough remaining holiday entitlement, you may take that holiday to cover all or some of the quarantine period.
  • If your job enables you to work from home, you may do so during the quarantine period, at the discretion of your manager.
  • When considering new holiday requests, the needs of the business will be taken into account. Managers will consider the location of the planned holiday along with the plans of colleagues who already have holiday booked, and the likelihood of either colleagues not being able to return to work.  A holiday request  may be refused if is believed to be likely to result in inadequate staffing levels.
  • In very extreme cases, holiday permission already granted might be withdrawn if the absence (including the quarantine period) would bring staffing levels below a minimum operating level.
  • Concealing a holiday location either before or after the event may be treated as gross misconduct.

This might be a good time to consider helping out a beleaguered UK tourist industry by visiting somewhere closer to home?

COMING SOON…

I hope to be in touch in the coming weeks with more news about the launch of our new website, our Isle of Wight service, and perhaps even about a new branch or two.  In the meantime, keep up the fantastic work.

Best regards

Ray

23/07/2020

Dear All

I thought it was about time I made contact again to update you on what’s going on at the moment!

As you already know, from Friday the new rules come into force regarding the wearing of face coverings in shops and trade counters. If you work in these environments, you should already have been briefed on how we are approaching this – if you have missed those briefings somehow, please talk to your line manager. We expect that the vast majority of customers will comply with reasonably good humour, but in the final analysis we cannot plan for every possible situation which might arise, and will back up branch teams using their common sense if something unexpected occurs.

From August 1st (or earlier if the cleaning schedule is prepared) we will be opening up our toilets for customer use, along with our coffee making facilities. This is all part of a gradual easing back to normal working practices, just with a few added hygiene precautions.

You may have seen that the government has also changed the advice about working from home. Line managers are dealing with this team by team, and Jamie and Steve are updating risk assessments for each work-space, much as we did for branches earlier in the year.

We are briefing suppliers at the moment regarding the activities of their reps. The policy for the time being is that they are welcome in our branches (wearing a face covering of course!) if they have a specific purpose in being there – for example to deliver a part, merchandise stock, or undertake training. We would prefer that they did not visit the branch for purely social reasons, and we think that it is a bit too early to reinstate breakfast mornings or other events which would cause a group of customers to gather.

Colleagues who purchased shares earlier this year using the “Invest as you earn” finance scheme would normally have been paying for those shares via deductions from payroll, which were scheduled to start in March. However, given the circumstances at the time, we postponed these deductions. We plan to restart them from the August payroll. If this is likely to cause financial difficulty – particularly if you are on furlough – please contact the HR team and we will try to find an affordable solution.

I’m delighted to share the news that our “Best Companies” interim pulse survey produced the highest score that we have ever had! Under such very trying circumstances, I was deeply impressed, and hope that we can carry that through the recovery period and into next year and beyond.

On another positive note, our Trustpilot score moved from 91% to 92% 5 star reviews. This may seem like a small change, but it takes an awful lot of consecutive 5 star reviews to move that percentage up a notch! For comparison purposes, our friends at City Plumbing have a similar number of reviews, but only 75% of them give 5 stars, and the story at Wolseley doesn’t bear thinking about. 67% ONE star reviews!

TrustPilot Reviews

The IT team have now completed the roll-out of our new telephone system, which includes some clever features such as automatically diverting after hours or weekend callers to our national customer contact centre. The new technology is also significantly cheaper in call charges than the old one, proving that you can save money and improve service at the same time!

We have some exciting new ventures bearing fruit in the next few months, including our first ever power-tool catalogue, the first PriceBuster since January, and the delivery service to the Isle of Wight. We also have the launch of our next generation website scheduled for late August. Amongst other improvements, initial new features include a proper click and collect system including whether an item is in stock at a particular branch, and the ability for customers to manage their whole account (including in store purchases) from the website. Later this year, we will feature integrated “Parts Arena”  spares identification software and a few other tricks that that IT and Business Improvement teams have up their sleeves!

If you have any queries about these issues, or any others, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Thanks to you all for your remarkable efforts through this difficult time, and I am delighted that they are being rewarded with growing success.

Best regards


Ray

23/06/2020

Dear All

We are studying the government announcement regarding the “pause” to shielding, and will be in touch with those affected at the appropriate time.                                 

You may have seen this afternoon that the Prime Minister has announced a relaxation of the 2m social distancing rule under certain circumstances.

The guidance is still clear that a 2m distance should be kept where possible, and we are not changing any of our policies at this point in time. We will review the new guidance and may issue an update to our COVID 19 Secure policy in due course if appropriate.

For the time being, please continue to observe the 2m rule, and politely but firmly insist that customers, drivers and others who visit the branch do the same.

Many thanks

Ray

16/06/2020

Dear All

I am writing today to update you all on the company’s situation in the light of the COVID 19 situation.

All our branches are now trading for their normal hours, and our Regional Fulfilment Centres and National Customer Service Centre will restore their weekend and evening services later this month.

Our COVID-19 Secure processes are well established in branches, RFCs and the DCs and we are in the process of implementing similar safeguards and processes for our central support spaces. A formal COVID policy document is available when you log into CIPHR and I would ask you all to read it thoroughly. A shorter version has been produced in booklet form to help keep the safety messages in the forefront of all our minds.

Whilst it would be stretching a point to describe the current situation as “back to normal”, it is as close to that state as we are likely to get until either a vaccine or a cure becomes available. To borrow a phrase from Churchill, “This is not the end. This is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

The immediate financial impact of the outbreak has been tough, as we have underperformed against sales target by over £7.5m and missed our profit target by over £1 million so far this year. Whilst I understand that it has been frustrating for many of those who have been furloughed,  our losses would have been 50% worse without the government CJRS “Furlough” scheme which has helped to subsidise our payroll by around £500k.

To put this in perspective, it sets the company back to where it was at the end of the summer of 2019.

Compared to those working in the leisure, hospitality, travel and non-essential retail sectors, we have got off comparatively lightly so far. Our business remains viable, and the underlying demand for many of the products that we sell is likely to prove robust. After putting our stock on a “crash diet” and re-organising some of our banking arrangements we now have the cash we need not only to meet payroll, but also to make payments to suppliers and landlords when they fall due.

For the next few months, we will continue our policy of maintaining ring-fenced cash reserves and have increased the ring-fenced amount to be equal to at least three months of payroll, along with sufficient additional reserves to cover advance rent for the same period.

At present, trading is approximately 15% below target for sales with margins recovering to close to normal. Whilst this is very much better than the dark days of early April, there are a number of reasons why we should not allow ourselves to become complacent.

  • During the period when lockdown was having most impact, much urgent work went unattended, and this was always likely to cause a short-lived spike in work when restrictions were lifted. We may be experiencing that spike now.
  • It remains to be seen what impact the outbreak and the lockdown will have on the national economy. A recession is inevitable – the questions are a) how deep it will be, b) how long will it last, and c) how it will impact on different sectors of the economy.
  • Our experience of previous recessions suggests that the market will become fiercely competitive as both plumbing and heating engineers and merchants compete for a reduced volume of work.

Although it may be difficult to predict exactly how deep the recession will be, or how long it will last, it is very likely that the wider economic situation will cause a sustained reduction in demand for plumbing materials. In order to counteract this reduction, we need to do two things:

  1. We must “punch above our weight” in sales terms by taking market share from our competitors.
  1. We must reduce our overheads as much as we can, consistent with increasing sales.

Our approach will be to “double down” on our customer service offering. Whilst we expect our competitors to cut customer-facing services, we propose to do the exact opposite, and to maintain – and where possible to improve – our premium service.

With this in mind, whilst we will be slightly refining our weekend service for greater efficiency, we are upgrading our Crayford site to a “mini-RFC” so that we can extend our same day, seven day operation to more postcodes in Kent, Essex and East London, so that all of our branch customers can benefit from weekend and bank holiday service. We will also be introducing a five day same day delivery service to the Isle of Wight. Both of these initiatives were planned before the COVID outbreak, and might have been targets for cuts, but since they will enhance our customer service, and therefore help drive sales, those investments will continue.

We will also work hard to make sure that we have enough stock to service customer demand, whilst not tying up much needed cash carrying unnecessary slow moving lines, or overstocks.

Our first way of reducing overheads is to press “pause” on all new hires. That does not mean that we will not replace people if they are in key customer facing roles. However, we will first look to see if these roles can be filled with an internal candidate, or by re-organising rotas.

We will look for efficiencies in processes in our DC so that we can manage with our core staff and reduce the need for agency labour.

Above all, we will be asking our central support staff to find ways of maintaining and improving internal services with less expense and less headcount. We will be trying hard not to replace people who leave in the ordinary course of events, and we will be re-deploying some staff who were formerly in central support roles into customer facing vacancies. For example, Mick Pothecary will take over the vacant role of running the National Customer Service Centre, and Liam Townsend will leave the commercial team to fill a customer-facing vacancy supporting Mick and the NCSC team. Ian Carter will be managing both the Fareham and Southampton branches, and Paul Davies will focus on the Isle of Wight project.

We believe that these are prudent steps to take to safeguard colleagues and jobs, and to protect our business in uncertain times.

Best regards

Ray

05.06.2020

Good morning,

I hope you’re doing well and are ready for a few snippets of information from Amy, Lou, Lindsey and myself.

COVID-19 ANNUAL HOLIDAY – NEW POLICY FOLLOWING TEMPORARY LAW CHANGE

Please see our new, temporary policy regarding holiday carry over.

Many employees affected by travel restrictions and flight cancellations as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak will have to cancel holidays. They may wish to cancel their annual leave that they have booked, so they can take it at another time.

Managers are not obliged to cancel pre-booked holidays, however each request should be given consideration where possible; managers should take into account the needs of the business, the employee’s personal circumstances and should agree to the cancellation where this would not cause either party significant inconvenience.

To provide employers and employees with more flexibility, the Government has amended the Working Time Regulations (1998) to allow up to four weeks’ annual leave to be carried over into the next two holiday years, where it is not reasonably practicable for them to take it as a result of the pandemic (this includes the effects on the employee, the employer and the wider economy). An employee can use up to 2 weeks of carried over holiday in year one and, if applicable, up to a further 2 weeks in year two. At the holiday year end in 2022 any unused holiday balances will be cleared.

Employees are still expected to take annual leave even if their original plans change due to travel restrictions. It is important for employees to take their annual leave throughout the year so they can feel rested and keep healthy, both physically and mentally.

At the end of each holiday year, we will work with managers to ensure the correct amount of holiday is carried over.

CYCLE TO WORK SCHEME

Following the successful launch of the scheme last year, we are pleased to announce that from Monday 8th June 2020, you will have up until July 31st in which you will be able to join our Cycle to Work scheme. The scheme enables you to purchase a bike and accessories up to the value of £500 and split the cost over 12 months via a salary sacrifice, meaning that you will benefit from paying less Tax and National Insurance on that part of your salary.

You can access the scheme through your Williams Perks website and if you need assistance with this, please get in touch and we will help.

Branch Managers and Department Heads – please can you arrange for a poster (they are in this folder F:Branches>Cycle to Work) to be printed and put up somewhere suitable (keep it polite!)

THE WELLBEING SERIES  

The first bitesize mental health video, “So, you’re Living Through a Pandemic” was well received with many views and plenty of positive feedback. I’m very glad to announce that the second in the series, Loneliness & Isolation, is now ready and can be accessed via this link: Loneliness & Isolation

Feedback is very welcome and if there is a topic that you would like us to cover, please do let us know.

BEST COMPANIES PULSE SURVEY

By now, you should have received an email with a subject of “The Best Companies “b-heard” survey is here!” The email contains your Best Companies pulse survey invitation. We would love for you to take the opportunity to let us know how you are feeling and to pass back any comments or thoughts that you would like to share. We sent the email to work email address for those who are working and to work and personal email address for those who were furloughed at that point in time. If you have not received your invitation, please contact anyone in HR and we will get another copy sent to you.

As always, if you would like any further information on the subjects in this email or on any other matter that the HR team can help with, please contact us via email to hr.helpdesk@williams.uk.com or by phone on 01329 552626.

Very best wishes,

Rachel


27.05.2020

Greetings from my impromptu home office (front room!) on this hot sunny Wednesday. I hope you are all looking after each other and staying healthy!

It’s been a while and there are a few things that we need to update you with.

Payslips 

The May payroll has now been run and you can access your April and May payslips now by logging onto CIPHR and clicking the “Payslip Documents” tab in the top left corner. 

You can download your payslips to the device that you’re working on; payslips are password protected with your National Insurance number so they remain secure even on a shared computer. 

Anyone who requested their payslips to be emailed to them should already have received them; these payslips are password-protected with your date of birth.

Payroll payments will be made as usual on the last day of the month, ahead of our month-end supplier payments. 

If you don’t know your National Insurance number, this can be found in CIPHR under ‘My Details>Personal Information>Payroll Information’ 

British Academy Film Awards Nomination – Mental Health Video for Williams & Co

Well, you never know! Even Guy Ritchie and Alfred Hitchcock had to start somewhere 😊

Amy has worked her creative magic and produced our first Williams “bitesize” mental health video titled ‘So You’re Living Through a Pandemic’.

It makes interesting viewing and being only around 4 minutes long, I’d advise people to take a look.

It has been published to the Williams & Co. YouTube channel and is only available to those invited by using this link  https://youtu.be/eDB09Ttk8oY

And another contender – Williams Academy Profit and Loss Webinar

Narrated by our very own superstar, Mike Mann, this webinar may be useful for branch managers and anyone wishing to further their knowledge and understanding about a branch Profit and Loss.

It is very specific to Williams and looks at the information provided on the Branch Dashboard by our Finance team. We invite anyone who interested to watch this informative (and I promise it is not boring!) session by using this link  Finance P and L Part 1

Product Knowledge and Upskilling Opportunities

For those of you who are furloughed, you have a great opportunity to take part in some online learning.

BMF CAMPUS

All of our employees have access to the BMF campus. Here you will find a variety of short online courses ranging from 3 to 15 minutes long. These courses cover a range of product based knowledge from copper tubing to how a commercial heating system works. The BMF campus can be found at https://bmfcampus.co.uk/Catalogue/Catalogue.aspx

Choose the Product Training option and from there you will find several sections that may be of interest to you.

CORTEXA ACADEMY

We are also able to offer access to the Cortexa Academy. Here you can access several short courses including conflict handling, negotiating skills and assertiveness to name a few.  Please register for Cortexa at https://lms.cortexa.academy/  (Please note that “Nickname” needs to be all lower case!)

As always, if you need assistance with any of these things, please contact a member of the HR team at hr.helpdesk@williams.uk.com or by phone on 01329 552626.

Please take care of yourself and I really hope to see you soon.

Rachel

22.05.2020

Dear All

It has been a few days since my last update, and whilst things are still a long way from normal, we have travelled a long way in those recent days, never mind the last 10 weeks!

From Tuesday of next week, all Williams branches will be back open again, for the first time since late March!

We have now completed the roll-out of our COVID-19 Secure in-branch safety measures. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the roll-out team, and in particular Jamie, Donna, Webby, DanP and Dominic for their sterling efforts in delivering on a very demanding schedule.

We have made a 2 minute video for our customers, explaining what they should expect when visiting a Williams branch – see the link below to watch it. This has been sent to 23,000 customers and prospects this evening, and will be on our website early next week.

A big thanks to movie stars Lee and Dan as well as Ali, our Oscar-nominated director and producer.

On a more serious note, it is very important that all our teams follow the COVID-19 Secure guidelines and have the confidence to ensure that our customers also follow them. We should encourage our customers with courtesy, patience and good humour, but without compromising on safety. In the final analysis, if customers are not prepared to follow these guidelines – which are common to premises all over the country – then we will have to ask them to shop elsewhere.

We will be circulating a cleaning check-list early next week, in order to ensure that cleaning tasks are performed thoroughly and regularly. Whilst branches will have the option to clean more often, there is a minimum standard (explained on the check list) which cannot be compromised. Our COVID-19 Secure protocols will be audited, with a very low tolerance for repeated non-compliance. In order to avoid the obvious risk of sending auditors around the branches, we will be taking randomly chosen short segments of CCTV footage for audit purposes.

We will also be circulating hi-vis vests with COVID-19 Secure reinforcement messages on, and I would be grateful if all colleagues in customer facing roles or team environments could wear these in order to maintain a consistent message both internally and externally. Whilst I very much hope that we are “coming out the other side” of a very difficult period, it would be folly to relax our guard at this point.

For those customers who prefer to continue with the “car park service” there is no reason for us not to continue with this. Lovely people though you all are, some customers might prefer not to come into the branch to see you!

I hope that you all have a fantastic and well deserved bank holiday, and thanks for all that you have achieved!

Best regards


Ray

10/05/2020

Dear All

I listened with interest to the Prime Minister’s broadcast this evening, as the country takes its first tentative steps towards lifting the lockdown.

He specifically name-checked the construction industry and stressed that whilst anyone who can work from home should do so, those who can’t should be “actively encouraged” to return to work, so long as safe working practices can be established. Tonight’s broadcast was moderately encouraging, but I would like to echo the PM’s caution in terms of the need to tread carefully and to move slowly and deliberately.

If you were not expecting to return to work on Monday, please don’t take the PM’s speech as an instruction to rush back! We will be monitoring progress, assessing the needs of the business, and will be in touch with everyone who is still on furlough as soon as we can with our best estimate of when we expect to be asking you to return to work. In addition to considering the company’s position, we will also be prioritising the health needs of those colleagues who are in the most vulnerable categories, and where possible being mindful of the difficulties of those who have the sole care of children who are unable to attend school.

For those colleagues who are at work, I would stress the need to maintain social distancing, handwashing and good hygiene within the branch as well as when dealing with customers. It is all too easy to slip back into every-day practices, but we must be vigilant in avoiding such complacency.

We will be continuing our steady and careful progress towards bringing our business closer to normal in a planned and safety conscious manner. The PM also mentioned that there would be more details announced in Parliament tomorrow, and we will study those details with care before considering any changes to our next steps.

There is a brighter light at the end of the tunnel, but we shouldn’t forget that we are still in the tunnel!

Best regards

Ray

06/05/2020

Dear All

I’m conscious that I am not making contact as often as I was in the early days of the pandemic, but as I am sure you will all appreciate, the rate of change has slowed down somewhat in recent weeks as we have come through the peak period.

At present, we are undertaking background work, planning and preparing everything we can for returning all our branch network to full operational status, including:

  • Re-opening the remaining closed branches
  • Returning to normal hours of operation
  • Bringing furloughed colleagues back to work
  • Welcoming customers back into our trade counters
  • Commencing promotions and normal sales activities

 

We don’t know the exact timing of when this will be possible, and like most businesses, we are waiting for an update from the government and their guidance for what the next stage of the national pandemic management plan looks like.

Uncertainty over timing is not stopping us from exploring options, ordering equipment, and researching the best and safest way to make steady progress back to normal. We have been consulting with industry bodies, looking at practices in businesses like supermarkets, which have gained much practical experience, and have been actively comparing notes with competitors. We are not too proud to steal a good idea, wherever it comes from! Equally, if we come up with a way of helping people stay safe, we are happy for others in our industry to share it.

Once again, I would like to thank everyone for their flexible and open-minded approach which has characterised the last few weeks. It is inevitable that we will continue to be calling on people to work in ways and places to which they are not accustomed and your support in this is critical to achieving a safe workplace whilst at the same time maintaining the business activities which keeps us all in a job.

I am also very grateful to all the branch staff who have been amazingly creative and inventive in finding ways to improve safety, and particularly to those branches who have volunteered to pilot our first “in branch” controlled customer experience when the moment is right.

I appreciate that people are anxious to know when their furlough period will end. Whilst we are asking a few furloughed colleagues to return to work in selected cases, I have to ask everybody else to be patient for a little while longer. This is something that we need to get right, and we don’t want to rush our fences. However, when the moment is right, we intend to be well prepared for starting the recovery phase.

One minor change that I can announce now is that all our branches, offices and other internal workspaces will become non-vaping as well as non-smoking, with immediate effect. The sight of a cloud of vapour being visibly exhaled and spreading across the workspace is not something that we think our non-vaping colleagues should be asked to accept.

In the meantime, whether you are at work or at home, you are still able to access your perks package at www.Williamsperks.co.uk and the new confidential employee assistance program Care First at https://carefirst-lifestyle.co.uk

If you have any difficulties accessing Williamsperks, they have a dedicated helpline on 01908303531 and can talk you through issues such as forgotten password or username.

To access Care First, the log in details are as follows:

Username: williams

password: employee

On a final, and very upbeat note, I am delighted to report that since lock-down commenced in late March, we have received no less than 50 consecutive 5 star reviews on Trustpilot. This is an amazing achievement bearing in mind the circumstances, and a huge thanks to all those responsible.

Best regards

Ray

29.04.2020

Dear All

Just a quick note to update everyone with the current situation.

Branches

We are expecting to open Crawley next Monday 4th May, which leave us with just 5 branches closed. Two of those five (Hastings and Chelmsford) are, for the time being, being partially serviced by local team members working in nearby branches.

With the news starting to turn to a more positive tone, whilst we don’t want to pre-empt any changes to the lock-down restrictions, we do want to prepare ourselves for a gradual return to normal.

At some point, the process of serving customers through a closed door is going to have to end, and customers will have to come into our premises. However, we don’t think that there will be a full return to normal straightaway – with customers wandering around at will, regulars coming behind the counter, and all the usual jostling around the coffee machine.

Over the next few days we will be reviewing all our trade-counters and thinking about how best we can prepare to manage customers safely in each unique building environment. This might include installing hand sanitisers, additional signage, queue management systems, Perspex shields, floor markings and a range of other measures – most of which you will have seen in your local supermarket. We are also considering a “one-in-one-out” system for some premises. There won’t be a “one-size-fits-all” answer – each branch will need a tailor made system. Jamie Moore will be in touch with branch managers to discuss their local requirements.

You can see the best practice document for safe working during COVID-19 issued by the BMF here: https://www.bmf.org.uk/documents/emails/Branch%20Operating%20Guidelines%20during%20COVID19.pdf

Payroll

The April payroll has now been run and payments will be made as usual on the last day of the month. We will continue to keep enough cash available to meet two payroll runs, so once April’s payroll has been paid, we will ringfence cash for May and June payroll.

We have temporarily disabled the payslip facility on CIPHR due to concerns over privacy if users downloaded their payslip on a shared computer. We are working with the team at CIPHR to improve privacy and will update you as soon as we can.

In the meantime, if you would like an email copy of your payslip please email the HR team on HR.Helpdesk@williams.uk.com. If you have already accessed your payslip, and downloaded the PDF onto a shared computer, you might want to delete that PDF file from the download folder on that shared computer. If you need help doing this, please contact the IT helpdesk on IT.Helpdesk@williams.uk.com.

Coronavirus testing

As the government increases the capacity for Coronavirus testing, they have widened the scope of those eligible for testing. See below for the announcement by the Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock.

Furlough

Furloughed colleagues may see that their “Furloughed until” date changes to 31st May on CIPHR during the coming days. Please don’t read anything into this – it’s just an administrative change and does not mean that any decision has been made about furlough dates. As soon as we have firm information about end-of-furlough dates, we will contact you.

Thanks again for all your patience, hard work and good humour.

Best regards

Ray

23.04.2020

Dear All

I thought it would be useful to quickly remind everyone on the regulations surrounding “Furloughed” workers.

  • The company can claim back from the government 80% of a furloughed workers salary up to a maximum of £2,500 per month.
  • The company must inform the employee in writing and the employee must confirm in writing that they accept being furloughed.
  • The minimum period of furlough is 3 weeks. At present the scheme is scheduled to end on 30th June 2020, although the government has signalled that it will extend this if necessary.
  • Once the 3 week minimum is reached, furlough can continue for so long as the scheme lasts.
  • If an employee returns to work briefly after 3 weeks or more of furlough, they can be “re-furloughed” but the 3 week minimum starts again from scratch.
  • Whilst furloughed, employees cannot do any work which would create revenue for their employer. However, they can undertake some activities – for example, training, reading updates like this one, responding to enquiries about their wellbeing, updating the company on their health status etc.

We are already taking a small number of employees off furlough in order to re-open branches, keep branches open or to support other business activities and we expect to continue with this process.

It is unlikely that there will be a single moment when all employees are asked to return to work. We anticipate a staged process.

It would make sense to try to align the return to work as closely as possible with the health needs of colleagues as well as the needs of the business. With this in mind, please contact the HR if you are currently furloughed and come into any of the following categories. If your case is straightforward, please use email hr.helpdesk@williams.uk.com or if you need to discuss a more complex situation, call HR on 01329 552626.

  • Currently self-isolating for your own symptoms. (please give date that self-isolation started.)
  • Currently self-isolating because you live with someone who has symptoms. (please give date that self-isolation started.)
  • If you yourself are “clinically extremely vulnerable”. If you fall into this category you should have received a letter from the NHS or have been told individually by your GP or consultant.
  • If you live with or are the primary carer for someone who is “clinically extremely vulnerable”.
  • If you yourself are “vulnerable”. This group includes those who have a long-term health condition, for example:
    • asthma, diabetes or heart disease
    • a weakened immune system as the result of medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
    • are pregnant
    • are aged 70 or over
    • care for someone with a health condition that might put them at a greater risk
  • If you are the sole carer for children who would normally be at school or in nursery but are currently at home.
  • If your journey to work normally involves travelling on public transport.
  • If there is another circumstance why you should not return to work as you would be at greater risk than your colleagues.

We will not be asking people in the first 4 categories to return from Furlough at this stage. For those in category 5, depending on the nature of the concern, we might ask you to take specific advice from your GP or consultant.

We will try not to ask any colleague in category 6 to return to work until schools and nurseries re-open.

If we ask someone in category 7 (using public transport) to return to work, then we will try to help them find a way to get to work without going on public transport.

Hopefully we can find ways to protect our most vulnerable colleagues whilst still meeting the needs of the business, and ensuring that everyone has a job to return to.

Best regards

Ray

 

22.04.2020

April Salary and Your Payslip

April has been a very strange month for us at Williams and there are probably lots of people keen to know what their pay will be this month. The good news is that from April 2020 payroll onwards, your payslip will be available in CIPHR for you to access as soon as payroll is finalised.

Payslips will normally appear (as if by flipping magic 😉, poooof!) a couple of days before the end of the month, and for this month we are aiming to have them in CIPHR from Tuesday 28th April.

You will find your payslip under the new ‘Payslip Documents’ tab at the top left of the page:

From here you will be able to see a list of payslips, one for each month starting with April 2020, and a download button next to them on the right-hand side which will allow you to print them if needed.

Although the screenshot above shows Jan-March payslips, this is just an example. We cannot bring in payslips older than April 2020 but we can, of course, get copies for you if you need them. 

When it is available, you will see that the new style payslip looks different to normal. If you want to talk through the changed layout, any of the HR team will be happy to go through it with you.

CIPHR is available on your mobile and can be accessed in or out of work by using the following link: https://williamsandco.myciphr247.com In most cases, your username is your surname followed by your first initial – my username is MooreR. If your expected username doesn’t work, give us a shout and we will look it up for you. If you don’t know your password, there is a “Forgot Password” link on the page. We can also text you a link to the website so let us know if that would be useful.

At the same time as going in to CIPHR, your payslip can be sent automatically to your chosen email address, if you’d like. If you were already receiving your payslip by email, this will continue as normal. If you want to start getting your payslip by email, please let us know the email address to send it to before 10am on Monday 27th April for April’s payslip, otherwise it will start from the month after you tell us.

We are very aware that the extreme circumstances we find ourselves in may cause some colleagues to experience financial difficulties. Williams may be able to assist by allowing people to sell back a week of holiday or by providing a short-term hardship loan to those badly in need of help so please talk to us if you are affected in this way.

Louise, Amy, Lindsey and I will continue to be available each day to offer you support, either by email on HR.Helpdesk@williams.uk.com or by calling extension 90008 or 01329 552626. Both telephone numbers will divert to our mobiles if not answered so you’ll always be able to reach us.

As always, please look after yourselves and those around you. I hope to see you soon!

Rachel

 

17.04.2020

Hi All

I thought that tonight I would share with you an email which went to every one of our 23,000 customers and prospects this evening. It gives information about which branches are operating, and some other news about how the industry is reacting to current circumstances.

Best regards, and have a great weekend.

Ray

Dear Customer

I’m writing this evening to update you on how we are ensuring that key materials remain in good supply with appropriate safety precautions, and to offer our view on how the domestic plumbing and heating sector is being impacted by current events.

Trade counters:

With Romford re-opening earlier this week and Harrow and Gillingham expected to re-open on Monday 20th, 31 of our 38 locations will be open by the start of next week. Our branches at Maidstone, Hastings, Eastbourne, Enfield, Chelmsford, Gosport and Crawley will remain closed for the moment, but we can still deliver to these areas, as we can to almost all areas of the UK.

Due to staff shortages, and to reduce the number of individual interactions, the branches that are open are limited to a single shift, from 07:00 to 15:30.  Alternatively, place your order at www.tradeonlyplumbing.co.uk and click the “instore pickup” putting the branch that you would like to collect from in the delivery information box.

Deliveries:

We are able to deliver to almost all of our customers, but we have temporarily suspended our weekend and bank holiday service. Please order online at www.tradeonlyplumbing.co.uk or call 01329 226501 between 7am and 6pm every business day.

Credit Account Management:

The vast majority of our customers are paying their accounts in full and on time, and we are genuinely and deeply grateful for this, as we depend on customers paying their accounts promptly to enable us to pay our staff, suppliers and landlords. However, we appreciate that some customers may have temporary cash-flow problems due to the virus outbreak. We can usually find a way to help those in genuine difficulty, so please call our credit team on 01329 226090. They don’t bite!

The market today:

Based on our own experience, and after talking to customers and other merchants, it seems that the domestic plumbing and heating market is currently operating at somewhere around 40% of normal activity.

Unsurprisingly, work relating to heating or hot water failure, along with leaks, blockages etc seems to be holding up better than more discretionary sectors like bathrooms and designer radiators. Whilst almost all showrooms and many bathroom distributors have closed their doors completely, there is anecdotal evidence that tradesmen are catching up on bathroom projects in their own homes during the quiet period. Whether this is voluntary or being driven by long-suffering partners is not clear!

Merchants & suppliers:

Although every merchant has a slightly different approach, after receiving clear government guidance in late March, most major plumbing and heating merchants (including us) are open but operating a range of social distancing and hygiene protocols. This involves asking customers to phone or email orders through in advance and then remain in their van whilst the team picks the order and brings it out.

Staff shortages are forcing reduced hours and restricted services on most suppliers, with a significant number of outlets being temporarily closed. Particularly hard hit are the smaller, high street merchants who may not have the space available to make social distancing practical.

Probably the safest technique is to use merchant websites (such as www.tradeonlyplumbing.co.uk) to place orders and have them delivered directly to site. When using delivery services, whether ours or one of our competitors, please remember to make it clear if there are self-isolating or shielding individuals at the delivery address so that drivers can take extra precautions.

Boiler servicing & Landlords:

Most manufacturers have furloughed a significant number of staff, and remaining staff members may not be able to cope with the volume of queries that they are receiving. A very common question being asked is “what happens to my customer’s warranty if I am unable to service the boiler on time”. The manufacturers have adjusted warranty terms to deal with this issue – see links below:

For Worcester Bosch: https://www.worcester-bosch.co.uk/corona

For Vaillant and Glowworm: https://www.vaillant.co.uk/about-vaillant/news/coronavirus-update/

For Baxi, Potterton and Main: https://www.baxi.co.uk/faqs

For Ideal: https://idealboilers.com/covid-19-statement

For Viessmann: https://www.viessmann.co.uk/support/coronavirus

For information from GasSafe and the HSE regarding landlord gas safety certificates: https://www.gassaferegister.co.uk/help-and-advice/covid-19-advice-and-guidance/landlords/

Getting help for small businesses and the self employed:

There are a number of schemes aimed at helping small businesses and the self-employed. These links may be helpful, although the situation is fast moving and your accountant may have more up to date information.

https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus/business-support

https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/news/2020/03/coronavirus-self-employed-and-employment-help/

Crystal Ball:

So, what happens next? With the announcement that lock-down restrictions will continue for at least another three weeks, it doesn’t seem like the current situation will change dramatically in the near future.

This is just a personal view, but I expect there to be little change in activity during the extended lock-down period, although plumbing issues that might have been tolerated for two or three weeks may demand attention as time goes on. As spring turns to early summer, heating breakdowns will lose their urgency, with hot water and showering issues starting to take precedence.

Once restrictions are lifted, there may be a short-lived boom whilst the pent-up demand is satisfied. During this period product shortages should be expected as many lines are either entirely sourced from in the far east or rely on components from that part of the world. Disruptions to the supply chain were already noticeable before the lock-down, and it will take many months for old supply chain partnerships to settle down, or new ones to get established.

In the longer term, it remains to be seen whether the damage caused to the UK economy is permanent or temporary, and how the public prioritise home improvements against, for example, foreign travel in a post-COVID19 world.

The one certainty upon which we can rely is that so long as human beings shiver, shower and shave the plumbing and heating engineer will always be needed!

Keep yourselves and your families safe during this time, and we’ll meet again…

Sincerely

Ray Stafford,

 

 

15.04.2020

Dear All

I wanted to update you all on the current situation, and for the first time in my series of updates I am going to talk a little about the future.

Today out of 332 colleagues, 148 are on furlough and 14 are absent for other reasons. 25 of our 34 branches and all 4 of our RFCs are operating – albeit on reduced hours and in some cases with restricted delivery services.

For both us and our competitors, interactions with customers, delivery drivers and colleagues are radically different as safe working practices, social distancing, hygiene protocols and use of PPE which would have seemed unbelievable just 2 months ago, are now considered routine.

Just like the nation as a whole, whilst our main focus remains on current safety issues, we have to start thinking about an exit strategy from this current situation.

You may recall that in one of my very first emails, I laid out the principles which would guide us through the outbreak. Here is an extract from that 17th March briefing. 

These same principles will continue to guide us as we navigate our way through the uncertainties of the coming weeks. Only the comment about the coffee machine feels a bit outdated – there should not be anyone standing next to us, they should be 2m away!

We will continue to work to on managing safety, improving working practices and hygiene measures and supplying necessary PPE.

I spend lots of time in normal circumstances talking about profitability, and that remains an important factor for the long term. However, at present the availability of cash is a more urgent matter and is second only to safety. We can return to focussing on recovering losses and generating profit later in the year.

To explain our strategy, I need to explain the way that our business finances work. The company has a small banking facility based on the amount of stock we hold, but our main banking facility is called “Invoice Discounting” which is a bit like a personal overdraft. However, unlike an ordinary overdraft, the limit on the facility changes depending on how much money our account customers owe us.

For example, if we sell a boiler to a customer on a credit account for £1000, then our overdraft limit goes up by 86% of the value or £860. When the customer pays that invoice, we get the £1000 in cash, but the overdraft limit falls by £860.

In broad terms if all our customers put together owe us £10m then our overdraft limit would be £8.6m. We can draw on that facility to buy stock, pay expenses, and for our own payroll.

But with sales down by 55%, after two monthly cycles of account payments are complete, the amount our customers will owe us will drop to £4.5m, and our overdraft limit will drop to 86% of £4.5m or £3.87m – down from its normal level by £4.73m.

Coming into the crisis we had a bit of leeway – maybe a million or two, but certainly not nearly £5m!

There are three approaches that we can take.

  1. Boost sales back up to normal levels, in which case the overdraft limit will return to normal.
  2. Reduce our stock holding by over £4m which will free up the equivalent amount of cash
  3. Borrow more money from somewhere else.

“Plan A” is to do a bit of boosting sales, and a lot of cutting stock.

The option of borrowing more money is not being ruled out, (call it “Plan B”) but we would rather solve the problem from within our own resources and current facilities if we can.

Whilst there are some practical limitations on boosting sales under current circumstances, there are still things that we can do. For example, we will be looking to see which of the closed branches we might be able to re-open. Whilst we must still prioritise urgent projects, there is nothing in the government guidance which prevents ordinary projects going ahead and I am not sure that we are the right people to judge what is essential and what is merely desirable. There is no reason why we should not supply materials for ordinary projects where it is safe for us to do so.

We also need to put the stock on a crash diet.

Fortunately, we have a little time – not much, but it should be enough and actions we have already taken in spreading out payments to landlords and larger suppliers will gain us a few more weeks. It will take two months for the effect of diminishing sales to reduce our facility by the full amount. In two months, we can reduce our stock by around £4m, from around £15m to £11m. We can reduce it a little bit more in June and July.

If sales stay down by 55%, then we won’t need so much stock to maintain service. If sales improve faster than we forecast then we may not be able to reduce the stock by so much – but neither will we need to.

The supply chain team will be at the heart of the stock reduction project, and I hope that this briefing helps to understand some of the hard decisions that they will be making. They have a tiny budget for new stock in April and May – many £millions less than would normally be available. I would be grateful if branches could co-operate fully in this challenging project.

At this stage, we are not placing too much reliance on the government CJRS furlough payments, as they are relatively modest by comparison (March will be a few tens of thousands and April a few hundreds of thousands) and we don’t know when we will receive them. It seems safer to manage our cash based on the CJRS payments arriving later, rather than sooner.

These steps are not a complete solution – they are more about steadying the ship, protecting the cash needed to meet payroll and other vital obligations to suppliers and landlords, and giving us a secure platform from which to rebuild as restrictions are lifted.

I will keep you up to date periodically with the progress that we are making.

However, neither these considerations nor the passing of time should cause us to take the focus off day to day health protection measures. It is critically important that we maintain those social distancing and hygiene protocols with the same discipline on day 30 that we had on day 1! In particular, when taking an order for delivery, please ask if there is anyone self-isolating or shielding at the address, so that our drivers can take additional precautions.

Before I sign off, I would again like to thank everyone who has put themselves out to keep the business afloat. I appreciate that the temporary standardisation of hours at 07:00 to 15:30 has made it impossible for people to take rota days or half days as you might have in normal times – but these are very far from normal times. Thank you so much for all your efforts so far, and those still to come.

Best regards

Ray

08.04.2020

Dear All

Time for another update – hopefully the last one before the bank holiday long weekend.

On Tuesday 14th, we expect to re-open Romford branch. Thanks very much to the volunteers from other sites who have made this possible.

We may be putting a few more employees on Furlough in the coming days subject to changing business needs. For those already on Furlough who are approaching the 3 week mark, at present it looks as if you will continue on Furlough depending on evolving circumstances and any updates to government policy. Line managers will communicate if anything is likely to change.

Remembering the 2008 recession, one of the things that customers turn to when they have time on their hands is clearing out the van and the garage and returning items for credit. Apart from hygiene issues (if you are concerned, place returns on a pallet whilst wearing gloves and leave them untouched for several days) please check to ensure that the item returned really was purchased from us. We don’t need to get too “jobsworth” about it, but a simple check on K8 should ensure that we don’t credit something supplied by a competitor.

During these unprecedented times we must focus on the guidelines from both the Government and Public Health England with regards to  social distancing, washing our hands regularly and sanitising surfaces we come into contact with regularly. However we shouldn’t lose sight of the risks in the workplace that have nothing to do with the virus. We must continue to operate in a safe environment; for ourselves, our customers and our suppliers, and ensure that  everyone goes home in the same condition that they came to work!

With this in mind, please continue to report near misses and accidents as normal. We have a number of staff on furlough, so please report all accidents initially to Steve Elliott either by mobile phone on 07710 709987 or via email at steve.ellliott@williams.uk.com. If you have a near miss in your branch, remember to use the near miss ‘button’ on the intranet.

Finally, a reminder that the new employee assistance programme is available to help if needed.  This anonymous service offers independent advice on a variety of issues from debt management to all family matters. Their phone number is freephone 0808 168 2143.

Enjoy the bank holiday weekend, particularly those who would normally have worked through it, and remember “We’ll meet again…”

All the best


Ray

03.04.2020

Dear All

There is not a lot new to communicate since my last update on Wednesday night, but I thought it might be worth summarising what has already happened over recent weeks, and having a brief look at what might still be to come:

  • We have approximately 30 colleagues in Finance, IT, HR, Supply chain and management roles working from home.
  • We have placed 125 of 332 colleagues on furlough, on 80% of their normal pay without a cap for those earning over the government funded limit.
  • We have temporarily closed 10 of our 38 branches.
  • We have reduced opening hours to 07:00 – 15:30.
  • We have suspended our same day delivery service and weekend services.
  • We are in the process of removing high value, fast moving stock from the closed branches to open branches.
  • We have cancelled or postponed all non-critical projects and expenditure.
  • We have negotiated with our landlords to accept rent on a monthly rather than a quarterly basis. Many have accepted, none have declined, but some have yet to confirm.
  • We have prioritised paying smaller suppliers, for whom late payment on our behalf might be unduly burdensome.
  • We have negotiated payment schedules with many of our larger suppliers which keeps cash flowing on a weekly basis, whilst increasing our creditor days and smoothing out peaks and troughs which occur in the normal monthly payment cycle.
  • We have embarked on an urgent stock-reduction project
  • We have renegotiated our contract with our distribution subcontractor to reflect lower demand.
  • We have put renewed focus on collecting supplier rebates.
  • We have made all of March’s payroll payments and have ring-fenced the cash for both April and May payrolls.
  • Our senior leadership team have taken a voluntary and temporary 40% cut in salary.

Looking to the future, this is what we should expect:

  • As colleagues currently on sick leave come to the end of their Company Sick Pay entitlement, if they cannot be deployed into a profit-generating or cash-maximising role, they will be furloughed.
  • We will temporarily close more branches where the level of sales makes them uneconomic to operate.
  • By redeploying colleagues we may be able to re-open branches which have been closed due to staff shortages rather than lack of sales.
  • We will redeploy accounts payable staff to support the accounts receivable team as the former’s workload diminishes.
  • If workload diminishes further, we may furlough more colleagues, including some from branches which are still operating, but may be overstaffed.

I would like to say an enormous “thank you” to those who have worked so hard under such trying conditions to keep the Williams flag flying. You are superstars. I have also been really impressed with the willingness of individuals to work in different branches to normal, and the welcome that they have received from the “home” team. It is warming to see that “whole team spirit” in action.

The same thing applies to those people who are now filling dual roles, like the individuals from IT and Finance who are now operating some our marketing communication tools, posting website updates, and sending out text messages, and the staff from all areas of the business who have been picking orders and helping in the DC. It’s great to see the cross-team co-operation.

I would also like to speak directly to those colleagues who have been put on furlough for financial reasons, when they were willing and able to come to work. These decisions have been amongst the toughest of my business career, and I genuinely believe that this is the best option for the business at this moment in time. This is going to be a long game, and we need great players on the bench as well as on the field. We are incredibly fortunate to have strength in depth and I assure you that your time will come!

Nothing lasts for ever, although 2 weeks self-isolation may feel like it. Although 90% of our attention needs to be focussed on dealing with the current situation, I am already starting to look at plans for when things return to normal. In due course we will start to crank the machinery up again, and plough on.

“This too shall pass.”

Stay safe everyone!

Ray


01.04.2020 – 7pm

Dear All

Today has been mostly dominated by working on the supply chain issues which I mentioned earlier in the day. Please accept my apologies for the communications failure regarding overnight shipments, I know that it caused problems this morning.

We hope to have the normal through the night distribution service working again from Monday 6th April, with just 4 routes to allow for the reduced number of branches operating. The intervening days will involve quite a bit of rushing around with sprinter vans, moving desperately needed stock.

We have been working on the official personalised passes which will be distributed tomorrow – please make sure that you carry ID when travelling to and from work, and whilst out delivering.

I was asked today about whether we will supply other merchants during this crisis. I reproduce my answer below, which I hope is helpful:

  • If they are not bang up to date on their account, then NO. End of story.
  • If they don’t normally buy from us, and it is not an emergency (ie, they are just shelf filling), then NO.
  • If they don’t normally buy from us, but it is a one off item that could credibly be an emergency, then YES – at the discretion of the branch manager – if he/she believes it to be a genuine emergency.
  • If they buy from us regularly, and we have plenty of stock, then YES, we may as well turn stock into cash.
  • If they buy from us regularly, but we don’t have plenty of stock, then at the discretion of the branch manager – maybe like the supermarkets, with a max limit.
  • No special pricing if not already set up. Nigel is on furlough and is not allowed to take calls. There is no point in asking me or Paddy, as we will say “No”.
  • If any customers cut up rough, refer them directly to me.

It seems quite a short and routine update this evening. If we get to a point where there is nothing new to say, then I won’t send out a bulletin – so don’t panic if you don’t get one in the days to come.

Best regards

Ray

01.04.2020 – 1:30pm

Dear All,

A quick update on what we are doing from a supply chain perspective.

Please bear with the team – on Monday, they were working to mothball pretty much the entire organisation. They were all expecting to be on furlough on Tuesday night!

Our main aim is to keep you all stocked as best we can, whilst buying the minimum amount of new stock possible.

I appreciate that you guys are breaking your backs every day to meet your exceptional high standards of customer service, and that’s fantastic – thank you. I know that it is hard to maintain morale when you don’t have all the stock you need.

However, we are still in phase 1 of this crisis, and we have no idea how long it will last. Stock we buy in April will need paying for in May and June, which is exactly when we expect cash to be tightest. If we lose £3m – £4m of sales per month  for two months, that is £6m to £8m of cash not coming in. We don’t have anywhere near that much spare cash, particularly after ring-fencing 2 months payroll. Whilst we can delay some payments to suppliers, and we will get £few hundred thousand from the government to support the furlough people,  the only place that we can find that kind of additional cash is to turn £5million of our £16.5million of stock back into cash. We do that by selling much more than we buy.

We will obviously have to buy some stuff – for example taking the tube from the closed branches will only last for a week or so.

From tomorrow (today if they can manage it) your supply chain team partner will run an order for your branch for the following suppliers: Polypipe, APP, F&P, H&V, RM Cylinders, Lawton Tube. If you need anything added, please let them know. As we clear more stock from the closed branches we will increase the number of suppliers, and steadily hand control back to branches.

Below is a list of suppliers who are still open. You can use them for back-to-back orders, but no stock orders yet please (and no dummy orders to create a false back-to-back). Suppliers in yellow are the ones being managed temporarily by your supply chain partner.

Feedback, either directly, or through the supply chain team or the branch network managers is always welcome.

Best regards

Ray

31.03.2020 – 7pm

Dear All

What a difference a day makes! There are so very many variables in this situation, and many of them – including the actions of government, customers and suppliers are completely outside our control!

See the bottom of this update for a copy of the letter from the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which sums up a range of similar correspondence received from other areas of government and industry bodies.

I dealt with most of the urgent business in my earlier email, so I thought that tonight you might like to know more about some of the things that we have been doing in the background to increase our resilience and help ride out the storm.

Landlords: Commercial rents are normally due quarterly in advance on the so-called “quarter days”, one of which was March 25th. We have written to all of our landlords asking them to accept rent payments monthly rather than quarterly, which enables us to spread payments more smoothly. All those that have answered so far have agreed to this arrangement.

Accounts payable: We have paid the vast majority of our suppliers on time and in full. We have negotiated with some of our larger suppliers to spread payments in weekly instalments over the course of the month. This enables us to match out-bound payments to suppliers with in-bound payments from customers. We have also reviewed our supplier list and identified those smaller and potentially vulnerable suppliers for whom we are a very large customer and are making sure that they get paid as a priority.

Accounts receivable: I don’t want to jinx this, but so far it seems that our customers are paying us much as our pre-COVID forecast predicted. We are trying to help customers who need it, and the message, as always, is  – “if you are in difficulty, talk to us, don’t stick your head in the sand”

Payroll: March’s payroll is already processed and paid. We have ring fenced sufficient cash in the bank account to pay both April’s and May’s payroll, and we hope to maintain that policy of having two months payroll as a minimum cash balance for as long as possible.

Bank: We have been keeping in regular touch with the bank to keep them up to date with our situation, and to make some minor tweaks to the small print in our facility to maximise the availability of cash. At this stage we do not need additional financing but if the outbreak goes on for a longer period than expected, our bank have made it clear that they stand ready to help.

 Distribution: Martin and his team are in constant contact with our transport sub-contractor, Howard Tennens, who have been very helpful. At present, we are keeping the DC closed whilst we deal with the backlog caused by running full speed on less than half the staff in the last few weeks. We hope to open it again as soon as possible. Our Supply Chain Team are returning from their furlough-that-never-was in order to work with branches to keep stock levels as good as they can be. PLEASE DO NOT PLACE ANY ORDERS – EVEN LOCALLY MANAGED STOCK – WITHOUT SPEAKING TO ONE OF THE SUPPLY CHAIN. It is imperative that we buy as little as possible and sell as much existing stock as possible (even if that means raiding closed branches) in order to limit the amount of cash we have to find to pay suppliers in May and June.

I normally try to end these emails on a rousing note, but in this case, I have been outranked by no less a person than a cabinet minister. See below for the text of his letter to the industry.

All the best and stay safe!

Ray

31.03.2020 – 1:30pm

Dear All

As I mentioned yesterday evening, we have received additional information from government regarding their guidance to merchants.

Firstly, they have made it explicit that they consider merchant staff, along with others in the construction industry, to be “essential workers”. As far as I can tell, this is one category below “critical workers” which seems to be the new term for NHS staff, emergency services and food businesses.

Secondly, we now have official wording agreed by the Home Office for the wording of passes for drivers, and we understand that the Home Office has given guidance to police forces to ensure that the latter do nothing to prevent the delivery of materials. We will be producing these passes in the next day or so, but you may be asked for ID so please carry your driving licence with you.

We have a very clear steer from government via the BMF that they would like merchants to remain open, so long as it is feasible to observe the guidance from Public Health England regarding social distancing, hygiene etc. This has been reiterated in statements from Alok Sharma MP, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and in a letter to the industry from Nadhim Zahawi MP, the Under Secretary of State for Construction.

We are told to expect an additional, reinforcing message from an as yet unidentified senior cabinet minister in the near future.

We have also been in conversation both directly and indirectly with fellow merchants, both small and large.

As a consequence of these changing circumstances, we are no longer planning the large scale shut down of branches tonight that we were planning over the recent weekend. There may come a time when this becomes necessary in the future should the guidance change.

At this point in time the following branches will remain temporarily closed: Romford, Enfield, Gillingham, Chelmsford, Crawley, Eastbourne, Harrow, Petersfield, Hastings and Maidstone. Staff normally based in these branches (except those Hastings staff who are supporting Tunbridge Wells) will be placed on Furlough immediately, backdated to the date that they stopped work.

We may temporarily close more branches if their turnover falls so low that they become uneconomic, or due to staff absence. Staff at such branches will also be placed on Furlough.

All staff who are currently not working because they are or shielding or have opted not to come to work will be placed on Furlough immediately backdated to the date that they stopped work.

Staff who reach the end of a self-isolating period may return to work if there is work available to them (ie if their branch is open or if they are able to work in another branch). Otherwise they will be placed on Furlough once the period of self-isolation ends.

If any staff member in those furloughed groups would prefer to work, but cannot because their branch is closed, please contact HR at HR.helpdesk@williams.uk.com.

My thanks to those in central support teams and elsewhere who took being furloughed yesterday with such good grace. Your line manager will be contacting some of you and removing you from furlough, but others will remain on furlough at this stage in the outbreak.

Unless there is another change of circumstances in the meantime, we will review again over the Easter bank holiday weekend.

I need to just flag up one issue which will become important as the outbreak progresses. At present, we are respecting the choices of those colleagues who prefer not to attend work. We believe that this is the right thing to do at this moment. However, attendance at work is a basic requirement for getting paid, and current circumstances are exceptional and temporary. There will come a time when, with the best will in the world, we have to start re-introducing normal working practices. This is particularly true as more people catch and recover from the virus. In extreme cases if we believe that individuals are taking advantage of the situation then we reserve the right to take normal disciplinary action, or to lay them off without the benefit of furlough pay.

I appreciate that this is a difficult time, with both the wider virus issue, and rapidly changing circumstances at work. From conversations I have had, most of you seem to be pretty robust, but if you do have worries, our  

new employee assistance number is freephone 0808 168 2143. This anonymous service offers independent advice on a variety of issues from debt management to all family matters.

Best regards

Ray

30.03.2020 – 7pm

Dear All

In my briefing last night, I mentioned that our planning for the current situation was subject to government guidance.

The SLT has been meeting every night at 5:30pm to co-ordinate our activities. Tonight, just a few minutes before that meeting, we were notified to expect a communication from government to the industry via our trade body, the Builders Merchants Federation (BMF).

During the course of our meeting that statement arrived. It contains a number of elements relating to the department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Home Office and the police which we need a few hours to digest.

We are therefore pausing the branch closure programme which was planned for Tuesday night whilst we decide if our current approach needs rethinking in the light of this communication. The SLT will meet again tomorrow morning and will send out a new communication as soon as we possibly can.

In the meantime:

  • If you were expecting to come to work tomorrow, please continue to come to work.
  • If you were expecting to work from home tomorrow, please continue to work from home.
  • If you were put on furlough with immediate effect, please stay on furlough.
  • If you are not at work for any reason, and were not expecting to come to work tomorrow, please stay at home.

I appreciate that this is not an ideal situation, but a degree of uncertainty and confusion now is a small price to pay to be sure that we get this right.

I’ll be in touch again tomorrow.

Best regards

Ray

29.03.2020 – 7pm

Dear Colleague.

Before getting into the main purpose of this briefing, I am sure that you will all join with me in congratulating Mike Mann, who will be joining the board of directors as Finance Director with immediate effect. In his role as head of finance, Mike has provided invaluable service to the company during this challenging time, and we look forward to continuing to benefit from his experience and wisdom.

The board met over the weekend and have made some decisions regarding the company’s activities in response to the Coronavirus crisis.

Our first priority is the health and wellbeing of all our colleagues, and their families. This extends to the wellbeing of our customers and suppliers, the wider communities in which we operate and indeed the country as a whole. We also want to ensure that we have a viable business so that we all have jobs to come back to when this is over.

Whilst the government advice continues (at this moment in time) to allow businesses like ours to operate, we believe that it is in the long term best interests of all stake-holders to significantly reduce the scale of our activities.

With this in mind, we propose to put large sections of the business into “hibernation” during the course of this coming week, with many branches closing close of business on Tuesday 31st. We will put most of the workforce on “furlough” for an initial period of 3 weeks from that date, with some more to follow on Friday 3rd. There are more details about “furlough” and what it means for you later in this bulletin.

Subject to government policy, and depending on the availability of staff, we will maintain an emergency service working restricted hours from a limited number of branches – probably between a quarter and a third of the total. This will be aimed at supplying materials for situations where there is a loss of heating or hot water,  or non-functioning sanitation, particularly where the end user is a vulnerable person or a critical institution like a hospital, care home etc. We will be very clear on this in our communications with customers – this is an emergency service, not just ‘Williams lite”.

We will then review the situation on a daily basis until we establish a new, temporary normality.

We are dividing our planning into several stages as follows:

At present, we are focussing primarily on Stage 1. Bearing in mind that this is a fast moving situation, and circumstances or government guidance might change, this is our current plan for what we are expecting to happen next week.

Monday:

We trade on the same basis as last week, with some branches closed and applying all the social distancing and hygiene protocols.

We identify which branches will provide the emergency service.

We start to move key stock from branches which will close to the emergency service locations.

DC will make its last shipment to the emergency service locations.

Some central support staff will prepare for the hibernation period.

Tuesday: 

We trade on the same basis as last week, with some branches closed and applying all the social distancing and hygiene protocols.

Final decisions about staffing for the first few weeks at the emergency branches.

Final movements of stock from closing branches to emergency branches.

Redeployment of some vehicles from closing branches to emergency branches to enhance delivery capability.

Readying closing branches and some central support teams for hibernation.

5pm – Secure all the closing branches for the hibernation period.

5pm/shift end: many staff start 3 week “furlough” period.

Wednesday to Friday:

We get our first feel about the level of emergency service demand.

Central support teams who have not already gone on furlough wrap up final details before going on furlough.

Friday 5pm/shift end: More staff start 3 week furlough period.

I am sure that this will produce a thousand questions. I have tried to anticipate and answer as many as possible in the FAQ section below. In order to avoid putting an impossible phone call load on our small HR team on Monday morning, can I ask that you please check to see if your question is answered below. If not, try your line manager first, or email the HR team at HR@williams.uk.com.

If you need to call and your question could wait an hour or so, can I ask those who have dates of birth in Jan, Feb or March to call between 09:00 and 10:30, those born in April, May or June to call between 10:30 and 12 noon, with July, Aug and Sep birthdays calling between 12 noon and 1:30 and the Oct, Nov and Dec people call after 1:30. This should spread call volumes across the day and prevent long waits or being put on hold. Urgent calls should of course be made immediately.

As we identify more questions being frequently asked, we will update the web version of this briefing.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q.          What will being on “furlough” mean to me?

A.           Whilst on furlough, you will remain at home. Your contract of employment continues and when the need for you to be on furlough ends, you can return to work. During the furlough period you may not do any work or provide any service for the company, although you may volunteer to support another organisation (for example the NHS) and this would be a great time to upskill and undertake training. However you must be available for a return to work immediately if required.

Q.          Will I be paid whilst I am on furlough?

A.           You will be paid 80% of your normal salary in the normal way at the end of the month. You may have heard that the government support is capped at £2,500 per month. At this stage we will be topping up that amount so that all furloughed employees will be paid 80% of their whole salary without a cap. This is entirely at the discretion of the company and if the situation persists for longer than we hope, or other circumstances arise which makes it necessary we reserve the right to reduce or stop topping up, either in specific or in all cases. In some cases, where we are topping up a colleague whose salary is over the cap, we may ask them to undertake permitted activities (particularly training) during the furlough period.

Q.          How long does furlough last?

A.           There is no absolute maximum or minimum period. However, for the company to claim back the 80% of salary from the government, there is a minimum period of 3 weeks. The government support announced last Friday was for 3 months subject to review if the crisis continued.

Q.          Who decides who goes on furlough?

A.           The senior leadership team will decide who is asked to go on furlough depending on individual colleague’s circumstances and the needs of the business. For example, at present  we will try to furlough any colleague who is shielding a relative, and cannot work from home, or whose input is not vital at this stage in the plan.

At present, nobody will be asked to leave their home to come to work if they would rather be put on furlough. However, as circumstances develop, and subject to the government regulations, we may move people into or out of furlough. For example, if a colleague catches the virus and recovers, and there is work that needs doing which is appropriate to that colleague’s skills and ability, then we may bring them out of furlough and ask them to work.

This may become important to rest colleagues who are working in the emergency branches. As we approach a return to normal, staff working in functions which are hibernating in the early stages, like marketing, supply chain management and the operation of the DC, might be brought out of furlough before a general return to work. We will cancel furloughs if necessary to maintain key services like payroll or IT.

There is no “right” to be on furlough.

Q.          When will I find out if I am to be furloughed or not?

A.           In most cases on Monday, in some cases it might be a day later. But please remember this will only cover the first two stages – Stage 1, and Stage 2a. This is a period of about 3 weeks, and even this is subject to potential change if the situation changes.

Q.          Can I refuse to go on furlough if asked to do so?

A.           Yes you can refuse. However the contract of employment would allow the company to deploy to a range of other duties, or to lay you off without pay.

Q.          Does everyone qualify for furlough?

A.           No. Colleagues who joined us after 28th Feb 2020 do not qualify for government supported furlough pay. We have a small handful of these employees and will be contacting them directly to decide the best course of action.

Q.          I am currently on sick leave, either due to Coronavirus symptoms, self-isolation or for another condition. Will I go on furlough?    

A.           You can continue on sick leave, whether on Company Sick Pay or Statutory Sick Pay for as long as your condition persists (and if on Company Sick Pay, for so long as your entitlement lasts). At the end of the sick leave, you may be placed on furlough.

Q.          I am currently shielding a vulnerable person. Can I go on furlough?

A.           Yes. We will prioritise those shielding when deciding who to put on furlough.

Q.          Can I take a period of paid holiday instead of going on furlough?

A.           No. The point of putting staff on furlough is to allow the company to claim back the salary costs at a time when there is little or no income from sales. If lots of staff take paid holiday, we cannot claim that back, and this would drain vitally needed cash from the business. However, in cases of particular hardship, colleagues may “sell” one week of their holiday back to the business in addition to taking their 80% furlough pay. This can only be done once.

We will also consider hardship loans in exceptional circumstances.

Q.          How much will I be paid if I stay at work – either in an emergency branch or working from home in another role?

A.           You will be paid your normal full salary. You are likely to work fewer hours, although in addition to short trading hours, there will be time set aside at the beginning and end of the day for sanitising and cleaning. If you incur greater travel costs than normal (perhaps because you are working at a different branch) you may claim the additional travel costs in the normal way.  We will not be continuing the free shares after 31st March.

Q.          Which branches will remain open as emergency branches?

A.           We will finalise this on Monday. It will depend on a mix of factors, including the geographic location, the size of the branch in terms of stock-holding and the capacity to maintain social distancing, and the willingness of staff to come to work.

Q.          Will distribution continue to operate?

A.           Not in the first few weeks. If the staff are available, we may operate a few “floating” vans moving desperately needed stock between the DC and emergency branches, or between closed branches and emergency branches. Depending on stock levels and whether or not our suppliers are delivering, we may need to re-open the DC at some stage, either full or part time. We will continue to operate our warehouse management systems in the DC and the RFCs

And finally…

I would like to thank my fellow directors and senior colleagues for dealing with a massive workload with unfailing good humour during this crisis. Whilst colleagues who remain at work will be paid 100% of their salary, and those on furlough will receive 80%, all the directors will work through this crisis on 60% of normal salary in order to demonstrate their willingness to shoulder their share of the burden and reduce costs to the business.

These are challenging times for the whole country, not just for Williams & Co. Every citizen is being asked to make sacrifices and to change the way that they live. Yesterday, I had an experience that brought this very close to home. I learned that my father had a brother who he had never mentioned to me. In the very next sentence, I learned that he just died from the Coronavirus. Although I never met the gentleman, RIP to Uncle Stanley, my heart is with everyone who loses someone during this outbreak.

All the best and stay safe.

Ray

27.03.2020 – 7pm

Dear All

Well, that’s was one of the oddest weeks in my entire business career!  I am sure that you are all knackered, so I will try to keep this brief.

Today we issued staff who are still at work with letters explaining to enforcement officials that their workplace was on the “stay open” list. We did not have time to personalise those letters, but we are relying on everyone’s good sense – this is to get you in and out of work, and for no other purpose. Any incidents of “lending” the letters to others will be treated as gross misconduct.

We expect to open a few more branches on Monday, but I should stress that this is in order to supply materials for emergency jobs – where there is a loss of heating, hot water, or non-functioning sanitation, particularly if the end user is vulnerable, or if the end client is a hospital, care home or provides some other critical service. We are not coming to work to maximise sales, and please don’t tout for additional custom, or attempt to persuade people to buy non-essential items. Please do not make any outbound sales development calls, or attempt to poach customers from competitors. This is not about the money, its about keeping key services running.

As I mentioned in a previous update, we are working on the logistics for an order we are expecting to be confirmed for sanitaryware for the new hospital being built in the Excel centre. It doesn’t seem appropriate to make a financial gain on this project, but we were concerned that any discount we applied would be lost in the contractual chain, and would just end up enhancing the profits of one of several companies in that chain. In order to avoid that risk, the SLT have agreed with our charity committee that we will make a charitable donation equal to the profit on that transaction when and if it is finalised.

Thanks again to all of you that have been slogging away this week under such very trying circumstances.

Enjoy the weekend, and keep yourselves and your families safe.

Best regards,

Ray

 

26.03.2020 – 7pm

Dear All

Another update on the fast moving COVID 19 situation.

We hear anecdotes that the police have been stopping people on their way to work, and challenging the status of their employment. From tomorrow, we will be issuing letters to all colleagues that are travelling to work which they can show the police to justify their travel, based on the current guidance from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Thanks to Paul in Harlow for this suggestion.

If we have any colleagues who are travelling to work on public transport, it would be useful to know if there is another way that they could get to work which poses less risk. For example, we might be able to lend them a vehicle, or if someone they share a house with would be prepared to give them a lift, the company would consider paying mileage to help defray costs.

This evening the chancellor announced a package of measures to assist the self-employed which may benefit at least some of our customers. As always, the devil will be in the detail, and no doubt some people will feel they should have received more help. He also announced that details of the scheme to help PAYE workers, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, will be released this evening. We will be studying that with great interest tomorrow and over the weekend. As soon as we understand the full details of this scheme, we hope to let you know what our plans are for after 31st March. It may be that we have to take things a week at a time, given the fast pace with which circumstances change.

In recognition of the incredible efforts of those working in the branches, RFCs and the DC in such challenging circumstances, the board and the senior leadership team would like to make a gesture to show how much we appreciate the efforts of those involved. All those healthy colleagues who have left home or leave home in the next few days in order to come to work in the branches, RFCs or the DC from Tuesday 24th March until Tuesday 31st March, will receive 5 shares in the business for every complete shift, along with my heartfelt thanks.

Best wishes to you all.

Ray

PS: Colleagues who  are under intense financial pressure should contact HR and we will see what we can do to help.

 

 

26.03.2020 – 3pm

Dear All

Today, there are 134 people out of 333 not at work

This comprises:

12 on booked holiday

8 are self-isolating for own symptoms

19 are self-isolating for household symptoms

4 are off sick for other reasons

91 have opted out of work

38 people are working from home

4 branches which were closed yesterday are open today, and one which was open yesterday is closed today so we have 25 out of 38 branches open.  I suspect that this pattern will continue, as self-isolated staff and those on holiday return to work, but new people develop symptoms or live with those who do. For example, I understand that Slough is now likely to re-open from Monday.

Thanks to all those from central support departments and from other branches who have volunteered to work in the DC – this is our most under pressure department, now down to just 30% of normal staffing. If anyone else can help, or if you are willing and able to work to support another branch opening, please contact HR.

I don’t have much to add at present, but will provide another briefing after the SLT 5:30 video conference this evening.

Best regards, and keep safe.

Ray

 

 

25.03.2020 – 7pm

Dear All

So far, I have been sending out updates in the morning and the afternoon. Since many branches are closing at 15:30, and many key decisions are being made at the now regular 5:30pm SLT video conference, I am going to experiment with sending out an evening briefing after that meeting, and make the morning one a little bit later. For those who don’t have access to work email outside of work, we will also be sending out a text alert linking to an update on the website.

We have been working a much reduced schedule today, with 16 branches closed. Tomorrow will be slightly different, and some previously closed branches re-open as staff become available, and some branches which were open may be closed. See status update below for what we expect the picture to be at 07:00 tomorrow. We think that 13 branches will be closed based on current information.

We have been asked to supply materials for the new temporary hospital facility that is being built at the Excel Centre in London. The list of materials is more than any one branch will be able to manage, and it might take quite a logistical effort to get it together. Please co-operate with Nicole and her team to the fullest possible extent, even if it means letting other customers down. This is the highest of all priorities tomorrow. If anything is blocking us from fulfilling their requirements, please do not hesitate to pick up the phone to me or any SLT member.

We have sent an email to customers tonight explaining the branch situation, and asking them to co-operate with our hygiene and social distancing policies. We also post updates on our website and various social media channels twice per day.

Deano at Slough has asked me to put out a call for volunteers to help him open his branch. He and another member of staff would very much like to be open, but he feels that it will take 3 people to operate Slough branch safely. If you live within travel distance of Slough and would like to be at work but aren’t, please let Dean know. The same thing applies if you live in other areas – if you would prefer to be at work but can’t because your normal branch isn’t open, please let HR or your branch network manager know.

I must stress again that this is only for people who genuinely want to be at work. Nobody should feel under pressure or obligation to volunteer.

I appreciate that everyone would like to know what the situation will be from April 1st. We are expecting more details of the promised government support at any time, and I hope to be able to give greater clarity by Monday.

Finally, whilst I know that this is no laughing matter, I thought you might like to open the attached pdf for a little light relief!

Best regards

Ray

25.03.2020 – 10am

Dear All

Today, there are 141 people out of 333 not at work

This comprises:

14 on booked holiday

2 are on leave for family emergency (school closure)

8 are self-isolating for own symptoms

18 are self-isolating for household symptoms

4 are off sick for other reasons

95 have opted out of work

29 people are working from home

We have now received more information from the government about what we and our customers should and should not do. Here is a summary.

Firstly, as we already know, we are not on the list of the businesses that should close, in fact the advice from the department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy which I shared yesterday made it clear that we should not close our business down.  

However, the government does recommend social distancing and additional hygiene precautions which we are taking. We are expecting a fresh supply of hand sanitisers and gloves today. We have reports that groups of customers are forming outside of branches – please encourage them to stay in their vans with signs, notes on texts and emails etc. As an additional precaution for handling goods-in, we have issued bleach sprays which may be used to sanitise external plastic wrapping etc. Please do not use this directly onto stock, or where the bleach will damage the individual stock items packaging. Please wear gloves, avoid getting bleach spray on your skin or in your eyes and read the safety labels.

Perhaps more importantly, there is now clear guidance about what our customers should and should not be doing, which I reproduce below.

I think that this is exactly the clarity that our customers have been looking for, and feel free to share it with them.

As I see it, our job for the next few weeks or months is this:

  • Look after the health and wellbeing of all our colleagues and their families.
  • Look after the health and wellbeing of the wider community by abiding by government guidance against unnecessary travel, gatherings etc whilst at the same time, try to maintain the supply of materials for urgent plumbing and heating repairs.

This second point is going to require a tricky balancing act, and we will have a lot to learn along the way.

I would like to remind everyone of a principle that I raised in one of my earlier COVID briefings on 17th March:

We acknowledge and respect that every colleague will have individual circumstances and will approach the current outbreak from their own unique perspective. All of us should be mindful that the person next to us at the coffee machine may not see things in the same way that we do, and we should be patient and understanding of that different perspective.

As the crisis continues, this becomes more and more true. I would add that individual responses change over time and as our thinking about this develops and matures. Apart from watching a few apocalyptic movies, most of us have probably not given a great deal of thought to what would happen in these circumstances, and our intellectual and emotional responses may be inconsistent as the situation develops.

Yesterday, I made the point that I did not want anyone to feel that they must come to work if they felt that they shouldn’t. Today I am making another point – Its OK to change your mind!

This works in both directions. Over the last few days, government guidance has lacked clarity, and it may be that some people interpreted the sparse information that was available as a blanket instruction not to go to work. Now that there is clearer guidance, they may feel differently and prefer to return to work and help maintain the supply of essential materials. On the other hand, others may be re-evaluating the situation of family members and making decisions in the opposite direction. As the outbreak progresses, there will be more and more people who complete self-isolation, and may well be stir-crazy after 7 or 14 days cooped up and be desperate to get back!  All these decisions (and many more) are natural, normal and we should respect them. All that I can ask is that, unless you or someone you live with has symptoms, you give us a day’s notice of your intent. Operational planning is not the easiest of tasks at present.

Yesterday was an incredibly weird day. Shorthanded, with some branches closed and other working short hours, and serving through closed doors with all the distancing and hygiene measures, we managed very close to a record day. I salute those of you who found a way of breezing through the merely impossible, and managing to complete the miraculous!

I’ll be in touch again later.

Best regards

Ray

24.03.2020 – 17.00

Dear All

Please see below guidance from the BMF who have been in direct daily contact with government on our behalf. The BEIS referenced in the first line is the government department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

I will send out a more detailed update from a Williams perspective in a few minutes.

Best regards

Ray

Urgent message from BMF CEO John Newcomb
 
Further to my meeting with BEIS this morning we have been pressing for clarity regarding the opening and shutting of builders merchants, please find below the statement we have now received:  

John,

Last night, the Government announced additional restrictions that would apply to business and individuals to reduce the spread of COVID-19. These restrictions specify that people should work from home where this is possible, but also states that where this is not possible, people can continue to work as normal, whilst observing PHE guidelines. Construction and manufacturing operations are given as examples of workplaces where people cannot work from home. The guidance also states that retailers can continue to operate where this is essential, for example providing food and other essential items, and that online and delivery operations involving limited contact can also continue.
 
Builders merchants are a vital part of the construction supply chain. It is important that they continue to support the industry to operate on sites, especially where it is undertaking essential work, and also to continue to provide the link between product manufacturers and the firms and tradespeople that use and install the products they make. To ensure we can continue to operate. we are advising our members that:

  Builders merchants should continue to operate, and to provide a key service to their customers, but do this taking account of the guidance provided by Public Health England; Online and delivery services can operate as normal, although drivers should seek to follow advice on social distancing, and avoid close contact with customers; Where firms operate stores, they should consider how to manage ordering and collection systems and store operations to observe PHE guidance including social distancing, and on cleaning and hygiene, including of staff welfare facilities, to minimise the risks of transmitting COVID-19; and Merchants open to the public should consider whether to continue to allow this during the period when restrictions are in place, and if this is necessary, should consider restrictions on the number of people in their stores at any one time, and how to improve cleaning and hygiene within stores to minimise the risk of transmitting COVID-19.    

BMF COVID-19 online hub

In response to the COVID-19 situation, we have created an online hub of information for you to refer to. This sets out the BMF position and what we are doing for our members at this time. The page feature video updates, from myself, that will be posted regularly along with the information many of our members have been wanting. There are also opportunities for you to share experiences and insight, so we can all work together to get the best outcomes we can during this time. 

To view the first BMF video briefing, visit the COVID-19 page by clicking here.  
Yours sincerely,  


John Newcomb
Chief Executive  

How to set up work email on your smartphone


24.03.2020 – 16.30

Dear All

You must be getting bored with hearing from me now!

I have been reporting each day how many people out of a total workforce of 336 is in work.

My colleagues in HR tell me that three of these so called people relate to virtual “test” records that they use for training and practice purposes. I have asked them to get these lazy test employees into the DC to pick some IBTs but apparently that isn’t going to happen! 😊

Of the 333 human colleagues normally in work,

11 are on booked holiday

  2 are on leave for family emergency (school closure)

12 are self-isolating for own symptoms

19 are self-isolating for household symptoms

  9 are off sick for other reasons

31 people are working from home

28 have opted out of work already

57 will be opting out of work from tomorrow.

We will therefore be operating a very much reduced service from tomorrow morning. I have put the anticipated status at the end of this email.

I have also attached the a guide to connect to your work email with a personal device like a phone or tablet so that you can still access my updates. If you have any problems with it, please contact one of the IT team, who are still beavering away.

A couple of other points:

A number of colleagues who bought shares on the “invest as you earn” have asked if the monthly salary deduction as payment for the shares can be suspended during this outbreak. I can confirm that these deductions will be suspended until the 2nd month after we return to normal.

Concerns have also been raised about the potential contamination of both incoming materials from suppliers and returns from customers.

We believe that there are differing risk profiles depending on the nature of the materials.

Supplier deliveries that are handled mechanically and contained in cardboard packaging are much less likely to be infected, although normal hygiene procedures like wearing gloves and washing hands should still be followed.

Customer returns, and deliveries from suppliers which are not boxed and may have been manhandled by delivery drivers may present a slightly elevated risk. In these cases, in addition to the normal procedures, staff should consider wiping down the item – particularly any hard surface or regularly handled area – with a sanitising wipe. If particularly concerned, the item can be “quarantined” in an clearly signed part of the warehouse for up to 7 days. If there is reason to believe that the person returning or delivering the item is actually infected themselves, then the transaction should be refused for the time being.

Since many of you will be at home tomorrow, we will run a test of our text message system, hopefully taking you to a private page on our website for the latest news.

In order to protect my vulnerable family members, I will be working from home for the foreseeable future. I can be reached via this email address or on my mobile, 07887 542670.

Stay safe, all of you.

Best regards


Ray

PS since I drafted this, I have received updates – Basildon is open 7am – 12noon and Bedfont is closed. Otherwise as below.


23.03.2020 – 16.00

Dear All

Quite a lot to update you with here. Could I ask team leaders, supervisors and branch managers to ensure that colleagues, including those who are away from work, who may not always keep up to date with emails make a special effort to read this one?

  1. Firstly, you will be pleased to hear that you can rely upon being paid normally in your end of month March pay packet. Its too early to be precise about April yet, but the government guarantee to underwrite all wages and salaries at 80% up to a limit of £2500 per month is very encouraging.
  2. In preparation for the possibility of a government lockdown which would force us to close, I strongly recommend that you take personal items home with you at the end of every day or shift.
  3. If there is a lockdown, I appreciate that you may not be able to access work email. Now would be a good time to set up your phone or tablet to manage work email so that we can contact you during the lock down. The IT team are working on a “how to” guide which they will circulate as soon as it is completed.
  4. In addition to this, we will be setting up a special section on our website, and will use text messages to send you a link if there is important news. We will be testing that function in the next day or so.
  5. Our DC is by far the most impacted by staff shortages. 40% of the DC staff are now absent from work in connection with the outbreak –  mostly because they live in households where someone has symptoms, or to look after children. Keeping the DC running is critical to keeping everyone running so we are taking the following steps:
    1. We have already suspended the night shift, to allow the night staff to support the day shift. However, this means that a lot of replenishment and put-away work normally done at night needs doing in the day time.
    2. We will be prioritising goods in and IBTs. IBOs might have to wait.
    3. We are calling for volunteers from other areas of the business and nearby branches to work in the DC. This does not require experience with plumbing and heating materials, as the warehouse management system and picking gun means that even people with zero experience can be useful in a couple of hours. Please check with your line manager to ensure that you can be spared and then contact Mark Foster or Lee Kirby.
  6. We have had a number of fantastic suggestions for risk mitigation from branch team members which I list below. Not all branches are configured the same way, so the following list may not apply to all branches, but please follow the principles:
    1. All staff to wear gloves to protect themselves and sanitise after use.
    2. Consider how we pick stock -wear gloves or use something to self-protect when getting stock for orders.
    3. Wipe down signature pens , signature device every times customer uses,
    4. Coffee machines- Consider Switching off so customers do not use or congregate
    5. Black Mamba gloves on order. Secure any remaining stock now for branch use along with big wipes.
    6. Tape the floor away from the counter to maintain distances for staff and then crosses on the floor to maintain safe customer distances.
    7. Close off customer toilets
    8. Wash hands regularly please continue and increase frequency.
    9. Keep entrance doors open so no contact with door handles happens and ensure they are regularly wiped down .
    10. Encourage customers to ring orders ahead that we can then just leave/load into vans etc.
    11. Limit number of customers in branch if a build-up occurs.
    12. Do not allow customers into staff only areas or warehouses, these now need to be staff only areas. If they are in Branch please ask them to stay the correct side of counter
    13. Clean your trade counter area as often as you can during the day.
    14. Urge non cash payments as preference to customer .
    15. Consider signing signature strip on behalf of customers with initial and time
  7. You may have seen on the news that the government is taking extra steps to shield those individuals most at risk of infection. They will be writing to or texting all the 1.5m people in this category in the coming days. If you receive that letter or text, or you expect to receive one because you have one of the conditions listed, and are still at work, please go home now.
    1. Solid organ transplant recipients
    2. People with specific cancers:
      1. people with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy or radical radiotherapy for lung cancer
      2. people with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment
      3. people having immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer
      4. people having other targeted cancer treatments which can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors
      5. people who have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months, or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs
  1. People with severe respiratory conditions including all cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe COPD.
  2. People with rare diseases and inborn errors of metabolism that significantly increase the risk of infections (such as SCID, homozygous sickle cell).
  3. People on immunosuppression therapies sufficient to significantly increase risk of infection.
  4. Women who are pregnant with significant heart disease, congenital or acquired.
  5. For colleagues who live with someone in the above group, the following advice has been issued.
    1. If you have someone else living with you, they are not required to adopt these protective shielding measures for themselves. They should do what they can to support you in shielding and they should stringently follow guidance on social distancing, reducing their contact outside the home. If you fall into this group, please be doubly careful with social distancing, handwashing etc. If you work in a branch, ask your branch manager if it is possible for you to work in the warehouse or office to reduce contact with others.
  6. We will soon be putting out a communication to customers summarising all the available government help that has been announced so far.
  7. If you can help promote the Trades Against the Virus foodbank campaign, that would be fantastic.
  8. Finally, we appreciate that this situation is increasing levels of anxiety throughout the entire population. The mental wellbeing charity MIND have provided the following link which may help: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/coronavirus-and-your-wellbeing/

Good luck, stay healthy, 2 metres apart, and wash those hands!

Best regards

Ray


23.03.2020 – 09.00

Dear All

An update as usual on the situation this morning.

Today, there are 50  people out of 336 not at work

This comprises:

               15 on booked holiday

               2 are on leave for family emergency (school closure)

               10 are self-isolating for own symptoms

               17  are self-isolating for household symptoms

               6 are off sick for other reasons

               15 people have been asked to work from home

All branches are working normally, although stretched, except for Bristol, Harrow, Gosport and Petersfield where staff shortages are causing some reduction in service.

Just to recap on what I covered last week, following government advice, we have sent home many central support colleagues whose job role allows them to work from home. Some central support staff with recent branch and product experience have been redeployed to support short staffed teams in customer facing roles.

You may have seen in the news on Friday that the chancellor announced a string of measures to help businesses and employees during this crisis. There was a one measure which will be particularly helpful to us if either the government shuts us down, or customers stay away in droves. This is governments promise to underwrite 80% of salaries for staff who are “furloughed” ie sent home without work, but still paid. There are other areas where the government is helping and we will be studying the details during the coming days.

You may also have heard about the policy of “shielding” the most vulnerable, and we will be looking closely at that today, to see what it means for our colleagues.

Over the weekend, we launched a national campaign to collect food for foodbanks. The point of the campaign is for merchant branches to act as drop of points, and to encourage staff and customers to raid their larders for store-cupboard staples, for onward delivery to foodbanks. Thanks to some timely help from the Builders Merchants Federation, this campaign is now being supported by Jewson, Travis Perkins, Buildbase, City Plumbing, PTS and a whole range of other merchants. I’ll put more detail in another email later today, but please don’t be surprised if customers start to drop off food parcels. Put them by, don’t tuck in! And if you can spare food from your own larder, please do!


20.03.2020 – 16.30

Dear All

One last post about the virus outbreak before most of us go home for the weekend.

We have now had confirmation from the Builders Merchants Federation who have been told by the government that we are not, at this time, considered to be essential workers. The government response left room for a change to this approach in the future. I have posted a copy of it at the end of this email.

We are expecting an announcement later today regarding the government’s plans to protect workers income if things become very much worse. This was trailed by the Prime Minister last night, saying to the country’s employers “stand by your staff, and the government will stand by you.” We know that the Chancellor has been in talks over the last two days with the CBI and the TUC to find ways of making sure that the help gets to where it is most needed. We understand that this is a very worrying time and early next week, when we have seen the government proposals, we will pull together a summary of all the sources of help which may be available.

In the meantime, I want to re-iterate that whilst we cannot give cast-iron guarantees, we believe that a range of measures from the government, sensible policies from the company and with the co-operation of every colleague, we can get through this together. That is not to say that there will be no downsides and some sacrifices are inevitable – for example changes to working patterns, working in a different location, or taking paid holiday when you might have preferred not to. Unwelcome though they may be, these compromises pale into insignificance if they enable us to keep everyone as healthy as possible, with food on the table, a roof over their heads, and with a job at the end of it.

When typing the employee count (336) this morning, I was reminded of the story of the Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480BC. If you remember your school days, or you saw the 2006 film “300”, you will remember that the King Leonidas defended the pass at Thermopylae against a force of over half a million invading Persians. The Spartan King had just 300 of his fellow countrymen, and together they held the pass for 2 days. Of course, he only had Spartan Warriors – if he had 300 Williams employees, he would still be there now!

Best regards

Ray