Baumit UK – Behind the Façade

We learn how Baumit UK is helping to raise standards across the construction industry.

Baumit UK is a supplier of external façade materials to specialist subcontractors in the construction industry. While the company does not carry out installations, its products are used by a wide network of approved subcontractors, and Baumit UK works closely with them.

“We are out there speaking to builders and contractors who are choosing to use our products in the projects that they win,” says Ben Warren, CEO of Baumit UK.

Baumit arrived in the UK five and a half years ago. Today it has a 15,000 square foot warehouse in Maidstone, an additional training facility in Doncaster and a team of 20 people working in the UK.

“We pride ourselves on being closer to the client and going above and beyond,” Warren says. “It seems to be working!”

While it is part of a family-owned Austrian group, Warren is given the freedom and independence to run Baumit UK as an independent company.

 “Where I think we set ourselves apart from our competitors is our dynamic approach to what we do,” Warren says. “We are owned by an Austrian family group that turns over about 2 billion euros a year, but I am empowered to run this business as my own. They don’t have to sign off on every decision. I very much live or die by my annual budget.”

An Entrepreneurial Team

The end result of this is that Baumit UK is able to be dynamic, entrepreneurial and employ people with the same mindset.

“Nobody’s really looking at their job description, they are prepared to go the extra mile to get the job done,” Warren tells us. “It has become quite an organic team that is very responsive to what the client wants, and we are always in constant communication with clients. Once we know what they want we can deliver it very quickly, taking on opportunities our competitors can’t.”

Finding people who can work like that is no mean feat, but Warren has found that the best way to find the sort of people he needs is to keep an open mind.

“I’m not looking for a classical background. I’m prepared to employ people outside of their industry. We’re non-discriminatory, our ratio of women to men is nearly 50/50. I’m not looking at age, gender, ethnicity, just a good background and a good attitude,” explains Warren. “My righthand man, he’d been made redundant, had a couple of jobs on his CV of only six to nine months. He was not somebody you’d classically bring in. But his attitude was spot on and he talked so eloquently that I could absolutely see how he would be an asset to this organisation. I’m prepared to take a risk on people but also I need to establish if they’ll fit into the culture.”

While Warren certainly plays a big role in establishing Baumit UK’s culture, he’s the first to say that it is not just down to him.

“To an extent, I create that culture but it is embodied by the people who work here, and it’s not my job, it’s everyone’s job to say if someone will fit,” he insists. “Sometimes we’ll ask them out for an evening meal to get to know people and I’ll listen to the feedback that comes from that. Everyone is engaged in the recruitment process. We’re looking for something special in people and when we find it, they stick around.”

Once recruits are brought into the company, Warren makes it clear that they are a valued and respected part of the team.

“They’re treated like adults, rewarded financially, and there’s a family feel to the company,” he says. “If someone has a personal problem and they need flexibility they can come and sit with me and talk about it. So, we are into flexible working, everyone knows they can come to me with a problem they have, and we invest in people’s future.”

Working Through Covid

Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic has affected every aspect of the business in different ways. For Baumit UK, it was a chance to step up when its clients needed it.

“We’re quite democratic in terms of how we do things. As with recruitment I really value the opinions of my colleagues,” Warren tells us. “But also, with Covid, nobody knew what was going to happen and a lot of our clients are self-employed. We talked with them and they said ‘We’ve no choice. We need to keep working if we can’. So, we said ‘If you’re working, we’re working’ and we did not even put anyone to furlough. We weren’t closed for one day. We worked hard to find the time and prepare ourselves for coming out of Covid.”

While working throughout the pandemic wasn’t a very profitable venture, it provided vital support to Baumit UK’s clients. Now that the company is coming out the other side of the pandemic, that is starting to pay dividends.

“Turnover was down and the cost base didn’t change but the benefit is the engagement is still high among clients and we can ramp up very quickly,” Warren explains. “In a medium-sized business, the whole furlough scheme can be a poison chalice. If you furlough one person and not the other, you have to explain that decision to both of them. I wanted everyone to carry on working and we made sure they had something to do.”

As well as supporting its staff and clients, Baumit UK also faced supply chain challenges.

“The knock-on effect of Covid was the supply of materials,” Warren recalls. “A lot of chemical companies slowed down production and you don’t just switch them on overnight, so we had 99% of the ingredients we need but the 1% we were missing was critical. But now we’re through that with a good supply of material and things are pretty much back to normal.”

Raising Standards

“Normal” at Baumit UK means a relentless focus on high standards across the industry. A lot of businesses will talk proudly about their own standards or the standards they hold their suppliers to.  Baumit UK wants to ensure that even its clients meet its exacting standards.

“In terms of the quality of installation that takes place, some of our competitors are not as rigid as we are,” Warren points out. “They’re more flexible with who they will approve to use their products. We have a two-day training course clients have to pass to receive a warranty to be the end-user for our system.”

If you think this sounds like a good way to lose business, you would be right.  But for Warren, there are other priorities.

“Sometimes we miss out on business because of that but we will not compromise because a bad applicator can make my good quality products look bad and it’s our name on that,” he insists. “We’ve seen some clients pass the course then use the façade and we’ve removed their registration because it’s not good enough. That’s a bold statement in a competitive market. We do get people who say, ‘I have a job, I want your material, approve me’, and we will respond ‘Okay, do the course’ only for them to tell us it starts on Monday. We’ll answer ‘it’s not one for us then’.”

While this might sound harsh, Baumit UK is always willing to provide support to those clients willing to work with them to do the job right.

“We invest time and energy in supporting our clients,” explains Warren. “We support applicators on-site, we train people, we really make sure the installation of our products goes as smoothly as possible and that’s a massive part of what we do.”

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