ITM — still uniting independents after 25 years

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ITM commemorated a quarter of a century in the New Zealand building supplies market recently with an anniversary dinner at the Auckland Museum in March.

The company was formed in 1991 in the belief that independently-owned businesses “could not only survive, but thrive when they combined their efforts”.

The company’s founding managing director, Kevin Marevich, says it was difficult for even well-established independents to get a competitive deal back then.

Mr Marevich and a handful of like-minded independents set out to change that status quo and create a level playing field, not just for new and developing stores but, in a reasonably short time, to help other well-established independents get on an even footing.

Store numbers grew steadily, even though ITM was still, to some extent, working “under the radar”.

“We took the industry by stealth,” Mr Marevich says. “The competition didn’t take us too seriously until it was too late, and by then the horse had bolted.”

Gordon Buswell became the chief executive for “Phase 2” of the plan. This involved building a brand that was exciting (thanks to the ITM Fishing Show, the ITM Cup and the ITM 500), had personality (thanks to the faces of the members in every TV commercial), credibility and integrity in the eyes of customers, members and suppliers.

A turning point came in 2008 when Carters and PlaceMakers purchased 11 ITM member stores, leaving a sizable hole in ITM’s turnover.

Armed with a compelling value proposition, Mr Buswell and ITM’s reaction was to sign up the most successful unaligned independents (many of which make up ITM’s backbone today) and, in the process, rebuild the turnover by much more than it had lost.

“Some thought that ITM might not survive after that attack but, in fact, it gave us the opportunity to bring in new blood, more stores and build more turnover,” Mr Buswell says. “I think it was a signal to the industry that ITM was well and truly here to stay.” 

Current chief executive Scott Duncan’s role is about consolidating ITM’s achievements and “setting ourselves to be a multi-generational, long-term success in the building industry and the trade in particular”.

Mr Duncan intends to keep it simple and focus on three things:

To continue to sell well, have great relationships with the trade, and to build on that through the value ITM provides,

To continue to buy well — building strong, loyal relationships with preferred suppliers, and

to focus on how ITM operates as a network. This involves helping ITM store owners operate to the best of their abilities so they are getting the benefits of scale when it comes to running their operations as well as they possibly can, for the benefit of their customers and themselves.

Looking to the future, Mr Duncan says as a group ITM will be continually evolving and changing so that it is better tomorrow than it is today.

“Everyone knows that you need to change to deal with the market we’re in and to deal with the opportunities in front of us.

“As with all things, however, it’s more about the pace of change than the need for change — not too fast, not too slow. One of the great things about ITM is that the members are local owner-operators with skin in the game — but they are also united on those things that really matter. It’s a great Kiwi can-do story,” Mr Duncan says.

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