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Company Profile: Polypipe CBS: watch the new kid grow!

Paul Braithwaite talks to Adam Turk, business development director of Polypipe Commercial Building Systems, about the launch of the new company, what it has to offer and how he expects it to fare in the market
Company Profile: Polypipe CBS: watch the new kid grow!
POLYPIPE Commercial Building Systems is the new kid on the block.

However, given the drive and enthusiasm of the people there, it won't be long before it first choice with m&e contractors.

But to explain why Polypipe Commercial Building Systems is set for success, it is necessary to look at the company's history.

Polypipe was founded in 1980 by Kevin McDonald, an ex-plumber. Kevin drove the firm from nothing to a £100million turnover in 12 years.

Polypipe built strong relationships with the independent merchant sector. In fact, Adam Turk, business development director at Polypipe Commercial Building Systems, says the majority of independent wholesalers and distributors supplying to the residential sector stock the Polypipe brand.

The company manufactures a full range of products for the residential market where it is mostly market leader or second brand. For instance, its Polyplumb and Polyfit brands are virtually the generic name for plastic piping.

It is also, says Adam, the number one choice for soil and waste products and drainage. Polypipe has a major share of the infrastructure market too, through its Civils business.

In 1999, Polypipe was sold to IMI which made copper pipe and which saw its future in plastic. In September 2005, Polypipe was sold again, this time to Castle Harlan, a New York-based private equity company.

'Castle Harlan, typically, buys strong companies which have market leading brands where the company seems not to be moving forward,' says Adam. 'This is exactly what Polypipe was, when the deal was completed'

In came a new chief executive officer, David Hall, who had previously worked for Marley and had also been managing director of Durapipe. And the entrepreneurial spirit was revived.


POLYPIPE has launched into the commercial market.

Adam Turk, business development director of Polypipe Commercial Building Systems, says the move makes sense.

Early in 2006, a project team came together from all parts of the business to discuss whether Polypipe should be in the commercial marketplace, with products for a wide variety of commercial buildings, such as schools, hospitals and offices already in the company's portfoilio.

However, Adam says, there were other questions to be asked such as whether the company knew the market well enough, who were the clients, etc?

The team found that, in addition to existing products across the firm's businesses in the UK, a number of suitable products existed across Polypipe's European businesses, to launch into the commercial market.

'Kevin McDonald, the original owner had bought up different companies for a variety of reasons - even buying one manufacturer just for a distribution licence - but the factories had never been integrated into the Polypipe business. They had been making and selling products in a vacuum. When we looked we found products which would fit our new portfolio,' said Adam.

Polypipe Commercial Building Systems was launched in
June 2006. As with Polypipe Civils, Polypipe Commercial Building Systems offers complete product systems and solutions.

Adam says it had an edge over its competitors from the start.
'Our competitors are niche players, and often are almost alone in their specific niches, focusing on a very tight sector of the market.'
Adam says that, by contrast, Polypipe offers a wide range.

'We found there were some m&e contractors who had been well looked after by their suppliers. Others had not and were quite frustrated by the lack of competition.'

What Polypipe did was to offer products in the soil & waste, plumbing & heating, pressure pipe, sanitary, ventilating and stormwater management arenas.

And plenty of them!

For instance, in the soil and waste sector, it has four different product ranges:

· A Push-fit Ring Seal system is used extensively in the domestic
market. However it has applications in some commercial areas;

· A PVCu system would typically be used in a three- or four-storey block of flats or student accommodation;

· HDPE; a welded product used in high-rise flats or hospitals. It is used instead of cast iron pipes;

· HD (high density) system which can be used, for instance, in hotels where clients do not want to hear water moving about the building.

In plumbing and heating systems, Polypipe CBS offers both push-fit and press-fit plumbing systems.

The push-fit system from the Polyplumb range, is a flexible plumbing system, with a range of fittings for use in hot and cold water supply, radiator and underfloor heating installations.

However, in commercial applications, the tendency is to use the Polypress system which has crimp fittings. The system has recently been WRAS-approved (for use with potable water).

Adam says m&e contractors working in the commercial sector like the security of crimp fittings and the company's multilayer pipe (plastic on the outside, an aluminum layer inside that and a further plastic layer inside that) adds to that security while retaining the flexibility of the plastic for bending, cutting and lightness.

For underfloor heating, Polypipe offers polybutylene piping.

This system comes from a German factory and is stapled to the floor before being covered.

Another Polypipe company, Effast, supplies pressure pipes and these PVCu and ABS pipes are also available from the new company.

Plus, there are ventilation systems and sustainable urban drainage systems.

'Our research indicates the m&e contractor is the biggest buyer of these drainage systems.'

Adam says take, for instance, a school where there is to be a rainwater recovery system. The m&e contractor will mostly be the one who buys it and connects up the system even if someone else digs the holes.

Here, again, Polypipe is able to help.

'We have just designed a rainwater recovery system for a school in Exeter. We were able to work out that payback would take 15 months.

But the payback can vary wildly from project to project.'

For the future, there is ceiling cooling, a system which will pump chilled water through ceiling tiles and which, says Adam, could be in most new office blocks in 10 years time.

Importantly, all these product ranges are - or will be - available from one source.

Adam admits Polypipe is going for it in a big way and it will not stop even when it is the market leader.

The company is very ambitious, some would say aggressive. The market, however, is still very traditional.

The niche players have to-date made little impact.

'For the specifier, there are good savings to be had with plastic systems. The price of oil has risen but the price of copper increases daily. It is not only the cost of materials which have to be taken into consideration but also man-hours saved on site, as well as the removal of the need for a hot works permit.'

But contractors will have to change.

'Installers are trained on copper. They do not want to change.'

However, Adam adds, that once they have tried it, they are hooked.

So how does Polypipe change hearts and minds?

'It is all about working with the contractors which is what we are doing now.'

Adam says Polypipe is concentrating on a number of specific contractors at the moment.

For their next projects, Polypipe will design the system, discuss what pipes will be used and the technical people will be on site to help.

Adam prefers the sales engineers to work like this, working closely with a small number of contractors building close and integrated relationships.

Polypipe CBS has seven sales personnel on the road as well as a sales director.

And Adam wants to recruit several more sales people within the next couple of months.

'Traditionally, Polypipe has been a number of businesses all doing their own thing. This is changing.

'Our research says an m&e contractor does not want to buy from a lot of different businesses when he can go to one for everything.

'What's more, there is one brochure and one price list.'

It makes Polypipe more important to m&e contractors. This means it is able to talk to them and ask what they want from the company by way of new products and get them to test them too.

Adam would not be surprised if the plastic revolution of the residential sector wasn't replicated in the commercial sector very quickly.

He sees issues such as the time constraints on the Olympics, and off-site fabrication where plastic lends itself more to this type of installation driving the changes as much as cost.

Talking to Adam, it becomes apparent that plastic is here to stay in the commercial sector with Polypipe leading the charge.

1 February 2007

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