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Going the distance

As new trading director for Climate Center, Chris Banner is preparing to restore the firm’s position as the UK’s number one refrigeration wholesaler. Andrew Gaved meets him

Chris Banner arrived at the new role of trading director at Climate Center and its sister company Pipe Center from leading tool hire company HSS.

Given that HSS has made waves in the construction rental market for catching up and then outpacing the market leader with a forensic focus on customer service, the logic behind Mr Banner’s appointment seems pretty clear as Climate Center seeks to win the number one slot in refrigeration wholesaling back from Dean & Wood.

Mr Banner is relishing the task: “I am very proud of being part of the team that turned HSS Hire into a focused and highly successful sales-led organisation, which was the result of six years’ work.

I want to encourage that sense of energy and dynamism in my new team, and empower people to succeed.

I believe we have the best people in the business, with exceptional knowledge and experience that is second to none. If we can marry this with a dynamic approach, coupled with clear business objectives, we will make rapid progress.”

Mr Banner has worked with managing director (and former boss at HSS) Lee Jon Newman, to build a trading team focusing on the branch and field sales operations, which is then backed up by commercial, sourcing and finance teams.

The trading team comprises branch director Mike Russell; new sales director Robb Alsem, who has previously worked for George Fischer, as well as merchants BSS and Plumbase; and national accounts director Geoff Stone.

Also reporting to Mr Banner are two people in new senior roles, climate development director Robert Franklin and industrial development director Marcus Sampson, tasked with growing share in their two key market sectors.

Mr Franklin is well-known to many in the refrigeration supply chain and Mr Banner says the appointment is simply a case of allowing him to build a strategic role out of what he has already been doing in sales.

Those people who heard Mr Banner’s speech at the 2014 Cooling Awards will know he is not short of determination, since he has been undertaking a rigorous triathlon training programme.

Mr Banner says the Climate and Pipe businesses are well-positioned to build market share: “We have three massive strengths: the fact we are a national business with the capability to serve customers across the UK; the depth of knowledge and experience of our people; and our flexibility, in terms of our ability to embrace new ideas.

Core strength

“The business is built on the foundation of intelligent, well-managed stock and high-quality relationships – with customers as well as suppliers,” adds Mr Banner.

“So the focus is on developing and deepening relationships with customers and suppliers, delivering great service and ensuring we have the right products in stock, in the right place. You absolutely have to get these basics right.”

That will translate into a number of benefits, he says, from improved ‘on-time, in-full’ deliveries to ensuring customers are brought and so better informed about what the wholesaler can offer: “We will be better informed about their needs and how we can help them succeed.

Phone calls to branches will be answered quicker. Communication overall will be more productive.”

Given that, by its nature, wholesaling has such a high service element, it is surprising how little forensic attention is paid to improving processes.

Mr Banner reflects: “In a market where technology and products are near-universal, service and support are the great differentiators and can make or break a business. Recognising this, and applying it, is potentially transformational.

From my own experience of a being a customer, I am willing to pay more for exceptional customer service – it makes life easier, saves time and cost, and adds value to my life.

This is a universal and, all other things being equal, service makes the difference that people are willing to pay for.”

Mr Banner believes that the potential on offer is great: “Our priorities will be to develop the core building services market, grow our presence in the industrial sector and continue expanding strongly in the refrigeration and air conditioning market.

In terms of structure, it’s also relatively fragmented and so it presents huge opportunities to grow and do things differently.”

Mr Banner is no stranger to tough challenges and as that triathlon training has seen him lose four stone in ten months, he is clearly good at seeing them through, too.

Climate Center is headline sponsor of the Cooling Awards

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