Celebrating International Women’s Day: An Interview with Cath Mullin, Regional Director at The Bradfords Group

GCS Associates is proud to champion International Women’s Day 2021 and promote the on-going growth in diversity across our specialist sectors. We ask Cath Mullin, Regional Director at The Bradfords Group a few questions on her experience achieving success in the Building Supplies industry, and what advice she has for women entering the workforce today.

Where did you start your career?

I began my merchanting career in 1997 as a management trainee with Travis Perkins.  I only intended to take the job for 2 years as it gave me a HND in Business and saved me the time and money of going to University!  After a short amount of time, I realised how much I enjoyed the industry.  I was recognised by senior management and was given the opportunity to move into external sales, quickly progressing to sales management.  In 2013 I successfully applied for the Sales Director position in Travis Perkins South West & Wales Region.  I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Travis Perkins but moved on shortly after a restructure.  I joined Bradford’s in 2016, initially as a Sales Director and have since moved into a Regional Director role, covering my home patch of Devon & Cornwall.

What attracted you to this sector?

Initially I was attracted by the management trainee scheme but having now completed 24 years in the industry, I can safely say what keeps me firmly attracted to builders merchants are the people – colleagues and customers.  Every day is varied and has its challenges, but I have a great network of friends and colleagues who are there to help when needed.  Being female has never impeded my ability to progress whatsoever.

What advice did you receive early in your career that has stayed with you?

Go with your gut instinct, don’t procrastinate in taking decisive action.  Enjoy every day and find a positive in every experience.  There will always be ups and downs, but it is your gift to make each day count.  Have a great attitude and ask questions, this will develop knowledge and bring confidence to your future roles.

Are their challenges or opportunities in working in a male dominated, or what’s perceived to be a male dominated sector?

‎In this industry, experience and knowledge counts. In my early days, people would be inquisitive and ask “how does a young woman like you end up in a place like this?”. As time goes on and you prove yourself through hard work, commitment, and determination; people stop asking that question. ‎


‎The experience and knowledge develop confidence, your reputation begins to proceed you and people recognise that. I have never approached a situation thinking what my male counterparts would do, you approach it based on your experience, learning and personal development.

Leading people is the same regardless of industry, so if you can develop this talent – you’re winning!‎

Have you ever had a mentor?

I’ve never had one officially, however an old boss, who retired years ago, has always been on hand for guidance and support, when needed.  Equally my current friends and colleagues in both my present and previous employment have always been great in this area.

How important is Diversity and Inclusion to The Bradford’s Group?

Hugely important.  We have many young women working in our business and not just the stereotypical admin roles, most of my great sales teams include women and they are certainly a match for their male counterparts!!

On International Women’s Day, what is the most important message you want to send out to young women thinking about their careers or is there anything else you’d like to share?

Be Brave, Be Confident.  Stay strong and determined and anything is possible.

Ask questions and think about the people at the centre of every decision your make.  Find your way to be the best people person you can, and this will help in absolutely any career you choose.

Looking for a new challenge or to recruit in 2021?
Contact Michael Parry: 

e: michael.parry@gcsassociates.com
t:  0161 660 2548

Don’t put your Career in Construction on Hold Because of COVID-19

For many of us, life feels like it is on hold now. We are going through the motions, getting through the day to day, just waiting for the end of the COVID-19 pandemic so we can hit reset and begin normal life again.

We hear this all the time from our candidates. People who were planning their ambitious career plans before the pandemic struck, talented people with in-demand skills within the Construction, Building Supplies & Hire sectors, have put all ambitions on hold.

“There’s too much uncertainty.”

We understand. Limiting risk is a natural response in difficult times. The media is full of stories about the damage the COVID-19 is doing to the economy as well as to people’s health, with job losses and many construction projects on hold. It doesn’t take much to see why people feel safer staying where they are.

But that doesn’t mean putting your career plans on hold is right decision. In fact, there are good reasons why you should think again about resurrecting those plans.

There is no time like the present

12 months ago, we didn’t think the pandemic would still be impacting our lives in such a significant way. COVID-19 is likely to have changed working practices and socialising for ever. Whether it gets better or worse in the coming months, if you had reasons for wanting to make a change in your career pre-pandemic then have those reasons changed? If you are still looking for a better salary, improved training and development or a bigger challenge, then why hold back? There are opportunities available within our sectors at every level.

The Construction, Hire and Engineering sectors are buoyant

The truth is, opportunities are still in demand within these sectors. We found in our recent market survey than 80% of employers are continuing with their growth plans in 2021.

Advertised job roles have moved back to pre-pandemic levels and will only continue on this trajectory as the economy moves back to normality.

Think 2-3 years ahead, to get ahead

Similarly, the companies that are planning now and pushing forward with transformative digital change and investment are likely to be the outfits that will lead the way in their field over the next two to three years. We’re living through a time of profound change. If you want to get on board with the winners in that process, the time to act is now.

Have confidence

With remote-working now the norm, and an ever-increasing focus on work-life balance & personal development, now is the time to consider whether you can see your career thrive at your current company or whether a move would be the best thing for your future. With little opportunity for micro-management in the current climate, if you are good at your job, have ambition and the right attitude, a new job opportunity in 2021 could be your time to shine.


e: enquiries@gcsassociates.com
t:  0161 660 2548


As part of our Senior Leadership interview series, we interview Andrew Harrison. Andrew has a distinguished career spanning 41 years working within the Merchant Industry. With a wealth of senior leadership experience behind him, Andrew shares his views on careers and leadership in the Merchant Industry.

Where did you start your career?

I left school with two career options. Should I join a growing supermarket business called Tesco or join a local Builders Merchant called Graham Reeves? I think we can all guess the route I chose. In my career, I have only ever worked for 3 businesses over 41 years. Firstly, Graham Reeves for 9 years, secondly Sharpe and Fisher for 10 years, who were then bought by Travis Perkins. I worked across various Travis Perkins group owned businesses, building my career and experience until now, when I retire from my role as Chief Executive Officer of the groups Plumbing & Heating businesses.

I never looked back, the merchant industry is a great industry to work in and gives people, no matter what their background, a real opportunity to succeed through hard work and dedication.

In the past few years I’ve also held various non-executive director roles, most notably the Builders Merchant Federation which was a great pleasure to be involved in.

What has changed most in the industry over your career?

The internet, without a doubt. It’s changing the way we all have do business and it has made pricing hyper visible. We live in the age of the disruptor – Amazon, Screwfix, etc. and digitalisation has made a huge impact on the way buyers behave. Simply, it has made selecting and buying products easier and more convenient for the customer.

There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has accelerated the move to online trading for most merchants, maybe moving the industry on by five years in just twelve months, that pace of change is unlikely to ease off.

What’s been the highlight of your career so far?

Quite simply, the people I’ve worked with have been the highlight. It’s one of the few industries where people can come into an organisation from college or school get great support and industry backed training and, with the right attitude, can go right to the top if that’s what they want.

Over my career, I have taken real pleasure in developing people and helping them succeed. And it’s great to watch these careers grow and progress over the years.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?

I would not hesitate in recommending anyone, regardless of background, to come and work within one of the many areas that the Merchant Industry has to offer. And it’s not just careers within the branches I’m thinking about, but also IT, Finance, Multichannel, Marketing, HR, Legal, Supply Chain, etc. These are important roles in helping a modern merchant be successful.

Regardless of education or background if you come into merchanting and work hard you will be rewarded. And those who have real drive and an entrepreneurial spirit (and a bit of luck) can rise to the top or start their own business.

What advice can you give leaders when managing businesses and teams through times of uncertainty?

Across my career, I’ve been through various recessions and times of uncertainty and, from experience, I believe there are 3 main things to focus on during times of crisis.

1.Stay focused on your customer. Understand what they need and adapt to provide that product or service. And this is true even in business as usual. Supply and demand changes so much, it’s so important to understand when to change to suit the market.

2. Your people are key. Keeping your teams motivated and engaged is vital, but I cannot stress enough the importance of good, honest communication. COVID-19 again has changed the way we all communicate, and good use of video calls can help greatly, especially with remote teams.

3. Manage your cashflow carefully. Costs need to be rigorously controlled and managed during harder times and if you can invest for the future, do so.

What’s next for you?

I’m excited to be joining the team at Lords Trading Group as a non-executive director starting in March 2021. And I’m sure I’ll stay involved in an industry that I love and hopefully make a difference.


e: michael.parry@gcsassociates.com
t:  0161 660 2548


In November, we created The GCS Pledge with the aim of helping at least 21 people back into work for 2021 by supplying our recruitment services for free.

We are proud to announce we’ve now placed 10 people back into employment, just in time for Christmas. We created The GCS Pledge because so many talented individuals have lost their jobs due to COVID-19, and we’ve not only had support from our client base but from the Builders Merchant Federation who have helped promote this great initiative.

Our 10th placement was for Gap Group. We found Lee Justice a new role at Gap Group and he’s even been able to start his new job before Christmas. Lee commented;

“I’m really pleased to have found a new role at Gap Group and to start before Christmas is fantastic. Being made redundant was a huge concern as I’ve never been out of work before. I wasn’t used to it and you start worrying about so many different things, especially with Christmas coming up. I’m so grateful to have been part of the GCS Associates initiative, The GCS Pledge 21 for 2021, has got me back into work and eased those worries, pure and simple! Thank you GCS!”

Established in 1969, GAP Hire Solutions is the UK’s leading independent equipment hire company.  Lee joins the businesses 600+ employees who work across 140 locations across the UK. Lisa Davidson, Recruitment Advisor at Gap said,

“We are so pleased to be involved in the GCS Pledge. This is a great initiative from GCS who are giving up their time and resources free of charge, helping people who’ve lost their jobs due to COVID-19 get back into employment.  We’ve recently employed a candidate as part of the pledge.

We’ve now got a good person into the business and the pledge has helped someone back into employment in time for Christmas.  It’s a fantastic initiative and Gap Group are proud to support it to help as many people as possible back into work in 2021”

A big thank you to Gap Group and all other businesses that have supported the pledge and enabled us to get people back into work. We are now looking to 2021 and helping more people back into employment. We need a minimum of 11 more placements to hit of pledge total.

If you would like to be part of The GCS Pledge and use our recruitment services, completely free of charge, please get in touch. Together, we can help get as many people as many back into work in 2021.


e: michael.parry@gcsassociates.com
t:  0161 660 2548


Senior Leadership Interview Series 2020: David Young on Managing in Time of Crisis

Could you give us an overview of your career within the industry?

I started my career in merchanting with Wolseley UK, completing their graduate Sales/Management Programme. I was fortunate enough to run my first branch while still half-way through the course. From there I held several area and regional roles in sales and operations, eventually moving to Trading Director for the southwest for Build Center. I then moved to Drain Center and ran this brand nationally for a few years. I left Wolseley after 19 years and joined Bradfords Building Supplies as Business Development Director, becoming MD a year later and then CEO in May 2019.

What are the most important values you demonstrate as a leader?

Always a difficult one to answer yourself, as I suppose it is how I am perceived that is more relevant. In terms of values that I feel are important; I am who I am and I don’t try to be anyone different. I don’t believe in politics at work – I am direct, straightforward and respectful. I care about the business and everyone associated with it. I am committed to ensuring the business delivers long term. I trust everyone to do their job, and work hard to create the space for them to perform. I suppose good leadership is ultimately about making promises and sticking to them. Anyone can promise the world, but it is all about delivery.

How has your business adapted to the new working ways since COVID-19?

Prior to the first lockdown we had worked hard on a new operating model, minimising personal contact. When lockdown was announced we were well placed, however we continued to tweak the model. The key was clarity of communication. We were very clear and used basic and consistent messaging and constant reinforcement. The team have adapted well especially in the early stages – others were closing around us and the team quickly aligned and believed in what we were doing and the way we were doing it. We continue to evolve the operating model using technology as a key driver.

How have you managed and motivated your teams during this uncertain time?

The key has been regular contact with all levels of the organisation. Daily updates from me to all staff, regular conference calls and MS Teams meetings with the branch management estate and daily calls with the senior management team and Group Board.

We recognised that our employees were representative of the UK population as a whole.  Understandably their initial reaction to the pandemic and lockdown, was one of fear, and we had to balance the prerogative to stay open from a commercial perspective with the understanding that we were dealing with a workforce ranging from terrified to fully engaged.

The crucial element was consistent reinforcement of the key messages around hygiene, social distancing and latterly face coverings, and ensuring that we gave our staff the tools, procedures, equipment and support to be able to work as safely as possible. The business quickly understood the rationale for staying open, supporting the local self-employed customer and key public sector projects.

The Builders Merchant Federation have been superb and the letter from Alok Sharma at the end of March really helped settle the nerves of the workforce. Crucially this pandemic has bolstered local team spirit that is such an ingrained part of Bradfords culture. We know that all our teams feel more cohesive now than they did back in March. We have also seen an extension to this regarding their relationships with the local building community.

How do you lead through change and difficult times?

With clarity! I tried to be as visible as I could, ensuring I witnessed first-hand what the business was going through. I kept close to a few branches and customers and this really helped me get a good understanding of the challenges we were facing. The Senior Management Team have been superb and our daily meetings ensured we were aligned and informed with the most up to date information. This allowed us to make some very good decisions. Inevitable we made mistakes but reacted quickly to address them.

How much has COVID-19 impacted your talent acquisition plans?

We were very fortunate as we had spent 2018 and 2019 building a management team – this was the first year of a full team. So, in terms of talent acquisition at a senior level, the timing was perfect. What is clear is that we have a well-rounded team, each bringing their own skill set and specialism. However, the pandemic has provided opportunities for growth and we are bolstering the team in supply chain, logistics and eCommerce.

We have recruited during the pandemic, increasing our workforce by 10%, however one area that has been impacted is our Fast track programme – developing new managers of the future. Due to the pandemic constraints this programme has been delayed until 2021. The apprenticeship programme has also been impacted due to the lack of face to face training. Remote training is all well and good but the ability to deliver the volume of training programmes has been affected.

Tell us about Bradfords’ future plans?

We are very excited about the future. The pandemic has been a roller coaster and has taught us so much. In management terms I feel we have been through 5 years of decisions in 6 months – so for all of us at Bradfords it has been an unbelievable learning experience. There are plenty of opportunities for the business – the way people buy is changing and I think we are well placed to maximise every channel in the future. Supply chain has never been so important – not only with the pandemic but also with Brexit and other Global challenges. Having a robust supply chain is essential and the pandemic has shown us that ours is fragile. Some supply partners have been superb, but others have struggled to adapt to the fast pace of change.

Developing our people has always been key but the pandemic has taught us the need to have a flexible, more rounded workforce. We have redesigned our plans for effective people development and these launch in Q1 2021.

Our communication channels have also been stretched in the last 6 months. A radical review sees the development of a communication hub, bringing all communication into one place, easily accessed by all. This will be key to ensuring better, clearer, more detailed and consistent communication in the future.

Our IT systems have been an enabler to growth during the pandemic and further investment here will help us offer a better and more efficient service to all our customers. Investment in eCommerce will continue at pace to ensure we are offering all customers an easy route into Bradfords to browse, design, shop or manage their account effectively.

We have been fortunate enough to invest during the pandemic – the workforce has grown by 10% and our service proposition is expanding. The future for Bradfords is a bright one. We have had the backs of our customers for 250 years – and we are not going to stop now.


e: michael.parry@gcsassociates.com
t:  0161 660 2548


GCS Associates launches The GCS PLEDGE, with the aim to help as many people as possible, who were made redundant during COVID-19, to get back into work.

During COVID-19 many of our friends, colleagues and peers within the Construction, Building Supply & Hire sectors have been affected by redundancies. At GCS, we have spoken to so many talented individuals who are now actively looking for new roles, and we’re committed to supporting them by providing our recruitment services for free.

As recruitment specialists within these sectors, we are making a pledge to help, at least, 21 people who have lost their jobs due to COVID, back into employment.

We’re counting on you to help us.

If you have a vacancy within your business please get in touch to see how you can get involved.

We guarantee we can find the right talent for you
GCS Associates have 15 years experience recruiting withing the Construction, Building Supply and Hire sectors.

You will be supporting the many people who have lost their jobs
Its an unprecedented number.

We wont charge anything for our recruitment services
We’ll act as your recruitment partner; shortlist CV’s and present the best possible candidates for your business.

“The BMF is pleased to endorse GCS’s initiative ‘The GCS Pledge’ – 21 for 2021′. Its a great initiative which runs in parallel with the CLC’s Construction Industry Talent Retention scheme, of which the BMF are a founder member company. We all know people are our most important asset and I encourage all of our members and associates to get behind these initiatives”

John Newcomb, CEO, BMF

Lets stay COVID resilient together.


e: michael.parry@gcsassociates.com
t:  0161 660 2548


As part of our 'Leaders in Construction' interview series, Michael Parry shares his thoughts on the changes COVID has had on our industry and the huge impact on recruitment.

Tell us about your career in recruitment for the Construction and Building Supply sectors?

In 2007, I decided to take the plunge and set up a recruitment business focusing on Construction & Building Supplies. We had one overriding aim: to provide a genuine, informed & consultative service, building long-term working relationships based on trust.

A lot has changed over the years. But what remains a constant are the people.  It is a great industry in which to work.  I have made some great friends over the years and it has been great to see their career development during my time working in construction sector.

This year has definitely been the greatest learning curve for me personally and I think the sector is definitely going to be stronger for it as well. I’ve have a lot of aspirations for GCS moving forward and I am looking forward to seeing what 2021 brings.

Since COVID-19 how have you seen the hiring market change?

Pre- Covid, we were in a ‘candidate’s market’ in my opinion.  Since Covid, there is certainly an argument for there being a shift to an ‘employer’s market’ as despite the furlough scheme, unemployment went through the roof in those early months of lockdown.

Clearly, some sectors continue to remain devastated by the actions taken to combat Covid-19 but the construction and construction supplies sector have bounced back extremely well.  Once back open, trading reports have been incredibly positive.  So as quickly as jobs disappeared, they reappeared.

Although we don’t really know what the future looks like, things are back where they were.  There is still a large amount of people victim to Covid-19 redundancies – these are people we genuinely want to help if we can – so watch out for our initiative – The GCS Pledge.

How has the second lockdown differed from the first in terms of hiring trends?

From our experience the hiring trends in the sector due to lockdown 2.0 have not been affected.  We had a few fall outs and a few more requests for remote interviews but the message is clear from everyone – we are open for business!

What roles and skills are in-demand?

Within the Hire sector, engineering roles have always and remain highly in-demand.  If there are any CAP’d Powered Access Engineers reading this, please get in touch!!

Succession planning is critical to any employer so attracting the right senior level talent for our clients is always going to be important.

Michael Parry, Managing Director, GCS Associates

How have you changed your business to adapt with the changing nature of hiring and recruitment since the pandemic hit?

Thankfully we have always embraced technology and video technology, especially when it comes to interviews and presenting our candidates to clients. So, there hasn’t been much change on this level.  Investing in technology will also be high on our agenda and this is going to be more prevalent moving forward.

We aren’t one of the huge corporate agencies, so we are relatively agile which I feel is important in the current climate.  Within reason we have been able to whether the storm relatively unscathed.

Corny as it may sound, during lockdown when recruitment was, shall we say, not a priority, we saw it as an opportunity to give a little back, get to better know our clients and the industry we work in.  In was a good opportunity to develop those relationships and speak about non recruitment issues.

What I have personally taken from this is how important communication is; within our own team, and with our candidates and our clients.

We genuinely listened to our network, and now, in addition to recruitment we are now expanding our service offering with value-add services such as complete recruitment outsourcing, employer branding, executive search and training solutions.

How are you seeing your clients adapt their businesses to the new working world?

Firstly digitisation. The Builders Merchants sector and perhaps the wider Construction Supplies sector for a long time has rightly or wrongly been maligned as being slow to embrace change.  The events of this year have meant businesses have almost been forced to embrace change and see it as an opportunity to modernism and improve their business.  And from what I see this has been a great success.

Secondly operational change.  Covid-secure operational practices are now in place and new habits are being formed – both in terms of working practices for our clients and new buying habits for their customers.

There were also supply chain issues which I understand may persist, so forecasting will certainly be something the suppliers and distributors will be looking at.

What advice can you give to organisations who are struggling to recruit talent at the moment

Give us a call.


e: michael.parry@gcsassociates.com
t:  0161 660 2548


Key appointment as GCS invests in new services and specialist recruitment technology...                 

GCS Associates, providers of specialist recruitment solutions to the building materials, construction, technical and engineering sectors, has today announced the appointment of Chris Whitlock in the newly created position of Executive Consultant. In this role, Chris is focused on developing GCS’s presence within the Builders’ Merchant marketplace, growing the GCS team, client base and service offering.

With over 36 years of experience within the merchant industry, Chris has held various Managing Director roles with a distinguished record of driving change towards improved profitability, compliance, and governance, and in building best-in-class teams.

Chris joins GCS during a period of growth and service diversification, with an increased focus and investment on Executive Search, in-house training, and Recruitment Technology.

On his appointment, Chris, commented:

“This is an exciting opportunity to take a great business to the next level. Throughout my career, it is always my aim to place a high value on a collaborative and innovative workplace from which a company can achieve its goals. GCS already has a great culture & reputation for first-class recruitment services, and I look forward to working with the talented team to expand GCS’ reach and service offering within the Builders’ Merchant industry”

Chris Whitlock, Executive Consultant

GCS Managing Director, Michael Parry said:

“GCS has experienced great growth during uncertain times over the last year, driven by our commitment to high quality service levels as much as our specialist market focus. We are committed to continually supporting our clients by investing in new recruitment technologies and furthering our in-house training offering.

I am delighted to be welcoming Chris and know he brings the values, skills and experience to help GCS on our journey to become the go-to recruitment company in the build, construction and engineering sectors.”


e: michael.parry@gcsassociates.com
t:  0161 660 2548