A Beginner's Guide to a Builders' Merchant (2)

Norman Goes To The Builders’ Merchant - Part 2

diy problems

So you are planning to go into the manly world of the builder’s merchants. I’m not talking “Wickesbase” here, you’ve already been there with your wife and kids when she told you what she wanted you to buy and when you were going to fit it and found that leaflet for you on how to do it. (But you still managed to cock it up, even with all her useful input, didn’t you)?

“Sheds” are a good starting point but going “down the yard” is a completely different ball game.

Southern Fool

I learnt my trade in London, could swagger into any one of a dozen builders merchants, secure in the knowledge that I would know most of the blokes and all of their failings. I have a degree in advanced swearing so there was no language barrier. I could engage in the jovial banter and ceaseless pis..mickey taking and talk total and utter bol..rubbish with all of them. I thought I knew everything there was to know.

Then I had a contract in Yorkshire. Suddenly I had to go into an unfamiliar merchants. They didn’t sell what I expected, They don’t put asbestos based under felt on first, before laying a “torchon” flat roof. They don’t use solvent weld waste fittings, only push fit.
They use lime and sharp sand in the mortar mix.

They have different sands up here. They’ve never heard of Leighton Buzzard the finest rendering sand that was ever dug out. They don’t sell fine washed in bags, only in bulk, they all have trailers and tractors, I only had a van, I had to get stuff delivered.

On my very first visit the idiot counter boy asked me what colour sand I wanted. Now, If I’d been in a London merchants, I would have stepped back, set my head at that rakish angle that only blokes with supreme confidence can get away with and shouted……. “SAND COLOURED, YOU DIM WIT.”

But here’s the horror, I’d been exposed as a know nothing southern fool. I didn’t know what colours northern sand came in. I could sense all the local builders looking at me. I clammed up, couldn’t say anything. I was near to tears and could barely find the voice to ask the child behind the counter to be my special friend and not ask me any more beastly questions. Then, I asked him as politely as I knew how, just what colours he had on offer please.

You Are Not Alone!

My point is, I know what you going through, what you are going to go through when you enter the yard!

There are major differences between “Wickesbase” and builders yards. Generally, the “sheds” cherry pick the most used items and sell them, often far cheaper, than the local builders merchants can. Plaster, common bricks, ballast, frame ties etc. but if you want anything remotely specialised you wont get it. But as you’re not a builder that’s OK, I suppose. However, there is one major area where the sheds fall down and that’s timber. So have a look at
Norman goes to the Timber Yard

Right then your ready to go, when you drive in, don’t park your car carefully like you do at ASDA, just leave it anywhere you bloody well like, like all the builders do. Get out and stand with your legs apart in a bomber jacket, adopt a Vinny Jones hard man voice and conduct an inane phone conversation with your mate whilst standing in everyone’s way.

Look like you know what you are doing. Never go straight into the office, if you’ve gone to look at wood, walk purposefully to where it’s stacked and get hold of some. It doesn’t matter if it’s not the stuff you want, you’re in! No one has challenged you and for certain no one will come up and try to help you. Believe me, you are not in any form of helpful environment here.

Smart Tactics

While you’re hiding in the woodpile, try and work out the serving process. Do the real builders all go straight into the shop, order stuff and then come into the yard to get it, or is it entirely the other way around. Do they find a yardman, select what they want then go into the shop to pay for it, is there a queuing system?

Each yard employs different systems but everything revolves around the yardman. When you went into the shop there were dozens of them, all whistling away and abusing each other in a wonderful scene of manly bonhomie. When you come out….tumbleweed. If this happens I just serve myself, select all the best stuff and start loading. Don't stand around waving your chitty like some over age evacuee looking for his mummy.

When you go is important. Yards are now resigned to dealing almost exclusively with the public on Saturday morning. Normal builders don’t go anymore because they can’t stand waiting while people dither about asking stupid questions, changing their minds and discussing everything with their wives.

Be brave, try a Monday about 8.00am. That'll sort the men from the boys!


The Building Sheriff.

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