Building Human Resources to provide a foundation for growth
A Travis Perkins case study
In the modern business world, organisations must deal with rapid change. These include new
technologies, e-business, and new and different types of competition. Organisations also have to handle
customers' requirements. In many industries these are becoming increasingly sophisticated. To flourish
in this changing world, intelligent organisations monitor their changing business environment. They also
recognise the need to invest in their workforce, so that employees are able to adapt and respond to
Business organisations need customers. Customers look for good customer service. It's not enough, for
example, to be known as a supplier. A business must supply all that is asked for, courteously, on time, in
the right quantities, and in prime condition. Customer service, however, is not something that simply
happens. It is a complex process. It involves developing and managing customer relationships before,
during and after a transaction. Good service will do more than meet customer needs. It will also provide
the organisation with a distinct competitive advantage in the market place.
This Case Study illustrates how an organisation can put customer service at the centre of its staff
development programme to establish a culture that provides a foundation for growth. It shows how
Travis Perkins has managed to balance its own strategic objectives with its customers' needs for good
The business name 'Travis Perkins' is relatively new, but the company has evolved within the building
trade over a long period. It was in 1988 that Travis & Arnold and Sandell Perkins, two building merchant
public companies, merged to create Travis Perkins. Ernest Travis founded Travis & Arnold in London in
1899. The business eventually moved to Northampton. It sold timber and other wood products before
diversifying into other building materials. Sandell Perkins had origins stretching back to 1797. The
business originally traded as joiners and carpenters and then moved into selling and trading in
hardwoods. It became a public company in 1986.
Today the Travis Perkins Group is one of the UK's largest distributors of building materials. Its business
objective is to provide a high level of service that exceeds customer expectations. At the same time, it
looks to use customer service to build a strong basis for growth. Travis Perkins trades under a number of
brand identities, recognising the importance that customers place on an established reputation and
identity within the overall market place.
Travis Perkins - trading in general Building Materials, Timber, Forest Products, Toolhire.
Keyline - greater focus on Heavy Building Materials and Civil Engineering
City Plumbing - proven brand within the plumbing and heating market
CCF - specialising in insulation products, partitioning, ceilings.
Growth Not all organisations benefit from being big, but many certainly do. All organisations will aim for
the size of business that suits them best.
Every organisation needs to decide just how big it needs to be to best meet the needs and expectations
of its major stakeholders. It knows that, as organisations become larger, they often benefit from
economies of scale that reduce unit costs and increase profitability.
For each business, there will be a level of operation at which unit costs of production are at their lowest
possible level. Reaching this point provides the organisation with the opportunity to maximise its
profitability. Being profitable is the surest way of managing to stay in business. Growing bigger may offer
the best long term hope of profitability.
Economies of scale include internal economies and external economies. Internal economies are gains
made within the organisation as a result of becoming bigger. These include benefiting from large
discounts through buying in bulk or being able to afford to use techniques and equipment unavailable to
smaller firms. External economies are gains that come from outside the organisation. These may include
easy access to a skilled labour force, the bonus of a high reputation for the industry in that area,
specialist trade associations and being close to specialist suppliers.
Travis Perkins' business strategy is built around growth. Having merged horizontally in 1988 the
company now has a 16% market share of building materials distribution. It intends to increase this to
20% through further acquisitions. The Group's strong record of growth has created economies of scale.
These economies have provided Travis Perkins with an operating margin of 12%; this figure is unusually
high for this industry. The economies have contributed to the company's increased profitability. This has
produced a strong cash flow. The healthy cash flow is reassuring to all stakeholders, investors, staff and
the financial institutions from whom Travis Perkins is looking to borrow funds to finance its growth.
As part of its growth strategy, Travis Perkins aims to increase its number of branches from 740 to over
1,200 during the next six years. It aims to do this by buying up small independent merchants in towns of
at least 8,000 people that are not less than 5 miles from another Travis
Perkins branch. It then intends to re-brand these businesses and integrate them into its company
Every business organisation has a particular way of looking to achieve its business objectives. It also has
its own ways of working. Culture refers to an organisation's key characteristics. It includes the shared
beliefs and the written and unwritten policies and procedures that determine the ways in which the
organisation and its people behave in order to solve business problems and meet business objectives.
It is possible to gain a feel for the culture of an organisation by looking around and talking to people who
work for it. At the heart of Travis Perkins' culture is the assertion that quality of service is paramount.
The company has good reason to take this view. Firms in the building industry work to tight deadlines.
Jobs have to be finished on time. Any hold-ups due to supply delays are costly and annoying. They can
be expensive; many contracts contain penalty clauses relating to delayed completion. A good
reputation that takes years to establish can easily be damaged if you let your customers down.
Firms that buy materials from Travis Perkins want to pick up the right materials quickly so that they can
proceed with their work. The Travis Perkins vision is to "deliver a professional, high quality service that
keeps us ahead of our competitors in our customers' eyes". To achieve this vision and to turn this
commitment towards customer service into practical actions, Travis Perkins has invested heavily in a
process of training, development and performance monitoring.
Training and development
In the UK, the provision of services accounts for the majority of employment opportunities. That being
so, intelligent organisations recognise that their strength lies in the skills of their work force and how
good they are at meeting customers' needs.
Travis Perkins places a high priority on continuously improving its workforce through training and
development. In this way, it has developed a business culture that remains competitive so that service
and growth will develop alongside each other.
The company's focus on training its staff to offer first class customer service is evident in its programme
for new recruits. Having first been inducted, new employees go through customer service training, and
also learn about their role within the organisation. Their performance is continuously reviewed and they
receive ongoing coaching from their line manager. At the same time new employees receive skills
training across a range of areas such as:
team and personal effectiveness information and communication skills customer care keeping
In 2003 Travis Perkins launched Excel. This is a customer service programme, aimed at continuously
improving services to customers. It links training processes to the need to provide high quality customer
care. It constantly poses the question, 'What do your customers want from you?' It makes clear how the
firm's interests are best served by meeting customers' needs.
The programme covers all employees: yard workers, counter assistants, management trainees, branch
managers, senior executives. The company has developed a wealth of learning materials. It has also set
up a Development Zone. Here, employees can book a session during working hours and complete a
variety of courses at their own pace. The company encourages employees to take part in a number of
programmes, both 'in house' and also externally provided. Within each programme, managers, trainers,
supervisors, other employees and each participant assess themselves against their own training and
Management training and development
Management training and development takes place at a number of different levels. It includes:
2-year programmes designed for management trainees programmes for middle managers.
Travis Perkins has developed these courses itself. In addition, outside agencies offer programmes for
senior and executive managers.
Management training programmes focus upon providing participants with the opportunity, space and
freedom to explore issues of concern. Programmes vary according to need. For example, the training
programme for future branch managers takes place over five months. During this time, delegates go
through a range of modules that include personal development, self organisation and recruitment and
selection. Each manager also produces and presents a case study. High performance managers go
through a modular programme of training where they develop a tool kit for performance known as 4i.
IMPLEMENT (Getting the key aspects right, consistently) INSIGHT (Building self awareness and
personal effectiveness) INSPIRE (Getting people involved. Taking the team with you) IMPACT
(Achieving results. Having the commercial edge).
For high performing managers this programme helps them to:
analyse their own approach to management defined and manage their priorities better delegation
and empowerment of their people recognise what is involved in contributing to a high-performing
team that focuses on Travis Perkins' objectives.
It was not so long ago that the UK Government published 'Our Competitive Future: Building the
Knowledge Driven Economy'. This became known as the Competitiveness White Paper. It emphasised
that, in a modern and changing world, employees are an organisation's most valuable assets. It is they
who help to develop 'a culture in the workplace that allows knowledge, creativity and commitment of
the workforce to be fully exploited'.
For Travis Perkins, it is not enough to be highly visible and geographically close to customers. That alone
will not attract sufficient trade. The company recognises that it is its employees and their understanding
of how to help customers to solve problems and deal with issues that makes the organisation distinct. It
also knows that this approach provides a base of care that is vital for the company's on-going growth
Task: Taking the role of Head of HRD in Travis Perkins, draft an outline report which addresses the
1. The key training and development strategies used in Travis Perkins. What are these strategies and
what strategy will you recommend for Travis Perkins to adopt in future.
2. The key training strategy for High Performing Manager (4i) and its relevance. What are your
recommendations for Low performing Managers? And why?
3. “Travis Perkins' business strategy is built around growth. Having merged horizontally in 1988 the
company now has a 16% market share of building materials distribution. It intends to increase this to
20% through further acquisitions”. Discuss the most appropriate approach to HRD that will ensure the
achievement of this objective.
4. Your recommendations should be practicable, achievable and supported with empirical studies.
2500 words + or – 10 % (not including contents and reference list)
Introduction : Short introduction to the report setting out what the aims and objectives of the report
are, what the report will cover and why?
Case study analysis : This is the main body of your report. You need to critically analyse the current
approach to HRD at Travis Perkins and its relevance in ensuring the achievement of organizational
objectives. Areas to consider may include: the key trends that will affect Travis Perkins training and
development strategies, business strategies and the strategies that will turn low performing employees
to high performing employees. Make sure you support your work with extant literature. Theoretical
framework is a good way of establishing good practice. Real life examples (that can be substantiated)
are also useful.
Recommendations :You should propose recommendations based on your analysis. Your
recommendations should include an action plan. The plan should be practicable and achievable.
Reference: List You need to support your work with reference from academic sources (e.g. books and
journal articles) as well as examples of organisational good practice (e.g. practitioner magazine articles /
websites – chosen carefully). Use Harvard style
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