100 YEARS 100 BMJ • 1920-2020 AS “I


n the present difficult

circumstances, it is impossible to predict the outcome for the current year”. Words that could easily be imagined dropping from the lips of any of the managing directors of the current crop of merchant businesses this week. Or, indeed, manufacturers or distributors. Or publishers come to that.

Instead, they featured in the trading report of one Wolseley-Hughes, central heating distributor, and were issued in December 1980. It goes on: “in reaction to the fact that much of the central heating sales fell away significantly in the second half of the year, the company reduced stocks, overheads and staffing levels”. Plus ca change, plus c’est the meme chose.

It’s been eye-opening, sifting through what is left of the BMJ archives, looking at what has changed and what, surprisingly, hasn’t. In many ways, not much is different. This is still an industry that’s built on relationships, on the old cliché of ‘people buying people’, on customer service and going that bit further. BMJ itself has changed over the years, but


In various guises, Builders Merchants Journal has been acting as the information channel between merchants and suppliers for 100 years. It’s seen the industry through one World War, several recessions, a few booms and now a pandemic. Fiona Russell Horne meaders through what’s left of the archives.

we are still committed to being the channel for information between merchants and their suppliers and the wider world. We started life out with the rather unwieldy title of Builders Merchants Journal and Builders’ Ironmonger, with the sub-heading of The Official Organ of The National Federation of Builders Merchants Associations (what was to become the BMF) and The Paper for All Classes of Building Trades Distributors. Phew. Since then we’ve been the Builders and Home Improvement Merchants Journal and Builders and Timber Merchants Journal and now, we’re just plain old Builders Merchants Journal – BMJ. Much simpler.

We’ve been published in association with the BMF off and on for most of the 100 years we’re been around; we’ve had publishing relationships with NMBS, with NBG, with Unimer, the Timber Trades Federation… all in our quest to ensure that we publish information that will help our readers be better informed, whether that’s about new products, what their suppliers, peers and competitors are up to or what the government might have in store.

Alas, due to countless office moves and ownership changes over the years, our archives are pretty depleted, so thank you to the merchants who dug into their own archives to bring us a flavour of times gone by. Still, even though the furthest back we can go in the BMJ archives is 1976, the late 1970s and early 1980s publications were interesting to peruse.

I say ‘interesting’. Those merchant readers who can remember that far back might, at some point, answer me this question: did you really buy more showers, trowels, nails and joist-hangers because the adverts featured a naked lady displaying her wares? Seriously? So hats off to Heatrae Sadia whose daring – for the time - ad for their Omega shower enclosures in one of our 1981 issues featured a scantily-clad chap positively sprinting into the shower, his modesty protected by a stratgeically placed towelling robe. Unlike the poor lady advertising the BAT Products joist hangers…

The other thing that struck me is how the same issues raise their heads time and again. I found an article about the proposed August 2020


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